Today we resume where I left off with Tuesday's “Designing Undercities” post. (Those late night Google Plus marathon sessions of the Hill Cantons invariably kick the tar out of my aging butt--but then again you get what you paid for on this blog.)
Remember the project here is to create a mapping system that helps wrap your brain around the vast and complicated spatial dimensions of a full-fledged undercity. I turn to my old standby in visual organization, the pointcrawl, for some help here. (Longtime readers may remember that I tried to do this once before in thinking about the Realms Below of Sigil.)
Let's recap the difficulties I was facing and how a pointcrawl system may help:
Historical layers. Tuesday I worked through a vertical cross-section method (reposted above). That process helped immensely in giving me an overall sense of the relationships and history of the differing phases of the undercity, but to effectively run it my badly-wired brain is also going to need some 2D top-down organization. I can capture that kind of mapping fairly easily using only 1-3 letter-sized pieces of graph paper with the pointcrawl method.
Vast areas of empty space. Remember unlike a megadungeon which typically has a lot of contiguous space relatively tightly-packed the undercity sprawls both horizontally and vertically over much larger areas. Outside of a touch-every-doorknob OCD obsession there really is no need to waste much time and effort representing them—except for the all important dimension of where they lead, how much time traversing it takes, and potential obstacles in that path. In the pointcrawl we solve this by using a combination of lines and symbols that can tell us at a glance all the relevant information we need to know.
Losing the best bits. Related to the above point is the danger of having your most interesting points from a gaming perspective get swamped by the scale. Instead let's take each of those sites and mark them on the map with nice big distinct squares of their own.
Though only represented by a single abstract square each site will get the full detailed, standard graph paper mapping. The squares are abstracted units but my usual rule of thumb is to have a single piece of letter-sized graph paper correspond to each square. A duller area such as a small, residential housing may get collapsed into a single sheet with a larger ground scale and a really interesting or complicated site, especially one that has distinct sub-levels, may need a second or third sheet to back it up.
Entry points and vertical connections get hella confusing. Because they are big spaces that have seen years and years of habitation (of varying degrees) the chance of connections from the surface and between layers is likely to be exponentially higher than a standard dungeon. While it would likely drive you into a rubber room trying to capture each and every one, it helps create an interesting array of explorations options for the players if you have as many as you can captured. The pointcrawl simplifies the complicated dance of lining up horizontal with vertical space by treating vertical connections as simply as the empty spaces: a single line with some simple notation suffices.
Putting it all together here's yesterday's sample undercity as represented by a pointcrawl map. Click to enlarge.
Pointcrawl Map Key
Unbroken lines = normal walkable passages (tunnel, corridor, etc)
Squiggly lines = unusual connector (teleportation, magic gate, etc.)
Arrow on line = vertical drop in the direction indicated (stairs, chutes, pits, wells, abysses, etc)
Two bars on line = barrier in passage (cave in, mudslide, locked gate, turnstile, giant critter, etc.)
Number in circle on line = confusing passage (twisty catacombs, maze, cavern system, etc) with number indicating roll for getting lost on a roll or below on a d6. Modify if party employs precautions such as chalking passages, using appropriate spells, hiring guide, and the like.
Dot on line = 3 hours of walking at normal, unencumbered pace along passage.
Uncolored square = Recent human civilization mostly on the surface and drawn here to indicate entry points.
Maroon square = Serpent Woman layer, the uppermost layer of the undercity.
Yellow square = Space Elf layer, the second closest historical layer.
Orange square = Latter State layer, second from bottom.
Blue square = Hyperborean layer, bottom most.
I have marched through organizing the physical and conceptual map of my undercity, now we need to get into dealing with the further complication of this beast being a living, breathing social animal: the city part of the “undercity”. Look forward to at least one or more posts picking apart those angle.
Any questions about today's method? Is it clear what I am trying to do with this and how it fits together? Suggestions or opinions on how you think this could be done in different ways?