Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pointcrawling Inside Hexes

Many a virtual page has been sacrificed on this here blog in elaborating various pointcrawling schemes. One could leave with the impression that I was completely down on hex maps in general.

This is really not at all the case. I still find that hexes still have a great deal of utility. Their numbering system and wide-open organization are ideal for any campaign I run where thorough 360-degree exploration and domain game-like clearing are central activities (such as the new colonizing Feral Shore phase of the campaign). It makes it hella easy in that context to organize the session when the players just say “ok so let's explore some of the hexes around the fort, we will take 21.20 and hop on to 21.19 and 21.18”

But I just can't leave it alone.

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of the actual site organization of a single hex, I tend to fall back on using a pointcrawl nestled right up in the hex. My brain continues to rebel against the yawning emptiness of even the five-mile hex in traditional D&D wilderness hex thinking (that point being made so well here) and it needs to fill in that space with a number of small little “rooms.”

So when it comes down to that kind of micro-exploration, I like having the more focused choices of the dungeon and the point-connector schema mirrors that nicely.

How does mixing the two systems work?

A good starting point for showing what I am on about is to boogie back to my original inspiration for the idea, that wonderful old Avalon Hill warhorse (that I could never figure out how the hell to play with all my preciousness as a tween): Magic Realm. One of the most fascinating and visually-interesting components of the game were the hex geomorphs that allowed you to build a totally new gameboard everytime you played (they also could be flipped to reveal a nifty new purple-hued configuration when the hex was transformed by sorcery, but no need to go into that).

The hexes provide an interesting way to break down the hex into smaller areas and provide a number of constrained exploration choices and dilemmas for a party wanting to scout out the whole area. 
A single Magic Realm hex.

Unpunched for the full effect
My own system is a bit less “geomorphy,” the external connections into the hex are a bit more abstracted and free-form to push back on the “gaminess” and allow for multiple approaches into the hex. I use the same color and connector in my wilderness pointcrawl (rather than restate the whole thing just look here at the text right after the pointcrawl illustration). Here is a semi-hypothetical example. 
Contents of a mashed-up Feral Shore five-mile hex
The only significant difference is the scaling amount of time between points and the dots on connectors that represent extra travel time. On occasion my pure wilderness pointcrawls may include contours, I make greater use of these in the intra-hex pointcrawl.

That's really all there is. As always the system continues to evolve, some concepts getting dropped as too fiddly, others getting more elaboration over time.

Questions? Suggestions for improvement?


  1. I like this a lot. If I wanted to inject a bit more relational detail to my hex contents, I would definitely consider it. I wonder though, does it really make sense to rate travel times within a hex? For me, the question usually just comes down to: would PCs be able to get to this other sub-location within the same day, or will they need to camp?

    I would be very curious to see how this runs as a general notation scheme interpreted by eyes other than the writer. If you have a small keyed wilderness using this method, I would be interested in trying to run it cold, maybe as a one-off FLAILSNAILS experiment.

    1. I run the intra-hex points fairly loosey goosey truth be told and since the Feral Shore hex map is pretty small scale (2-mile hexes) the travel times between are mostly for descriptive detail ("it takes you about 15 minutes going down the muddy trail before you come to a large pond.") One advantage to this scheme I have found as opposed to the old Judges Guild method of nestling ever-smaller hexes is that you can stock out a number of hexes much quicker and therefore get a wider spread of content-thick hexes (mine by all accounts from players are a bit overwhelming admittedly).

      "If you have a small keyed wilderness using this method, I would be interested in trying to run it cold, maybe as a one-off FLAILSNAILS experiment."

      I'm currently writing up the Slumbering Ursine Dunes as a mini-sandbox that can be used with my Golden Barge locale. It's very likely to feature this and I will definitely drop you an advance draft copy if you are interested.

    2. Yes, I would be interested.

  2. How are you dealing with getting lost?

    1. The current party has been extraordinarily lucky in not getting lost (probably helped by my occasional forgetting to roll the die) so it's still pretty loose. Hypothetically if they were lost coming in I plan on using a somewhat gamey random roll for which direction they start the intra-hex crawl on.

    2. In terms of getting lost inside the hex, in the past I have used a naturalistic way of modeling this, being intentionally vague with descriptions of the direction of a wilderness path ("there is one going right here at an angle and a meandering one in front of you") and letting them get lost on there own. But it's a really hard thing to get right in practice so I think I need to develop a more mechanical method.

      Maybe something like a random roll when hitting a confusing connector-path and if they fail they in reality go down another? Dunno.

    3. Cool. These point crawl things are my favorite thing you do here, btw.
      I have been thinking that getting lost should result in a random destination arrived at after a random duration with maybe some caveats (if you have to cross a road to get to the originally rolled random destination the road supersedes it and becomes the destination, but the duration remains the same.
      I'd link you to some of my thoughts on this stuff, but I don't want to whore up the comments.

    4. Whore away, dude, I'd like to see the link.

    5. Nothing too in depth, but her it is:

    6. I have said it before but that map is gorgeous

  3. @Brendan, It would make sense for me (if I still used hexes) because if I am doing an outdoor adventure (as opposed to say mere travel down a safe path) my basic unit of travel time is one hour.

  4. My best piece of advice is to abandon the hex, it just isn't computer friendly. What I like to do for my sandbox is start by drawing a quick map, usually using the spray can option of MS paint and sketching out the major rivers. That way the whole map is there waiting to be explored, you just need to do some dithering as you zoom into the smaller bits. So you're always set when someone decides to just go south or gets lost, but you can still do the close up maps, where you turn that pixel of green into a wood or the light green into a swamp. Anytime you do a blow up map, you just turn around and paste it back on the big map. Hexes are just a pain in the ass to really work on a computer, because you can never spin them like you should be able to. OK so the downside is you do travel the old school ruler and math way instead of saying "You go half a hex in the woods a day."

    Which brings up my second bit of advice. Something I learned while city making. Build tract housing using cut and paste. You just drew a nifty little courtyard based inn or small hall? Well clip it, flip it and past it a few more places. There is only so many ways to draw certain things and you can quickly paste in dozens of huts with minor variations to make a quick village. The same goes for forests or swamps, just like those Magic Realm hexes or the classic Dungeon Geomorphs.

    The same goes for if you prefer your maps to look Tolkienesque. No need to draw a hundred little hill bumps when you can cut and paste a cluster of five or six.

    Need a player map? you can do one up quick. Need a "we're flying" map? As long as you color coded it, you can make one from your master as simple as erasing the purple.

    1. I find the opposite to be true, that hexes are far more computer friendly than the alternative. I can generate randomly, or create hex by hex, a wilderness map in about five minutes with Hexographer. Then I just write a key like I would for a dungeon, noting which features are "hidden," and thus require off-road searching or a guide to access.

      I think the utility to a particular referee is going to depend on how you work though. I don't doubt that your approach works better for you, but for me doing all that drawing and judging of distances by hand sounds like a lot more work than just counting off the hexes and telling the players (because there are 3 hexes) that "the journey between towns X and Y takes 3 days, can someone please roll me 3 encounter checks?"

      I will note that the way I currently run, I do not expose the hex abstraction to players; the hex map is an entirely ref-side tool for me.