Friday, November 8, 2019

Travel and hex-crawling, part three - path-crawl and point-crawl

Read part one here:

Read part two here:

We start again with Signs in the Wilderness, with a single post that should have been, in retrospective, the first of all this series about hex crawling and wilderness. It presents a very simple framework to compare dungeon crawling and wilderness adventures; if you can run a dungeon, you can run a wilderness adventure.
Note that it's called wilderness adventure rather than hex crawling, and for a reason. This post seems to present a simpler, easier structure than a completely free hex-crawl. But I believe it's a good starting point for exploring the wilderness around your cities and dungeons with your players, if you don't feel like you can run a complete hex crawl campaign.

Wilderness dungeons
by Signs in the Wilderness
Dungeon crawls don't have to be underground: zoom out a bit and the wilderness itself makes for great old-school crawl adventures. [...] 
Dungeons usually work like this:
1. Go into a twisty network of rooms and passages, all alike.
2. Avoid/solve traps and other obstacles to movement.
3. Fight monsters.
4. Get loot.

It's a simple structure [...]  But the simple format offers several clear types of fun:
1. Mapping and exploring an unknown place.
2. Thinking of clever ways to solve an obstacle.
3. Struggling against a killable adversary when death is on the line.
4. Being rewarded for your efforts.

Dungeon crawls also constrain the adventure, providing both structure and challenge:
- The network of rooms and passages limits the paths you can take.
- A traditional dungeon crawler provides a gradient of difficulty, with the easier monsters at the start and the scariest ones at the end.
- Being underground in a dangerous makes limited resources a challenge of its own.

A good wilderness looks a lot like a good dungeon, but not at the ten-foot scale.  You have to zoom out a bit, both in time and space.
Recapping from earlier, a good dungeon crawl provides constraints:
- limited paths
- gradient of difficulty
- limited resources

The last of these is easy: traveling through the wilderness uses up limited resources, whether it's rations you're eating or bandages you're using up.

A gradient of difficulty appears in the wilderness not because of the wilderness itself, but because of civilization.  Wandering in the woods near the big city you won't find any wolves, not because the wilderness couldn't support them, but because the city just won't allow it. [...]  So the most dangerous beasts tend to survive only out in the distance [...]

Close up, the forest doesn't seem to have limited paths. [...] But zoom out and the forest starts to have structure.  To the north there's a deep river canyon.  To the south there's a ridge and a bluff.  When you consider a mile at a time, there are only a few ways to travel that make any sense.
These criteria do seem to single out certain kinds of wilderness.  Mountains, swamps, and rivers make for good constraints on your movement.  Open plains tend more toward extended chase scenes than dungeon-style adventures.
Let's see how we could find these in the wilderness:
1. Mapping and exploring?  Plenty of that in an unknown wilderness.  Toss the party a few rumors and the journal from a previous expedition and watch the exploration begin.
2. Obstacles are everywhere: rushing rivers, leech-filled swamps, avalanches, pit traps, high cliffs, etc.  Each one presents a particular danger and can be solved/traversed/avoided in various ways.
3. Plenty of killable adversaries in the wilderness.  Just about anything that can live in a dungeon can live outdoors as well.  In fact, setting your dungeon crawl in the wilderness avoids many of the problematic questions.  We know what the goblins are eating in the woods – just look at the animal bones.
4. Understandable enemies make for understandable rewards.  If the ogres live here, they might ambush caravans there, so it makes sense for them to have loads of silk that they intend to trade with the giants.

Now, if traveling freely in the wilderness is one of the major difficulties for this sort of hex-crawl adventures, consider the approach below by Daniel.
It's a great system, in my opinion, to handle a campaign which combines traditional adventures and travel... Run the adventure in a single location, handle the local movements with simple rules, then move to the next step of your journey or your (h)exploration...
And use the approach below: instead of a full hex-crawl, use "pathcrawls".

A pathcrawl is basically a simplified version of a map: only the obvious or usable paths are presented, and they limit the players' choices (as we've seen in the previous post).
They should make the navigation on the map easier also for the players, and they make more sense than just wandering around through hexes without a purpose.
A pathcrawl seems to be the best way to handle a journey with a desidered destination (instead of a hex-crawl).

Hexcrawls Are Canceled
by Daniel
Describing a dungeoncrawl is easy [...] Describing a hexcrawl or pointcrawl, I would venture to say for just about everyone, requires more effort. I’ve been trying to learn more topological terminology, to take walks, and to read fictional descriptions of landscapes [...]
An unoriginal thought occurred to me: treat the wilderness like a dungeon.

The rooms are your hexes or points/nodes. There’s stuff in them, or not. [...]
See the Features heading below for more info. [...]

[...] For hexcrawls, the problem is, what does going from one hex to another of identical terrain look like? How are the PCs navigating it? The hex may provide no description or landmarks. [...] 
If you look at actual wilderness, your options are pretty constrained. It’s either featureless, in which case you just keep going on ahead or else veer left or right, or there are desire paths, valleys, streams, ravines, ridges, roads, mountains, landmarks, and so forth. [...]
Henceforth, you will convert all hexcrawls to pathcrawls. [...]

How to Convert Hexmap into Pathmap
Take your standard hexmap. It’s great. The units of distance are overlaid. But it’s merely the base.
Now trace over it two kinds of objects:
- Paths
- Landmarks

The easiest paths you may already have on there: mountain ranges, rivers, roads. But you should add others as well, contextual to terrain type.
Then landmarks. These don’t have to be keyed [...] It has to be something you can see from pretty much anywhere in the hex. [...]
These are the options you present to the players; these are the “doors.” Do we follow this valley, head toward that obelisk, or go “through the walls,” in the true trackless waste, and risk getting lost? [...]

Landmarks are obvious, like the things that can be seen immediately upon entering a dungeon room.
Other features are either:
- encountered naturally along a path
- On a random table of pathless encounters, for when they go off path
- Or on the map explicitly, such that the party would have to veer off path in a particular direction to happen upon it by chance

Quite close to the example of a path-crawl, is the point-crawl.
The concept is simple: populate the map only with the interesting locations and connect them via safe, obvious routes, and with some alternative paths (sometimes more risky, sometimes slower, sometimes hidden).
The routes are not all the same length and type, but basically they will take the party from point A either to B, C, or D for example, but not "anywhere". To go from one point to a distant one, the party may need to choose if to pass from this other point or that other point, depending on the route they choose.
For example, you may place a city at the center, connect it with 3 paths to 3 different locations around it (i.e. a village, a lake, a crossroad). Those other locations will be connected to other locations in a similar manner (i.e. the village to the woods and to another part of the lake; the lake will have a path to cross it, a path to a little island in the middle; the crossroad will have multiple paths leading to other places as well, and so on).
The players will reasonably move on one of those paths. If to reach the next city they need to take the road that goes through the aforementioned crossroad, they will go from point-city to point-crossroad to point-other-city.
In other words, this is an extension of the concept of path-crawl.

Hexcrawls vs Pointcrawls
by Chris Kutalik
[...] In a hexcrawl, the party is presented with a 360-degree, six-direction choice most every time it exits a hex. Terrain will often foster soft positive and negative natural choices [...] The problem from a design perspective with that approach is this the “paradox of choice”, that lovely study that showed that an over-abundance of variables, tends to surprisingly reduce meaningful choice by causing option paralysis 
A pointcrawl on the otherhand is all about the deliberate path choice of say a dungeon. You place a node much like a room with its doors and corridors leading out.
The drawbacks are much like that of dungeon design again. Make the decision choices too limited, too linear and/or too chokepointed and you end up straight-jacketing the players and making for a dull-ass map to explore.
I use a hex map when I want a campaign phase that...
1. mapping each hex on a blank map is a reward in itself.
2. clearing wilderness and creating your own hold is the goal.
3. is quick and dirty.

I use a pointcrawl when I want...
1. choice in travel and exploration to feel more deliberate and meaningful.
2. to highlight the major and minor sites in a wilderness as the major goals of exploration.
3. well-thought-out, dense small sub-regions.

An example of a point-crawl, by Marquis.

Making a Point-Crawl & Changing Names
by Marquis
[...] I've decided it would best be played as a pointcrawl, meaning: dungeons connected by flux space where cool things happen.
In order to jack up the Fantasy a bit, I've decided to do some renaming of things. Some of these are based off of previous ideas, while others are corruptions of actual names, nicknames, or alternative names found across history.
- Every location should be utterly unique in terms of threats, treasure, lore, aesthetic, and implicit narrative.
- Every location should have no more than 3 ways of exiting it [...]
- Every location should either have a bossfight or climactic point [...]
- Some locations should require other locations to visit [...]
- There needs to be a central hub area the players can go too [...]
- Travel between points should be a mixture of abstract and concrete. Flux Space will make these areas unique. Travel between hubs should cost something somehow as well.
Pointcrawls are pretty demanding to design, I think. Hexes can be simple and treated as dungeon rooms on a wilderness map, while a full pointcrawl has very stylized, thematic, concentrated dungeons as its points. That being said, I think starting theme first will help us here.

Design notes (from part one):
- There is no unique, single way to run an hex-crawl in the wilderness; find your own way and please let others run it in their own, unique way
- One way to prepare an hex-crawl, is to prepare in advance
- If you prepare in advance, ask your players where they will go in the next session(s), and prepare the hexes, the encounters, even the weather, in advance
- The same procedures that you use to generate content in advance, can be followed (with a bit of patience) on the fly, at the table
- Two important topics on how to define an hex are its terrain type and its weather (although sometimes weather can be seen as an "encounter" rather than a static feature)
- Also note that generating terrain types randomly requires some effort to enforce a decent consistency across hexes (also, weather and terrain type are somehow linked)
- More importantly, an hex could (should?) contain an encounter; you may want to divide them into major encounters (something very meaningful or related to major NPCs, major story-lines in your campaign) and minor encounters (less meaningful, not just fillers but simply all that stuff that makes the campaing world "real")
- Additional rules for a wilderness hex-crawl should contain the travel speed (i.e. one or two hexes per day; modified positively by mounts, roads, pushing ahead harder than usual, modified negatively by harsh conditions, encumberment, or hunting/foraging, or exploring to find notable or interesting locations)
- In fact, to be complete, an hex-crawl system should include rules for eating up resources (first of all food and water, but also ropes, even boots and other clothing, etc.) and for collecting new ones (foraging, but also bartering with local tribes or finding civilized markets), plus rules for specific locations (and how to find them), or other random/minor locations (random dungeons? specific adventures? treasures? monsters?)

Design notes (from part two):
- In addition, consider also to add rules for getting lost (perhaps again depending on various conditions, such as having a local guide, a map, traveling in the night or harsh conditions)
- If you want to go even further on the exploration side, consider also injuries, sickness, exhaustion, perhaps morale, and you should definitely enforce strict encumberment rules to avoid having the party carrying too much
- Remember rules for YOUR setting: often something very specific is more useful than something very generic. If you use gun-powder, consider the chance of it getting wet. If you use magical herbs, consider rules for finding them, but also how fast they get spoiled, etc. Anything that reinforces the sense of your setting, is good
- If the hex-crawling campaign is focused also on exploration or if you want to reinforce the sense of being in the wilderness, add rules for scouting and exploring (finding locations, perhaps drawing maps, etc.) and rules for tracking (and avoid being followed), for using traps and setting up an ambush, and similar
- Also, making camp requires probably some guidelines and/or rules: finding a good spot or setting up a solid camp should improve recovery, or having no camp at all could make the party incur in additional penalties. Rules for making camp become more important the longer you expect the party to be out in the wilderness
- Weather presents hard choices: push forward or seek shelter?
- Mention the weather every day, even when it's harmless
- Don't change the weather just to mess with the party
- Show what bad weather can do to someone else first
- Give signs, narrative clues, of upcoming dangers; do not give rules to players (or not just rules). Don't say "the bridge has a 50% chance of breaking" but give warnings about the noise it makes while it bends under their weight; show signs of monsters, of diseases, of other dangers
- Terrain can be a difficulty, a danger in itself (it's not just descriptive, and not just definying speed and encounters, but can force a party to change path, to trace back, to face dangers, injuries, the chance of getting lost, of loosing mounts, and so on
- You can probably divide your rules into two subsets: one (perhaps using an Hazard System overloaded encounter die) covers the "external factors" (terrain and weather, encounters, monsters and NPCs, traces and omens, using up resources, fatigue, discoveries, etc.), while the other subset should cover the characters' actions (not what they face, but what they proactively do with their time, such as travel, track, navigate, explore, forage or hunt, etc.)
- There is a slight overlap between the two subsets of rules (i.e. you may discover a location with a roll of the Hazard Die, by chance, or actively seek for it with a Scouting/Exploring action). You may decide to remove those overlaps, or leave them there because they have different rules/different chances

Design notes (expanded):
- There are similarities between dungeon crawls and wilderness adventures
- Basically, you could summarize a simple dungeon as a map (with limited paths), a series of obstacles (locks, traps, pits, etc.), encounters (creatures, monsters, NPCs), and treasures (rewards). With a little bit of work, you can use the same principles for a wilderness adventure
- Maybe it would be an adventure and not exactly a free hex-crawl, but you can achive a dungeon-like structure, as follows: the wilderness provides limited paths and some of the obstacles, while the other encounters are monsters and creatures... and nature provides also the majority of the loot
- Nature, wilderness itself provides "limited" paths simply with its features (cliffs, rivers, thick woods may be impossible to cross or simply so hard that adventurers would naturally follow a few, favorable pre-defined paths, tracks, roads... not following them should be the exception, like digging your way into the walls of a dungeon instead of following a corridor)
- Nature itself provides also part of the obstacles (be it the danger of rivers, of insects, diseases, hunger, exaustion, etc.), while the rest will be creatures and monsters
- Monsters get stronger and/or weirder the further away you get from civilization (like going deeper in a multi-level dungeon) and rewards should also be weirder and more precious (not perhaps in terms of loot itself... but in terms of rarity of what the adventurers can find, and therefore of higher value once back to civilization)
- To simplify an hex-crawl, you could convert it to a pathcrawl
- In a pathcrawl, a hex is like a room, and there should be a limited number of paths to go "out" of that hex... these paths should also continue across multiple hexes, as long as nothing interrupts the journey (i.e. many hexes with a road are like a corridor... you don't need to waste time on each hex, but you can travel until the end of the road)
- A pathcrawl seems perfect to handle journeys with a specific destination, so you can focus on "getting there" and a few encounters/decisions along the way, but not have to crawl through each hex
- A pathcrawl is also easier for the players to navigate, and brings them to the interesting locations, instead of "wasting" time in many identical hexes
- Along the same lines as a path-crawl, is the point-crawl. The first focused on routes, the second focused on locations, but the difference is mostly in the name. The concept is the same: design nodes/locations (same as dungeon rooms) and design paths/connections (same as dungeon corridors)
- The key is to have the correct balance between random encounters, encounters while traveling, enough events in the various nodes, a sense of distance and travel (and freedom which will not translate into decision paralysis)

1 comment:

  1. I love the hex crawl model - and it is the basis of my long running (since the 1970s!) campaign -