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Point Crawl

So quick summary before we get into it:

A great Swedish book on point crawl is “Dina Ängder Gröna” by my friend Mikael Bergström.

Kensanata wrote on Tabletop Social:

I disagree with the framing of hexmap use, but I agree that pointcrawls are an interesting use case of a map. It also maps well to landmark navigation and existing trail networks.

I feel that point crawls are good for ruined cities specifically. Like Slumbering Ursine Dunes. I find it tremendously difficult to describe ruined cities and wish more of them were point crawls.

To me the dividing line is that a point crawl is good for when the landmarks are within sight, such as moving between buildings in a village or ruined city (but not streets in a dense un-ruined city, that’s when you need urbancrawling which is different). On a six mile hex the other hexes are (just barely) out of sight, so I’d much rather have a hex crawl.

I’ve learned the hard way that when an outdoors map doesn’t have hexes and a scale, I need to make one that does have a hex overlay, and I’m getting better at discipline around that.

What I’m realizing right now, however, is that I need to get similarly disciplined on ruin maps. Whip out a pen and get connecting.

But most of the time you can overlay a point crawl on a hex crawl, like Lost Mines of Phandelver and Curse of Strahd both do with such success, and get the best of both worlds. Just like Joel’s fantastic post suggests.

My wonderful experiences with Lost Mines of Phandelver and Curse of Strahd are both reasons why I’m still in camp hex crawl. In both of them, my dorks went off the beaten path more than a few times. They just do. And I love them for it. Conversely, we struggled with the river part of Deep Carbon Observatory because it was difficult for them to anywhere else than upriver. We just did Date of Expiration and while the left half of the map was pretty ignored, the right half was thoroughly explored, partly because of curiosity and partly to go around camps and sites that they had already robbed.

Summary of best practices:

Let’s get into some deets of Joel’s post:

If they know the direction of their objective they can just always head in that direction, cutting through the “walls” and forgoing having to consider the terrain around them.

But that’s a good thing♥︎

You can have a “getting lost” rule but frankly I’ve never talked to players who enjoyed this, nor do they tend to reflect reality as someone that’s done a good deal of off trail wilderness hiking (I’ll cover this in a future post).

Hmm, we do have a “getting lost” rule, probably better known as having a cleric and a bard and a rogue praying fervently and singing intently to stack guidance on top of bardic inspo on top of expertise every morning, so maybe getting lost isn’t the main fun part of hex crawling. But there’s also random encounters and logistics and all the weird stuff you might find in the way.

I was playing a video game and I was following the guides (“Go see such and such in Kakariko Village”) and suddenly I said screw this and I just took a right angle turn to the east straight through the wilderness and I ran into a freaking robot elephant and it was the best video game experience of all time. That sort of thing happens all the time in my #boatmode campaign! Right now they were on the way through the desert and in a café in a caravanserai they picked up this scruffy-looking guy with a treasure map and they headed to that island and now they’re on a haunted house treasure hunt.

I need hexes!

Now a good GM can provide more meaningful landmarks and cues to make navigating more of a meaningful and interesting gameplay, a lightly used game path to the east, a towering iron spire that stretches to the heavens to the south, a mirror like glimmering to the south east. But they’ve just effectively created a point crawl on top of their hex crawl off the top of their head. The other three cardinal directions are vestigial organs if not given some kind of more interesting clue to what the direction holds. I say hack them off!

That’s true, but what I’ve found is that with a good sense of pacing, we don’t always need to play out the beat-by-beats of navigation. They want to go to the island, it’s normally four hours, make the die roll, OK you’re there.

I had originally planned on creating a hex crawl for my megadungeon region but realized that if there was 49 hexes in the region and I wanted to provide details for each of the I would have to create 294 different path descriptions.

While it sucks when a dungeon is a twisty maze of passages, all alike—players want choices, and “left and right are exactly the same” isn’t a choice—I’ve never needed to describe a “path from a hex”. Joel wanted running his hex maps as if they were point crawls or dungeons. But that’s not what I need them for.

Hex maps are good for two completely opposite scenarios:

The characters know where they wanna go, and the hex wilderness is the obstacle between there to here. The entire planet is a hex map of hex maps of hex maps. The characters don’t wanna explore (the players might, and can, and do), they just want to solve their problem which is to get to that island or that alien structure or that dark tower or that city that sells level six spells.

Or, when the characters and players wanna turn every single stone.

Point crawls are good for the “in between”, the adventure site qua the adventure site.

Joel’s examples (game path, iron spire, mirror glimmer) all sound awesome but notice what they have in common? They’re all within sight of the party!
So that goes back to the best practices in this post:
When things are distant enough to be out of sight, use hexes. When they’re in view, like a ruin, use a point crawl.