Thursday, 6 October 2011

Mapping idea: dungeon quarters

I just had an interesting idea for how to manage the map & key for an evolving dungeon. The assumption is that each time a bunch of adventurers go in there and cause trouble, a substantial number of facts about the dungeon (e.g. what monsters live where, what treasures exist, and so on) will be altered. Traditionally I've had two separate things: 1. the dungeon map with numbered rooms, 2. the dungeon key, describing what's in each of the numbered rooms.

I've found that two problems arise with this system of separate map and key. Firstly, the simple issue of having to flick back and forth between various sheets of notes, and of having to correlate the map to the descriptions. Not a huge deal, but there might be an easier way. Secondly, the problem of what to do when things change in the dungeon -- treasures are looted, monsters killed, etc.

So the idea I had, which should help with both these issues, is the following: make a dungeon map as usual, but without numbering the rooms. Then scan the map and divide it into four quarters. Zoom each of these quarters up so that it fills a whole page, print these. So you'll end up with one large scale map (at a normal scale of 10' per quarter inch, or whatever), which is the one you can stick to the back of your DM's screen for an overview of the level as a whole, and four zoomed in quarter maps.

The descriptions of what's in the dungeon should be written straight onto the maps of the dungeon quarters, in pencil so it can be modified as the place is demolished by zealous adventurers.

Here's an example dungeon quarter map I scanned in and quickly stocked to see how it works out. I wrote the key on this one digitally, for the sake of speed, in 12pt text (I think it's reasonable to be able to write legibly at that kind of size by hand). Of course it depends how much detail you want from your dungeon notes, but I find that for a self-written dungeon most of the work is done in the imagination, and I could totally run this example dungeon quarter purely from the minimal notes it contains. Note that there's also loads of blank space on that quarter, for more detailed descriptions if needed.

I reckon this'd be a really nice way to work with dungeons, would enable quick & easy restocking / modifications to the dungeon in response to PC actions, and would encourage an anti-perfectionist attitude where the dungeon is a living play-aid, rather than a publishable document. I'm definitely gonna try this out for my next dungeon!

(Another way, of course, might be to just map in the first place at a greatly zoomed-in scale. I guess I'll try both methods and see which works out best for me.)


  1. I very much approve of mixing map and key! Like this map of mine: (SVG may need an up to date browser such as Firefox?)

  2. Hey Alex, that's a really cool map! I'm getting more and more convinced by the map/key mix! I can't wait to get drawing now, and write all over the map with fine pencil scrawls which I will ruthlessly erase as the monsters are killed and treasures looted :)

  3. I've been putting my legend on the map for a long time, but it never occurred to me to scan it and make enlarged quadrants for extra space. Great idea.

  4. Very well done! I often prefer having my notes right on the map, I may try your system out! Thanks for sharing.

  5. This also works for modules written by other people. I took the maps of Dungeon Beneath (from Fight On magazine) and annotated the map. I find that this really helps.

  6. What I started doing for Knightvision Games LL modules is make a master map for the back. Then taking that map and cutting up the rooms and placing the map of the room with each encounter. That way the "flipping back and forth" kind of goes away.