Sep 18, 2019

Determining What PCs Find When They Search Hexes

My overland exploration procedures typically allow for three possible activities. The first is resting, the second is travel, and the third is searching a hex. This article is about the third procedure, searching hexes, and in particular, how to execute step #7, "Referee determines whether the PCs find anything". I'm going to discuss this step from two angles - firstly, placing content in hexes and secondly, the PCs conducting their search.

 As a reminder, I use hexes with a 5 km radius from centre to edge (a 10 km incircle diameter or "10 km hex" for short). A hex this size contains 86.6 square kilometres of area. Here's a calculator that will tell you the dimensions of hexagons of various sizes (metric) if you want a different size.

The Placement of Content in Hexes

My solution here is very simple. Hexagons divide into six equilateral triangles.In my hexes, each triangle covers an area of about 12.5 square kilometres, with a maximum distance of 5 km from base camp (assumed to be in the centre of the hex).

I number the triangles from 1 to 6, and roll 1d6 to determine which subsection any particular piece of content is in. ktrey over at d4 Caltrops has a tessellation system that breaks hexes up into 12 lozenges of equal area if you would prefer that level of granularity, but in all honesty my hexes rarely have more than two items in them at a time to start (not counting wandering monsters) so I don't have much need for that level of granularity.

I also assign each object a Concealment Score that interacts with my group perception rules. When in doubt, I randomly roll a Concealment Score of 1d6+3, knowing that anything with a Concealment Score equal to or lower than the # of PCs is going to be automatically spotted when they enter the hex. I try to make something immediately obvious in at least a third of all hexes, sometimes as much as a half, depending on how aggressive and interested they are in searching hexes.

Searching Hexes

In step #1 of my search procedure, PCs break up into search parties and each search party chooses a subsection of the hex to search. The most common choice in actual practice is that they all stick together and make a random roll of which subsection they're going to search, but they have the option to split up if they're in a rush or feel confident.

PCs searching a hex counts as an active search, so they roll 1d6 and add the # of PCs in the search party, and if it equals or exceeds the Concealment Score of the content, they find it.

A single iteration of a search takes one watch to complete (typically 6 hours), including time spent returning to base camp. Multiple search parties searching different subsections do their searches simultaneously.

This means that if the PCs stick together and search a hex, they will clear it in one full day (6 watches) of searching (without rest), or 2/3rds of a hex if they do. My experience is that they tend to work to the 2/3rds level by spending a day searching before moving on.

I'm not sure of how realistic this is (probably not very), but it strikes a good balance between giving them a change to discover a lot of content and leaving a level of uncertainty about whether they've truly found everything.

Lazybones / No Prep Method

If you're in a rush and having had any time to prep, you can just roll 4d6, preferably of different colours, when the PCs search a hex. The first is the subsection the content is in, the second is the subsection they search, the third is the Concealment Score and the fourth is their active search roll.

If the first and second die don't match, the PCs don't find the content because they're in the wrong spot. If the third die's result is higher than the fourth, the content stays hidden.

I usually do d6+3 for an actually randomly generated Concealement Score, and the fourth d6 will be +# of PCs since it's an active search, but you only have to get to these calculations if the first and second die match.

Once you've rolled the subsection the content is in, I suggest mostly keeping it consistent across further searches because a) it means fewer die rolls and b) it makes things less frustrating for the players because they can whittle down the location by progressively searching all of the subsections.

The sole exception I can think of where it becomes more fun is if the content is moving (e.g. it's a fugitive trying to hide from them by running around the hex), and this will incentivise the PCs to break up into smaller search parties to search more subsections simultaneously. In this case, you should still only roll the first d6 once per watch of searching.


I find these methods allow me to quickly establish whether the PCs have found anything when they search. You have one roll for stocking, and one or two rolls to resolve searching. The level of risk and difficulty of this system can be adjusted using three factors - the granularity of subsections (more likely to miss things), the length of a watch (more resources consumed, esp. time), and the Concealment Scores of content (more difficult to ensure you've cleared a hex). I hope this helps you stock hexes more easily.

Sep 12, 2019

[Review] Pathfinder 2e

I picked up a hard copy of the Pathfinder 2e core book last Wednesday, and have read it over enough to feel like I can offer a review of it. I'm still digging through the details of the spell section, but I've read the rest of it cover to cover (and separately, read the SRD).

The book is 638 pages not counting endpapers, and like the Pathfinder 1e corebook is composed of material that in stock 3.5 was scattered across the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide. The Monster Manual equivalent - the Bestiary - is out but I haven't read it yet, except for glancing through some of its content in the SRD.

As many people know, the offline game I've been playing in for the past eighteen months or so has been a D&D 3.5 game. I'm not a great fan of D&D 3.5 (the group is good enough to bear with the system) and much prefer the various rationalisations and clean-ups of it, like Arcana Unearthed / Evolved, Iron Heroes, and Trailblazer. Pathfinder 1e, which is a slight rebalance of 3.5, didn't go far enough in the core book for me, and I never became invested enough in the system to follow the various developments and tweaks it made to the d20 core over the course of its run, as extensive as I understand they eventually became.

Pathfinder 2e however, has impressed me with how extensively it's cleaned up the d20 system. The strength of the d20 system is its systematic character, and I find Pathfinder 2e has doubled-down on that strength. It's not a system that leaves much implicit, from defining the three rhythmic structures of play (Encounters, Exploration, and Downtime) to explaining exactly how far one falls in a single round spent falling (500 ft. the first round, 1,500 ft. each additional round). You can hate this systematicity if it's not something you care for, but insofar as one does enjoy it (and I do), Pathfinder 2e is a surprisingly well-done implementation of it.

I designed a first-level human wizard character in Pathfinder 2e to test out how cumbersome a process it would be, and I found it took about half as long as creating a D&D 3.5 character. The main time savings were in attribute selection, skill selection, and feat selection. In D&D 3.5 these are all processes that demand a lot of consideration and often provoke "analysis paralysis" in new players, with inobvious long-term consequences and large lists of options, Pathfinder 2e breaks these processes up into a lot of smaller decisions that accumulate over the whole process of character creation and involve picking from smaller lists. That speeds things up considerably.

I also think it will be relatively easy to design your own backgrounds, ancestries, and other bits for character creation because you can get a clear sense of the scope of work for each piece. After looking over the backgrounds once, I understood what each offered (an ability boost tied to one of two stats; a free ability boost; two skills, one of which is a Lore specialty; and a skill feat tied to one of the skills) well enough that I feel comfortable designing my own.

5e breaks down parts of its character creation process in similar ways, and that brings me to the final piece of this short review, which is comparing 5e and Pathfinder 2e. I've been middlingly positive towards 5e as an edition: I own the core set and Xanathar's, and prefer it to 3.5 at the end of its run and to 4e. But I've never been in love with it as an edition either. I don't like the importance of attributes in its system, and I'm not wild about its skill list, and there are various other small choices or gaps in its design such that I'm not an enthusiast.

By contrast, after reading the Pathfinder 2e core book, I was excited and interested in running a d20 game again for the first time in maybe a decade or more. Certainly if I was going to run a campaign using a d20 system, Pathfinder 2e would be my preferred system for doing so. This is surprising for me, but I think it does a better job extending and intensifying the core strengths of the d20 system, whereas 5e tends to be structured in such a way as to mitigate d20's weaknesses.

I think Pathfinder does a better job structuring the cycle of exploration, relies less on attributes (and more on skills) to determine character capacity, and has more granular combat. I wouldn't say any of these was a key criterion for my decision, but each contributed to it, along with my more general admiration of its systematic character, whereas I think D&D 5e tends to leave much more open (and this is probably why many people love it - I'm not trying to start a fight about whether it's good).

Anyhow, I'm at the beginning of a larger conversation with my group about switching from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder 2e, and I'm quite hopeful that we'll decide to do so eventually.