Thursday, April 8, 2010

Forced Creativity - Making Maps

Is there such a thing as a “map-less adventure module?”

Not, apparently in D&D. And no, I do not plan on being the first one to write one (at least not anytime soon). Though it sure would be a load off my plate.

I don’t get it. My mental block in regard to map-making I mean. When I was a kid designing adventures for my players, the map was pretty much the only thing I’d do. I drew LOTS of maps, generally one level, but completely filling a sheet of 8.5 x 11 inch graph paper.

The entrance was nearly always at the southern most edge…gave me lots of room to expand.

Yes, NORTH meant IN…were all my dungeons delves into the side of a mountain? No…I designed monasteries and castles and temples and at least one memorable Assassins Guild (mmm…that was a personal favorite). I didn’t worry about rhyme or reason or dungeon ecology…often one might open a one-way door into a chamber filled from end-to-end with molten hot magma, though perhaps one with a slender rope bridge. How would characters get out once they passed the one-way door? Um…maybe they could teleport out? I don’t know!

Walls were generally only as thick as the line of my pencil…i.e. paper-thin (despite being “solid granite”). Ooo…I think I had an “iron keep” with…you guessed it!...metal walls.

Anyway, it used to be that maps were plenty easy to draw, and with a pencil and piece of graph paper I would “go to town.” In the Old Days the problem was not drawing maps, it was filling in all the rooms on the map. Some had keyed monsters (similar, actually, to the One-Page Dungeon Contest entries), but usually nothing more than that. Certainly there was little if nothing in the way of background or story or plot to my maps.

Now…well, sure I’ve gotten a bit more particular about how things need to “make sense” in the design. Where do the dungeon denizens get their water? How do they leave the complex? Where do they go the bathroom? Ugh…I did NOT go to school to be an architect, how should I know where to put all this stuff. Load bearing beams my ass!

[I should get my brother-in-law…the architect…to draws these things. Of course, he wouldn’t know the first thing about an otyugh]

I look at all the beautiful 1PDC entries…or the whole blog of Mr. D30…with more than a twinge of envy. You folks and your skills. I hope you all make lots of money!

Meanwhile I might – painstakingly, hesitantly – draw some two or three level, ugly monstrosity only to find I forgot to put in stair ways to connect the levels! How the hell are people supposed get around?!

Um…maybe they can teleport?



  1. Well... you could always see the map as the edited highlights of the dungeon. The boring stuff, like kitchens, toilets and watering holes are all there, but aren't included on the map unless there is something there for the players to discover. If they want to find the nearest kitchen, then you just handwave it away and say it's in the south-east quadrant, near the goblin barracks, and so on.

    I realise that this is probably not very old-school, but it's the way I do it, and I've not had any complaints. ;)

  2. Is there such a thing as a “map-less adventure module?”

    The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and other Fighting Fantasy books could qualify as map-less adventure modules.

  3. map-less adventure:

    Includes methods for various types of play and uses a standard 52 card deck.

    I know, not exactly what you are talking about...but somewhat related. :-)

  4. Go buy yourself a book or pad of graph paper and start drawing. That's the only way to get back into it. Or if you're feeling really adventurous use blank white paper!!

  5. @ David: Oh, I've done that many times...I just end up with multiple blank pads of graph paper! But I am getting it done (this week anyway).

    @ Stu: I LOVED the Warlock of Firetop Mountain. : )

    @ Sham: Man, your 52 card adventure creation gig is awesome, as I've blogged about before. I totally want to steal your idea (or incorporate it somehow) into other adventure RPGs.

    @ Kelvin: actually, I think that's plenty "old school." Much more got left to the imagination or "abstraction." I think it's the new school of thinking that makes everything want to be detailed and set in stone.

  6. I have the exact problem--as much as I can intellectually go with "Dungeons are mad, crazy places", I can't actually design one like that. My only recourse has been caves--caves can be any which way you want.

    But that doesn't address the performance anxiety. It's a sad effect of, I don't know, adulthood?

  7. > I look at all the beautiful 1PDC entries…or the whole blog of Mr. D30…with more than a twinge of envy. You folks and your skills.

    Why don't you use them, or one of the bazillion other maps on the Internets? Need reality, use real maps, google thebes project I think is it.

    OTOH It's easier to say than do. I also have lots of unused graph paper pads around my house.

  8. @JB - you missed the second part, actually putting pencil to paper!! :-)

  9. Another blogger (and I'm sorry to have forgotten who), just posted about )0one Games' maps. They are old-school style dungeons and whatnot that you can customize and and rearrange--basically 21st c. geomorphs. I'm really, really impressed. I've been wrestling with doing a city and it looks like I could absolutely use theirs.

    Anyway, the site is You might want to check it out.

  10. Al at Beyond the Black Gate! That's it.