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Exploring the world of six-guns and sorcery through the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game

Everone in Precipice got lost in the fog and found themselves in between worlds. Some people arrived by train, others on horseback, some on foot. Their reasons for heading West are varied.

Reasons for Heading West

Roll 1d4 to determine who’s involved (1 = family, 2 = friend, 3 = foe, 4 = mystery), then roll 1d20 to determine your reason. You may also select what interests you.

  1. To fulfill/avoid an obligation
  2. To pay/escape a debt
  3. To find a missing person
  4. To impress someone
  5. You are wanted for horse theft
  6. You are wanted for murder
  7. You are wanted for arson
  8. You are wanted for forgery
  9. You are wanted for train robbery
  10. You are wanted for desertion
  11. You received a telegraph offering payment for help
  12. You seek revenge/justice
  13. You have betrayed someone
  14. To escape an abusive relationship
  15. To find a cure
  16. You lost a bet
  17. You follow a ghost
  18. A ghost follows you
  19. To attend a funeral
  20. To make your fortune

Tokens of the Past

Roll 1d4 to determine who owned the item before you (1 = family, 2 = friend, 3 = foe, 4 = unknown), then roll 1d20 for the item.

  1. A small, silver-framed mirror
  2. An ivory hairbrush
  3. A wanted poster
  4. A faded photograph
  5. An antler-handled Bowie knife
  6. Native-made jewelry
  7. A lock of hair tied with a yellow ribbon
  8. A human scalp
  9. The ace of spades with a name written on it
  10. A raven’s skull
  11. A popular book, hollow
  12. An expensive hat
  13. A Union sergeant’s stripes
  14. A handwritten letter
  15. A Confederate flag
  16. A music box
  17. A European porcelain smoking pipe
  18. A delicate silk handkerchief
  19. A ticket to the Ford Theater
  20. A baby rattle

During the period known as the Wild West, there were a number of coins in circulation, and until 1857, foreign coins, especially the Spanish dollar, were used in the U.S. 

Here’s a list of coins that could be found in play, although I suggest simplifying it to penny, nickel, and dollar:

  • Half cent: 1⁄2¢, 1793–1857
  • Large cents (various designs): 1¢, 1793-1857
  • Two-cent bronze: 2¢, 1863–1873
  • Three-cent nickel: 3¢, 1865–1889
  • Half dime: 5¢, 1792–1873
  • Twenty-cent piece: 20¢, 1875–1878
  • Gold dollar: $1.00, 1849–1889
  • Quarter eagle: $2.50, 1792–1929
  • Three-dollar piece: $3.00, 1854–1889
  • Half eagle: $5.00, 1795–1929
  • Eagle: $10.00, 1795–1933
  • Double eagle: $20.00, 1849–1933
  • Half-union: $50.00

In fantasy games, the gold piece is the standard, so let’s just equate that to $1 for now, and see how this compares to the standard equipment list in the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook.

Looking at advertisements from the mid- to late-1800’s, I found the average price for a regular horse was $75. The price for a riding horse in the PHB is 75 gp. Amazing!

Similarly, a pony was $25, which is comparable to the pony price in the Player’s Handbook of 30 gp. 

Period advertisements also showed a saddle and saddlebag cost about $25. To buy those from the PHB will cost you 14 gp. That’s not exact, but it’s close.

Here are some additional items I found for sale in the mid- to late-1800’s: 

  • A decent revolver cost about $25.
  • A torch cost just a penny.
  • A small hammer was 50 cents.
  • A cost lantern $10.
  • A backpack cost $2.
  • Nine good cigars only cost 25 cents.

If you consider a cowboy could make about $1/day in the 1800’s, this all seems to be a good equation. Since most of the items in the PHB can be purchased with copper, silver, and gold, there’s little reason to convert electrum and platinum to dollars, but here they are:

Fantasy Coins to US Currency

  • Platinum Piece = $100 (A full Union coin was never minted for $100, but I say go for it!)
  • Electrum Piece = $10 (Substitute a Liberty $10 coin, minted from 1838-1907)
  • Gold Piece = $1
  • Silver = $.10
  • Copper = $.01

As for paper notes, here is some history for you:

  • 1816 to 1836: The Second Bank of the United States was chartered.
  • 1837 to 1862: In the Free Banking Era there was no formal central bank, and banks issued their own notes again.
  • 1861: Congress introduced the Demand Note, which was non-interest bearing.
  • 1861: The first $10 note which featured Abraham Lincoln on it.
  • 1862: Congress authorizes a new class of currency, known as “United States notes,” or “Legal Tender notes.” These notes are characterized by a red seal and serial number.
  • 1865: The United States Secret Service is established to deter counterfeiters, whose activities diminish the public’s confidence in the nation’s currency.

For each hex explored, roll 1d20. On a 1-10, there is no encounter. An 11-16 forces a roll on the Combat Encounters table, and an 18-20 will warrant a roll on the Social Encounters table.

If the players choose to take a long rest in a hex, roll again.

The usage column is for tracking how many times these encounters have been put into play. I suggest the Deadly encounters only occur once. If you roll an encounter more times than suggested, choose another encounter in that difficulty bracket.

Combat Encounters usually result in violence, unless the party manages to avoid detection entirely, waiting for the monster to pass, or using stealth to move around it.

Social Encounters involve non-player characters that have their own agenda, but are not immediately threatening or violent. Some may request aid, offer support, or be willing to trade for goods and information.

Combat Encounters

Roll 1d8+1d12MonsterDifficulcy
2GhastDeadly
3Cultist, SpectreHard
4Zombies (3)Hard
5Pseudodragons (3)Hard
6Animated Mining ContraptionMedium
7Death DogMedium
8Giant SpiderMedium
9Flying Mining Pick, zombieEasy
10Cultists (2)Easy
11Skeletons (2)Easy
12Steam mephits (2)Easy
13Myconid adultEasy
14Myconid adult, needle blightMedium
15Violet fungus, Twig blights (2)Medium
16Dretch, Manes (2)Medium
17Ghoul, ZombieHard
18Myconid adult, ScarecrowHard
19Myconid adults (2)Hard
20Spined devilDeadly

Role-playing Suggestions

  • Ghast: This was a shaman of the lost Munsee tribe, who betrayed his people and cursed them.
  • Pseudodragons: These Chinese dragons are locked in a brightly colored laminate chest.
  • Steam Mephits: They can be found inhabiting old mining contraptions which can be salvaged.

Social Encounters

RollPerson(s)WantsOffers
1Lost minersSafe passage to surface$120
2SurveyorsMap informationMap information
3Bandit prisonerTo be freeService as henchman
4Medicine manTo find a rare plantPotions
5Sherrif and deputyLocation of a criminal$100 each
6TelemancerMonster defeated, telegraph line connectedCommunication services
7Sprite warriorBandit scalpsSleep poison or antidote
8ThiefHis hidden stash to remain a secretWill buy/sell black market goods

Scattered around the town of Precipice are bell towers which serve to mark the passage of the hours, and they can also be rung to warn the population of an impending attack. Each bell has it’s own distinctive note, and a different bell is used for each day of the week. On Monday,it’s the bell in the tower attached to The Gallows saloon, while on Tuesday it’s the train station bell.

When this ghost town was rediscovered, the bell towers were already in place, and nobody knows who forged them. Rumors about the bells’ histories and mystical abilities are as varied as the people who live here.

Each bell was originally paired with a brass-headed hammer attached to a human leg bone, and it’s surmised that these are from medieval Saints. The bone handles were etched with runes of power, and only with one of these hammers can the magic of the bells be harnessed. Most of these bell hammers are lost somewhere in the mines beneath Precipice, but Aunt Sally, proprietor of The Gallows, has one of them.

Here are some suggested powers, as per the spell of the same name. Consider the person who strikes the bell with a hammer to be the caster.:

  • Armor of Agathys. Once used, cannot be used again for 3 days.
  • Conjure Fey. Once used, cannot be used again for 7 days.
  • Create Undead. Once used, cannot be used again for 7 days.
  • Divination. Once used, cannot be used again for 3 days.
  • Fly. Once used, cannot be used again for 3 days.
  • Gate. Once used, cannot be used again for 30 days.
  • Greater Restoration. Once used, cannot be used again for 7 days.
  • Heal. Once used, cannot be used again for 7 days.
  • Invisibility. Once used, cannot be used again for 3 days.
  • Lesser Restoration. Once used, cannot be used again for 3 days.
  • Summon Lesser Demons. Once used, cannot be used again for 7 days.
  • Summon Greater Demons. Once used, cannot be used again for 7 days.

Each bell could have its own theme, history, or guardian. They may have requirements for use, such as having a specific alignment. Bell owners have hypothesized that if 3 or more bells are struck in unison to create a chord, some great event may be triggered, but as of yet, this has not been tested.

Below is an example.

The Gallows Bell

“I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled.” Jeremiah 4:25

This bell does not get its name because of any morose history or abilities, but simply because it’s located above The Gallows saloon.

  • Benefactor: Dabriel, angel
  • Location: Tower above The Gallows saloon
  • Activation requirements: Must be Good aligned for minor powers, Lawful Good for major power. The command phrases are taken from scripture and are engraved on the bell.
  • Granted Minor Power: Fly, Conjure Fey (flying creatures only)
  • Granted Major Power: Divine Word (Must be Lawful Good aligned to use this power. Duration: Upon ringing the bell and uttering the command phrase, the caster has 24 hours to use this power, after which the magic fades. This power cannot be accessed again for 30 days.)

 

 

 

This table will help to create the atmosphere in each hex. In general, use the description of the Ranch in the previous section, but use these results to create variations from hex to hex.
Roll once to generate a geological feature, and then again, if you want, roll again to include an unusual feature. Some geological features may exist throughout the entire hex, such as streams, or a fungus field, whereas results like mine entrance, natural stairs, or whirlpool are singular features of that hex.

Using a roll of 1d8+1d12 creates a bell curve, with results of 9 – 13 being the most common.

Roll 1d8+1d12Environmental FeatureNotable Occurrence
2Waterfall to lower levelShrine, holy
3Steam geysersMine cart rails, 2-person velocipede
4Fungus fieldsStampede of Doxen (DEX save DC 10 or 1d6 dmg)
5Unstable floorsMine cart rails, rail mounted steam drill
6Pools of water, foulSigns of a recent fight
7Pools of water, potableCorpse, recent
8Collapsed tunnelGate, iron, locked (DC 15 to pick of break)
9Caves, small <20'Corpse, old
10Caves, large >20'Door, wood, locked (DC 10 to pick or break)
11Streams, potableTrap (1d4; bear trap, shotgun, pit, dynamite)
12Vegetation, edible, luminescentMine cart rails, ore cart
13Cavern, 100' wide x 30' long x 75' highGrave, single
14Chasm, 30' deep, 20' across, with bridgeGrave, mass (1d8+1d12)
15Chasm, 30' deep, 20'
across
Natural gas tunnel lighting system
16Natural stairs to lower levelAir circulation/filtration pumps (negates fungus fields)
17Natural chimney to upper levelLava powered ore smelts
18Vertical lift to lower levelTelegraph (1d4; surface, this level, other plane, other level)
19Functional lift to lower levelMine cart rails, 6-person hand car
20Exposed gold deposit worth $100Shrine, unholy

FUNGUS FIELDS

Unless the characters have some means to filter the air they breathe, they will need to need to make a group DC 15 Widsom (Survival) check to avoid stepping on the wrong spot and releasing spores into the air. If the group fails, everyone takes a level of Exhaustion.

COLLAPSED TUNNEL

Roll 1d6 and then count clockwise around the side of the hex, starting at the top. The number rolled is the direction that is blocked. A significant amount of effort will be required to clear the rubble.

HAND CARS & VELOCIPEDES

No cost for movement through this hex if riding in a hand car or velocipede. Rail lines only exist in the hex in which it was rolled, but adjoining hexes may have their rail lines connected.

POOLS OF WATER

Make a DC 10 Wisdom (Survival) check to determine if the water is safe to drink. Drinking foul water poisons the character. A poisoned creature has disadvantage on Attack rolls and Ability Checks.

SHRINES

Shrines are always found at the crossroads of all tunnels in a hex.

A holy shrine emanates warm light in a 30’ radius. Those within its reach are affected by a Sanctuary spell. Examples include angelic statues, totem poles, and toadstool circles.

Upon seeing an unholy shrine, characters must make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, the character is affected by Apathy. The character has disadvantage on death saving throws and on initiative, and gains the following flaw: “I don’t believe I can make a difference to anyone or anything.” After finishing a long rest, a character can attempt ot overcome the apathy with a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw. On a successful save, the effect ends. Examples include a hanged man carved with runes, bubbling cauldrons, demonic statues, totem poles of horrifying monsters, and piles of painted skulls.

Shrines cannot be relocated, but can be destroyed.

TRAP, BEAR
Simple trap (level 1—4, dangerous threat)

A bear trap resembles a set of iron jaws that springs shut when stepped on, clamping down on a creature’s leg. The trap is spiked in the ground, leaving the victim immobilized.
Trigger. A creature that steps on the bear trap triggers it.

Effect. The trap makes an attack against the triggering creature. The attack has a +8 attack bonus and deals 5 (1d10) piercing damage on a hit. This attack can’t gain advantage or disadvantage. A creature hit by the trap has its speed reduced to 0. It can’t move until it breaks free of the trap, which requires a successful DC 15 Strength check by the creature or another creature adjacent to the trap.

Countermeasures. A successful DC 10 Wisdom (Perception) check reveals the trap. A successful DC 10 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disables it.

TRAP, SHOTGUN
Simple trap (level 1—4, dangerous threat)

The crossbow trap is a favorite of bandits that rely on traps to defend their hideouts. It consists of a trip wire strung across a hallway and connected to a double barrel shotgun. It is aimed to fire down the hallway at anyone who disturbs the trip wire.

Trigger. A creature that walks through the trip wire triggers the trap.

Effect. The trap attacks with a +8 attack bonus and deals 1d10 piercing damage on a hit. There is advantage to the damage roll.

Countermeasures. A successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check reveals the trip wire. A successful DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disables the trip wire, and a check with a total of 5 or lower triggers the trap.

TRAP, DYNAMITE
Simple trap (level 1—4, moderate threat)

Trigger. A creature that walks through the trip wire triggers the trap.

Effect. The trip wire sparks the fuse on a stick of dynamite weged into a crack near the ceiling of the tunnel. The explosion will collapse the tunnel, requiring significant effort to clear. Each creature within 15’ of the blast must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 11 (2d10) fire damage on a fail, or half that with success.

Countermeasures. A successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check reveals the trip wire. A successful DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disables the trip wire, and a check with a total of 5 or lower triggers the trap.

UNSTABLE FLOORS, STEAM GEYSERS

Navigating these areas is dangerous. Make a group DC 15 Wisdom (Survival) check. If the group fails, the person with the lowest roll takes 3 (1d6) points of damage.

VEGETATION, EDIBLE AND LUMINESCENT

No need expend torches or rations while in this hex.

 

You may be familiar with using a hex map to track overland travel in your adventures, and these hexes are typically 6 miles across (sometimes 12). When adventuring in dungeons, we use squares to represent 5′. The method to explore the mines, catacombs, and natural tunnels beneath Precipice is similar, but uses a different scale, wherein each hex is approximately 1 mile.

Exploration is done procedurally through the use of tables and randomly rolled results.  It’s up the DM to decide whether to do this before a game session and to populate the hex map, or to let the players make the rolls during the session.

The rolls will produce the following:

  • Random Features – Environmental Feature and a Notable Occurrence
  • Random Encounter – Combat or Social
  • Random Treasure

The results should provide just enough information to set the stage and then let everyone’s imaginations take it from there. There are 30 hexes per level, and each level has its own unique set of random tables.  For example, the tables for The Ranch are thematically different than The Fields of Anguish, and will provide appropriate challenges.

I will share some unique adventure sites in future articles, and I suggest that adventure sites be placed in specific hexes. These adventure sites all come with adventure hooks that entice the players to search for them.

Hexcrawl Rules

Time and Resources

  • It takes about an hour to explore each new hex.
  • Torches burn for 1 hour.
  • Lanterns burn for 6 hours on a pint of oil.
  • Characters can move through previously explored hexes at twice the rate with a successful Wisdom (Survival) check DC 10+1/level of the dungeon. Failure means it takes the standard 1 hour to retrace your steps, rather than reducing the trip to 30 minutes.

At the start of each new level:

  • The DM determines the group’s starting location on the map.
  • Players should take stock of their light sources and plan their trip accordingly.

At the start of each new hex:

  1. Roll for Random Features.
  2. Roll for Random Encounters.
  3. Roll for Random Treasure.
  4. Perform Short or Long Rests.
  5. Exit the Hex: The players choose a scout to lead the way. When players choose to exit a hex, the scout rolls Wisdom (Survival) DC 10+1/dungeon level to find a route in that direction. Failure indicates no exit is found in that direction, but they may try again in new directions. Optional: If a 1 is rolled, there are no more undiscovered exits in that hex. If a 20 is rolled, all remaining sides have an exit.
  6. Make note of exits on the Hexcrawl Tracker, along with additional notes on features and encounters if desired.

Here’s a fillable PDF of the Hexcrawl Tracker, which has an ‘old paper’ layer you can turn off.

Below is what a completed tracker looks like. I use the triangles to indicate exits. You may wish to mark still operable traps and undefeated monsters with a T or M, then cross it out once you’ve dealt with it. Use the lines below for more detailed information, such as features and occurrences.

In my next article, I’ll share the Random Features table for Level 1: The Ranch.