Friday, November 11, 2011

Open Friday: Dungeon Maps

When I first started playing D&D, there seemed to be an unspoken rule that published dungeon maps had to fit on one or possibly two 8.5" x 11" pages. I have a hard time remembering any modules that included maps larger than that, though there undoubtedly were some that escape me right now. With the dawn of the Electrum Age and then the Silver Age, dungeon maps became much more complicated. Not only were they frequently isometric, but they were just as frequently printed as posters. This made them unwieldy to use at the table, at least me, which is why, for all that I drooled over them in the abstract, I found that, in practice, they were less than ideal.

Which brings me to today's question. I've been giving some thought to the best presentation of Dwimmermount's maps for use by outsiders. Being a megadungeon, some of its levels are large and sprawling, while others are smaller and more compact. How to present these maps? Poster-sized pages sprang immediately to mind, but I remember only too well how hard such things were to use in actual play. On the other hand, printing a 100-room level on a single page would necessitate shrinking it down to a fairly small size, which might prove equally difficult to use.

So, assuming that money were no object, what would you recommend as the best way to present Dwimmermount's maps -- or indeed any megadungeon's -- in printed form? What would you find best facilitated speedy and enjoyable play at the table?

40 comments:

  1. Could you have the center page fold out to an 11 x 26 map? Assuming the book is letter sized, not digest, and saddle stitched, not "perfect bound".

    (Perfect bound books are neither perfect nor bound; discuss)

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  2. i would have them be their own little map booklet and have them be 8.5x11 in size. if it takes more then 1 page for the map so be it. atleast it would be easy to use at the table.

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  3. I have one picture, rather than poster, size map of the whole level so Refs can get an idea of the levels layout and flow, then break it down into one page sections.

    http://redwald.blogspot.com/

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  4. I find that Stonehell's breaking levels into quadrants works perfectly well; parties spend hardly any time precisely at the borders, so you're using one normally-scaled 8.5 x 11 map at a time.

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  5. A series of A4 sized cards please. That way, when the PC's move to the next part of the dungeon, I just pick up the next card. However, that could be expensive. The Stone Hell style works just as well and should keep production costs down.

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  6. I would suggest breaking them into natural sections.

    Also, provide some overlap. (i.e. A “border area” should appear on both of the maps it connects.) This should mean less flipping between two maps as the action moves from one to the other. The overlap also helps visualize the connection. It’ll probably be a significant amount of additional work, but I think it would make the result much more usable.

    Also, the page number of connected maps should be printed on the edges of each map. (It’s amazing to me how many times that isn’t done.)

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  7. Sections that fit on 8.5x11 sheets with one of two options:

    1. Entrances/exits to the sections marked and then we can fill in the "generic dungeon" connections.

    2. 2-3 row overlaps between sheets.

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  8. Larger maps with brief descriptions of regions or areas, with larger, gridded images accompanying the descriptions of the areas in the text.

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  9. I'd lean towards the Stonehell method. I've been using a larger map in play and wishing I had broken it into sub-sections, mainly so I don't have to search as much for the relevant room key.

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  10. Well, I've been doing multiple things on this front over the last year:
    1) Started using 10/in gridded paper, which at 10'/square is ~800,000 sq/ft of area per sheet, vs. ~128,000 sq/ft for 4/in or ~200,000 sq/ft for 5/in gridded papers. Now, this doesn't just let you draw huge dungeons, but it allows you to draw dungeons which do not have a rectangular outline. They can twist and wind all over the place with little predictability. Plus, there is some much room, you can put multiple area on one shoot, and stick some labels in to take you from one place to another.

    2) I got tired of linear, right angled dungeons for a bit. So I just started drawing them freehand, sprawling across multiple sheets on plain paper. I then printed out a 6/in grid on a transparency, and lay it on top of the map to measure distance. Yeah, I could have free-handed on graph paper as well, but for me, I kept "snapping to grid", and the blank paper let me accomplish what I wanted, far easier.

    3) I picked up a pad of 11x17 6/in gridded paper from Blackblade at GaryCon last year. It's great. I've got a 4 level dungeon which sprawls over 7 of these sheets. I labeled them, then set the sheets on top of each other in a jumbled, irregular fashion, then drew reference grids in red editor's pencils onto the grid "below" each sheet and in green colored pencil on the "above" sheets in areas where I want a ramp, or stairs, etc.. to connect the levels. Then I drew the dungeon. Still populating that one.

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  11. The closest thing to a megadungeon I've ever encountered or DM'd is the Temple of Elemental Evil. It's little map booklet was nice, especially with the little pocket it fit into inside the back cover.

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  12. I'd agree with the recommendation of having a single 8.5 x 11 overview map, then break let level into multiple pages along divisions between areas of the map.

    I find it interesting that a 100 room level can't fit. I've mapped my megadungeon using 6-per-inch 8.5 x 11 sheets and found my 'room' count per level at 180-200; but these are the upper levels where the rooms are tightly packed in areas and there are only a few large rooms.

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  13. This is one of those situations where 10 minutes of up-front planning saves hours of work later on. The ideal solution is to plan your megadungeon so that it divides into sections, each of which is easily mapped on a standard-size page. They don't need to be rectangular; they just need to be approx. 7.5 x 10 inches. Shrink the sections down and assemble them on one overview page, then also reproduce each section at full size to show all the details.

    That's still my preferred solution even if the dungeon isn't designed along those lines. It's just a lot harder to find logical divisions after the fact.

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  14. In CorelDRAW I have the ability to take a arbitrary large size piece of paper and print it as multiple letter size sheets. You have the option to set an overlap. I typically set this to about 20% although I went at low as 15% and as high as 25%.

    My biggest use of this is the huge map I drew of my version of City-State. I found the generous overlap to be key to keep page flipping to a minimum. More importantly makes it easy to find the same location on the other page when I do have to flip pages.

    If the dungeon layout is essentially a densely packed maze then this is about your only choice.

    However if you can deconstruct a sprawling level into related areas. Then that I how I would break up the map with a 20% overlap where the area connects to other places.

    For example if the second level has the following

    The Goblin Warrens,
    The Horus Treasuries
    The Deep Sewers.

    I would try to focus the sub maps so that they encompass each of the three area on separate sheets or sets of sheet. This way when I am looking at the entries of the Goblin Warrens I only have to look at the one or two maps covering that area of the level.

    Play with the overlap percentage to get everything can fit on as few sheets as possible. However do include some amount of overlap preferably no less than 10%.

    This is how I plan to attack the Main Campaign Area of the Majestic Wilderlands. I have this huge poster size map that I will print and sell. But I also will have it sliced up into logical regions for the book. And unlike Traveller, Kalamar, Harn, etc they will vary in size. The object is to keep every region on it's own page with a generous amount of overlap.

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  15. If printing a map as a single vast sheet map-fold it rather than poster-fold.

    There is a difference.

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  16. What I'd love to see in more products is this:

    1) A "large" map that details how all of the "parts" interconnect, but without much detail on the "large" map. This would allow the GM to see the big picture and know how things work together.

    2) Maps of each area that are printed with a close proximity in the book to the text/stats/creatures/treasure, so that a single page (or three for large encounters) can be referenced during combat and exploration. This would allow the GM to know the nitty-gritty details of a section without being lost in the big picture.

    Just my $0.02.

    Hungry :: http://www.ravenousrpg.com/

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  17. I would prefer a separate booklet with maps. This facilitates ease of use at the table because I can see the map and the room description at the same time. As long as there are clear references, breaking up a large map into smaller maps is not an issue, especially if there is a reference map that shows how they all get pieced together.

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  18. I agree with Lee if you do use separate pages. Getting a broad overview is important to understanding how a dungeon clicks together.

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  19. The Stonehell method is probably best from a publishing standpoint, IMO.

    You could always offer "poster maps" in PDF form so folks can print or view them however they want.

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  20. IMO, dungeon overview poster maps are great -- as posters to hang on the wall. As gaming aids, they are inconvenient to the point of being almost useless. I've never found any good way to use them at the table.

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  21. A small-scale overview map of the whole level that fits on to one Letter/A4 page, showing how the larger-scale map sheets interrelate, accompanied by a series of usable-scale maps, each of which fits on a single Letter/A4 sheet. The individual map sheets should probably overlap slightly, and if possible, related areas should be on the same sheets.

    Ideally the large-scale map sheets should be loose-leaf, so that the GM doesn't have to keep flipping back and forth between pages in a book. The risk there for the GM is in disordering or losing maps, but that's their problem.

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  22. Take a look at your copy of Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. One of the many brilliant things about this module is that the cover folds out, providing a GM screen as well as allowing for a larger map. This allows the GM to keep the map in front of him at all times and prevents players from sneaking a peek. This may be more difficult with Dwimmermount, being a mega-dungeon, but you could have it fold out into five different sections and/or provide multiple map/screens.

    So, for a truly major project, if each level of the dungeon took up four 8.5x11" quadrants, you could provide a single map/screen in five parts - an overview, as well as a more detailed version of each quadrant.

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  23. I'll add my voice to the chorus suggesting maps at different scales (such as an entire level at the beginning followed by magnified versions of individual areas). I like the idea of connecting (border) areas directly referencing the page where the map continues.

    The most interesting innovations and developments I have seen recently regarding dungeon cartography are the one-page dungeons and Zak's mapping style. Both are really about including more information all in once place. For example, see Zak on improving the Caves of Chaos map. I was just reading Anomalous Subsurface Environment (wonderful product) and I found myself wishing the rooms were labeled directly on the map rather than just numerically keyed. Especially once one has already read through the module, sometimes all you need is "control room" on the map to job your memory. As Zak shows in his example, number of monsters or other simple details could also easily be included. Traditional dungeon maps have a lot of unused whitespace.

    One other thing: I find having PDFs available for many recent products has been very helpful, because I can print out key pages (maps, etc) as loose-leaf sheets which I can then insert into my gaming binder. Much easier than having to use a copy machine on a physical book.

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  24. Page 1: A cross section of the entirety of Dwimmermount.

    Page 2: Level 1 - Northeast Quadrant of approx. 25 rooms.
    Right side of page annotated:
    "Connects To: Level 1 - NW (Page 3)"
    Bottom side of page annotated:
    "Connects To: Level 1 - SE (Page 4)"

    Page 3: Level 1 - Northwest Quadrant of approx. 25 rooms.
    Left side of page annotated:
    "Connects To: Level 1 - NE (Page 2)"
    Bottom side of page annotated:
    "Connects To: Level 1 - SW (Page 5)"

    Page 4: Level - Southeast Quadrant of approx. 25 rooms.
    Top side of page annotated:
    "Connects to Level 1 - NE (Page 2)"
    Right side of page annotated:
    "Connects To: Level 1 - SW (Page 5)

    Page 5: Level - Southwest Quadrant of approx 25 rooms.
    Top side of page annotated:
    "Connects to Level 1 - NW (Page 3)"
    Left side of page annotated:
    "Connects to Level 1 - SW (Page 4)"

    Level 2-35 repeat.

    I'm a huge proponent of 8 x 11 and readability.

    Reduced full levels would be very interesting, but not a necessity for me.

    HOWEVER, as GM, I would give the mapper special oversized graphing paper from their "patron," so that their completed maps end up being "complete" overviews of their expeditions.

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  25. ditto for breaking it up into sections. That way each section could be its own little rollercoaster, with outs to other pages of the book, and/or instructions to hold the book upside down etc.

    ...it could be one of those design constraints that yields unanticipated cool results. Anyway, tracking stuff in a big map is its own kind of cost, for DM and players at the table. Sure, it's nice to see 100 rooms on one big sheet, but as a usable publication, it's not best practice ;)

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  26. I'd also lean towards sections that each fit on one page.

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  27. personally as someone who intends to buy this, my opinion is screw practicality, use as many pages as you need

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  28. I always print a copy of a dungeon map that I can make notes on. Ultimately, I don't care that much how it is laid out in the book. Just give me a place to print off a pdf of the maps and I'm happy.

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  29. I think Beosig echoed my preferences first. I also think the old schools numbers-only way of marking dungeons is an anomaly, a primitive form of IP akin to the blue copier-proof printing. I'd want a lot more brief information on the map, up to its carrying limit.

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  30. My ultimate Dungeon Master fantasy is to have an Atlas detailing my Campaign world on pages of maps.

    That said - The greatest progression in technology will be a simple overhead projector the size of a webcam that can plug into a USB port allowing the Dungeon Master to project images and maps on a wall right off the laptop.

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  31. While I can agree that TSR’s maps could’ve provided more info than a room number/letter, I find the blue printing highly practical. It makes it much easier to make notes on the map. A great unintended side-effect that I missed once they stopped doing it.

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  32. Robert Fisher said: "While I can agree that TSR’s maps could’ve provided more info than a room number/letter, I find the blue printing highly practical. It makes it much easier to make notes on the map. A great unintended side-effect that I missed once they stopped doing it."
    +1
    I don't want a map that gives me every detail. It's much more fun to be able to "dress" the dungeon on one's own.

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  33. I would personally prefer a booklet of standard 8.5*11 maps with a few pages of macro zoomed overviews to explain how everything relates spatially. Large maps are only really good for hanging on the wall, and I have too much shame to hang them on the wall.

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  34. Surprise us. Why not put it on a big parchment roll? Or a huge wall tapestry? Think out of the box, try to find a new paradigm instead of juggling all the old merits and demerits. Also add a few misleading explorer-made maps to give to players.

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  35. As far as extra info, for some time now I've made sure to put on my maps (a) a directional compass, and (b) a two-word-max label in each room for type of monster or trap (like: "U - Giant Rats").

    Any more than that and I find that it disrupts my ability to immediately follow the flow of the dungeon layout.

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  36. Well poster maps are good if you could indeed spare no expense as they show how everything interconnects. But they aren't for use in play.

    Infinitely more useful are maps of each general encounter area of the dungeon. Note that these maps will generally not occupy a full page, but will detail a small area, with the surroundings greyed out (although labelled so as to indicate where to go next), and are best embedded in the area description. Of course this works better if you can assign some sort of function to an area, rather than if a dungeon consists of randomly generated encounters in randomly generated rooms.

    I find this to be much more convenient than simply producing a street directory of maps to be fitted together. It also means that it allows a dungeon to be much more irregular. [You can also get away with changing the compass orientation to make it easier to read, but this has the danger that the gamemaster may not noticed the changed compass rose.]

    Then you can have a micro-scale map that shows each of these encounter areas and how they relate (with corridors and rooms grayed out lines and blocks).

    Although having PDFs of all maps available to purchasers is a very good idea. They can then print out separate maps and modify them.

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  37. Something detailed by not gaudy, if that makes sense. Color isn't necessary, really.

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  38. For big dungeons I prefer the abstract map with ~important places marked on the map in relation to each other. Thunderspire Labyrinth did it well. The adventure book had several ready rooms and encounters as well as random encounters/hazards/happenings.

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  39. Include the maps as a separate booklet that is put together like a state road atlas. That is having an index map on the back showing how it all fits together; overlap on all maps to facilitate use in the between areas; and labels that identify the adjoining maps . You should also add a map showing the depth of the various levels. An electronic download of the maps in pdf format would be nice to have also.

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  40. Unfortunately, I won't be buying the print product. I would be happy to a pay a premium for the PDF version with keyed and unkeyed maps at a decent resolution. Looking forward to this.

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