Hex maps and RPG campaigns go back to the very first fantasy campaigns due to the wargaming roots of the hobby. One of the features of the hex map I have always disliked was the monolithic nature of the hex symbol. In the standard hex map a single symbol defines the entire contents of an area outside specific notes that a GM may have on said hex. One way around that is to denote general elevation or terrain type by a color code (I have done some of that in the sample map here). Another way to expand on the utility of the hex map and get a use out of those hexes is a detailed hex border.
The detailed hex border adds a layer of detail that expands on the GM's descriptive repertoire and in the player's agency in making informed decisions. In the example map here I have provided a number of border details to expand details and to clarify.
In the sample map we have six general types of terrain. Border hexes expand on the relation between some hexes by indicating troublesome or notable differences in travel between hexes. The border details show are for elevation, forest travel, swamp hazard, and shoreline danger. Each border detail has 1 to 3 little marks for each symbol denoting the level of significance at that border from notable, serious, and major.
A notable border feature would provide risk only to the unprepared and unskilled in navigating that feature. A serous border feature indicates a degree of hazard to experienced travelers and the major border feature indicates a rigorous challenge to the skilled. It is possible to mix border features as well and this compounds the potential hazard.
How serious each border hazard is would of course be relevant to game, campaign, and even the adventure as what is noted could vary on map scale. For ease of handling in old-school play a hazard can be avoided on a 1d6 roll over the number of hazards noted on the border detail, requiring specific equipment to make that roll, give a re-roll, or to avoid the impact of a hazard can expand utility an increase the utility in player choices. One difference in elevation may just slow progress but failing a check against two could indicate a party member has stumbled, failing against could indicate no progress at all in absence of ropes in addition to the greater risk of a potentially deadly fall.
A GM could of course elaborate in notes as to the contents of a hex:
- D.2: The Village of Buckmay sits secluded in the forest and is difficult to approach due to the thick tangle of trees in the southwest and north. The forest opens up clearly to the northwest but the going looks rough to get into the hills, anyone traveling without a local guide stands the risk of falling far enough as to suffer 2d6 damage.
I'm going to work on this idea some more and share it here of course. Difference in scales intrigues me the most as it may serve as a functional means to make more local hex travel meaningful. I'd be delighted in any reader's input.