Hex Size Matters Not

Today's OSR Twitter debate is centered on hex sizes, and some statements as to how the size is truly important.

It was interesting to see the comments related to those posts, where some folks have come to the same conclusion that I've been running with for the past few years:

"It's not the size of the hex that matters, it's the way you present that information consistently in the game so that the game flows well for you and the players."

That's the take-away I've gotten from running Etinerra and from writing the Three Hexes campaign starters for a year.

I have some thoughts as to why, but I have a feeling these are going to get fleshed out in (any) comments, so I'll bullet point them...

  • Campaign maps are mostly abstract to players, so by extension, hex division and contents are abstract. Players (usually) think in terms of "If I go to the Dark Woods, find the road that leads through them, in about a day, I'll reach the other side. If I go halfway through the woods, looking for the strange cleared out area, and then turn south, I will run into the mysterious Crystal Lake about a half day's travel."

    They don't know and (most likely) don't care if this is one hex, three hexes or six on my map. (It's one.)
  • The presentation of outdoor travels and things encountered is far more important. Whenever I read about hex maps, the questions usually boil down to "How do figure out what the players run into in a day? In an hour? How do I figure out what they randomly encounter?"

    I think that the hex size matters little here, as long as the DM is prepared to be consistent with what the players do and how long it takes them to do it. I think that's why hex maps of various sizes, hex point crawls and even lists/flowcharts work. It comes down to how the DM runs these things.

    I would submit that I'm just as successful in that regards as a DM who has mapped out their six mile hexes into 1 mile sub-hexes.
  • The issue of hex size is far more important for wargamers and simulationists. As a wargamer, I can relate to this! I've done the work of figuring out hex size to best fit my wargame campaign rules (and vice versa), but that has mattered very little towards presenting same to the players of D&D. It has mattered a great deal to my wargamer players, who need those hexes as the rules are very precise.

    Now, if I ran a simulationist D&D game where the exact mile counted, ie., how many mustard farms would I run into if I'm walking down this road, but I don't. If we got to a situation where this was needed, then I will prepare such materials, but until then, I go with my standard "1 hex = 1 day's travel on horse, 1/2 day's travel on foot" approach.
  • Hex size is almost as much a religion as descending armor class vs. ascending armor class. I've ran into huge pushback to my Three Hexes series because I was abstract or very loosey-goosey on the hex size.
So what do you think? If your campaign has a strict hex size, how has it mattered and why?


  1. I’m of the same opinion, it matters not. I use “one hex is about a day’s travel” and that means there is a 1/6 chance for a random encounter during the day and a 1/6 chance for a random encounter during the night if you’re not behind walls, and a 1/6 chance to find a hidden structure in the area, if you’re searching it for a day. The number of miles is irrelevant but if people ask me, I tell them “about five or six miles”.

    1. Great to hear from you Alex. I approach it much the same way.

  2. I use 6-mile hexes simply because of how conveniently the math breaks down, but no, I've never seen players care about that once what's in the hex is within the horizon. They're usually much more concerned with finding a tree or other high ground to climb for a good idea of what's around.

  3. I love myself some game maps but have to ask: Does hex size matter if we really don't need hexes? Hexes were introduced into gaming to speed up and simplify competitiive game play. If a campaign isn't a competition the hex is an unusual fetish. Hex size is more a question of map scale: How much of the map do you want PCs crossing in a session?


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