On dungeon mapping

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jahydin
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On dungeon mapping

Post by jahydin »

I've been gaming for 30 years now, but one thing I'm still struggling with is how to handle dungeon maps during play. I've done everything from drawing the entire thing out on giant sheets of 1" grid paper, complete theater of the mind, and just about any variant in between. I've used Chessex mats, dungeon tiles, 3D terrain... you name it, I've probably done it. Nothing has really clicked though.

When it comes to player characters mapping, that too is constantly changing. From no maps, to simple node diagrams, all the way to faithful 1:1 meticulous recreations; I've still not settled on anything in that respect either.

Recently, I've been cutting up a printed map and handing out individual rooms and passages to players to "glue stick" as they explore. Battle areas are pre-drawn on dry-erase tiles for quick setup. I'm liking this so far, as it seems to speed things up while keeping the players somewhat mapping (they have to decide where and which orientation to glue it). Also, prep time is minimal and keeps battles slightly tactical. Only major downside is many maps have secret doors visible, so have to be clever about hiding them.

Very curious how everyone else handles these things.

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Captain_K
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Captain_K »

The good old days were you started with a door to the dungeon in the bottom middle of the 8.5" x 11" 1/4" hex map... you knew where to search for secret doors because there were unexplored sections on your sheet...

Yeah, I totally forgot about mapping these days. I never introduced it to my new groups and they never just started having someone map. They have found maps. They have tracked, left chalk marks etc. to not loose their way or get out... but not dealt with maps.

Thanks for the recall, jahydin, this is now two wake up calls, by new folks.

By the way, welcome to the boards!

In a previous thread, my group wants to walk from the Isle of White to Egypt (some ships required), I think maps will be most helpful!
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Persimmon
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Persimmon »

Funny; my experience is much like Captain K's. Back in the day we were fairly good about having a mapper and usually tried to create semi-reasonable maps as we played. Over the past 20 years or so that has faded away, partly because a lot of the newer adventures aren't so dungeon focused and even if they are, the dungeons aren't that big. Plus, nowadays it's about maximizing quality table time and meticulous mapping can really slow things down.

So we still usually designate 1 character as the map guy, but it's more abstract. Usually they carry chalk and make notes (left at the dwarf skull etc.) and if something tricky comes up or they need to get back and the player can't recall, I have the character make an Int check.
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jahydin
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by jahydin »

Thanks for the replies. Good to know I'm not the only one who's moved away from requiring accurate maps. I too don't have very much time anymore, and the last thing I want to do is waste it on room dimensions and/or fixing mapping errors caused by miscommunication.

For newer modern games like 5E and Pathfinder, I don't require it at all since most maps are either too complicated or too simple. But C&C, I like to play OSR modules, and mapping just seems to be so important to the overall feel and tone, I just can't abandon it all together.

How do you present your dungeon? Complete theater of the mind? If so, how do you make walking around the long corridors of early modules interesting? I feel like without requiring any mapping, descriptions such as "you turn left, creep up 60ft, then turn right, after 40ft you come to a 'T'" to be almost meaningless. Maybe just skip it altogether? Something like: "you weave around 100ft of corridors until you come to a 'T'"? Still not sure...

The only thing I know for sure is to never stop the game completely. No one likes '"loading screens". Even if I have to quickly draw the area for a battle, I'm still taking initiative and describing things. That seems to work out pretty good.

And thanks for the welcome! During the Covid lockdown I had a lot of extra time at home to finally go through and read just about every edition (and addition) of D&D there was. After playing around with a dozen or so, C&C is by far my favorite to play (Hackmaster 5th is my favorite rule set, but way too crunchy for most of my players). Bummed it doesn't get talked about nearly as much as the newer OSR darlings, but excited to have found a forum where it's still discussed.

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Persimmon
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Persimmon »

We'll use a few props to illustrate the dungeon at the table (we don't play online). I used to have lots of minis, etc., but I gave them to my ld gaming group when I moved away several years ago and was down-sizing. Kind of regret that now, but they're still using all of them so that's cool. But I do find that having visual representations is useful, especially for combat. So I bought a bunch of cheap plastic knights, orcs, etc. online for that stuff. They double as toys for my 4 year old.

And yeah, it's funny how C&C fits within the wider OSR universe. I've also bounced through a bunch of the OSR games including Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Old School Essentials, and Dungeon Crawl Classics. But now we've circled back to C&C after a couple year hiatus and are loving it for the generally smooth play of the Siege Engine and its resemblance to AD&D. I used to utterly loathe ascending AC, for example, but having used it with new players the past couple years I've grown to appreciate how it speeds up combat. Likewise with the Siege Engine. It's nice not to have to look stuff up on tables all the time. And having the save categories next to the abilities on the character sheets is also really helpful. Spells can get a little clunky in determining what saves you need, but having played a bit of DCC the past year, I still think this system is far superior to rolling on a table every time you cast a spell. We've still baked a mishap mechanic in, but it's pretty streamlined.
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anvil242
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by anvil242 »

I use RealmWorks and a TV in my gaming table for maps. I have a piece of acetate to protect the screen from scratches. Admittedly an over engineered solution to being too lazy to draw out the map, but it does add a little wow factor if you get those animated maps.

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Lurker
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Lurker »

This is a good question and one I need to think about since I'm getting ready to start a face to face with 3 out of the 4 players being new or very novice.

One plus in my favor, it will be a Middle Earth based setting, so no a lot of classic 'old D&D' dungeon crawls. SO, the problem of the players mapping dungeons will be less frequent than normal D&D games.

Now, back in the day, as a player, we would map the dungeon religiously as we went. However, looking back at it, in the most part I don't think it was necessary.

Now, since over the last few years since I've been running games here and there for the ole Monday Ne'er-do-Wells, I have been using theater of the mind as the DM 100% of the time. I will have a map I'm working off of, but the players don't.

Admittedly, some times, for tactical combat, it would have helped to have a map or picture for them, but even then if you look at it as 'role playing' and not a mini war game tactical skirmish, it still works with just narrative.

… Just thought of this, something my girl did the other night for the one off game, that even the experienced Ne'er-do-wells don't do. She narrated running to get behind bushes or dead fall trees for cover before shooting at the goblins etc … Hmmmm I need to keep this in mind ….

OK, stay on target

Also, recently on you tube - can't remember who exactly - I saw a DM narrate like a book instead of the block by bloc exploration of the Standard dungeon crawl … "Give me x3 spot checks, Ok, you have been slowly carefully working your way down the dungeon, walking through the gloom, brushing away cob webs as you go, for 20 minutes you have worked your way through, checking the hall and 3 rooms filed with old dirty straw and refuse - finding nothing of interest. However, as you stand beside the 4th door, you hear the faint sound of …"

I like that a lot better than ' roll a find trap check, Ok the next 10 feet of the dungeon are safe,(draw that on your player map), you check a door, it opens into a room 20 by 20 roll check again ok nothing draw it on your map was rinse repeat (and all the time the player/mapper is carefully drawing everything out.

That said, with combat, I do see me drawing out a general rough map (pull out the Ole Chessex combat maps and Vis a Vis pens) for tactical combat, but even then there is no reason for the players to waste time keeping track of mapping .
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jahydin
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by jahydin »

anvil242 wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 11:05 am
I use RealmWorks and a TV in my gaming table for maps. I have a piece of acetate to protect the screen from scratches. Admittedly an over engineered solution to being too lazy to draw out the map, but it does add a little wow factor if you get those animated maps.
I've seriously thought about doing this, but decided I wanted to keep my tabletop time as "analog" as possible. My friends and I are in front of computers all day at work and avid gamers at home, so disconnecting completely from all that is a nice break. But we'll see. Running some of those Paizo Adventure Paths with a screen would be so cool!
Lurker wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 2:22 pm
Also, recently on you tube - can't remember who exactly - I saw a DM narrate like a book instead of the block by bloc exploration of the Standard dungeon crawl … "Give me x3 spot checks, Ok, you have been slowly carefully working your way down the dungeon, walking through the gloom, brushing away cob webs as you go, for 20 minutes you have worked your way through, checking the hall and 3 rooms filed with old dirty straw and refuse - finding nothing of interest. However, as you stand beside the 4th door, you hear the faint sound of …"
That is really cool. I'm trying to do that as much as possible while still handing out the rooms and passages "to be mapped" so the players still feel grounded in the dungeon. Rolling ahead of time in order to not break narration isn't something I've thought of though; I will certainly try that.

As for combat, I've found miniature to be really useful. Even if you're not counting spaces, it's nice for a vague idea of where things are at. Plus, I've found holding that little person in your hand really connects you to the game world!
Persimmon wrote:
Wed Apr 14, 2021 2:12 pm
And yeah, it's funny how C&C fits within the wider OSR universe. I've also bounced through a bunch of the OSR games including Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Old School Essentials, and Dungeon Crawl Classics. But now we've circled back to C&C after a couple year hiatus and are loving it for the generally smooth play of the Siege Engine and its resemblance to AD&D.
Sounds very similar to my experience. I love all these games for different reasons, but there is always something that has me coming back to C&C. The classes are stated perfect, the combat math feels right, and the treasure tables are just the best. But most of all, the SIEGE engine really is brilliant. I love that stats are still variable, but in no way influence the game as much as the player's choice in Primes.

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Grandpa
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Grandpa »

I'm all over the map on this (pun intended). As a GM I have found that what works depends entirely on the players. I always ask them and pretty much let them decide. Sorry if that isn't much help but after ~43 years gaming that's what I found to be.

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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Buttmonkey »

I haven't been able to play much face to face over the last few years, but I have definitely drifted away from detailed mapping like I grew up with in the 1E days. I have always found mapping to be a pain in the ass and the antithesis of fun. As noted by someone above, I would rather spend my limited game time having fun, not doing gaming chores.
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Tadhg »

For online games, I do the mapping via maptools – it’s fast and easy and keeps the game moving along.

Face to face games, I let the players choose who and how they map.

Recalling - playing in Gary’s OD&D game some years ago, we had a mapper and a caller. But Gary was not strict about how we/him conducted this according to OD&D rules.

He allowed us to help the mapper at the beginning, and as it turned out – the guy was great and he didn’t need our assistance as the game progressed
.
As for the caller, that faded away almost from the beginning as Gary just went around asking what our chars would do before combat or entering rooms/corridors.
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Ancalagon »

I never use a caller as I much prefer to engage with each player.

Theater of the mind works with some players... others like to have maps to reference but can't / won't draw them. I've had a few players over the years who were OK with mapping... most were not interested or not good at it. Some players can't work theater of the mind. I've had players get hopelessly lost / confused after 2 right turns... even after 20 minutes of re-explaining and using hand motions it just didn't click.

Most of the time I just draw the map when its needed as it saves time from a mapper interpreting directions or failing to do so.
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Captain_K
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Captain_K »

I still use a giant chalk board or great sheets of paper with my mini's at key times. I use discussions, images, and overhead maps and when I can lots of great scenery pictures to help the PCs see what I mean by "you skirt along the shore of a steep sided fjord for 3 miles and a come to a majestic waterfall blocking your way"... if you have never seen a Norwegian Fjord you loose something in the theater of the mind,,, so I flash up or pass around a few classic pictures to help... in all this I only map out the waterfall where the "stone giant" steps out of the water fall and demands tribute. This 60' tall stone giant has Jotnar blood so the PCs are in for a real fight if they want one... but this thread is not about "how to make a giant a fearful thing again".

Mapping Hell: The old Dragon Mag Baba Yaga mini adventure within her chicken legged hut?
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Captain_K
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Captain_K »

If a character has the "out of class" skill or background "cartographer" then the team is all set... its like magic... or have a magical deer hide that maps as you go...
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jahydin
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by jahydin »

Grandpa wrote:
Fri Apr 16, 2021 12:46 pm
I'm all over the map on this (pun intended). As a GM I have found that what works depends entirely on the players. I always ask them and pretty much let them decide. Sorry if that isn't much help but after ~43 years gaming that's what I found to be.
This is what I used to do, but those unfamiliar with it will reflexively choose not too. I don't blame them; it sounds pretty boring after all...

But once the mapping starts, something magical happens. The dungeon (including all its boring, twisted hallways) feels much more real as the players crawl their way 10' at a time. Without it, it begins to feel like you're just teleporting room to room. I've seen many groups change their mind once they actually start doing it! So recently, I encourage trying mapping first, then asking.

This, of course, is only with "Old School", blocky dungeon setups. The magic is quickly lost with more modern designs; they tend to be either too small to bother mapping or complex with irregular rooms - making them a mapping nightmare. Also, without random encounters and resource management, "teleporting room to room" might be a good thing.

The perfect solution to both really does seem to invest in a Virtual Table Top (VTT) setup. But not sure how well that will work with my miniatures, how much prep time it will add, and how much it will pull players out of their "mind space".
Ancalagon wrote:
Sat Apr 17, 2021 3:54 am
Most of the time I just draw the map when its needed as it saves time from a mapper interpreting directions or failing to do so.
Do you just draw it out on graph paper, 1:1 on dry erase mat, or something else?
Captain_K wrote:
Sat Apr 17, 2021 1:34 pm
I still use a giant chalk board or great sheets of paper with my mini's at key times. I use discussions, images, and overhead maps and when I can lots of great scenery pictures to help the PCs see what I mean by "you skirt along the shore of a steep sided fjord for 3 miles and a come to a majestic waterfall blocking your way"... if you have never seen a Norwegian Fjord you loose something in the theater of the mind,,, so I flash up or pass around a few classic pictures to help... in all this I only map out the waterfall where the "stone giant" steps out of the water fall and demands tribute. This 60' tall stone giant has Jotnar blood so the PCs are in for a real fight if they want one... but this thread is not about "how to make a giant a fearful thing again".
Great advice! I really want to find the perfect middle ground and I think something like this is it. I've done everything from complete "theater of the mind" which makes dungeons too dreamy and floaty, to my 3.5 days, using Dungeon Tiles for 1:1 tabletop recreations, effectively turning my campaign into a complicated boardgame.

Thank you everyone for the for the comments, they're extremely helpful!

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Bifford
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Bifford »

With online play being the current way of life we use whichever VTT is in use. For me, with C&C, that is Fantasy Grounds Unity.
Either with pre-made maps or one I've made in Wonderdraft/DungeonDraft.

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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Grandpa »

jahydin wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 1:51 pm

This is what I used to do, but those unfamiliar with it will reflexively choose not too. I don't blame them; it sounds pretty boring after all...

But once the mapping starts, something magical happens. The dungeon (including all its boring, twisted hallways) feels much more real as the players crawl their way 10' at a time. Without it, it begins to feel like you're just teleporting room to room. I've seen many groups change their mind once they actually start doing it! So recently, I encourage trying mapping first, then asking.
I play with minis on a dry erase grid. They see everything they are in like a map but it is up to them to copy it as it gets erased as they go...

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Ancalagon
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Ancalagon »

jahydin wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 1:51 pm
Ancalagon wrote:
Sat Apr 17, 2021 3:54 am
Most of the time I just draw the map when its needed as it saves time from a mapper interpreting directions or failing to do so.
Do you just draw it out on graph paper, 1:1 on dry erase mat, or something else?
Normally I use a battle mat. In one session I used interlocking tiles with grid lines on them which wasn't too shabby. I drew things in advance to save a little time, arranged the tiles face down on the table, then turned over the tiles as the PCs moved along to reveal the path.
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jahydin
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by jahydin »

Bifford wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 6:31 pm
With online play being the current way of life we use whichever VTT is in use. For me, with C&C, that is Fantasy Grounds Unity.
Either with pre-made maps or one I've made in Wonderdraft/DungeonDraft.
Thanks, I'll keep that in mind if I ever decide to play online. I do have DungeonDraft, pretty cool program! For maps only I see, I've been using Dungeon Scrawl too.
Grandpa wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 10:00 pm
I play with minis on a dry erase grid. They see everything they are in like a map but it is up to them to copy it as it gets erased as they go...
Oh, I see. That's a great idea. Thanks!
Ancalagon wrote:
Tue Apr 27, 2021 4:47 am
Normally I use a battle mat. In one session I used interlocking tiles with grid lines on them which wasn't too shabby. I drew things in advance to save a little time, arranged the tiles face down on the table, then turned over the tiles as the PCs moved along to reveal the path.
Oh, I know what you're talking about. Dry-Erase Dungeon Tiles? My latest hobby splurge was picking up a couple sets and have really been liking them. I was planning on doing the same thing as you too, but I ran out of prep-time and just drew out the areas where I knew combat was going to happen. Next time I'll do it right though.

I also picked up Paizo's Flip Tile Forrest and Wilderness Sets. Since outdoor settings aren't so specific as dungeon layouts, it's been a great tool to use for outside encounters. It also doesn't take up very much room, which is nice.

My favorite part of using dry-erase during combats is writing IDs (Goblin 1, Goblin 2, etc...) and combat effects next to the monsters.

jahydin
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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by jahydin »

Now I'm excited. I think for my next session I will draw everything out on Dry-Erase Dungeon Tiles. For larger dungeons, maybe having each square represent 10' and using a single miniature to represent the party? Would certainly cut down on tiles needed and table space. Regardless, combats would still be drawn on a 5':1" basis. And if tiles did have to be rotated out, I imagine one of the players could just snap a cell phone picture to "map" it, :lol:.

Because the drawn out map would just be an outline, I'll also grab as many visual aids as I can to pass out during the crawl. One of my weak points as a CK/GM is not being great at being very descriptive, so that will help.

Now if Covid would just go away completely so I can play...

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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by Ted Wallerstedt »

Bifford wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 6:31 pm
With online play being the current way of life we use whichever VTT is in use. For me, with C&C, that is Fantasy Grounds Unity.
Either with pre-made maps or one I've made in Wonderdraft/DungeonDraft.
Fantasy Grounds is how I am playing all time, and except for in person at Con of the North, GaryCon and GameholeCon, it is almost exclusively the only way I have played since 2014. I have played a few Roll 20 games, but FG is so much better as play and as a game master in pretty much any system.

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Re: On dungeon mapping

Post by mostrojoe »

I stick with the old days. But after each session I give them a pdf of the "official" map discovered until there.

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