A Smart Blog Post from DIY & Dragons: Sub-Hex Crawling Mechanics – Part 1, Pointcrawling


I’m beginning to piece together the city of Xam in the Qelong Valley for when I pick up my Lamentations of the Flame Princess game. (A member of the group is currently running Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. Pew-Pew!)

For context:

Two barely conceivable beings have fought a war for a generation over Sajavedra. They wish to claim its rich harvests of souls and fields, its intricate networks of ley lines and temples, for their own. They use weapons of unspeakable magic, and sometimes their weapons target the province of the Qelong Valley. Xam was once the capital of Qelong. Missiles filled with magical energy called Aakom struck the city four generations ago. Because of the magical nature of the city the weapons not only did horrible damage, but raised the city onto a sheer mesa 1,000 feet high and corrupted it with all sorts of magical energies. (Think Area X from The Southern Reach Trilogy, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

My mind, however, has been somewhat boggled: How, exactly, do I map out a ruined city that is about 6 miles across and about 18 miles in length?

Not, “How do I make a map?” But what is the best procedure for building a useful diagram for my Players and I to interact with to produced the most fun. I want my Xam to be a mini-hex crawl of sorts, with each hex about 2 miles across. I want to have at least three interesting locations per hex (even if it just a magic fountain) and a few of these locations should be mini-dungeons or full dungeons. The place should be full of ruins covered in a strange jungle, with countless weird environmental issues as well as the ruins of survivors and the dead who harnessed the strange magical energies that have cut their city off from the rest of the world. (Some have succeeded, some have failed.)

I wasn’t satisfied with the hex crawl component of Qelong we played last year. It was fine… but I felt like I was missing some sort of fun that had lured me to the notion of hex crawling. (All my efforts to ask folks about hex crawls on forums had let to answers like: “It’s a hex crawl. You know… with hexes!” Which might be enough of an answer for some folks, but I’m always on the lookout for procedures and techniques that will help the game run smoothly and maximize the fun.)

I’ve been recently inspired by a recently released hex-crawl called Hot Springs Island. It, too, works at a scale of 2 miles per hex. A reviewer referred to it more as a “pointcrawl than a hexcrawl.” And in this technique I saw a way to help me map out Xam for best effect. That said, I wasn’t that sure of what a “pointcrawl” was either.

Imagine my delight, then, in coming across this blog post by Anne at DIY & Dragons: Sub-Hex Crawling Mechanics – Part 1 from a few days ago. In it she does a deep dive into pointcrawls, using examples from many games and blogs. (The illustration above is one of the examples she uses. It is the city of Cörpathium from over at Last Gasp, built from a series of tables that you should really check out if you’re into this sort of thing. It’s already given me some ideas of how I want to build tables for Xam. Also, Last Gasp is great, and I suspect I’ll be using a lot of material from the site to flesh out Xam. It has the perfect mix of weird and usable.)

At the top of the blog Ann writes:

Beyond Formalhaut recently wrote about wilderness exploration, and it got me thinking about a pair of posts I’ve been wanting to write for awhile now, comparing the two major ways I know of to explore adventuring sites within the wilderness: pointcrawls and mini-hex-crawls.

By “adventuring sites” I mean spaces that call for a new scale for mapping. They’re larger than dungeons, too large for 10′ squares, but smaller than the overland wilderness, too small for 6 mile hexes. The ruined city is perhaps the archetypal “adventuring site” that seems to demand a new scale for mapping, but it could be any (probably outdoor) location that the characters can explore directly, rather than having the encounter hand-waved or abstracted – the exterior surrounding a dungeon, a cemetery or graveyard, a garden, a battleground, perhaps even the characters’ own campsite. Adventuring sites call for a new kind of mapping to put them on paper, and a new kind of procedure to bring them into play.

Pointcrawls and minicrawls are two different ways of mapping these new spaces, two different procedures for tracking and running the characters’ movement through the space.

These are referee-facing mechanics. For the most part, the only person who will be directly affected by the choice will be the judge running the game, not the players.

There may be some effect on the players. In my opinion, pointcrawls seem to lend themselves to running adventuring sites where all (or almost all) the sub-locations are known, the paths between those locations are limited, and travel along those paths is uneventful. Minicrawls seem to lend themselves to running adventuring sites where there are few (if any) scripted locations, where most content is procedurally generated, where movement is essentially unrestricted, and where travel and discovery are themselves the primary activities within the site. In short, I think pointcrawls work best for more dungeon-like locations (and locations with more keyed encounters), while minicrawls work best for more wilderness-like locations (and locations with more procedural generation.)

Part I of Ann’s posts is about pointcrawls. I’m looking forward to Part II about mini-hexcrawls.

9 thoughts on “A Smart Blog Post from DIY & Dragons: Sub-Hex Crawling Mechanics – Part 1, Pointcrawling

  1. Really good stuff, as usual. It turns out I have a strong preference for “pointcrawling” given my exceptionally bad skill at making anything that resembles a decent map.

    In case you didn’t see it, that the site linked in this article contains some very well hidden hyperlinks (they’re the same color as the regular text) to other blog entries that discuss pointcrawling in considerably more detail. In particular the ones on undercities and ruined cities stood out because I just happened to mouse over them.

    • Good point on the links!

      As I mentioned there are ton of links to lots of great references… but readers will have to move their cursors over them to find all of them.

  2. Many of my gaming ideas that have worked have started out more as concept maps – especially cities and the areas around them. More easily converted into pointcrawls. So the last year I’ve been going back to this as I’ve found that converting those rough ideas into nice maps has been time consuming and difficult – tho’ fun – but it also eliminates possibility sometimes.

    I had found a few sources on pointcrawling out there, by accident. Ones I can remember that you may not have seen, and thus may find useful:
    1) bloodofprokopius – search google for “under portown”
    2) search on “the alexandrian” + “pointcrawl” – I found some hits there, and I *think* there were some good points he made.
    3) Zak S has I think had some useful related articles too. And I’ll see if I can find the other ones I know I’ve read, because the concept interests me. And reflects more what I’ve actually done.

  3. On a different note: I’ve been toying with getting Qelong. But, some of the Lotfp stuff is a bit too extreme for me. Body horror or other nasty stuff. Normally I find the reviews will tell me whether I’ll like the supplement or not, but I can’t tell on this one. If it has nasty stuff but other good stuff that you can use, and just tweak the other stuff I’d probably get it. Any thoughts?

    • There is body horror a’plenty. But I’m a Cronenberg fan, so no problem for me there.

      Honestly, I’m not sure there’s much here for you on this one. It takes what happened to Cambodia during the 60s and 70s and amps the horrors up with a poisonous magic spreading across the land.

      • Ok. So I’ll not rush into Qelong. I can cope with some Cronenberg. I rather liked Scanners. Maybe if its on a good special on DTRPG.

        Meanwhile I’ve checked out the DIY & Dragon site’s stuff on pointcrawls. And the other stuff pointed to from there. Very interesting. I am running LotfP in a city based loosely on Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar (and the old AD&D 2nd Edition supplement for it). I had a rough city and region map which I tried to turn into a ‘real’ map for the players but the players liked the old original pencil sketch. It more clearly showed the concept of the city, the neighbourhoods and their relationships to each other. An important lesson. So I’m looking forward to Part II of the DIY post as well.

        Glad you find and post about all this interesting stuff.

  4. I’m glad you liked the post, ckubasik! I’m working on my minicrawl write-up. There’s really only two or three that I’m personally super familiar with, but it’s worth digging into how they do procedural generation, especially because I think it’s an area where I think there’s still room for improvement. Because so few people have tried minicrawls, all the possible ways to make them both fun and efficient haven’t been perfected yet.

    • Anne, thanks so much for your write up! (Also, I just realized I spelled your name wrong in the post (forget the “e”) and will fix soon.

      I think it was one of your linked posts that wrote, essentially, “All this effort was spent creating tools for dungeon crawling, but when it comes to outdoor travel no effort at all was spent on trying to figure out how to make it work.”

      That’s how I felt when I picked up Qelong and contemplated how I would run it. Advice was out there, but scattered. I really appreciate you collecting all this information.

      Also, I think you should check out the free PDF sample from Hot Springs Island. It works as a point crawl, with a system for moving through and exploring each 2 mile wide hex.

      • I have a copy of Hot Springs Island; I should read up on its exploration system.

        Yeah, it was the quote you mention, in particular, and I guess the whole sentiment behind it, that made me want to take stock of what we know. Originally, I was kind of thinking of it as a defense of minicrawling, because almost no one uses that system, but I’m glad I started with pointcrawling, because I made myself realize a lot of strengths that I hadn’t realized were there, and I challenged a couple assumptions I had been holding.

        Also big thanks to your reader Savage Schemer for pointing out that my links are hard to see. On my monitor, they showed up really obviously as a thicker black line than the other writing, but I’ve changed them to a shade of grey to make it easier for people to notice the different text color.

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