Friday, April 19, 2013

Pointcrawling Urban Ruins, Part One

A few weeks back, I kibitzed about my difficulties in running city and town ruins. I have had a lingering problem make that awkward scale between the micro-environs of a dungeon and the macro-handwavingness of wilderness work just right. Readers both here on the blog and on Google Plus (oh why Google did you have to screw up integrating the comments between both streams so very, very badly?) chimed in with extraordinarily useful advice from their own campaigns.

The following two-part series is my own attempt to wrap my brain around a better way to run these kinds of adventure locales in the future (and of course reflects some of the best practices of many of you who responded).

The first major hurdle was getting over the scale problems. Naturally given one of my running themes here (and here) and the need to abstract some of the larger-scale movement outside discrete buildings in the ruins, my brain went back to stretching the pointcrawl to fit. In today's installment I will deal with a quick system to classify broad ruin types, travel among points, deal with encounters and create a large-scale map to make sense of it all.

Taking my individual points I began to think of them as roughly corresponding to a neighborhood or ward area, an approximate area maybe incorporating one to three hundred yards on a side. Because I don't want to overproduce detail that won't be used in actual play I am overall aiming for a hierarchy of maps with detail by potential party interest-level.

I will assign standard-size graph paper map at a 10 yard per square scale to each point--depending on how interesting each square is. A dull point say for something like a rubble field will only really serve as way-point and may not have a breakout map at all. A typical area may have a single-page map with a few choice sites mapped out (and further broken down into a 10-foot square scale maps if especially interesting). A locale-rich point may even have two or three maps in the smaller 10-foot scale.

Because I want quick and dirty ways to classify and describe points when the party moves between them I came up with a color-coded method that borrows heavily from Runequest's excellent Big Rubble.

Ruin Types
Type 1 (Red). Completely ruined or razed area, walls and other structures indistinguishable and now just rubble.

Type 2 (Orange). Completely ruined areas. Surface areas nearly identical to Type 1 above (with occasional free-standing walls), but underground areas (cellars, dungeons and the like) may still be intact if rubble is cleared away.

Type 3 (Yellow). Mostly ruined area. Some may walls exist and structures may be distinct but nearly always lack roofs and upper stories. Underground areas may be existent.

Type 4 (Green). Semi-ruined area. A number of structures are relatively intact with roofs and walls (though there may be holes in both). The relatively intact structures will be interspersed with rubble or partially ruined buildings. Underground areas are often existent.

Type 5 (Blue) Barely ruined area. Most structures in the area are intact with minor neglect. Will often be inhabited with recent repairs done by sentient locals.
Now let's move on to our connections. You will note that because of the relatively more open nature of outdoor ruins (than say an undercity or megadungeon) that I add more connections than usual between points. Connections are assumed to be represent 30 minutes of travel in a small-sized ruined (town and the like), an hour in a medium-sized one (small city), two hours in a large (medium city), and four in a massive one (metropolis and the like).

Obviously some factors will scale travel time up and down, so I have characterized the connections with a few relevant conditions below (and for color when describing travel to players).

Connection Types
Dotted Line. Movement is relatively free and often over a field of rubble.

Broken Line. Movement is difficult, perhaps only through thickly-rubbled and ruined roads. Double movement time.

Single Line. Small streets that may have an occasional obstruction.

Double Line. Open avenues, boulevards or obstruction-free roads. Halve movement time.

Questions? Suggestions?

In the next part I will deal with encounters, some mechanics for randomly generating interesting buildings and their contents, and some assorted other whoha.


  1. Those travel times represent very slowly, cautious movement, I assume? Otherwise, they would seem sort of logn given the distances I would think we were talking about.

    In any case, good post!

    1. Yes like my wilderness crawl I consider this the "exploration and mapping" speed and would consider full movement being twice this or even triple if mounted.

  2. I have to say this is a wonderful way of abstracting the process for the GM.

    My suggestion would be to think about some visibility guidelines/rules, to determine how the surroundings should be described for the players and what they are actually able to discern at a distance, especially if they find a blue/green area (or fly) and are able to climb to a high point? That feels like a very useful tactic for the players, and also a good way to get some structure and expand the players' choices and tactics.

    1. Good call on visibility, I would probably want to keep to something simple like XXX number of points for XXX amount of feet above the ground level.

  3. Yeah, I think point crawl is the way to do it. I would just suggest that you make some areas less accessible than others, for instance have the noble quarter only be accessible through the perfume district. Make sure it is more organically shaped than the grid you showed as the example. I think the random tables will be very important for making the ruins come alive.

    1. I have far too many players reading this blog, so yeah this is a just an example. Agree that a more organic shape would be better for the real deal.

  4. I do appreciate the way you think and write, however, is this for your own campaign where you are ever present as the DM or for publication for unknown groups to use? I ask because it makes no sense to me that someone would design an underground in the same way under those two different conditions. Can you see the difference?

    If designing for ones own players the creative effort should be centred on the where and the whither of the player characters from session to session with creative effort dwindling away from your best anticipation of their interests.

    When designing for others there is nothing for it but a universally flat vague plan with pockets of excitement according to tired formulae. Why? Because the designer must conceive of a generic cliched exploring party and unknown players.

    I loathe, from the experience of wide reading, efforts to design generic underworlds but I am very interested in personalised design for a DM's own original campaign.

    1. I don't think generalizing a method is healthy for all groups and all GMs. This is definitely written from the perspective of "this is a method I have found that ends to work for me".

      And a big stress on "tends" because I have found that on certain occasions pointcrawling doesn't work for me even. Case in point would be the recent wilderness crawl mini-campaign in which the main incentivized goal is to explore and fill in the blank areas of a map. When drawing out the maps I quickly discovered that a pointcrawl was a poor fit, but the traditional hex crawl on the otherhand was ideal.

  5. I like how you managed to make this simple without getting simplistic--it looks effective. Gotta try this out...

  6. I kibitzed about my difficulties in running city and town ruins.

    Don't you mean kvetched? :)

    Speaking as one of your players, running an exploration using this method seems like it would be indistinguishable from a player's perspective to how you run wilderness travel. In other words, from our side of the table, it still seamlessly seems like we tell you which way we want to go, and you describe the scenery as we travel.

    1. I didn't think I was bitching and moaning enough to warrant kvetch, but if the shoe fits.

      Yeah seamless is what I want to shoot for, so I take that as a compliment

    2. It was meant as a compliment. While I'm more of a dungeon crawl type of guy myself, those outdoor excursions (wilderness or ruins) can be just as entertaining.

    3. And just to elaborate some more this morning, from the players' side of the DM screen, it doesn't matter which method or what kind of map the referee uses to get the adventurers from Point A to Point B, as long as the players are having a good time.