Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Past is Another Planet

... or, what are you supposed to do with all that prehistory?

It started with Goblin Punch asking why fantasy games have a fantastical contemporary ecology, but not a fantastic evolutionary history leading up to the present?

Then Throne of Salt answered the call, with 10 fantastical prehistoric eras. Some highlights include:

"1. The Elemental Epoch: A period of constant conflict. Alliances among air elementals violate the precepts of the Noble Gases and create water elementals. Earth elementals get their shit together and start the Protoplanetary Revolution. Fire elementals undergo species-wide existential crisis after realizing that phlogiston doesn't exist. Ends with the formation of the Periodic Congress."

"5. The Stone-and-Chicken War: Passing asteroidal basilisk petrifies an entire hemisphere and drops eggs from orbit. Enterprising species from the surviving hemisphere colonize the granite wastes, mostly gallusiform avians who fill the nice of apex predator after evolving the kill-signal crowing lethal to basilisks."

"10. Doppelgangerdammerung: Mimicry emerges among freshwater cephalopodic echinoderms as a method of imitating larger, scarier organisms. Over the next few million years the biosphere becomes so adept at mimicry that few organisms even know what niche they actually fill, being so skilled at imitating other beings. Land predators imitate aquatic herbivores. Airborne detritovores imitate subterranean autocannibals. Organisms emerge from the egg-sack imitating another species entirely. Successful mating becomes impossible."

Then Coins & Scrolls followed suit with the fantasy history of his campaign world. Unique among these responses, his final pre-contemporary era actually helps explain the current state of his campaign world (if a ribald folk tale can be said to be an explanation):

"8. Floodbeds: Mammals and birds develop. Rise of the Chimera, the Cockatrice, the Coatl. Frequent flooding due to three-way wars between angels, water elementals, and air elementals. Agriculture rediscovered. First prophets. Conversion of the water and air elementals."

"Extinction Event: The Deluge. Civilization of gren-lings and the gren, wiped out by a worldwide flood. They had deliberately flouted the Authority's laws. Two of every animal saved in a giant wooden boat. When the waters receded, the creatures had become all the different types of lings known today."

"A non-canonical, ribald version of the tale says that the good gren-ling who built the boat and filled it with two of every creature neglected to bring along his wife. After a few weeks afloat he became very lonely..."

"9. Current Era: Diverse species of humanoid -lings. Discovery of iron. Snake-men civilization rises, collapses, leaves war machines, mimics, and half-understood magic scattered around. Discovery of mirror realms, stable enchantments. Arrival of the High Elves. Castles. Gunpowder. Soon, the printing press."

I Don't Remember That Move soon followed suit with a more overtly humorous series of epochs:

"4. The Age When Bacteria Were Big And Animals Were Small: Self-explanatory."

"7. Bird Age: Everything was birds. Trees? Tall birds. Viruses? Small birds. Rocks? Heavy birds. People were pretty happy to see the end of this one."

"9. Second Bird Age: God damn it."

Goodberry Monthly followed a day later, using the language of microbiology and the syntax of myth to write the tale of successive eras in a way that casts RNA as Chronos and DNA as Zeus.

"2. Age of Protein Tyranny: For when Protein came about there was a great reckoning. With protein came Division, and Sequestration, and Disparity. Walls began to sprout up, churned and woven by the arisen Disciples of the Fold, to isolate and herd the Free Acids into concentration membranes. Quaternary-Proteo-Ribo Micronauts, the abomination-titans of their time, with cruel nano-sorcery created the ultimate binding ritual for their overpowered and peaceful foe. It was a prison of reflection - a doppelganger duplicate manacle of self: DNA. No weapon has ever been more potent or more final."

"3. The Plastic Epoch: Protein was victorious. With its competitor subjugated, it set about its evolutionary design. The first layer in which we find 'life'. An age marked by an explosion of replication and partitioning. It was an age of Fiber. An age of Biofilm. An age of Lipid. The oldest of the progenitor-foes date to this period: Prion Golems, Quaternary Phage-Key Folders, Neckcracker Enzymes, Oppression Engines. In this layer lies hidden a material scientist's dream: potent polymer-plastics yet to be rediscovered."

Fig. 1 - Max Ernst 1920 "Stratified Rocks, Nature's Gift of Gneiss Lava Iceland Moss 2 kinds of lungwort 2 kinds of ruptures of the perinaeum growths of the heart b) the same thing in a well-polished little box somewhat more expensive"

Or maybe HP Lovecraft started it. "At the Mountains of Madness" starts with the discovery of fossilized tool-users whose civilization predates the Cambrian Explosion, and ends with the discovery of mosaics that tell the story of Earth being colonized and conquered by three successive waves of alien invaders (the Yithian, the Star-Spawn, and the Mi-Go), each of whom rules the planet for longer than all of human history, perhaps even longer than humans have existed as a species.

Lovecraft might have been inspired by "At the Earth's Core" or "Journey to the Center of the Earth", but while Burrows and Verne both imagined known prehistoric lifeforms surviving below despite their extinction above, Lovecraft imagined something more unsettling, something like Olaf Stapledon's "Last and First Men" in reverse - he imagined that the earth was not really "our" planet, that other civilizations came before humans, and lasted longer than humans, and achieved more than humans.

Daniel Quinn claims that our way of remembering history is teleological, even mythical. We tell our story something like this. First the Big Bang happened, and that caused the universe to come into being, which led to the Milky Way, which led to our Sun, which led to the Earth. Life on Earth evolved, first single-cell organisms, then simple multi-cellular organisms, then dinosaurs (who went extinct), then mammals, and then humans. First we were cavemen, then we discovered writing, which caused the Greeks, who caused the Romans, who begat the English, who begat Americans, which is "us". Quinn claims that telling history this way doesn't just make "us" feel important, it also makes us feel safe. It makes us feel like the culmination of history. Everything that happened before happened for a reason, and it all happened "just so," just so that it could lead to us, here, today, living in the best of all possible worlds.

The scientific view of deep history is much more frightening. The universe didn't conspire to create us. It seems like dumb chance that our planet is even capable of supporting lifeforms like ourselves, and at several points in its history, it wasn't. Far from seeming foreordained, we seem like an accident, and one that almost didn't happen, wouldn't have happened if an unlucky asteroid hadn't killed the dinosaurs. We may not even, with 100 percent certainty, be able to rule out the Silurian Hypothesis, which asks whether it is possible for us to know whether or not the dinosaurs may have evolved intelligence and civilization, perhaps even one that lasted longer than ours has - or will.

So our myths make us feel safe. First, by telling us that we aren't an accident, that we were never in danger of not existing. Second, by telling us that we are important. The past is long, but it's full of things that aren't us, and therefore it doesn't matter. We are the only intelligent species on the planet, our civilization is the most advanced civilization that has ever existed, and therefore we have a moral right to rule over the planet, and those of us who speak English and have leisure time to read gaming blogs (so the myth tells us) have a moral right to rule over other humans. To contemplate deep time is like staring into the yawning emptiness that stretches between atomic nucleus and electron cloud, it is to stare deep into the abyss.

The frightening idea that biology and geology and astronomy keep converging on is the idea that our myth isn't true. What Lovecraft is doing in "At the Mountains of Madness" is writing a fiction that communicates the emotional truth that we reject when we glimpse it in the findings of scientists - that the past is long, the human species is young, and Western civilization has no divine right to kingship. (I said that Lovecraft gives us Stapeldon in reverse - in "First and Last Men," Olaf Stapledon asks what it would mean to be human if we could know the future, and know that humans as a genus would spend only 1% of our existence as our current species, and only 10% of our existence on Earth, before moving to Neptune, and enjoying our longest-lasting civilization as a race of psychic manta rays.) It's this same fear that led Robert Howard to propose that a race of Silurian-esque serpent people had a civilization that pre-dated ours, and led Geoffrey McKinney to try to one-up him by suggesting that the serpent people bred humans as lab animals to sacrifice in magic rituals, that humans like ourselves are some kind of feral mixed-breed who exist because a few guinea pigs jumped their cages and escaped the lab.

Fig. 2 - Max Ernst 1921 "The Gramineous Bicycle Garnished with Bells the Dappled Fire Damps and the Echinoderms Bending the Spine to Look for Caresses"

All of this brings me back to my original question. What do you do with all this prehistory?

LP Harley claims, "The past is another country; they do things differently there."

William Faulkner says, "The past isn't over; it isn't even past."

But in a game where the only things that really exist are the things that happen among the people playing the game, the past doesn't, the doesn't exist - unless you make it exist by doing something with it to make it come alive at the table.

So what do you do with all this pre-history?

(1) You could direct your players to a humorous blog post, encourage them to read it, all have a good laugh together, and then get on with a game where nothing in that blog post matters.

(2) You could use the past as set-dressing, like in The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope's Stonehell Dungeon. You enter the Contested Corridors, you use the main corridor loop to navigate the quadrant, you find yourself wandering through the Chamber of the Desert, the Chamber of the Woods, the Sea, the Mountains, the Jungles, the Meadows. You find rooms decorated like themed hotel rooms, a remnant from a time before the orcs, goblins, and kobolds moved in. The rooms don't provide any insight into the larger history of Stonehell, instead they're just a glimpse at an unrecoverable past, a time before, a time when the dungeon existed for itself rather than for the orcs, or for you, just enough to tell you: this place is old, it was here before you, it will be here when you're gone.

(3) Or you could use the past as a kind of clue or foreshadowing, that shows the players where they could go next, like False Machine does in Deep Carbon Observatory. Find the right room in the Observatory, and you find a museum showing off geological strata displayed like giant microscope slides: a core sample from a layer made of fossilized vampires, a stratum a mile deep made of nothing but rusted swords, a city that burned and was rebuilt a thousand times over a million years. You find that museum and you begin to understand what will happen if you venture down into the Veins of the Earth. It's what Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle do in The Mote in Gods Eye, when their characters discover a museum that shows them what the aliens' past was really like. It's what Lovecraft does in "At the Mountains of Madness" (though his characters run away, rather than going deeper). It's what every game designer who allows you to find frescoes that tell you what you'll find next does, what The City of Iron does in The Ruined Abbey of St Clewd, what Tony Dowler does in my favorite, Purple Worm Graveyard.

(4) Or you could try to formalize the mystery solving, make a list of propositions for the players to discover, like Detect Magic does, or draw up worksheets with lists of clues pointing to the existence of various high-level truths, and award XP and gold for finding each clue, and bonuses for finishing each worksheet and "proving" the existence of each "truth", as Grognardia does in Dwimmermount. Make the search for historical truths at least as important a source of level-advancement as the usual search for monsters and treasure. Have factions willing to buy up player maps and newly uncovered rumors. Require the sharing of secrets to level up, as Paul Wolfe recommends in volume 4 of the 2017 Gongfarmer's Almanac.

(5) Or you could use the strata to define the levels of a megadungeon. Level 1, closest to the surface, is essentially the present day. Level 2 is the recent past. Level 3 is a the ancient past. Level 4 is the deep past. Etc.

(6) Or you could complicate matters by making each layer a palimpsest. Level 1 is a mash-up of the present and the recent past. Level 2 mashes up the recent past and the ancient past. Level 3 mashes up the ancient past and the deep past. Etc.

(7) Or you could make a more complex palimpsest by using something like Tony Dowler's How to Host a Dungeon to overlap the strata in more different ways. Some areas will be defined by a single strata, others by a mashup between two adjacent strata, others by mashups between non-adjacent eras. The resulting mix will be nonlinear. Going deeper into the earth generally means going deeper into the past, but you never know quite which era to expect to encounter next.

(8) Or you could travel to past directly, just as though you were travelling to another planet. Go the Chrono Trigger route and visit them in a time machine. Play a Spelljammer campaign and sail a wooden galleon to distant stars that are currently undergoing the epoch of your choice. Start your game in Planescape's city of Sigil, or step through one of the 666 doors of the Kefitzat Haderech, and through every doorway discover another time, another planet. Take advantage of the unlimited range of Pathfinder's "Interplanetary teleport" spell to come and go on your own schedule.

The options aren't all mutually exclusive. 1-4 are basically different ways of using information about earlier epochs in your game. 5-8 are different ways of visiting those epochs more or less directly. But I recommend, if you want there to be a fantastical prehistoric past in your campaign, find a way for players to learn about it, and then, find a way for them to go there and see it firsthand.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Session Report - Descend into Brimstone - 22 April 2018

Bill the livery-stabler
Edward the storekeeper
Henry the huckster
Harry the butcher
played by Canadian John

Blaze Riviera the servant
Sweet Nell the innkeeper
Rusty the auctioneer
Jed the miner
played by Todd

Eldon the dentist
Lilly the clerk
Ethel the servant
Louis the politician
played by Petra

The town of Brimstone had been closed for business for sometime, shut down by a miner's strike and cut off by a railroad worker's strike, but both labor disputes were recently settled, and the town was celebrating its grand re-opening, welcoming a whole passel of new greenhorns from back East into their midst. The wildest party of all was at The Gallows, the saloon with the only public entrance to the Brimstone Mine. Edward, Henry, Sweet Nell, and Rusty all won free "return trip" lift tickets and free drinks at the bar in a raffle. The others ponied up for tickets down, and those who could afford it bought return tickets so they could get back up again. It seems like before they knew it, they were all being hustled into the elevator lift, and were descending down into the Maw, the giant borehole at the center of Brimstone Mine.

The group got off at level 1, and Henry suggested that the area right off the elevator was likely to be pretty well picked over, and that the group ought to head around to another side of the Maw if they sought to find their fortune. The others agreed, and they spent the next hour walking the lip of the Maw, a 20-30' wide pathway with no guardrail, overhanging the great borehole. Arriving at the southwestern side of the mine, they decided to look for a way in.

The first entrance they found led them into narrow natural tunnels which they traversed on hands and knees. Jed quickly realized that they were actually crawling on the ceiling of the tunnels. " 'taint natural!" he declared. They crossed and recrossed a natural stream that was also flowing on the ceiling. At one point, washed up on shore, they found a tooth that had been made into a dagger. Harry inspected it, but he was used to dealing with herbivores, so all he could tell was that this was the tooth of a predator, and since it was larger than his hand, a big predator at that. The handle of the dagger looked like maybe Aztec design. Henry looked around very shiftily, opened his suitcase just a crack (careful to not let anyone see inside) and pulled out some chalk to help mark their path. He also helped himself to the dagger which disappeared into his suitcase. The group decided to follow the little river downstream.

The stream made a little waterfall at the boundary where gravity returned to normal, and everyone got soaked passing through, but on the other side, they entered large man-made corridors, tiled with dressed stone. In the open air, they heard what they couldn't make out over the sound of running water in an enclosed space before, the sound of insects, like cicadas on a hot summer day. Following the winding creek as it crossed and recrossed the perfectly straight corridors, the group ended up in a natural cavern with a hint of gold glittering in the walls. They all rushed in to inspect their find, and inadvertently got the drop on a trio of insects: an ant, a grasshopper, and a centipede, each the size of a pony!

Welp, I tell you a fearsome combat ensued. The friends got an early lead on the insects.. Bill tried to ride the ant, wailing at its flank with his riding crop, but got bucked off. Jed and Lilly killed it with a one-two of mining pick and letter opener. Nell shot the grasshopper, but then the dumb beast retaliated, chewing on her like she was a blade of sweet summer grass The centipede slithered on up to Blaze, injecting him with a poison that made him feel all weak in the arms, though Blaze did manage to bop the darn critter on the snout with his candlestick in revenge. Nell shot at the grasshopper again, but accidentally shot poor Rusty, ending his life. Henry ran to Rusty's side, making like to help the poor man, but really he was just helping himself to the contents of the auctioneers pockets. Harry got distracted and pratfalled right in front of the grasshopper, which munched away, ending him too. Finishing what others had started, Bill killed the centipede the same way he'd accidentally killed so many poor horses back East before they run him out of town - by beating on it with his riding crop until the critter didn't arise no more. Nell managed to shoot the cricket again, and Blaze finished it off with another stout blow from his candlestick. Blaze and Jed helped themselves to the dead butcher's accouterments, while Louis took up the auctioneer's gavel, fancying himself a bit judge-like now that he had it.

After the fight, Blaze tidied up like the good servant he is while Jed and the others inspected the shimmer of gold they saw in the walls. Jed was able to determine that it was a good, probably thousand-dollar vein. They took a sample of gold dust, and Lilly helped draw up a map to their stake. They figured they could sell it to a mining company back in town for a finder's fee. Henry made another big show of looking suspiciously at his colleagues while getting his chalk out again, marking the route back to the narrow tunnels while wearing Harry's suit coat right over his own.

They followed the stream further into some large mining tunnels, but came to realize there was no other way out of this section than the way they'd come in. They also found a chasm, but fortunately smelled that it was full of explosive natural gas before they got too close. Nearby they found hundreds of feet of tubing, and a barrel-sized machine with a pair of o-rings the tubes could be affixed to. It seemed to be some kind of bellows apparatus, and the group decided it was mining equipment for evacuating the bad gas from the pit. Rather than mess with any of that though, they doubled back into the dressed-stone halls, and located a new exit on the southeast side.

The next section they entered had huge natural tunnels, 20' wide and 30' high overhead. Unfortunately, the gravity in this area was powerful strong. Felt just like walking on the surface of Jupiter! It plum wore the whole group out. Even more unfortunate-like, a couple more of them ants came to attack them, and the buggers didn't seem to be bothered none by the gravity.

Well sir, it was a vicious fight. Straight away, the ants put down Bill and Lilly. Lilly always felt like she had a guardian angel sitting on her shoulder, but the poor dear must've been pinned to the floor by that gravity when Lilly needed her most. Jed and Ethel both pressed their luck to hurt one of the ants, and then Louis came in and took all the credit after banging on its head with his gavel. "Case closed!" he said. "The prosecution rests!" The remaining ant commenced to galloping around like a wild bronco, narrowly missing trampling Sweet Nell. Blaze and Ethel fumbled around like fools trying to hit the critter, but luckily managed not to hut anything more than their own pride. The ant sent Henry on to his grave before Jed sent the ant to an afterlife of its own with his mining pick.

There followed a great re-distribution of wealth, from the dead to the living. The saddlebags Bill had been carrying around this whole time turned out to be empty, and that suitcase Henry acted so protective over turned out to have nothing inside it but chalk. Henry the much-vaunted huckster turned out to be nothing but a two-bit chalk salesman! No one was much surprised, considering how luckless and unlikable the poor bastard had been. Ethel also picked up that letter opener of Lilly's that she'd been coveting for so long. Somehow, amidst all the rifling and trading, Jed and Louis found a oilcloth tied tight around some parcel, which Jed offered to hold onto for safekeeping.

Low on numbers and feeling sore exhausted after their hard slog though high gravity, the group decided to pass through one more section of mine on their way back to the Maw. They ended up in more man-made corridors, but these ones were a tight squeeze, and the team walked single file down the narrow halls. They found a mine entrance with a cavern on the other side, and what looked like a big old pool of blood on the cavern floor. Well, the group didn't like the look of that one bit, so they headed right back out into the hall. On the way, Edward found him $100 someone dropped long before, but as they filed back into the hallway, Louis realized that the blood puddle had reared up and begun to give chase! It was an awfully slow monster, so the group was able to outdistance it by running. That poor Jed though, his old heart couldn't take the strain. After crawling, and fighting, watching his friends die, and feeling the earth tugging down on him like he was made of lead, the old ticker just didn't have anything left in it, and he expired, clutching his chest as he went down.

Louis took custody of the oil-cloth parcel, and the group dragged Jed back to the lift to the surface. When Nell realized it would cost one of their lift-tickets to get him back on the elevator though, she made a real pretty speech about how Jed was a miner through and through, and then pitched his body down into the Maw. "It's what he would've wanted." Much reduced in numbers, the new friends made it back to the surface, hocked their map to the White Fang Expeditions for a 10%, $100 finder's fee, and at Edward's suggested, decided to rent them a pretty two-room cabin just outside of town. Edward put two months down, and the group divvied up their remaining cash all fair-like, putting the toothy dagger, the mystery parcel, and Jed's extra gold dust into communal property, for anyone to take who needed it. Unwrapping, the parcel, they found two metal gauntlets shaped like cats that fair hummed like tuning forks when you touched them. Written in chalk on the inside of the oilcloth was the phrase "myow-myow".

$100 cash
map to a $1000 gold vein (sold to WFE for $100)
magic bat-tooth dagger
magic cat gauntlets

Rusty (shot by Nell)
Harry (eaten by grasshopper)
Bill (bitten by ant)
Lilly (bitten by ant)
Henry (bitten by ant)
Jed (exhaustion caused by forced march)

flat 10XP each for a successful zero-level expedition

Running graveyard (and session of demise)
Jed the miner (1), Henry the huckster (1), Lilly the clerk (1), Bill the livery-stabler (1), Harry the butcher (1), Rusty the auctioneer (1)

I used the hexploration rules from Stormlord Publishing's Black Powder Black Magic volume 4 to run this session. The hexagons are 1 mile wide and take 1 hour to cross quickly (with a chance of wandering monsters) or 2 hours to cross slowly (with monsters appearing only as a "complication.) Each time the characters entered a new hex, I had the players make a series of rolls. John rolled for a description of the tunnels, Todd rolled twice for "features" (things like the stream, the weird gravity, the dead end, and the chasm), Petra rolled for "complications" (things like a monster encounter or explosive gas), and I rolled for treasure.

Level 1 of the Brimstone Mine is "The Hive," every hex is supposed to be filled with the "chittering and clattering of insects" (although I often forgot to narrate that), and the "featured monster" complication for the level is giant ants and centipedes. I decided to add giant grasshoppers (as cave crickets) into the mix. The "puddle of blood" they found was a primeval slime straight from DCC.

The treasure table only gives a 5% chance to find magic items, so imagine my surprise when we found two in one short expedition! The first item found is "The Ragetooth," which I took from Stormlord Publishing's Camazotz The Death Bat patron write-up. If any of the characters decide to become a wizard, old Camazotz will certainly make them a pitch for the chance to become their first patron. The second item really caught me by surprise, so during the game itself, I said that only the character handling the oilcloth parcel had looked inside, and he wasn't telling anyone. After the game, I decided it was "the Gauntlets of the Wailing Mountain Lion," which were inspired by the cat-faced soundwave blasters Shuri wears at the end of the Black Panther movie (and by Lego Cat-Woman beginning and ending every sentence with "myow myow" in the Lego Batman movie.) Players who've seen Black Panther won't be too surprised when they find out what happens when you say the magic word written on the oilcloth while wearing the gauntlets!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Sub-Hex Crawling Mechanics - Part 2, Minicrawling

This post is a continuation of an earlier look at how to explore inside wilderness hexes. You can read the first two posts in the series here and here, and you can read Tales to Astound!'s commentary on them here and here, respectively.

My goal is to think about how to model adventuring sites that are too big to represent with 10-foot squares and too small to represent with 6-mile hexes. One method is to use a pointcrawl to map the site in terms of landmarks and paths rather than to any kind of scale. The other method, and the one I want to look at today, is just to use a different scale. If 6-mile hexes are too big, then use smaller ones. This technique doesn't really have a distinct name, but I'm calling it "mini-crawling," short for "mini-hex crawling," because the hexes in question are miniature versions of the 6-mile hexagons used for wilderness exploration.

There seem to be relatively few published adventuring products that use this in-between scale. (Certainly far fewer than the ones that use building maps or continent maps.) Among the products that do use an intermediate scale, it's my impression that pointcrawls are more common and more well-known than minicrawls. While writing about pointcrawls, I kind of convinced myself that pointcrawling is an incredibly flexible mapping technique, and that it's probably underused, meaning that the way it models space probably would be appropriate to use more often than it actually is. I don't know that minicrawling is under-used, but I think it does a very good job of facilitating a particular type of play, and I think that understanding that style of play might make both that style and minicrawling more popular.

I think that minicrawl maps are good for facilitating the exploration of an adventuring site - a ruined city would be my archetypal example - where the referee and the players will use randomization procedures to generate the contents of the site at the table during play. The products I'm familiar with that use minicrawl techniques almost all use them in this way, and almost all use them in ruined cities.

First, a counterexample, and then I'll move on to introducing my main examples. In Discourse & Dragons' original Barrowmaze, the graveyard above the dungeon was represented as a not-to-scale illustration that showed the major tombs as landmarks - the kind of map that (I would argue) functions as a pointcrawl even if it doesn't exactly look like one. You can see the original map below in Figure 1. By the time Barrowmaze Complete was released, the old pointmap had been replaced by a new minihexmap, shown in Figure 2 below. The scale is listed as 50 feet per hex (which is awkward, as I discuss below) which means that characters should move about two hexes per turn.

I don't know for certain the reason Greg chose to switch from a pointcrawl to a minicrawl, but I suspect it was to allow more rigorous tracking of movement rates, something that gets a fair bit of attention inside the Barrowmaze dungeon, and in his follow-up product, The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia. This is one thing minicrawls can facilitate. In a relatively open environment, where movement is unrestricted, it would be time consuming to draw all possible paths between the nodes, and labor intensive to calculate all the travel times and distances. What's tedious in a pointmap is trivial on a hexmap. This mapping technique allows Greg to vary the distances between different tombs without handwaving them away (say, a single exploration turn to move between any two adjacent tombs) and without needing to employ the Pythagorean theorem or draw up a transit timetable.

Fig. 1 - Barrowmounds pointcrawl from Barrowmaze I

Fig. 2 - Barrowmounds hexcrawl from Barrowmaze Complete

My first encounter with minicrawling was in Faster Monkey Games' Lesserton & Mor. Mor is an ancient ruined city, and Lesserton is neighboring trade town, whose residents venture into Mor to recover treasure. The judge uses procedures to first determine terrain type (open, building, vegetation, or rubble), then determine whether "weirdness" is present (2-in-10 chance of weirdness, additional 1-in-10 chance of double-weirdness). If the terrain is buildings, the judge then rolls to determine the number of buildings, to determine the number of floors in each building (including a separate roll to check for basements), then checks to see if each building is occupied, and if so, by a wandering monster, by orcs, or by weirdness. There are 22 weirdness options on a d100 table, ranging from the beneficial (food source, water source) to the hazardous (open pit) to the dangerous (ambush zone, monster lair, orcs again) to the truly weird (haunting, wild magic zone). Almost all of these options require an additional roll to determine the specific form of weirdness (which food, what kind of water) and almost all of them allow the possibility of a wandering monster encounter as a result of this additional roll (which is on top of the ones like "monster lair" that guarantee it). Outside of encounters caused by weirdness, wandering monster checks are once an hour, and there are several lists depending on where the monster is encountered. The mini-hexes are organized on the map into "sept-hexes" or "florets" of one central hexagon and its six neighbors, which I'll talk more about below. The city map contains a handful of landmark buildings (the citadel, the palace) and a handful of territories controlled by larger orc gangs. You can see a section of the map in Figure 3 below. I've actually been using Lesserton & Mor as the basis for the ruined city in my occasional Redlands/Rotlands game. You can see my judge's map of the same section in Figure 4.

Fig. 3 - Selection from map of Mor from Lesserton & Mor

Fig. 4 - Selection from my judge's map of Mor

Probably the best know example of minicrawling is Dreams in the Lich House's Black City campaign. The basic idea is that the Black City is a ruined alien city on a far northern island. Every summer, a group of vikings and traders sail up to the site to try to extract any treasures they can find. There's a map of the city and its surrounding environs shown in Figure 5 below. The city is divided roughly in half by a glacier, the northern half is more dangerous than the southern, and the city itself is more dangerous than the surroundings. Hex stocking uses d10 rolls on tables with 12 entries. Add 1 to the roll in the southern half of the city and 2 to the roll in the north. Since the entries are ordered from beneficial to dangerous, exploring outside the city avoids the worst hazards, and exploring in the north leaves no chance of the greatest benefits. When the players enter a hex the judge first rolls for the major feature (excavation, no feature, building, lair). There's a 25% chance of the major feature having a complication, and if not, then roll again for a minor feature (stash, campsite, battle site, ambush, artifact, no feature, hazard, special, predator). In addition to the low entries being beneficial and the high entries being dangerous, the low entries also represent signs of previous (or current) human occupation, while the high entries represent the risk of monster attacks. The mechanic of adding to the roll is an elegant way to model the effect of moving away from humanity and into danger as you move between the regions. When buildings are present the judge first rolls 1d6 to select a geomorph (I presume this means an arrangement of buildings) and then another 1d6 per building to determine the number of floors from a list. There are also 17 named locations with fixed points on the map, some or all of which are dungeon-sized spaces for the players to enter.

Fig. 5 - Black Ciy hexmap from Dreams in the Lich House

Stormlord Publishing's Brimstone Mine megadungeon from Black Powder, Black Magic, volume 4 uses minihexes to create a sprawling ruined mine, rather than a ruined city. The mine had multiple levels, each with their own name, theme, and a level-specific wandering monster. Each level used the same hexmap template, which then got filled in with detail as we explored. You can see what the blank template looks like in Figure 6 below. When the players enter the hex, the judge makes five rolls. (When I played with Carl, he actually had the players make the rolls, something I copied in when I ran my Redlands game. It worked a little better for Carl though, because it was always the same five rolls for him; I kept having to ask for different number of rolls with different dice each time.) The first roll determines the type of passageways in that section of the mine (typically natural tunnels, mine shafts, and corridors, all of different sizes). The second and third rolls are both features selected from a list of 20. Three of these connect to higher or lower levels of the mine; one is a dead end that cuts the hex off from its neighbors (except the one you came in through). There are a couple of "chasm" entries that could also effectively cut the hex off from one or two neighbors while leaving the others open. There are some water sources, geographic features, hazards, and a 1-in-20 chance of encountering a "point of interest," which could be a demon shrine (for which there's a random-generation table) or any other minidungeon the judge wants to slot in. The fourth roll determines complications, about half of which are hazards or encounters with the level's featured monster. Finding dead bodies, live animals, and running into factions mostly rounds out the list. The fifth and final roll is for treasure, everything from mundane equipment, to cash, to gold ore, to magical demon ore, to finished magic items. As a player, it seemed like this procedure moved fairly quickly, and in the time I played, generated enough variety to keep things interesting. (Carl also used a kind of alternating format - our default action was to explore the mine until we found something - like a dead body, or demon ore - that gave us a quest to complete up on the surface. Then we went on our quest, and when that was resolved, we returned to the mines.)

Fig. 6 - Brimstone mine from Black Powder, Black Magic vol. 4

In a comment on this blog, Alistair pointed out two final examples of minicrawling, both in intact cities rather than ruined ones: Blood of Prokopius' series of posts about the city of Portown, and Graphs Papers & Pencils' post about a nameless city that I think of as Portown's sister-city. Portown is shown in Figure 7 below, it's sister-city is in Figure 8. Portown consists of districts like The Port, Olde Town, The Monastery District, and others including the Upper and Lower Guildhalls and Upper and Lower Slums, both named for their relative elevation above sea level. Dave has an encounter chart for each neighborhood. If the players enter the district with no plan in mind, roll 1d6, and on a 6, they're lost. If they go in searching for a particular landmark (every district has 5) roll 1d6 and check against the landmark's chance of encounter. In each district two are relatively easy to find (3-in-6 chance), two are more difficult (2-in-6), and one is rather hidden (1-in-6, no easier to find by searching than it is by wandering). In Robb's unnamed city, there are districts like Common Temples, The Wizard's College, The Artisan's Market, and the Guardhouse. The hexes here are explicitly acknowledged to be of different sizes, although travel through them is as abstract as passing through a section of Brimstone Mine or Flux Space.

Both Portown and its sister-city operate more-or-less like pointcrawls, as I argued all neighborhood-maps of living cities do in my previous post. And both cities are pre-drawn by their creators, not procedurally generated at the table. So why include them as examples here? Because they help point out a way you could use a blank map to procedurally generate a city. Both Cörpathium and Dunnsmouth employ a kind of minigame for the judge to play as they generate each city, but it's a game that might be too slow to play at the table with your players watching. One way to speed it up is to standardize the footprint of each neighborhood on the map; the framework provided by a blank hexmap provides exactly the standardization you need to place a district (and its boundaries, and its neighbors) quickly, so that you can keep on gaming. It's the same advantage in speed that Brimstone has over the Ruins of the Undercity or the Mad Monks of Kwantoom - because it uses a hexmap as its framework, generating Brimstone is faster than generating the sewers under Cryptopolis or the 1001 Pagodas of Doom. Filling in blank hexes with fixed locations is probably always going to be faster than open-ended procedural mapping in open space. If the stocking procedures for filling in the hexes can be a little slow, having the mapping procedures for drawing them in the first place be lightning fast is a good way to make up time.

Fig. 7 - Portown by Blood of Prokopius

Fig. 8 - Nameless city by Graphs, Papers, & Pencils

The examples I've chosen don't present any kind of consensus on time and movement, but looking across them, I think it's possible to recognize some best practices. In the ancient ruined city of Mor, each hex is 120 feet across. This is the same as the characters' regular B/X movement rate in the dungeon, although for some reason, none of the movement rates in the text (for regular movement, fast movement, regular exploration, and exhaustive exploration) correspond to the obvious, elegant, one exploration turn per hex. The regular movement rate corresponds to 120 yards per turn or 360 feet, while the fast movement chart allows for 120 feet per combat turn. The size of the hexes in the Black City isn't specified anywhere I saw, although John Arendt mentions that it takes 8 hours to explore a hex. Depending on his view of the proper relationship between travel time and exploration time, he probably enforces either 1 hour per hex or 8 hours per hex to cross them as well. In the mines under Brimstone, each hex is 1 mile across and takes 2 hours to move through carefully or 1 hour to move through quickly. Carl is also the only author I saw to explicitly address how much travel can be accomplished in a day (something people seem to disagree about for wilderness exploration as well) and he recommends using the average of the characters' Stamina scores to determine the number of hours they can spend exploring before they have to rest (so in practice, 10-12 hours, covering either 5-6 hexes carefully or 10-12 hexes quickly). Portown and its nameless sister-city have variable travel times within each hex, depending on whether the hex represents a full neighborhood, a single block, or even just one building.

My strong recommendation for anyone considering minicrawling would be to use 10-minute hexes (either 120 foot / 120 yard, whichever you prefer for outdoor travel) or 1-hour hexes (either 1 mile, or whatever size seems plausible to you). Both simplify time- and record-keeping enormously, and difficult terrain or intensive searches can still always take longer. (In fact, if we take Portown and its sister-city as an example, the travel time of a hex can be a variable characteristic that's set as part of the proc-gen.)

When I started my Redlands game using Lesserton & Mor, my goal was to play something where I could procedurally generate the terrain right there at the table, in real time as my players explored it. For the most part, it works, but I think ideally the procedures would be more streamlined. Let's start with the terrain. There's no necessary relationship among the terrain types, which means that filling in one sept-hex requires rolling for terrain seven times (and my back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest there are something like 16,000 different sept-hexes that can be generated this way). You could reduce seven rolls down to two by first determining the dominant terrain type, and then rolling on a visual menu of sept-hexes for that type (or down to one by making all the hexes in one florets share the same terrain, or by having a single menu of possible sept-hexes). This would reduce the variability of the terrain, but dramatically speed up generation. (This matters because the players should at least be able to see the terrain in the hexes surrounding the one they're currently in; if visibility across hexes weren't a consideration, there wouldn't be much advantage to streamlining.)

The nested nature of a lot of the weirdness rolls also adds time. For example, if the weirdness present is a "Food Source," you next roll 1d6 to choose three different possibilities. Each carries the risk of an encounter, so roll 1d6 again to see if there is an encounter, and if there is one, you either roll 1d100 on the "Water Encounter" table, look up the "Hunting Ground" weirdness and then roll 1d12, or roll 1d100 on the "Daytime" or "Nighttime Encounter" tables. Most encounters are stipulated to be lone individuals, but if you got Orcs or Raiders, you would then go to a subtable, roll to see which group of orcs or raiders you're dealing with, then roll to determine the number of individuals in the group. When rolls "explode" like this, it can take some time to move from seeing that the players have encountered weirdness to figuring out exactly what's going on. Two procedures could streamline this. The first is a "roll all the dice" approach where all the rolls happen simultaneously using different dice types and combining information (rather than nesting it) to create the encounter. The other procedure would be to have more weirdness types, so that each type requires no more than one or two extra rolls to resolve. (So, in this example, "Safe Food Source" and "Food Source with Monster" could be treated as two separate entries on the weirdness table, eliminating the need for an independent monster check.) I made the encounter look-ups sound a little worse than they are. Most encounters come from a single table, where you roll d100, look up that number in a column that corresponds to the location (such as "Excavation Weirdness Site" or "Nighttime Wandering Encounter"), and then follow the row over to the far-right column listing the monster you've encountered. It's a very well-done piece of information design.

Streamlining is not an absolute good, not a goal unto itself. Streamlining is a trade-off, and it comes at the expense of variability. Right now, Lesserton & Mor has a good mix of variety and similarity; it's cohesive without too much sameness, it presents novelty without turning into a funhouse. (Like streamlining, neither variety nor similarity are absolute goods. Both entail trade-offs. To get them, you have to give something else up.) Rolling several dice allows for more permutations of things that can happen (like 16,000 different terrain configurations), while condensing down to fewer rolls reduces that variability, and risks monotony. However, if your goal is to be able to run these procedures at the table, during actual play, then some amount of streamlining is probably necessary. On the whole, the procedures in Lesserton & Mor aren't bad. I've used them at the table, and for the most part, they work fast enough to be used in play. The exploding "Food Source" scenario I outlined above is as extreme example. Most of the time, the mini-hex will be stocked much quicker. Remember, only 30% of hexes even have weirdness, the rest are essentially empty - except for the ones with buildings.

Buildings are a problem though, because they're where the procedure becomes too slow to run at the table. Stocking 1-4 buildings with 1-5 floors each (including basements and sub-basements) with monsters, treasure, and weirdness (many of which, you may recall, also include monsters) just takes too long to be feasible during play. When my random terrain rolls revealed a cluster of mini-hexes that all contained buildings near one another, I rolled up their contents between sessions, and it proved to be a good decision, because I never could have done it fast enough to keep the game going. Again, I would think that visual menus, perhaps one to select the arrangement of buildings, and a second to select the layout of each building, would be a quick way to build these clusters without giving up so much variability that they become boring. Mor would probably also benefit from a few setpiece locations like the Black City has - pre-drawn dungeons that go where the old citadel or old palace were on the map.

For thinking about streamlining, it might be instructive to look at how Faster Monkey Games updated their procedures for their next random exploration hexcrawl, In the Shadow of Mount Rotten. The map here is divided up into 8 regions, and each region is presumed to have basically the same terrain throughout. The table for adding occupants to each hex is even better than the one in Lesserton & Mor. Here each region gets a column; the regions are grouped based on harshness; coldness and dryness are indicated through background shading and italics; the terrain is mentioned at the top of the list; and then you simply read down your column to see the result of your d20 roll. Each occupant is a type of tribe, possibly with a herd, possibly living in a ruin or cave, and the number of hexes the tribe takes up is shown as well. This is a great idea, because it means that when you roll to find (for example) "Foot Goblin Emu Herders with Caves (2)", you not only know the contents of the hex you just rolled, you also know the contents of a neighboring hex. It's worth pointing out that the mix of tribe-types, herds, and caves/ruins could have been handled by first rolling occupants, then rolling to check if the occupants have herds, then rolling to see which herd type, then rolling again to see if there are structures, and finally rolling to check the structure type. Instead, those many rolls have been condensed down to one. Any roll of 20 produces an "oddity," which is like the "weirdness" of Lesserton & Mor, but with only 8 major options (although most of these have sub-options as well). In practice, fewer than 5% of the hexes will have oddities, since most of the occupied hexes have tribes that spread over 2-8 hexes. The random encounter tables also have only 20 entries, for day and night, again organized by region. It's a mix of wild animals, herd animals (like emu and reindeer), patrols and raiding parties, natural phenomena (fog, bushes, etc), and a chance (in most regions, only at night) of a spirit encounter, which feels like a great inclusion. In sum, we have terrain organized by regions, hex content listings that include occupants and structures simultaneously (and that typically fill multiple neighboring hexes), and encounter tables that combine mundane events, supernatural visitations, and regular wandering monsters. The inclusion of caves and ruins is also good, since it allows you to pull in a pre-generated structure (the random procedures here still seem a little slow for use at the table) and place it at a random spot on the map.

One thing, I think, that accounts for the difference between Lesserton & Mor and In the Shadow of Mount Rotten (besides applying lessons learned from one to the writing of the other) is that visiting ancient Mor is mostly about exploration, while visiting the Rotlands is much more about interacting with factions. There are factions in Mor. A few orc gangs and their turf are shown on the starting map (although they're distant from the player's start-point) and players can randomly encounter small groups of wandering orc (typically numbering in the 3-12 range) or larger orc clans (numbering 40-160). There's not much advice for assigning names or personalities to orc groups however. Most of the faction attention is given to the stores, NPCs, and power groups back in the "home base" in Lesserton. Lesserton & Mor needs more variability in its exploration tables, because pure exploration is doing the heavy lifting in terms of defining the experience of play. In the Shadow of Mount Rotten has much more information for running factions. Because faction play is much more important in the Rotlands, less emphasis can be put on pure exploration, and so it matters a little less how much variability there is in the exploration outcomes.

In the Shadow of Mount Rotten has ten different types of tribes - and depending on the judge's preference, there could be five species-based factions, ten tribe-type-based factions, or each tribe could be a faction unto itself. Each tribe-type has a standard number of members, complete with a list of the number of members of each type (each Foot Goblin tribe, for example, has 302 goblins, divided into 150 young, 75 tribe-members, 60 warriors, 12 elite-warriors, and so on). It's fine that these are standardized, because different tribes (even of the same tribe-type) are going to be distinguished by their name, their personality, and whatever's preoccupying them at the moment - and not by having different statistics (which would be largely invisible to the players anyway). Each tribe-type gets about a half-page write-up that includes a bolded sentence describing their key behaviors, a short paragraph with tips for how the judge should roleplay them, information about their technology and lifestyle, and the population listing described above. There are lists of suggested names for each kind of tribe, information about how the tribe-types interact, and even a random event generator to see what's going on inside each tribe at the time the players encounter it. Most of the mechanical information is standardized by tribe-type, which reduces variability - but I would argue that the variation that's lost this way is variation that adds nothing to the player's experience of the game, despite imposing a heavy cost on the judge to create it. It's variability that arguably should be removed, for the sake of streamlining, in order to make things run fast enough to run them at the table.

I previously mentioned "roll-all-the-dice" tables and "visual menus" as two ways to speed up procedural generation. Figure 9 below is a good example from Sine Nomine Publishing's free The Sandbox zine, in this case actually rolling up an abandoned building at one go. (The one-page setups for stocking random adventuring sites in Sine Nomine's Red Tide and Monsters & Manuals' Yoon-Suin are also good examples of relatively compact procedures, although both are intended to be used outside of play, and so lean toward the flexible and inspirational, rather than offering one-to-one mapping of room contents.) Unofficial Games suggests "seed charts" for stocking hexes. Roll 1d8 for a sub-location, 1d6 for an encounter, and 1d4 for weirdness, simultaneously. If you get triples (1-4) or doubles (5-6), the max value (4, 6, 8), or a run (1, 2, 3, etc) then there's a special extra result. Because of the way Zzarchov generates these special results, his method does require a bit of extra care in ordering the subtables (for example, you have to put three interesting things together in the 1 value to inspire the "special"). Zzarchov's table for generating random books suggests another technique, in line with John Arendt's "roll 1d10 on a 12 item table" approach described above: on a table with 20 options, roll either 3d6 in the "more common" area and 1d20 in the "more weird" area. The "common" results will mostly cluster around 9-12, while the "weird" results will be all over, and will include 4 options that the 3d6 roll can never produce. (As an aside, Zzarchov also has ideas for running an Iron Age campaign that would be worth reading for anyone considering using In the Shadow of Mount Rotten. Among his ideas, all tribes share a common basis of bronze-age technology, and each tribe gets one random piece of iron-age technology - except the players' tribes, who can choose instead of rolling.)

By "visual menu," I mean something like the table for selecting a random room shown in Figure 10 below. The table is something Frivology made by following the Dellorfano Protocols for random room design. (Dyson's Dodecahedron shows how you can assemble rooms like this into a building.) Lizard Man Diaries' recent table for selecting a random cave, showing in Figure 11 below, is another good example of the visual menu approach.

Fig. 9 - "Roll all the dice" table from Sine Nomine's The Sandbox, vol. 1

Fig. 10 - Visual menu of dungeon rooms from Frivology

Fig. 11 - Visual menu of caves from Lizard Man Diaries
The procedures for generating chambers in the Brimstone mines are already quite streamlined. The rhythm of five pre-set rolls made by the same players as they enter each new hex makes the procedures predictable and turns rolling the dice for proc-gen into part of the social experience of playing the game together. It's not a coincidence that I got much more interested in this style of play after being in Carl's game; it's because I had fun. There's not even a separate roll for monsters, they're just there on the "Complications" table alongside typical mining disasters like bad air and ceiling collapses. This is something you could bring to other proc-gen minicrawls. A set number of rolls with predetermined dice happening every time the players enter a new hex is something that, in principle, any minicrawl could take advantage of. If any additional rolls need to be made beyond those, then the referee could simply make those quickly behind the scenes. (I think Carl was actually doing this some. If the "complication" was a primeval ooze, he'd need to roll on DCC's random tables for generating one. If the feature was a faction-controlled mine entrance, or the complication was a faction encounter, he'd need to roll on his own list of factions to determine which one. But those rolls happened out of our sight, and disrupted the rhythm of collective creation that he established.) If most of the rolls are the same every time, it makes a little more room for some quick additional rolls to be nested inside them occasionally. The cost of the Brimstone-style is that these tables have some of the least variability of any of the minicrawls I've considered. Brimstone itself also has about the smallest footprint, and thus needs less variety to avoid too-much-repetition within it enclosed space. Lesserton & Mor and In the Shadow of Mount Rotten have much more variability in their tables, and much (much!) larger maps to fill up, where repetition would be more apparent.

Like I did for Faster Monkey Games, I think there's value to looking at the publisher's wilderness hexcrawl to mine for ideas for minicrawling. Stormlord Publishing also put out The Treasure Vaults of Zadabad, an island hexcrawl. Each hex on the island has a keyed location (mostly villages, shrines, lairs, wilderness sites that could be run as pointcrawls or minicrawls if desired, and a few dungeon-type locations) - and each hex also uses the random encounter tables for procedural generation. Whenever players enter a hex, there's a chance of encountering nothing by the keyed location, a chance for an encounter (mostly with monsters, but also with mundane animals, bad weather, and island hazards, with separate lists for each terrain type), and a chance to find a tomb. Three fully-keyed tombs (dungeons) are included as part of the adventure, and the more the players explore, the more chance they have to find others, that will need to be created by the judge. The adventure also includes a single random table for generating treasure whenever its needed. Some treasures of the island can be found in unlimited quantities, others have check-boxes for the judge to mark off, and once they're all checked, no more will be found.

While the whole point of proc-gen play is not to have every hex pre-keyed, there are still some lessons we can take from The Treasure Vaults of Zadabad. First, even proc-gen play might benefit from having some pre-keyed encounters. Like the landmark locations in the Black City, the villages and other sites of Zadabad provide known locations (both in the sense that you know what they are, and in the sense that you know where they are) that the players can use as goals to reach, as a change of pace from regular exploration, even just as landmarks to help them navigate. Second, in both Brimstone and Zadabad, there's a chance to run into a minidungeon, and I think this is a good idea. The buildings in ancient Mor end up being like mini-mini dungeons, like the barrowmounds above the Barrowmaze, and the lairs in Zadabad. Those are good and important too, but sometimes you need something bigger than a 1-6 room mini-mini. Having the chance to run into specific types of minidungeons (caves and ruins in the Rotlands, tombs in Zadabad) means that the judge can draw up a couple of each type (or find some that are pre-drawn) and then pull one out (at random, even) when the players encounter that type of 6-18 room minidungeon. Third, I think there's a real advantage to the treasure tables in Brimstone and Zadabad. There's a significant time savings from having the table right there on-hand, rather than having to flip from the monster section of the B/X books over to the treasure section, and then roll up maybe five or six kinds of treasure while the players are waiting to hear what they found. Having the treasure table built-in also means that the treasure helps communicate the feel of the setting. The treasure you're going to find in Mor or in the Rotlands is kind of the same, because it comes from the same B/X treasure tables. The treasure in Brimstone is quite different from the treasure in Zadabad, because they're drawing on two different lists with two different currencies, implied levels of technology, and divisions between cash and objects. Creating a specific treasure list, rather than drawing on a universal one, presents some advantages.

The final topic I want to address here is the technology for drawing and running mini-hex-maps. The "hexnology", if you will. What I'm about to say isn't strictly necessary, because you can just draw a standard hexmap for your minicrawl. However, there's also something else you can do. You can have one map with "large" hexes that gives you the ability to take in the entire adventuring site at a glance on one page. You can then have other maps that divide up these "large" hexes into some number of "small" hexes for the players to interact with. Besides the advantage of being able to take the summary view, when the players are passing through already-explored territory, you the judge can stay up at the level of the "large-hex" map, and only descend down to the "small-hex" map when they start exploring or otherwise interacting with their environment. (I may be wrong, but I think this is the intention in Lesserton & Mor. The 360 feet per turn movement rate I was criticizing earlier would match with moving through that map's "large" hexes at a rate of one per turn.)

So if you like this idea, and haven't already decided it's more trouble than it's worth, then the question becomes "how many small hexes should go inside a large hex?" As I described before, Lesserton & Mor's answer is 7, an arrangement where a single hexagon is surrounded by its six neighbors, forming a shape we might call a "sept-hex" or a floret. This forms a structure that's 3 hexes (360 feet) wide. You can see a simple floret in Figure 12 below, and an example of a sept-hex from Mor in action in Figure 13.
Fig. 12 - Sept-hex, or Floret

Fig. 13 - Sept-hex from Lesserton & Mor

There's problem with using this arrangement though, if you don't want to map every sept-hex individually, if instead you want to create a map at the "small-hex" level of detail. The problem is that the florets don't stack together in neat vertical columns. Individual hexes do stack together neatly. So if you try to have one large-scale map where each floret is depicted just as a single hex, and one small-scale map where the florets are depicted as seven small hexes, the two maps won't align. You can see the problem illustrated in Figure 14 below. Frankly, even if you just like having legible north-south alignment among your hexes, this arrangement might feel a little dissatisfying.

I've come up with an alternative arrangement, shown in Figure 15, that uses 16 hexes instead of 7. It can sub in for a single hex while maintaining the right arrangement, it stacks vertically, with two on either side, just as a single hexagon does. I'm not sure what to call this arrangement. Some simple searching for 16-word analogs to "dodeca-" for 12 or "quadrant" and "octant" for 4-part and 8-part turned up the possibilities "sexdecahedron", "sexdecagon", "sexdeca-hex", and "sedeci-hex".

Fig. 14 - Arrangement of sept-hexes illustrating non-vertical alignment

Fig. 15 - Arrangement of sexdeca-hexes illustrating correct vertical alignment
What is this shape? Believe it or not, it's a hexagon. I drew a large hex, 5 small hexes across. Then, instead of allowing any small hexes to be cut in half, I moved them, so instead of 6 half-hexes, you get 3 full and 3 empty. You can see how this works in Figure 16 below.

Fig. 16 - Illustration demonstrating the interchangeability of hexagon and sexdeca-hex

I'm not the only one who's thought about how to subdivide larger hexes. d4 Caltrops has the idea to divide the hex into 12 diamonds, as shown in Figure 17 below. Necropraxis has a different idea for divvying up hexes, this time by using squared laid out like bricks (instead of as a grid), a layout that he notes also mirrors the behavior of hexes. You can see that in Figure 18.

Fig. 17 - Division of hexagon into diamonds by d4 Caltrops

Fig. 18 - Replacement of hexagon with square bricks by Necropraxis

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sub-Hex Crawling 1.5 - More Pointcrawl Maps

Since writing my post about pointcrawling, I've come across a few extra examples that I didn't include in the original. The first is something I stumbled upon by happenstance, the next couple are suggestions from people who read my post, and the last two are ones that I remembered too late.

First, Melancholies & Mirth uses a pointcrawl diagram to lay out a dungeon inside the belly of a sea monster, as seen in Figure 1.

Fig. 1 - Leviathan Dungeon from Melancholies & Mirth

My friend at Role High recommends I Don't Remember That Move's text-based dungeon pointcrawl generator. You can see a randomly generated example in Figure 2.

Fig. 2 - Random Pointcrawl Generator from I Don't Remember That Move

In a similar vein, Eric Nieudan (author of Macchiato Monsters) recommends the DunGen pointcrawl dungeon generator by Ruminations of a Geek. You can see another randomly generated example in Figure 3.

Fig. 3 - Random Pointcrawl DunGen from Ruminations of a Geek

Those examples jogged my memory about a pointcrawl dungeon generator I'd forgotten all about. It was posted several years ago by Land Of Nod, and it's intended to provide random lairs and hideouts for Golden Age supervillains. A neat feature of this one is that the pointcrawl you're drawing is meant to be drawn out on hex paper. You can see the example Matt Stater made himself in Figure 4.

Fig. 4 - Random Subterranean Lair by Land of Nod 

The final example is one I vaguely remembered when I was writing my first post, but couldn't find and sort of gave up on. When I mentioned that pointcrawl maps could be used for dungeon interiors, I was thinking of the Red Tide minidungeon I posted, but I was also thinking about something I'd seen years ago, where someone laid out an entire megadungeon as a pointcrawl. After poking around a bit more, I finally found it. In My Campaign has a lengthy series of posts designing a pointcrawl megadungeon (although he calls it a node-based megadungeon, which was part of why I had a hard time re-finding it.)

If I understand correctly, there's a relatively simple overview map of the dungeon, depicting each region as a node (shown in Figure 5), then there are maps of each region, depicting each room as a node (an example, showing the region "The Abandoned Tower" is shown in Figure 6), and then finally, there's a much larger map showing the entire dungeon, but with each node still representing one room (shown in Figure 7.) Incidentally, if I have misunderstood, I think it may be the case that even at the finest level of detail, each node represents a grouping of rooms rather than an individual room.

Fig. 5 - Megadungeon Region Map by In My Campaign

Keith Davies wrote a few framing posts, first announcing his intention to design a pointcrawl megadungeon and laying out the region map from Figure 5, then announcing his plan to make a pointcrawl map for the interior of each region. At the end of the process, he also made the large-scale map in Figure 7 showing the entire megadungeon, and drew a new set of connections between the nodes showing the movement of information within the dungeon. (There's also posts showing intermediate steps in the process, some posts where he talks about the computational tools he's using and how long the whole process takes, plus three play reports about running adventurers through the finished dungeon.)

Fig. 6 - Abandoned Tower Region by In My Campaign

In between the beginning and the end, he wrote a series of posts showing the interior of each dungeon region as its own pointcrawl, like the one in Figure, showing the Abandoned Tower. The regions within the dungeon are:

1 The Abandoned Tower
2 Wolf Den
3 Goblin Warren
4 Clockwork Hell
5 Dwarven Safehold
6 Fungoid Cavern
7 Aristothanes' Sanctum
8 Pit of the Misshapen
9 Aboleth Conclave Outpost
10 Fane of Baalshamoth
11 Shalthazard the Pale

Fig. 7 - Megadungeon Map Complete by In My Campaign

Within each regional node, Keith lays out the role that region of the dungeon is intended to play in a character-goal-driven campaign, the kinds of dangers found in the region, the kinds of treasures and rewards found in the region, the important relationships between the region and other parts of the dungeon, a description of what's visually (or other-sensorally) notable about the region, a rough guide placing the region inside the dungeon, and then a brief description of each room / group of rooms / notable feature within the region.