Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Crawl Area

I have found that one of the most useful concepts at an event is a well planned crawl area or two. The idea behind this is to have a place, that all local players are aware of and that travelers can easily find, in which a set series of encounters take place. These encounters should start at at a low difficulty and get increasingly more difficult as the encounters go on.

There are really two types of classic crawl areas, the random encounter area and the previously mentioned scaling dungeon. The perfect example of the random encounter area was the old valley of Bones in Galavast. Players would enter, a table was rolled on and they had an encounter, if they kept going then they had another encounter etc. Plot protected its time by placing effects on players who stayed in the area for to long. In the case of the valley of bones it started with a disease after fifteen minutes( I think) and worked its way up from there to eventual demise. This is an important idea otherwise high level groups will continue the grind indefinitely tying up valuable NPC resources.

The Scaled crawl as mentioned in the opening paragraph is self limiting. As it gets more difficult lower level parties will be forced to leave or die. Galavast had a great example of this as well, the rat caves. The rat caves were filled with rat men. As the players went deeper they ran into more and higher statted rat men as well as various underdark creatures. The caves ended with an entrance to the underdark, again a great idea. Having an ending that offers players who transverse the entire crawl area some previously unavailable plot is awesome, it tempts players to use the crawl area and sometimes the crawl area becomes an integral mod in a plot line. Consider the rat caves with its entrance to the underdark, if the players need to get to the underdark, they know how but first they need to fight their way through th rats.

Crawl areas are great because they are already prepared, they offer a series of encounters to players who are bored and they usually can be run by only a couple of NPCs. What do you guys think? Anyone have any cool crawls that they run regularly?


  1. NERO Vanguard's swamps are a bit like this.

    If the critters get higher and higher statted, why would high level crews be able to stay indefinitely? Effect removal is a fairly scarce resource.

  2. I think the NcN Nero's Hudor events have something similar with their dungeon crawl called "The Wilds." They set it up by level, so you can go to different sections of the underground system depending on what level of fight you're looking for. As you get further inside, the harder it gets.

    In order to maintain NPC resources, we generally have specific NPCs who are in charge of The Wilds at any given time...but this only works if we have enough NPCs to handle the divided groups.

  3. On the flip side, in my opinion, crawl area's shouldn't be forced on PCs.

    Example: A problem in town which we thought was a plot, turned out to be an ad for a crawl space no one had yet run. Under orders from the Count of the town, we had to make our way to the bottom of said crawl area, a spider cave. A task that took... quite truefully... 4 hours.

    Weekend one, we made it to the bottom of the crawl area, couldn't figure out the "plot"... then had to retreat.

    Weekend two... we made it to the bottom of the crawl area (another 4 hours out of are game)...resources and moral drained. This ended in the perminate death of a PC...

    So, in general... try not to force people to do crawl areas.

  4. NERO Neridia took place in Nerid's Gate, the capital city of the Kingdom. All monsters in the area had been driven underground into a large dungeon, which was sealed. Their idea was that rather than random encounters, they'd send their combat NPCs to hang out in the dungeon. If you wanted to fight, you'd get five or six friends together and see how deep you could go. The top levels were giant rats, but as you got deeper you'd find ogres, trolls, and troglydites. Some plotlines required you to go harvest teeth or other components from the scary creatures that you'd only encounter after 12 or 13 rooms.

    Matt Simms (the GM) wanted to create a NERO town that worked a little bit like an amusement park.. there would be different zones with different types of experiences. If you wanted combat, you'd hit the dungeon. If you wanted politics, there was an embassy with a bunch of diplomats hanging around. The woods always had treasure and plot objects hidden in them, making them a sort of scavenger hunt area.

    It worked best when they had enough NPCs to make it work. Sadly, if they didn't have a party of NPCs in the dungeon, the event would only have combat during modules and wave battles.

    Before I started playing Avendale (this would have been the mid 90s), they were famous for running the "blue caves", essentially a tarp labyrinth that was hidden in the woods. They'd constantly have traps, treasure chests, and monsters respawning withing the labyrinth. I think there was a limit to the number of PCs that could be in the labyrinth at a time.

  5. Mark Henry ~MariusJune 20, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    I think the crawl you set up this week went really well. People enjoyed it from what I heard.

    Only flaw I saw was the PCs didn't ask how many monsters they saw in the room and because we had resets they felt there was an infinite number so in turn they rushed through the rooms as quickly as possible and that in turn led to some charging.