"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Are Maps Required?

I ran a session of Northern Marches last night where a small party of adventures investigated a small dungeon below a ruined temple.
I ran the entire dungeon without a prepared map. I quickly made up a list of creatures that I thought would be present and used tables from Dungeon Bash to make the dungeon as we went.

This brought up a thought... Are dungeon maps necessary for the enjoyment of B/X Dungeons & Dragons?

Would it instead be possible to use an abstract system for goal driven scenarios, such as that from WarpQuest?

For example, the party in my Northern Marches game is looking for some clue or evidence as to what happened to a witch that might be able to help with a disease outbreak in a nearby village.

For an abstract system I could mark off 30 squares on a piece of graph paper. Square #1 would represent the dungeon entrance and #30 would be the goal (in this case the clue). Roll a d6 and mark off that number of squares on the graph paper and have an encounter (monster, trap, whatever). After that encounter roll another d6 and move that many squares on the graph paper and have a second encounter, etc. When the party reaches square #30 they have reached the Big Bad End Guy and the goal.

A larger example of this is the Palace of the Silver Princess Warp Quest Module. The mechanics don't match B/X so it would have to be adjusted but it is illustrative.


  1. Whether your map is pre-made or not, I do think it's pretty important that the dungeon be a "real" place (one the PCs can map) instead of a completely abstract dice-rolling exercise.

    I'd go so far as to say that this is so essential to D&D that a game without it might be better considered a loosely D&D-inspired game unto itself.

  2. Are maps necessary??! Of course they are! Maps rule! Burn the heretic! ;D

    Seriously, though, I agree with Will. A "mappable" dungeon is really required, lest actions like finding secret doors or other hidden/missed parts of the map fall (no pun intended) strictly to dice rolls. Some folks don't mind playing that sort of game, but I like players to have to use their wits more often than their dice to get through a game. (From all I've read of late, I think most "old schoolers" feel similarly.)

    Besides: I like maps. :)

  3. That's interesting. When I have seen lists of "what is D&D" I don't often see "map" on the list.

    But on page B4 (right up near the front) of Moldvay Basic you get "Mapper" as part of the "Definitions of Standard D&D Terms". I think that is telling.

  4. I don't know about that as a general philosophy, but in my 30 years of DM'ing I've used the randon dungeon stuff in the DM's Guide in the early days. At others times in a pinch I have just come up with stuff off the top of my head, with occasional references to the guide.

    Lots of random rolls to build things, stock it, populate it - sound too much like a video game rpg's game engine (like Diablo where the dungeon areas are randomized as you go).

    Throw flipping cards into the mix and I'm really not doing the main thing gaming is about: being creative.

  5. Some other thoughts...

    The abstract system is not much different than making random encounter rolls while traveling through a forest.

    Isn't it the DM's description of the environment and encounters that makes the dungeon a real place?

    I find that I am at my most creative when trying to fit together a number of random elements into a cohesive whole.

  6. Mapping or not mapping is an old school versus new school question:

    It is player skill and player activity to make an accurate map and take advantage of it. It is a thrill to discover something this way.

    Now, I can appreciate both new and old school. I can see a new school viewpoint that map making can be viewed as tedious book keeping and not 'part of the game' (ymmv). In that case I could see abstracting the challenge of mapping a dungeon with a skill challenge in 4e. Failures to map would lead to lost surges, wandering monster encounters (with no treasure/xp), while success would lead to finding goals of the exploration.
    (I'm one of those that likes some of 4e, especially compared to 3.x. Skill challenges are potentially one of those things.)

  7. A good map simply makes the dungeon. I'd go as far to say that not using a map is dangerously close to not really playing D&D...why not just get rid of the dice and have everyone use a computer dice rolling program???? :)

  8. But does a "bad" map mean that it is not B/X D&D? The output from such an abstract system could be viewed as dungeon map.

    Also, how is such an abstract system different than rolling for encounters while the party is exploring a forest? That is still playing D&D.

    To give another example, I don't view the idea as being all that far removed from the "underground wilderness" from D1 - Descent into the Depth of the Earth with random results determined for the dark hexes.

    Isn't a computer dice rolling program pretty standard for various play-by-electronic-media D&D games? Is that not playing D&D?

  9. Good thoughts, but I'm a pretty visceral guy. If I see a really cool looking map, it gets the creative juices flowing. A plain map with rectangular room after room does nothing for me. If there's no map, it's like "listening" to televison for me....it can be done, but why, when you can just uncover your eyes and look?

    Also, all my wilderness encounters have maps, even if I have to sketch it out myself right after the random encounter is rolled up. Players want/need to know if there are trees, large boulders, a stream, tall grass, etc.

    As for the underground maps in the D-series, that large scale hex map is one of the coolest of all time. Imagine the D-series with no map, with everything just labeled "Encounter A", "Encounter B", etc all the way to Vault of the Drow. Loses a lot of the magic. I'd rather have a map than a flowchart.

    When you are using dice online, you are using it as a concession to the form of medium...when gaming face to face, this concession is unnecessary and detracts from the experience (IMO, but I suspect I would be supported by a high percentage of gamers who just love rolling different shaped dice)

  10. I agree that a map can get the creative juices going. All of Gabor Lux's maps from Fight On! do that for me.

    I also sketch out a map when I roll a random encounter. I think it is important to have an understanding of the environment so the players can make intelligent decisions. To continue to use the forest analogy, I know I don't have a map of all of the trails through a forest but as I roll an encounter I can quickly sketch the surroundings for the characters to interact with. Is it possible to do the same with a dungeon?

    I don't know how big the dungeon is or how it is laid out. But as the party moves along the 30 square counter and I roll encounters a fuller, more detailed picture of the dungeon develops.

    As for the underground map in the D-series, or any dungeon map really, is it actually anything more than a stylized, artistically drawn flow chart?

    I agree with you that when I sit down at a table to play the dice are an important part of the game. In fact, I allow the players to make all of their character's rolls including searching for traps, spotting secret doors, etc. I know a lot of DM's make these rolls behind their screens but I feel that the only true connection the player has to their character and the world is the dice and I don't want to take that control away from them. I just don't think that in a list of "what is D&D" that the physical dice are absolutely required. Playing a play-by-post D&D game is still playing D&D.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.