Here’s a list of what I’d like to have in a Hex:
Residents- who lives here, what do they have, what do they know, what can they teach you, are they dangerous, can you stay for the night?
Terrain- the terrain itself, what’s unique, what hazards are there, what can you see from here?
Vegetation- what grows here, what can you eat, when can you find it?
Animals- what lives here, when are they active, how do you find them, can you eat them, what are they worth?
Monsters- what, how dangerous, where does it live, can you avoid it, what does it keep as treasure?
Remains- what is there, who left it?
Treasure- answered above usually but sometimes there is something else.
Enigmas- mysteries, magic, and myth to be explored.
For residents I usually break them down into: Hermits, Camps, Houses, Tower, Settlements, and Castles.
Hermits- that strange local loon. The hermit might be a swordmaster, an oracle, a prophet, a crazy old man, or a monster in disguise.
A Camp- a temporary residence. A work camp, a tribal residence, a band of adventurers, an invading army, bandits, or vagabonds can all be found around a campfire. Sometimes a good place to camp is reward in and of itself. There should be water and a food source nearby.
House- a the homely house of the elfin lord, a trading post, a witches cottage, a haunted house, a the last inn on the borderlands, a farmstead, a place where a hermit flops. A house can save a character life or be their final resting place depending on who or what dwells there.
Settlement- these can vary from a hamlet of dozens to a metropolis depending on the size of the hexcrawl and the types of residents. The bigger the place the more likely folks will; know how to get there. If there is a whole city out there in the wilds why don’t the players know about it? Urban adventuring is a subset of RPG all in it’s own that is opened up by settlements .Who lives there, who’s in charge, what the defenses are, what services are available ?
I often go with a very basic description of a settlement and a handful of important buildings and or locals along with a pricelist of local goods and fare. Worrying about the placement of each building isn’t always necessary and will vary considerably with the scale and nature of your hexcrawl. The nature of a town or section of one can be embodied with an encounter chart.
Castles- these are a feature of RPG wilderness as old as the game itself. They are places of adventure in and of themselves, home to monsters, wizards and wily lords. Not as easy to gain access to as a settlement, more opportunity for mystery behind walls. A castle is evidence of strength and wealth and it’s residence may have power that can be exploited, usurped, or avoided. The castle itself can be a great treasure as it offers shelter and a means to command the surrounding territory. If there is a castle in a hex or nearby hex one may expect patrols that could prove to be a boon as much as a threat. Castle occupants. Garrisons and loot are all that is typically needed. Depending on the nature of the place activity patterns may be needed as well.
Residents can vary by race, class, background and so on there is a host of opportunities presented by the residents of in a hexcrawl. Unique classes, races, and individuals offer the players something to remember. Strange breeds of folks odd customs, and silly dress are a means to add character to a hexcrawl. Which are players going to remember more the village where they bought a sword for 12 g.p. or the village occupied by half-goblins in stove-pipe hats? The line between residents and monsters can be a thin one and depending on the mature of the wilderness and rules used the distinction could be pretty minor.
One of the most vital parts of dealing with the residents can be their patterns of activity. Daily business trades, and defense will alter how and when the PCs will interact with residents. If the occupants of a hunting lodge are all out hunting when the PCs arrive it’s a very different situation form finding that same lodge empty in winter or full of sleeping hunters at night. Village farm fields will be busy in the morning during the spring or autumn but darned sparse on a winter’s night.
A guard at a gate who lazily watches a bunch of exotic strangers approach on the road and does nothing to challenge their entrance tells you a lot about the surrounding area as does a gate closed tight with a voice challenging any who dare seek access.
When placing residents in a hexcrawl I often go random initially and them as things develop I build thing up or take them away based on whim and reason. For initial placement of residents I rolled a check for each of the 400 hexes in the WeirdLands; there was a 1 in 6 chance of a lone house, 1 in 8 for a settlement, 1 in 10 for a tower, and 1 in 12 for a castle. When initially rolling keep what you roll before rejecting out of hand, explore why there could be a village in a sea of lava (if you have one) before rejecting it out of hand. Since random generation some places have been bumped over to a neighboring hex, removed, or added based on the nature of the terrain and realities of the occupants and neighboring palces. As I do more development on who (and what) lives where the nature of places will change. A castle of 60 bandits may morph into something else if the same hex turns out to be the home of a dragon and a city. Currently there is a tower with ranger in a hex adjacent to a tower with river-pirates in an adjacent hex both were totally random and eventually shifted into what they were based on the surrounding terrain and occupants of said hexes.
(more to come)