Hex Crawl Chronicles 1: Valley of the Hawks (PFRPG) (based on
Frog God Games
The Valley of Hawks is a wooded river valley that cuts across a verdant prairie. It is named for the giant specimen of hawks that hunt along its banks and, during the Spring, blacken its skies. In the days of myth and legend, the Valley of the Hawks was inhabited by a race of giants who carved their likenesses in stone and hunted monstrous creatures using the giant hawks as their ardent companions and helpers. In the shadow of the giants dwelled the trouping elves and their erstwhile goblin enemies, fighting and feasting and making sport of life. The coming of the golden men from the west sent the proud elves and vicious goblins into hiding, for they commanded powerful magics and built a grand city of metal and crystal. But the reach of the golden men exceeded their grasp, and within a few generations their city had fallen and sent its children into the valley as orphans, and the elves and goblins worked their vengeance on them until only a few bands of the golden men, as wild and savage as the beasts, still roam the Valley. And so our adventurers arrive in the Valley of the Hawks seeking fame and fortune. Perhaps they come from northern lands or southern lands or perhaps they were born in the Valley and seek to learn its secrets and use its wealth to found a new city in the manner of the long gone golden men, a city that shines and terrifies and engraves their names forever in the stories of elves and men.
Hex Crawl Chronicles
When the game was invented and sold in a little woodgrain box, the author told us a required supplement was an Avalon Hill game called Outdoor Survival. This was a wilderness survival game that consisted of a hexagonal map system that players would travel around, trying to find their way back to civilization, all the while trying not to die of thirst or get eaten by bears. This game map was used as the first wilderness “hex-crawl” for what eventually became D&D. Later, Judges Guild took this to a whole new level with the Wilderlands series. For many years, hex crawling was just the way the game was played. This series brings that back, or supplements existing games that use that system of travel.
What a hex crawl is, literally, is a wilderness sandbox of areas, encounters and villages that players travel around in. It provides no story line, just hundreds of story hooks and possibilities. An example of what this looks like that I published a few years ago can be found at:
These books provide a sub-setting in your own campaign world. They populate the world, and allow you to let your players explore that world, rather than just “travel 20 days” to the dungeon. Written by John Stater of NOD fame, each of these supplements details an area with a specific theme. Monster and NPC statistics are provided for each encounter area detailed.
This module is 42 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisements and 1 page SRD, leaving 36 pages of content, so let's check out this Hex Crawl.
Hex Crawl? Yep, it's a kind of adventure that has unfortunately gone nearly extinct in this day and age. If you're looking for a wholly spelt-out adventure with a linear story, this kind of adventure is not for you - the closest analogy being in computer games Fallout 2, Baldur's Gate 1 or Arcanum - you have this map (which is full of numbered hexes, hence hex-crawl) and you move around on it, stumbling across random encounters, settlements, dungeons, NPCs etc. The true motivation of these kind of adventures comes from a sense of discovery, a wonder at the strangeness and yet familiarity of the things we find drives a good hex crawl - the aim is to simulate an area and provide a sandbox in the truest sense of the word - a playing ground with power-balances that your PCs can change. The amount of information necessitated to make such an endeavor work has the logical conclusion of providing not the full statblocks for all the NPCs - you'll encounter some abbreviated ones in this book, which you can expand upon.
From here on, SPOILERS reign, so please potential players, stop reading and jump to the conclusion.
So how does John Stater's Valley of the Hawks hold up? The Valley of the Hawks is inhabited by 3 different human ethnicities and offers a plethora of settlements - interestingly enough, for example, the Northmen are dusky-skinned, rather civilized individuals, offering a nice twist from standard cultural clichés. Were I to go over the vast amount of information, adventure-seeds etc. contained herein, I'd be writing this review for a week - just to give you an overview: Most settlements have either a tyrant, an external force, a cult devoted to some depraved (or just savage)god/demons for the PCs to stomp out and from slavery to love triangles, kidnappings and enmities, the PCs can encounter a vast array of potential allies and foes, who in their at times primal feeling, succeed at hearkening back to the classics of the Swords & Sorcery-genre while capturing the atmosphere of wonder and astonishment that should be the essence of wilderness adventures at a kind of magical frontier.
Even better, the pdf also has room for easter-eggs - Let me just say two words: Kill-Bunnies! Humanoid bipedal, bloodthirsty rabbits haunt one of the hexes! AWESOME! Have I mentioned the mechanical milkmaids or the space-vampires with their crashed space-ship? The wise Owl-folk? The elves of the Winter Court? The mini-dungeon called Temple of the Snake-men (complete with its own map)?
Editing and formatting is top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read two-column standard and the b/w-artworks rock. The maps are awesome as well and the pdf is extensively bookmarked.
Writing-wise I was wowed by the cultural micro-cosmos presented herein, the vast amount of information, the easter-eggs, the huge array of adventure hooks and most importantly, the wonder of discovery and vast amount of content crammed herein. Try as I might, I can't bring myself to say anything negative about this adventure-sandbox. If you're willing to expand upon the basic information herein, I think you could easily spend a year in the valley of hawks. This pdf gets my Endzeitgeist seal of approval as well as the full 5 stars - check it out!