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Over the Hill and Far Away

March has turned into a long adventure with many stops! Next weekend I will be at PAX East. I'll be on two panels: one on Saturday at 9 pm talking about successful Kickstarters, and one Sunday at noon on the future of roleplaying characters. If you're attending the show I hope to see you at one or both!

Last Friday we had another in our series of all-hands review meetings and presentations as we work toward our first quarter milestone. As you'll read below, one big issue we're focused on is getting the size of a hex right. There's no good quantitative way to do this, so we are experimenting with several sizes and spending time in them to get a sense of what feels "best." More testing will be undertaken as we start putting some key gameplay features into the system.

This week, lead designer Lee Hammock presents a lot of detail about the overall territorial unit system. There's a lot of interconnected stuff here, so I recommend reading the whole blog once to get a sense for it, then reading it again in detail to see how it all fits together.

Hex Size

Territorial control and resource production are some of the major gameplay facets in Pathfinder Online, so we've been working on tuning up the map to try and make things more fun and interesting. We've revamped our early thinking on implementing the hex system to increase fun and allow for more gradations of conquest, conflict, and resource collection. There have been a number of discussion threads recently about hexes, so we thought this would be a good time to bring everyone up to speed on our latest thinking.

Previously our plan was to target 200+ hexes for the Crusader Road area, each about a little larger than a mile across with a settlement at the center of each. After some mucking around with maps and technical issues, we realized this plan would mean that war between settlements had to be an all-or-nothing affair; the only thing you could do to another settlement was sack it. There was no real sense of fighting for territory since the only territory you controlled was the hex around your settlement, and the only way to lose territory was to lose your settlement. We wanted settlement loss to be the climax of a massive struggle, not the only step, so we have decided to subdivide our previous "big" hexes into seven smaller hexes each, creating more discrete units of territory to fight over.

Before anyone panics, the total size of the game is not changing; if anything it may get bigger, since there are now a lot more hexes. Currently our hex-size experiments are falling into the range of 400 to 1000 meters across per new, smaller hex.

Types of Hexes

First, hexes come in four types: settlement hexes, wilderness hexes, monster hexes, and NPC hexes.

Settlement Hex: Settlement hexes are where you build settlements. Not every hex in the Crusader Road area is a potential settlement site—roughly 1 hex in 10 actually has the potential to become a town. These hexes are seeded throughout the game area, surrounded by wilderness hexes.

  • Settlement hexes do not produce resources aside from what the structures in a settlement produce.
  • Initially, settlement hexes are empty of structures, and any settlement must be built at the town site near the center of the hex.
  • Each settlement hex provides base values for the starting development indexes of a settlement built in that hex (see Development Indexes, below)—different town sites offer different natural advantages and disadvantages.

Wilderness Hex: Most hexes are wilderness hexes. Each settlement hex is surrounded by six wilderness hexes. In addition there are "extra" wilderness hexes seeded across the map to make things interesting and less regular.

  • Wilderness hexes are mostly undeveloped land with a space for a point of interest (an inn, watchtower, farm, or similar structure) to be built near the center.
  • Wilderness hexes are where most resources are found, with each wilderness hex having a selection of Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Very Rare resources. No one hex produces all resources, and they produce resources corresponding to the terrain. For example, forests may produce multiple types of wood, while hills produce metals and stone.
  • A wilderness hex is controlled by whatever settlement controls the point of interest. The number and type of wilderness hexes a settlement controls boosts the development indexes of the controlling settlement (see Development Indexes, below).
  • Settlements can build outlying structures in the points of interest of wilderness hexes they control. Constructing a point of interest structure requires money and resources, as does maintaining it. Different point of interest structures provide different boosts to the controlling settlement's development indexes. For example, farms produce food and primarily boost the controlling settlement's population and industry, while watchtowers allow members of the settlement to see further into neighboring hexes and boosts settlement security. Other point of interest structures might include mines, inns, logging camps, or shrines that function as temples away from settlements.

Monster Hex: Located among wilderness hexes (and never next to a settlement hex), monster hexes are hostile spaces were monsters often lurk.

  • Settlements cannot control monster hexes, and they do not affect development potential of nearby settlements.
  • Monster hexes are where escalation cycles begin, which are events where monsters will move into an area and spread from hex to hex. Monsters may disrupt control of the hexes they spread into if they are not stopped by destroying their base in the source monster hex.
  • Monster hexes produce resources but are very difficult to harvest due to all the hostile forces.

NPC Hex: A limited number of hexes are controlled by NPC settlements, such as Thornkeep and Fort Inevitable. In addition, certain major trade routes are also chains of NPC hexes.

  • These cannot be controlled by settlements and do not affect their development.
  • Resources can be harvested in these hexes, but tend to be lower quality overall.
  • These hexes provide some level of protection for players in the form of NPC guards or patrols.

New players start in NPC hexes, where they can more safely learn the basics of the game. Once they outgrow the resources and training available in the NPC hexes, most players will move on to other hexes.

Development Indexes

The type and amount of terrain your settlement controls naturally determines your settlement's strength and prosperity. Each settlement is measured in six development indexes: Security, Industry, Population, Civilization, Spirit, and Morale. The base values of your settlement's development are determined by the characteristics of the hex where you build your settlement, but are then increased by the wilderness hexes your settlement controls and the structures your settlement builds in each controlled hex's point of interest. Development indexes are also improved by gaining artifacts from defeating escalation cycles and building certain structures in your settlement, such as a memorial to increase morale.

Development indexes function as pools of points that you allocate when adding structure; for example, building a Smithy may take up 100 Industry of your settlement's 500 Industry, meaning you only have 400 for the rest of your settlement. Further details on Development Indexes will be included in future blog posts about settlements.

Monster Hexes and Escalation Cycles

Escalation Cycles are events where monsters take up residence in a monster hex, and then begin spreading over time to other hexes if the monsters are not dealt with. Escalation cycles can start naturally in unoccupied monster hexes, or they can be started by players by collecting certain items and placing them in a monster hex, effectively luring the monsters to the hex. Completion of escalation cycles requires progressing through several stages, each having different quests that can be completed to advance the stage, and awarding an artifact at the end of the escalation cycle. Most escalation cycles are ended by destroying the monster base in the monster hex, though some can be completed by helping the monster force if the aiding settlement is of appropriate alignment and alliance, such as a Lawful Evil settlement aiding an invading force of Hellknights. Further details of escalation cycles will be provided in future blog posts on the subject.

Many Kinds of Settlements, Many Kinds of Conflict

As you can see, no two settlements are going to be exactly alike. Access to wilderness hexes of various terrain types may force one settlement to specialize, but allow another settlement to collect a variety of different resources. Decisions about how to use each wilderness hex your settlement can bring under its control will provide a great deal of interesting gameplay for settlement managers. And, naturally, the race to gain control of valuable wilderness hexes will naturally spark conflict or cooperation with neighboring settlements.

The "satellite territory" of wilderness hexes around your settlement also provides a great deal more graininess for resolving differences between settlements. Under this new approach, warfare isn't just a matter of invading a hex and sacking a settlement. Now conflict between settlements can involve skirmishing for unclaimed wilderness hexes, seizing wilderness hexes controlled by your rivals, or destroying enemy structures in points of interest. Instead of direct assault, you might opt for a strategy of raid or attrition, reducing the usefulness of enemy outlying territory in order to decrease a rival settlement's Development Indexes, which in turn may make buildings in their settlement no longer functional or reduce their available guards. There's more than one way to bring an enemy settlement to its knees: Territorial conquest, raiding, inciting monster escalations, direct assault, or of course the classic siege. Use the strategy that works best for you!

Discuss this blog on paizo.com.