Hexographer RPG Software

Fantasy and maps tend to go hand and hand. One need only look at one of the most famous works of the genre, The Hobbit to see that. That work included two maps. The first was that of "The Wilderland", the location where the majority of the adventures in The Hobbit took place. The second was Thorin's "treasure map", his map of the Lonely Mountain.

It is no surprise that fantasy role playing games have made extensive use of maps. Beyond being true to the genre this is also quite practical, as many games involve adventuring in an unfriendly wilderness, much like the Wilderland that Bilbo and his companions adventured in in The Hobbit.

I've noted two common goals in RPG maps, those of utility and those of artistic merit. Commercial products tend to need both. Individual game masters have a bit more flexibility as they have just their own groups to satisfy. Personally I absolutely love maps and I suspect I'm not the only one in the hobby like that. In my house, for example, is a framed map of New York City as it was around the time of the American Revolution. I've tried my hand at making maps which aspire to goals beyond mere functionality, using using ProFantasy's excellent Campaign Cartographer products. I will cover these in a future posting. Suffice to say while Campaign Cartographer can produce excellent maps, doing so requires practice and time - Campaign Cartographer is essentially a CAD program that has been customized for map making.

That brings us to Inkwell Ideas' Hexographer, product which steers towards producing hex maps whose main advantage is utility (though the maps produced are by no means ugly and are reminiscent of the maps produced in the 70s and 80s by TSR and Judges' Guild. Indeed, there are often advantages to producing maps in this style, as it allows a game master to better map out his setting for adventures, whether on an epic quest or exploring a "sandbox". As its default, Hexographer produces maps in as style reminiscent of the original D&D Gazetteer series.

Below you can see a map I'm in the process of making with Hexographer (and the banner for this blog was made with it as well):

What I'm doing in this map is a map in the style of the old Judges' Guild Wilderlands map. The larger hexes are 25 miles per hex while the smaller hexes are each 5 miles. Note that the regional hex template I'm using (i.e. super-hexes and smaller hexes) is something I downloaded from the Welsh Piper, a blog for busy game masters (I'd encourage you to spend some time at the site if you're anything like me with a job, a family, and a hobby that has you making maps...)

There's a few things worth noting about the map I'm developing. At its default each hex gets its own terrain.You can change the appearance of your map by using a different terrain template, giving you different icons for each terrain. The map above makes use of the default template. There are tools that allow you to make variations from the strict hex icons. For example, you can make roads, rivers, borders, etc. which can either follow the outlines of individual hexes or be drawn free-form. Hexographer also provides a tool to draw polygons. The main use I got out of this was the ability to draw bodies of water which do not follow a strict hexagonal pattern.

The map above did not take me long to make - perhaps an hour, and it was one of the first maps I made with Hexographer. It is still in development - for example I've yet to provide labels.

The maps produced have various features which can be turned on or off. You can designate certain things as GM-visible only to allow you to print out a players' map. You can turn hex numbering on or off.

The maps themselves can be saved as a PNG image if you want something that can be viewed by anyone. The program itself is written in Java. I've run it both on my Windows 7 PC and my MacBook Pro and I know there are people who run it on Linux as well.

There's a few things I'd like to see improved. For example, I'd really, really like for there to be an undo button. Id also like to see more "official" support for maps like the one I'm showing above, with larger master hexes and smaller-scale hexes (in my map the smaller hexes are the "real" ones, the larger ones having been drawn over it).

These are minor issues however. Overall, I'm very pleased with the product (which can also be used to make Traveller sector maps, village maps, etc.) Hexographer provides a nice balance between utility and artistic merit - the maps you produce will be extremely useful for gaming and will be far from shoddy looking. The learning curve is very small - you'll be producing maps right away and as you grow in proficiency (I'm still a relative novice) you'll find you can do more and more with it.

How much does this cost? The basic version is free though the paid version is more useful, allowing for the following (taken from the Hexographer website):

  • Run off-line.
  • Change terrain & feature icons and add new custom terrain & features.
  • Expand existing maps with extra hex rows/columns.
  • Make child/sub-maps where 1 hex from a current map becomes between 4-30 hexes in a child map.
  • Run the map key wizard to quickly create a key.
  • Add custom map items (Buildings & other objects on the "Map Items" tab.) The free version lets you add 10.
  • Add notes to hexes.
The paid version is currently going for $24.95 (or $44.95 if bundled with their Dungeonographer product, something I'll be experimenting with in short order.

Personally I think the paid version is well worth it. While I'm sure I'll still want to produce super-maps that aspire to be works of art this is a tool that will allow me to quickly produce maps and get to gaming. 

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