Thursday, July 6, 2017

Under Portown: The Beginnings of a City Hexcrawl

I really cannot understand these city folk. Why would anyone want to live in this filth infested maze where you cannot see the horizon?
— The Journal of Sho Zo-ton from Afar
I used to live in Boston. I did not like it. Unless you live within spitting distance of the T (which I did not) Boston is an inhospitable maze of one-way former cow paths that can get you turned around faster than you can say “Red Sox.” Whenever you get directions to someplace, you have to make sure you get directions to get back as well, because these two trips are normally very different animals. Thus, when I found this post by WQRobb on Hexcrawling a City over at Graphs, Paper, and Games I grokked it immediately.

In Boston, navigation involves knowing landmarks and how those landmarks are connected. Thus, a trip to the school might be understood as “grocery store-church-school.” Very rarely did street names ever become relevant. Indeed street names are a false friend in the Boston area because there might be several streets by the same name in different parts of the city (which got me really lost once after which I never made the same mistake again).

The idea to make a FRPG city map abstract is nothing new (see Vornheim); however, none of them made me immediately think of my years in Boston the way WQRobb did. Navigating a hex crawl city evokes the navigation-by-landmark survival strategy I had to live by in Boston. It also opens up the possibility for getting lost or discovering things that you weren’t even looking for (like the time I was walking around Prague looking for a restaurant and spent the next several hours at the Jewish Cemetery instead).

Thus, I plan on mapping out Portown in the hex crawl style suggested by WQRobb. Thus, each hex in the city will have a theme. For example: The Monastery District. There will be several main features within each hex that can be looked for and found:

  1. The Cathedral of St. Garbee (3 in 6)
  2. Quasgadontee Monastery (3 in 6)
  3. Skete of Seefeg the Searcher (2 in 6)
  4. Catacombs of St. Ree’U (2 in 6)
  5. Amit the Hut Dweller (1 in 6)
  6. Lost

Thus, if one is simply exploring a hex, roll a d6 and find the result. A roll of ‘6’ gets you lost. This can mean either wasted time inside the hex (and more opportunities for random encounter) or ending up in an entirely different hex. This can be determined at the whim of the Referee.

If one is looking for a specific location (like the Cathedral) there is a given success rate for actually finding it. A failed roll results in getting lost with the same results as above. At the discretion of the Referee, chances to find a particular location can be increased with multiple visits (demonstrating a better knowledge of the layout of the city); however, there can never be better than a 5 in 6 chance of success (one can always get lost).

To pass through a hex requires a roll of a d6. A roll of 5 or 6 results in getting lost.

Every time a die roll is required inside a hex to find a Main Feature, to explore or to pass through the Referee gets to make a roll for a Random Encounter. The chances on having a Random Encounter are up to the whim of the Referee.

A Random Encounter Table in the Monastery District might look like this:

  1. Roll on Main Features Table (you’ve accidentally found a location, but a ‘6’ still means getting lost).
  2. A Religious Procession
  3. Monk(s)
  4. Pilgrims
  5. Temple Guard
  6. Monster (TBD)

Add a +1 to the roll when exploring at night. The “Monster (TBD)” is an opportunity to take whatever faction is currently dominant Under Portown and bring them to the surface whether on some nefarious errand or to track down and take revenge on the PCs is up to the Referee.

While this might look like a lot of work, I think it actually will end up being less work than trying to draw out an actual city map and placing all these features on that map. I also believe it will make urban adventuring a lot more evocative and interesting than a traditional street map.


  1. I'd love to see a write-up of this

    1. Working on it...(hopefully Gamer ADD doesn't strike before I get some serious work done)

  2. Great ideas, would mesh well with old school random rumors like in my Portown Rumors

    1. Oops! I completely forgot about those *ruffles through files* okay...Ajax...Lemunda...widow hearing scratches...

      Rumors can be tied to various sections of towns. For example: "A widow in the Burgher's District is offering a reward for an investigation of the scratching noises in her cellar."

      Thanks for the reminder!

  3. I'm so glad you got the idea and ran with it. I love your idea of random landmarks and am stealing it for my own city. Call it cross-fertilization of ideas.

    1. Call it, "This is why this corner of the internet rocks!" Thanks for the inspiration!