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Friday, November 8, 2013

Underworld Hexcrawl as Streetcrawl

JDJarvis at the Aeons & Augauries blog and Beedo at the Dreams in the Lich House blog have been talking about creating large, sprawling megadungeons by using what they call a “node” approach to design: create areas of interest (nodes) that might be considered a typical large dungeon, if used separately, and connect them with long tunnels, which may have small dungeons sprouting off along the way, but these can either be improvised as needed or you can have a book of prepped, one-page dungeons to drop in whenever an encounter roll says you find a place of interest during your “underground hexcrawl”. I tried something like this once before, although I got dissatisfied with that example megadungeon I was building and later started talking about other ways to flesh out a sprawling underworld.

I didn’t use the term “nodes”, which might be better than the “megamodules” I was talking about once… and the dungeons in between my nodes/megamodules were more like small waypoints, which is not what I think either JD or Beedo are getting at. I think they are not talking about long underground features – great chasms, mile-long tunnels, underground rivers – with 1 to 3 tiny dungeons along the way. I think they mean more like a solid maze of tunnels extending for miles, with the entire maze being treated as a hexcrawl, only describing individual tunnels as needed. Something like: “The goblin king tells you that if you travel through the Great Rift, you will eventually reach the Obsidian Gate to the kingdom of trolls”. And along the way, you mention many caves in the sides of the Great Chasm, but don’t map out or describe them unless the players pick a random cave to explore or make camp in.

What I think might be applicable here is to use the urban crawl rules from Vornheim. Put your nodes on the big sketchmap first, then draw lines connecting the nodes. Each line represents one route through a maze of twisty passages, all alike. On one side of a line/route, write out numbers from one to six, one to ten, or one to twelve, whatever fits, in an arbitrary order, as you would for neighborhoods. Do the same for the other side of the line: you can either repeat the numbers in a different order, so that you can have a Three East and Three West, for example, or split numbers between the two sides without repeating “neighborhoods”. So, you have something like:

      I     VE
FOUR       TWO

… But with the letters butting up against each other, so that they connect.

On the outside of these “neighborhoods”, use a second set of words from a short descriptive phrase, like “UNDEAD WORM PITS”. This becomes a quick description of that area on the map and a rough guide to the major routes through that area. When crawling through a given “neighborhood”, use numerals for individual tunnels, the way Zak uses them for street-by-street paths through a neighborhood. You don’t need to map the individual tunnels at all, until the players decide to explore or are forced to escape into unknown areas.


  1. I don't really run my megadungeon like a hexcrawl, suppose I could. Some of my levels and sub levels sort of float around until they become important. A level could have a hal a dozen or more exits/enterances and I'll connect them as I need to.

  2. The best implementation of this that I've played is Chris Kutalik's Pointcrawl system from The Hill Cantons.