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!)
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.