Monday, July 26, 2021

Hand Drawn

I have a great fondness for hand-drawn maps, especially of the sort that commonly appeared in fanzines. Take, for example, this one from the first issue of the UK 'zine, The Beholder, produced by Guy Duke and Michael Stoner, starting in 1979. 

I wish I could better explain my affection for maps like this. Perhaps it's because they remind me of the maps I used to spend hours making in my younger days. For me, map making is very primal, one of the foundational elements of playing Dungeons & Dragons. Even more than dice, you can't play D&D without a map.

Sadly, I don't have many maps from my youth. At some point in my late teens, I threw most of them out, in the foolish belief that my cartography was subpar. One of the few dungeon maps I still have is this one:
I'm not absolutely certain when I made this map, but I suspect it was sometime between 1982 and 1984. Objectively, it's a terrible map – too small and obviously influenced by Quasqueton from In Search of the Unknown. For good or for ill, module B1 was my model of what a dungeon should be for many years. What might not be obvious, however, is that this map was intended to be the first level of my own version of the Temple of Elemental Evil. As I've mentioned many times before, I adore The Village of Hommlet and it bugged me that Gygax's promised module T2 didn't appear in time for me to use it. So, ambitious lad that I was in those days, I set out to create my own Temple and this was its first level. Like the maps of the other levels, I no longer have the key for this one, but I can still remember a few details, like the pools in Room 7, the hidden shrine in Room 11, and the demonic statues in Room 18 that, if not properly propitiated, spring to life and attack. 

I used to be terribly embarrassed by my adolescent efforts at dungeon making. Now, I look back on them with more fondness. Like the map of the Pyrus Complex from The Beholder, there's something very pure about maps enthusiastically drawn by hand before we knew enough to be sheepish about our efforts. Then and now, this is where roleplaying lives.


  1. I agree. I love hand-drawn maps.

    You can see my hand-drawn maps for free on drivethrurpg:

    Mike's World includes 14 hand-drawn maps in the style of B2's wilderness maps. They all fit together.

    Mike's Dungeons includes 78 hand-drawn maps somewhere between the styles of B2's Caves of Chaos and Holmes's sample dungeon map in his basic D&D book.

    Mike's Dungeons: The Deep Levels includes 39 more dungeon maps.

    That's 131 hand-drawn maps for your enjoyment. Again, you can see them all without purchase by clicking on "Full-size Preview". :)

    1. I bought your Forsaken Wilderness a couple days ago. Great stuff!
      Hand drawn maps are part of the DIY that is in the bones of Old School Play.

  2. "Then and now, this is where roleplaying lives."

    Well put.

    I'm struck by the lack of negative space in your map. Very economical!

  3. you should look back on it with fondness. you enjoyed it, you did it with all your heart, and you had fun, with friends. What else is there?

  4. Ha, the delay, delay, delay for T2 also resulted in our DM, Dr. John PhD, to invent his own version of Temple of Elemental Evil. I wonder how many groups out there did the same (and if any versions survive)?

    In a collection of home-made vintage dungeons "Habitition of the Stone Giant Lord" my map for Crack at Garn's Canyon circa 1981 made it on the back cover. (the full, but incomplete, map is the final sample image.) Ha, I can actually say I have an adventure reviewed by Jon Peterson. :~)

  5. I love hand drawn maps too, especially those really nice ones like the one from The Beholder. But your map is special too, I love seeing people's derivations from published modules. The pools from B1 are recognizable in a lot of people's dungeon maps, myself included (I don't think I have any of those left). Some day I need to put up my big dungeon that was inspired by the Lichway.

  6. Pretty sure everyone in the day produced their own T2.

    Most a damn sight more interesting & playable than T2-4 as well.

    I only count 4 pit traps. Which is probably admirable restraint for the era.

  7. A thing of beauty, James! Looks a lot like my hand-drawn maps of the same period. Of course, the maps we all drew at the time weren't meant to be hung on the wall - they were practical things, first and foremost, to help us run dungeons for our players.

  8. This is a 200' by 300' map with 28 locations. In what metric is this too small?

    1. Mostly, my own sense that the Temple of Elemental Evil ought to be very big. It's not really a rational judgment, just a gut feeling.

  9. I too drew my maps in imitation of B1. Over the years, I grew a bit dissatisfied with this style but the B1 maps in turn looked much like what we have seen of Castle Greyhawk and other classic maps. Nowadays I think that's certainly good enough.