Are hexcrawls different from dungeoncrawls?

Old-school dungeoncrawls and hexcrawls have a lot in common: random encounters, spatial navigation, movement rates, resource management… Some even suggest to stock a hex map using the same procedures you would for a dungeon map.
However, since they are two different modes of play, wouldn’t it be cool if the players felt a striking difference between being underground and out in the open?

In your opinion what makes the experience of a hexcrawl significantly different from a dungeoncrawl? How can this difference be accentuated?


You can definitely repurpose the Dungeon Stocking tables for Hex Stocking in a pinch. I like to gloss the results a little big differently though: Monster = Lair (from a regional Encounter Table), Trap = Hazard, Treasure = Resource, and Special is generally my cue to place something more “site based” (such as one of my Hexes, or a Dungeon/Underworld Entrance). “Empty” is seldom a barren swept plain or generically uniform Forest in my Wildernesses (just as Empty Dungeon rooms provide a valuable pacing tool) I like to take that as a cue to add Vignettes/Landmarks/Future Navigational Aids.

There’s tons of support out there for the Dungeon Tier, so I create a lot of resources (like my Hexes, Vignettes, Tree/Plant/Seasonal Weather Tables and Generators, etc.) to assist Referees with those Overland jaunts and journeys. My favorite tier of play is the Wilderness Tier obviously, that sense of freedom and the joys and perils of discovery/exploration.

To me the most striking differences have to do with the kind of Wonder you can portray given less constraints from the more confined Dungeon Spaces. Most Dungeons are coded as inherently dangerous, so there’s sometimes little time to marvel at your surroundings or puzzle out the purpose/meaning of things. In the Wilderness, some of those pressures are removed (to be replaced by others, like Resource Management and the fear of becoming hopelessly Lost from leaving Landmarks/Paths behind). When time shifts to the pace of Overland Travel it’s just ever so slightly less tense :slight_smile: . Things like Majestic Vistas or Mysteries are possible down there of course, but they tend to be tied to a more discrete/specific location most of the time, rather than consistently hinting at a larger, living, breathing world that craves exploration.

Encounter Distance occurring at larger scales is another big one for me. Looking down over a Hobgoblin Supply Train from a ridge, out of range of bowshot creates a very different tactical situation. The often brutal Number Appearing for Monsters in these Settings is another thing that should intimate that Combat isn’t always the wisest approach. I like to leverage my Encounter Activities alongside this to set the stage if possible, because some of those lead to more interesting situations.

One of my actual rules tweaks that’s very simple to employ is the use of the environment to adjudicate ties/rounding. In the Dungeon or Mythic Underworld, the Monsters win ties and rounding is away from the player’s favor. In the Wilderness this is reversed. It’s a very minor tweak, but over time it makes those spaces feel a little more distinct, one is adversarial or inimical to intrusion while the other is occasionally a little more forgiving :slight_smile:


I find the biggest difference in play at the table is that dungeon crawls ask for procedural exploration in the present tense, “I look carefully at the wall behind the bookcase”, while hex crawls often have an added layer of planning before each leg of the journey, skip time more frequently, and deal with past tense (‘while you were travelling…’) and future tense (‘okay so let’s travel up this river and see if we can find a place to ford it; hopefully, we won’t run into those bandits…’) more often because of it.



Because I should say more than that … my gut says 1) hex crawls have less directionality. Even a well-jaquayed dungeon has more prescribed movement in it than a wilderness map. But I suppose you could look at extremely difficult terrain as the “dungeon walls” of a hex map. 2) The ultimate object of a dungeon crawl is to get rich and get out. It has a kind of bathysphere like element where you are diving/delving into the dungeon and then extracting yourself. Hexcrawls are more of a point A to point B affair. You are probably not committed to/constantly thinking about the return trip.


Yes, quite different.

The hex crawl and wilderness adventure tends to function more like a scene based adventure (even if randomly generated) as the “locations” are far less well developed. Room by room keying and the compressed time scale of turn based movement create a more complex environment and place greater limits on player resources. Additionally the movement and navigation aspect of the dungeon crawl tends to be far more constrained, with much clearer paths and navigation concerns then wilderness adventure (especially the more open hex crawl). Finally the puzzles/problem solving aspect of the dungeon crawl tends to be greater, both because of the time pressure and simply as a matter of aesthetic and design principles. One rarely finds something akin to a puzzle door or other obstacle in a hex crawl that can’t be easily avoided for example.