Disclaimer: I’ve never actually played in or run a hexcrawl. This is all coming completely out my behind.
At the beginning of a hexcrawl, what do the characters have? A largely empty map, that may have some terrain details, but is largely unknown. We know that a hex is predominantly a forest or a grassland or a desert, but the specifics of that hex are there to be discovered.
How do we translate this to a place that is entirely known? The NYC subway/bus system is mapped, even if a little confusing. I can get anywhere I want with about fifteen minutes of work (pre-internet) and some time. I can find out the general layout of the city, and if I want to go to a Shake Shack, that information is readily available. There’s not a lot of room for the secret dungeon hidden in the lower east side.
Another problem is that there are a tremendous amount of places to go in a city, and trying to map and populate all of them is a fool’s errand.
There are two ways to address this, but one has nothing to do with mapping or exploration (directly, anyway) and so will get talked about later.
My favorite weird thing of NYC is this, which is probably the best example of an almost cult that is visible to random people on the street. It’s a fantastic inspiration for an adventure seed, and an amazing location for a keyed encounter. I’ve seen behind the door though, it’s just a fancy janitor’s closet. Another good example is this Mooncake Foods location, though I’d like you to imagine it with the construction overlay as well. Less interesting on its own, but some flavor as a seedy place (real Mooncake is not seedy) next to the pawnshop, hidden in the shade of construction is awesome. These are what encounters are, the weird little stops in the city that are interesting, or at least more interesting than the body shop, unless that body shop is for zombie parts.
The general idea is that the hexes in a citycrawl represent interesting things, and this is what the PCs are mapping. They know what’s at a place, but they are learning what the city is made of. I like the idea that it encourages one of the campaign goals, and that it provides a feeling of exploring a city that is similar to what it’s really like, just adventurerized. I’m leaning towards the keys being nouns, but people and things can move. Now there’s a thought, moving keyed encounters?
Next post I may actually get around to mechanically useful things, and talk about hexes and organization.