Game types - Hexcrawl vs Pointcrawl vs Linear

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Which game types do you guys like to use for different situations? Also is there other kinds of games besides these that you play?

What do you think are your favoirte published examples of these, and why?

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I think linear works pretty well for short adventures that aren’t going to last more than 2 maybe 3 sessions. Ideally for those kinds of adventures I just want to make sure the PCs can get to their destinations without being held up by too many random encounters or other hiccups.

I like point crawls but I really only use them for campaigns that I know will be done in maybe 5 to 8 sessions, and only do so when I’m not willing to make a hex map for the area. I still have random encounters, but I only roll for a set amount based on how far one point is from the other. There was one campaign I ran that took place on an island nation with a series of smaller islands connected to it. I never ended up making a map for it since the focus was traveling between islands and going to different points of interests with very little to explore outside those points. I knew what points connected to which so I just kept track of where the PCs were, where they could go, and how long it would take in my head.

I think for campaigns that I intend to go on indefinitely or at least know will go on a long time, I would always prefer to run a hex crawl. Since I don’t have to worry about having a set end in mind, I can have fun distractions like the party getting lost, the party getting side tracked at random locations on the way, or something unexpected blocking the party’s path. Hexes also make keeping track of time and resources easier for me than points crawls and I tend to do a lot more of that in longer campaigns.

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I like hexcrawls because it gives players the most agency, they can explore what the like, leave, come back, and travel in any direction they want.

However, for tight settings that are played quickly, pointcrawls are very efficient, like for a city. This way you don’t have a part bumbling around a city, there’s a few key points and they can get explore those and get on with life. Now, if the adventure is in a city that you want to seem massive, you’d probably want to go back to a hexcrawl or simply give them a full city map.

I don’t really like linear maps, outside of a dungeon setting, but even then good dungeons have multiple pathways that sometimes loop back.

As far as good published examples, for pointcrawls I think the Mörk Borg releases have some really good ones. And you can’t find a better hexcrawl than The Dark of Hot Springs Isle.

Maybe I don’t like linear crawls because I haven’t played a good one, I couldn’t name one I really like.

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I think they all serve a distinct purpose, but if I’m honest there’s really not much of a player-facing distinction in the games I run: Travel Between Points takes place on a Path (which is effectively linear unless the players decide to stray…roads may not be in straight lines, have branches, etc…but it’s really still the “Connector” or “Flow Line”), Hexes are really just an overlay to understand the relative position of points (and determine distance/time for procedural checks). If you stick to paths (and generally points have paths between them) you are effectively using linear exploration. If you slap some Hexes atop points to make some things easier to adjudicate, you’re using all three :slight_smile:

You can overlay different things as well. For instance, I like Voronoi Tesselations for City Crawls: https://blog.d4caltrops.com/2020/11/voronoi-diagrams-and-city-crawl.html

I think the “Dungeon Tier” (with it’s finite decision/flow chart layout) is great for players learning how the game works by succinctly restricting options temporarily while footing is gained, but after around level 4 or so, my games generally move toward more Overland Exploration (my personal favorite: the “Wilderness Tier”). It’s not a hard and fast rule of course, you could just as easily skip around or even go straight to “Domain Tier” play :slight_smile:

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thanks for the answer, good take

What do you think about the idea of placing pointcrawls inside hexs?

Also do you notice any kinda tone or narrative differences between pointcrawls and hexcrawls? I find hexcrawls tend to feel more like the world is the main character and the PCs are just not very special people in it. With pointcrawls it feels like a balence and with linear it feels like a TV show were its about the characters as like the “stars” and the world is made for them.

Yeah I agree with you about there being the most player agency in hex crawls - which is ironic because the world kinda cares about them the least in that play style.

Yeah I find cities really hard to run, they are just so dense. I think fever dreaming marlinko is my fav. I don’t think I have ever run a massive city that has gone well.

Which Mork Borg release do you think had the best pointcrawl content?
What about hot springs did you like so much too?

For linear I am thinking more like a lot of classic TSR modules, like “journey to the rock” or something like that

The Mörk Borg content in Dissident Whispers is what I was thinking of.

As far as Hot Springs? Everything. The creativity, how the crawl is put together with an island that makes geographic sense, the factions and their motives, and the fun places to explore.

The only thing that module is missing is generic OSR monster stats.

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I’ve considered placing hexcrawls within point crawls where instead of points of interests you have areas of interest. For example traveling from a barony to the nearby enchanted woodlands could be as simple as traveling from point to point but the points themselves would both have a hex map to represent that particular area. I think placing point crawls inside a hex crawl could actually work pretty well though if you use the same method the Black Hack uses for hexes. If each hex represents a week of travel, then you could reasonably assume each point within the hex only requires a few days of travel between them.

I think one major difference I’ve noticed between point crawls and hex crawls is sometimes the world can either feel somewhat small or kind of empty respectively. Since my point crawls are based around only mapping the areas of interest, the map ends up being small and there tends to not be many areas that are just “normal” places. On the other hand when I make hex maps, I tend to add places in just because it makes sense to be there or because I don’t like having too much blank space. This leads to what my friend called “Ye Olde Shell Stations” which are basically just towns to stop and rest in. I could see how players might feel less special if their epic quest involves traveling through three villages that have nothing interesting waiting for them, but I’ve personally never noticed it in the games I’ve played or run.

Re: “Ye Olde Shell Stations”

I’ve created a few tables to help with this. Dressing up even the most minor settlement with a little bit of flavor can really help make the party’s stay more memorable (in addition to having several rumors handy…even a few spun up from then Encounter Tables for the region can be useful if a party deigns to gather a little intel):

These Village Folk Are…
These City Dwellers Are…

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Hmm… I don’t really see the difference between the point crawl and the hex crawl in the diagram at the top, except that a few avenues are not available.

I have a brief discussion of the different types as viewed from 1982 on my blog here. (You have to go down to the part about Ken Rolston.)

I think that a lot of the discussion available from recent years about linear adventure design puts too much emphasis on choices about where to go. Let me try to explain what I mean. Let’s assume that the PCs have a goal. It could be “find and save the captive,” or “escape the evil,” or “get GP > XP > level-ups.” Let’s say there is a series of rooms or wilderness places or other sites that players must pass through, in order, to accomplish their goal. You can even build in variations in the route, but the point remains that the PCs can’t choose skip straight to their goal. They have to go through a finite number of places to get there. Player choice is always restricted by intervening places.

My question is why a linear series of sites is commonly regarded as entirely depriving PCs of choice. That would be so if all that the players ever do is choose where to go and which avenue to take, and there is only one thing to do in each site. In fact, in any (interesting) site, PCs may enter with all kinds of different approaches. They may choose to do all sorts of different meaningful things in a given meaningful site. Players have lots of freedom, potentially, to choose lots of different kinds of things, in any one site. Even if there were no options available, players have choices in how to characterize their PCs, how to respond, and other sorts of things. Even the most tyrannical “railroader” DM can’t play the PCs for the players.

When I design adventures, I try not to impose schematic design principles. Instead I imagine situations that require the players to make meaningful choices. Those are often not “where to?” choices, but can include moral quandaries, choices about relationships with NPCs, whether to undertake distracting side-adventures, and that sort of thing. Sometimes, I find, players don’t do well with a purely open world (the one usually called “sandbox”) and no back-story and no motivation. If the game you play is “get GP > XP > power,” then there is a meta-game incentive for players to explore, but I think the concern with design flow-charts can overlook the crucial part of the players’ job to design characters with motivations to do things, and all the kinds of choices that players make that have nothing to do with where they go.

This is in response to the initial question about “other kinds of games besides these.” I see player choice as being as open as the players and Referee are flexible and adaptable.

Another way to look at it is to map out a seedy tavern room in terms of Linear, Pointcrawl, and Hexcrawl encounters. As the PCs make their way around the room, they may in effect have to pass through points (a bouncer guarding a backroom, a bodyguard warding folks away from an aristocrat), or they may have linear choices (to the bar or to the long tables?) or they may have a virtual hexcrawl (sit alone at corner table or approach one of five “sites” in the tavern room). I think that even the “freest” designs harbor structures like these, blended together. This occurs even on the scale of individual encounters of monsters in dungeon rooms.

Do you folks see it this way or differently? Curious to learn.

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interesting take @lichvanwinkle , I agree with what you said about player choice always being open. However I think as a player that choice within a scenario (for example those that exist within tavern with a goal in mind) is different to choosing from many scenarios (do we ever want to visit any taverns?) for any goal the players come up with.

I think both are perfectly fine ways to play.

Personally I play with players who like to be dropped into a world with moving parts that like to come up with their own specific goals and then decide were to go depending on what them goals are (such as “lets recruit all the best performers in the land and form a travelling circus and make the perfect show for fun” - but then might change or develop the motivation halfway through to “the perfect show will be for the king and he will be assassinated at the end” or whatever). But I enjoy running more linear adventures if I am running a series of sessions that wont be a long campaign.

The charts ken made, it seems to me that the linear model he drew wouldent correspond to anything on the chart I made above. But the multi-choice option would be the same as linear above. Then the open world would include point or hexcrawl.

In terms of the difference between hex and pointcrawl - its not really illustrated above wooops. I think that hex-crawl also has more of a focus on resource management. Because you are looking for points of interest, generally to find treasure. But often you don’t find anything interesting, but each exploration is risky and uses up resources. Even if you find a dungeon or something, it might be too dangerous for your level.There is a lot of decisions to be made in hex-crawls for players. Hexcrawls do not need to necessarily have any sort of narrative focus tieing things together
Your players can have no quest they are pursuing or mystery they are trying to uncover, or conflict they are resolving. Other than the mystery of “whats out there” and trying to survive. They can kill a monster in its lair, then turn its lair into their house and use that as a base to explore the surrounding area, and create their own goals, for example

I think point crawl is the best method to use if you want to tell some kind of story as a GM but want to also make it to be quite open. It can also just be faster in some instances to write a point crawl if you have a time pressure. Point crawls can also be much more “intense” than hexcrawls, since each location is usually a location of interest which is really connected to other areas. In a hexcrawl you can have areas that don’t have tonnes going on in them, or that are not a necessary component of an adventure.

Which really can make the tone of a hex-crawl feel like a sandbox for you to explore and play in, like a living world that exists with or without you being there as a player.

While point crawls can feel more like as a player you have fallen into this really interesting situation, that has different outcomes but is still limited, and kind of exists to be interesting to you in some senses. thats my take on it anyways, but of course my opinions are totally coming from my experiences playing them and maybe its different for other people.

My experience with linear feels much more like the players are the main characters in a TV show, and the world and scenario exists to serve that narrative or story. Which is great too, I feel this is what loads of old TSR modules are like and are so much fun to play. They definitely focus the choices more in the specific situations presented like you talk about above.

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Yeah, Lazy Litch, I hear what you are saying and it all makes sense. Thanks for clarifying the distinctions you are interested in.

I’d add even a few more. I’ve had player groups that build characters with a mission. They effectively impose their own point crawl. A “living setting” responds to them by becoming more like a point crawl. They want to be in a TV show. I wonder whether your ideal sandbox becomes like a pointcrawl when the players make decisions on what to do. Then you, as GM, allow your attention to zoom in on areas that you develop mentally to respond to their choices.

I’ve had players wandering in a sandbox declare, “This is pointless! Let’s go do something!” and they form their own quest. The world responds to their decisions and my narrative gets organized around their choices. Suddenly it’s more like your pointcrawl.

In the end I guess it comes down to the relationships between players and Referee, which unfold in play–or are well-established with old player groups, who know how to work together.

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