I am a recent convert to hex mapping. (Six mile hexes, to be specific.) It was not always so. In my earlier days of gaming, I would draw wilderness maps free-form on blank paper. I often included a scale, but rarely made much use of it.
However, there is another way to do it, which I have thought about off and on, and which has seen some interesting blog discussion recently. This alternate mapping technique employs locations and connections rather than literal space (for the mathematically inclined, this is basically a graph). For example, see this post over at Hill Cantons:
And this example by Chris Huth:
Doug over at Blue Boxer Rebellion has some useful techniques as well:
He color-codes his zones by danger level (green – yellow – orange – red) and connection type (blue for water, brown for land routes). I think this would actually be a great idea for a player handout rather than a referee map, though I would use more evocative markers (such as “here there be dragons”) rather than color-coding. Doug mentions that using hexes is more realistic, but I don’t actually see them that way. A hex is really a node with six connections (edges) that can be scaled up or down (by creating sub and super hexes) in a systematic fashion. Hexes quantify something that is otherwise less defined. Hexes also give you a simple and objective answer to the “what do I see?” question, as they allow the referee to easily derive the viewable horizon.
I think there are two dangers with using point-based mapping rather than literal mapping.
- Mechanics for getting lost are not as simple. In fact, other than rapidly improvising, I’m not sure how you can manage getting lost at all in a point crawl. Also, using hexes allows referee impartiality regarding location: you can just roll for it. In a point crawl, it seems like the referee needs to make value-laden (and potentially deadly) decisions. Compare that to the simple and objective rules from B/X (page X56):
When travelling, a party can become lost. A party following a road, trail, or river, or led by a reliable guide, will not become lost. Otherwise, the DM checks each day, rolling a six-sided die (1d6) before the party begins movement. The DM then checks the chance of becoming lost of the appropriate terrain. If the number rolled is the same as those listed, the party is lost.
If a party is lost, the DM may choose the direction the party moves in, or use a random die roll. The DM must keep track of the party’s actual position, as well as the direction the party believes it is moving.
- The video game trap. By this I mean the increased chance that PCs will come upon certain planned encounters. I mentioned this in my comment on Chris Huth’s blog. Chris has some interesting suggestions in his comment response, but I’m still not sure exactly how I would work this in terms of concrete techniques, especially if I want to remain narratively impartial. I feel like I would probably slip into referee illusionist techniques (quantum ogres, etc). Maybe adding new nodes and connections on the fly is a skill that can be cultivated, much like dramatizing and detailing random encounters.
Though I say above that I am a hex-convert, that is not entirely true. In many locations, I do maintain a list of “adjacent” areas; that is, a list of places that you can easily reach (along with method of transport). For example, there may be a frequent caravan between two towns that PCs can purchase passage with. Such transport is not guaranteed to be hassle-free, but the chances of random encounters or other problems are decreased (and speed may be increased, depending on the mode of transport).
Also, if you haven’t seen Doug’s character creation as a dungeon, you are missing out. I am totally going to make one of these for my B/X house document.