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


  1. Hey, I like to take a look at this Brimstone Mine. But Black Powder, Black Magic, volume 4 des not seem to be available on DriveThru or anywhere else.
    Do you have an idea were I could find it.

    1. I noticed that, too Klaus Gerken. Unfortunately, right now, I don't know the answer to your question. I'll post another reply if I find out. I know that they only recently transferred over to DriveThru, so it's possible that BPBM4 got delayed somehow.

  2. Nice follow up discussion and collection of some really good resources. When I first started there weren’t really any common standards on mapping. People often borrowed from other games or wargames. I tended to avoid hexes (still do, except in Traveller) because to me that’s a ‘wargame’ thing. If I’m using a map, its almost always a more realistic map. At most with a light grid on it. Or its a faux ancient world map like you see in a museum. Or its some point crawl diagram, like a tube map or a jump space map. That is mainly because I don’t think these days my players have the interest in detailed tactical maps or movement except occasionally for tactical combat - and then ‘theatre of the mind’ mostly copes with it. When I first started though, what is now called a dungeon crawl, hexcrawl or urban crawl were all done generally on varying scale maps. Over time we got tired of that and just drew quick ‘not to scale’ maps to aid ‘theatre of the mind’ type resolution. Nice to see things logically laid out as you have though. May try for some more ‘minicrawl’ precision in some of my upcoming games.

    1. Alistair, I think you're right that pointcrawls are especially useful for "theatre of the mind" style movement.

      Even in a minicrawl, I think it's important not to go below the 10-minute hex, or else you're basically back down at the dungeon gridmap scale. 120 yards is big enough, I *think*, that your location "within" the hex is still a bit abstract.

      You can almost thing of hexcrawls as a special kind of pointcrawl, one where each point is connected to 6 neighbors in a regular pattern. (Or at least, is presumptively connected to 6 neighbors, although obstacles could exist that sever some of the expected paths between nodes.) I'm not sure if that's a useful way to think about it though, or if it's technically true but adds nothing to our understanding.