Mapping the Crawl

Art by Ruan Jia for Guild Wars 2

I want to refine the Navigating by Points system I laid out earlier. I’ll start with some general procedures and add some rules for Torchbearer and other OSR-like systems.

Crawling through a city is a complicated task and it is easy to lose your way and get lost. We can replicate this with the following system.

The Map

For this system to work, the characters will need to maintain a map for each neighborhood. This means that at least one character, our noble cartographer, needs paper and ink handy or some other note-taking means. It is assumed that this character spends free moments jotting down notes about the places discovered.

This character’s player will need to maintain a list as well, but it’s simply a short phrase or name of a place – “The Trindlebuck Inn” and “the shop over by the dirty river” are both fine.

Whenever the character with the map physically arrives at a new location, it can be added to the map. Additionally, more than one character can maintain a map, and they can freely share locations with each other.

Getting From Place to Place

Wandering through a city idly is a quick way to get yourself into a situation you don’t want yourself in. If you’re set on doing this, the GM is going to choose or roll for the next place you find, and it will incur the cost of some sort of hazard or encounter roll – finding a new place this way should always present some sort of trouble.

If you have gathered rumors or directions, and know where you want to end up, look to your cartographer. To get to a place based on directions, it will require some sort of test or skill check based on the size of your map. In 5e this would be an Investigation check, in Torchbearer it might be a Pathfinder or Cartographer test, and in Whitehack this might be an Intelligence test – for every five locations on your map, add +1 to the check in 5e, +1D in Torchbearer, or +1 Int for Whitehack.

On success, you make it, as expected and you get to add the location to your map. But if you fail, it’s up to the GM what happens – maybe you end up lost, or at a different establishment, or you have a run in with some street toughs. The place could even be closed down!

But What About My Map?

The benefit to keeping a map is that you can avoid all of the above. But be warned, events in the city, or other failed rolls can result in removal of items from your map. The city is alive and always changing. You never know when a place might get shut down, or simple cease to exist.

About those Rumors and Directions, though…

To recap the Navigating by Points post: when the players want to get to a new location, or find a new route to a location they know, the GM should impose one or two obstacles or interstitial points in between.

Using this system the GM has two options when the characters try to find information about a place – whether by asking around, paying for information, or trying to research the topic:

  1. They learn fuzzy or rough directions and must make a navigation test as described above. “Yeah, the Klouse Manse is definitely to the east… I know it’s got a wall around it, on one of the wider avenues…”
  2. They learn solid directions, but there’s something impeding them getting there. “Oh the Klouse Manse? See that taller building there? That’s it. But be careful, that Blue Scarf territory…”

Sometimes, they might learn both! “Oh yeah, them Blue Scarves are liable to knife you at this time of night… though, I think if you went around, it’s beyond their boarders… yeah, you just gotta make sure you loop around far enough!”


This is mostly untested, but I intend to try it out and see what happens. If you try something similar, let me know.


2 thoughts on “Mapping the Crawl

  1. I know that player mapping is a thing that happens in the OSR but I’ve never had a positive experience with it. Also, how would it happen for an online game? Also I would be worried about having too many maps if there was one for each neighborhood. I suppose this makes sense for a long enough campaign, but why not just have a single large map divided into districts/neighborhoods that then have locations within those divisions? Do you think that it would get too dense? How many locales would players realistically visit in a session? I am thinking that once you get to a certain micro-level, navigation can occur via random tables or skill checks and it would not necessarily need a new node. For example, players could arrive at the node “Blue Scarves Territory,” knowing that the Manse is there somewhere. Finding it is a skill check, once it is found it is added to a list of “locales” associated with the node.


    • It’s not an actual map, it’s just a list of places you know. When you arrive in the Market District, you have no clue where you are, but want to buy some snargbeast feed. So you ask passerby about it, and they say “oh go to the snargbeast stall down that way.”

      Then you make your way to the snargbeast stall, maybe a navigation check, maybe you just make a Reflex save to avoid the pickpockets, I dunno. So then you write “snargbeast stall” on your map and that’s that. You can return to it at any time.

      I dig the idea of having something like gang territory or Smith’s Row be a location, with the other stuff built on normal rules for exploring a location. That’s probably something worth spelling out.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.