Wilderness walls and halls: Streamlining hexcrawls

Joel wrote this, about why he doesn’t prefer hexcrawls. Joel’s got some sense, and it made me think about what I don’t like about hexcrawls. Namely: As anyone who has travelled in the wilderness will tell you, the wilderness has walls and hallways. The wilderness is a dungeon.

Caradras: They’re taking a path!

You can’t just climb a mountain. Certainly not in full armour carrying weapons and treasure. You have to take a path. You can’t just cross a river. You have to ford one. Forests are impenetrable to those who don’t know the secret path. You cannot tell your direction when you cannot see the sky and are unfamiliar with the territory, rendering swamps, forests and deserts death traps.

On the other hand though, rivers and creeks are often easy to follow, given a boat, paths do exist carved by beast or person, and often roads exist paved and suitable for horse and vehicle. Plains are free to wander across, although grasses are usually long if grazing animals aren’t native.

Joel’s solution is a pointcrawl: Effectively making you choose to take either the Gap of Rohan, the Pass of Caradras or the Mines of Moria if you want to cross the Misty Mountains. You know what you will have t face for each! It’s an informed decision, with positive and negative consequences! Each route is tailored for the party!

The problem for me with this solution, is that I have to tailor these routes, and that it feels restrictive for the type of open-ended multi-player table I like to run. I’m thinking of a middle way, a pathcrawl.

When I make a hex, I consider the paths that pass through it, and the type of terrain it is. There are three types of path: Trails, Road or Conditional. Trails allow you to travel, roads allow you to travel at speed, and conditional paths are things like rivers that allow you to travel at speed but only with the right equipment. There are three types of terrain: Impassable, Obscuring, and Passable. You cannot enter impassable terrain, you are immediately lost in obscuring terrain unless you are familiar with the territory or have vision to the sky, and travel in passable terrain is as a trail.

While we can assume competent way finding from an adventuring party, most terrain is impassible and obscuring, and most paths are trails or conditional. Smart adventurers avoid impassible and obscuring terrain, unless they find or are shown the trail.

And we can use simple symbols or colours to communicate this information on the map; potentially blue or red borders, or trails being dashed and roads being unbroken lines. Obscuring and impassible could also be colour-coded, especially in a monochrome map, but could also have small accompanying symbols.

Obscuring and impassible, from the Noun Project

What this results in, is a map with difficult terrain almost everywhere, and adventurers who are loath to leave the path, and only do so with an ancient map, a guide, or specific directions. This feels more actionable with a simplistic ruleset than a typical hexcrawl, but not as bespoke as Joel’s pointcrawl.

I guess we need some rules. Lost means roll 1d6 and exit via a random hex. Impassable means no individual can enter, without unique skills and equipment, or magical assistance. Your game of choice should deal with travel speed, but do away with difficult terrain rules, because under these rules, all terrain is difficult. Trails are travel speed, and roads are twice or travel-speed-and-a-half. Conditional paths like rivers are impassable, except with their condition, or where they intersect with another path (a ford).

So, a five minute sketch reveals a a basic pathcrawl that could look as simple as this, assuming rather than showing that certain terrain is impassable or obscuring:

Or as complex as this, which with a little better graphic design chops I’m sure could communicate pretty clearly a lot of information very quickly:

Anyway, this is what I think a pathcrawl should look like. Less bespoke than a pointcrawl, but more wilderness-directed than a hex crawl, and with clearer rules for travel that the adventuring party can more easily understand.

Late Addition (30th June 2022): Daniel Davis did this ten years ago! His post is here! I prefer my approach, so I amalgamated them for the best of both worlds.

Idle Cartulary

29th June, 2022


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