Pointcrawls and Random Exploration: words plus a game mechanic supporting Solo gaming

There’s a lot of discussion going on about pointcrawls recently. Chris’s writings is what you want to read first. I did a thing too.

First, I want to say a couple of things about pointcrawling.

Pointcrawl is a technique for organizing spatial relationships between discrete campaign locations. All locations are separate and can connect to each other through a number of paths. If this sounds like graph theory, there’s a reason.

Why do we do this? Because:

  1. action in RPGs happen in a specific location. The stage of the mind’s eye theatre is a single place. It can move, and be big, and new can be created (for example for random encounters along a road), but we usually focus our attention to a discrete location.
  2. the links are super-immediate to convey where to go from a place. Adventures are often about travels, travel are about connections. Explicit connections convey this information faster, for the same reason roads in maps are depicted in weird colours like green and red, despite being covered in black tarmac. This does not mean that travel can happen only along these connections, or that more connections can’t be made.

For example:


This map is the example map in the Chthonic Codex boxed set. It’s a network of caves and canyons. All important locations are marked by a dot; it’s possible to go from a location to another doing up and down the paths marked. This is somewhat an extreme case: it’s only possible to move between locations using the tunnels and canyons, digging or climbing to the surface and travelling overland is extremely unwise. A similar set-up can happen in a setting consisting of narrow valleys separated by high mountains, like the Uplands or the Slumbering Ursine Dunes.

Also, portals. A network of portals is best represented as portals and their links drawn over an existing map. The best example is Gorgonmilk’s Dolmenwood map, where the portal pointcrawl is imposed on a stylish hexcrawl map.


Right. We are going to use villages, cities and neighbourhoods for examples. The game mechanic is this:

  • The locations on the pointcrawl are either simple or complex.
  • Simple locations, like a village, are small enough to show all apparent features after a modicum of exploration: roads going to places, shops, etc.
  • Complex locations are made of a number of simple locations in the same complex, for example a big city of different neighbourhoods. Their relationship is complex enough that when one explore in a complex location, they can only see/afford/interact with what’s inside the simple location, and the locations this is connected to. A pointcrawl in a pointcrawl, pointcrawlceptions, it’s pointcrawls all the way down. It’s possible to simply go to these neighbours as one would do normally in an RPG (the usual “we go to the waterfront” “you meet ill-meaning thugs on your way” “we set their hair on fire” etc etc),  or it’s possible to explore and create one or two of such links to internal neighbourhood at random.
  • At random from what? Cue table, roll 1d6:
    1. waterfront
    2. market quarter
    3. slum
    4. other slum
    5. more slums? yes
    6. citadel
  • You can have one such table for each city, or each city has a number of blank neighbourhoods and each time you find a new one, you randomize from a Grand Table of Neighbourhoods. They come in different flavours, from Crapsack to Fallen Empire to High Fantasy.
  • If you were told that there is a Market in a specific city, pencil in market with a question mark in one of the slots. When you actually get there, roll to find if the information was reliable and the market is in fact there, or erase the market and roll a new neighbourhood if you were told bullshit.
  • for solo play, start with cities full of blank slots. When you hear rumour about them, pencil them in with a question mark. In such cities, if you want to avoid actually making a graph, you can get by with only using the city table: neighbourhoods have no fixed neighbours so you can either explore or go to a known location.
  • if you ask the locals where a neighbourhood is, roll twice and pick the best result.

3 thoughts on “Pointcrawls and Random Exploration: words plus a game mechanic supporting Solo gaming

  1. For a couple weeks now, I’ve been working on a dungeon generator that fits into what you are calling pointcrawling, generating a graph and randomizing node labels and contents and edge labels. So far it is all subterranean and pretty sketchy in contents as I work on the mechanics of different network generating algorithms and the underpinnings to generate, edit, save and restore. Pretty soon I expect I’ll have options to do things like swap in city or wilderness content tables. http://meta-studios/dg/dungen.html

  2. Pingback: Pointcrawl City Generation (for both GMless and GMfull games) | Lost Pages

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