This is Our Game: Mapping out the adventure.

Every month our group of contributors circulates a point about running a D&D game, or some other RPG-centric problem to address. We all stew and think about it for a while, then write up a response. At the end of the month we compile our responses for your reading pleasure.

This month’s question is: How do you (or your players) map the adventure?

Geek Ken Long ago as a kid I had players mapping stuff out on graph paper. Now I stick to having them sketch out a rough diagram on paper. Once things jump into action, I quickly transfer the room to a dry erase battlemap. I’ve made several laminated sheets of gridded paper, even a few 2 inch wide corridor types. This allows me to prepare several rooms beforehand and have them ready at a moment’s notice. I’ve found nothing can diffuse the excitement like taking 2-3 minutes to map out a room while the players are expecting a fight. So having things prepared beforehand is key.

I’ve picked up some dungeon tiles but still have not found myself using them. I think I’ve avoided using them primarily due to the setup time, but not having them on hand during adventure planing is also another reason. I still like to sketch things out on paper and haven’t gotten into the habit of shuffling around tiles while I think of possible adventures. I have been using some bluetack (the putty you use for putting up posters on walls) when I do use tiles. It helps keep those columns, pits, and other details on the larger tiles without them shifting. As another plus it allows me to prepare some more elaborate rooms beforehand too. However I’m still playing around with tiles. I consider dry erase maps the go to solution for combats, with players using a rough sketch on paper as a guide for their surroundings.

ObsidianCrane these days I use dungeon tiles for play and never ask anyone to map. If it isn’t having an encounter it doesn’t get a map. Firstly unless every character in the party has the sort of sense of direction that gets a person lost in a shopping mall, or the dungeon is a literal maze (which I would handle as a skill challenge), then I see no point. Most people can find their way around a building without too much difficulty, and most dungeons are just buidlings under the ground. Sure there are circumstances where it might be possible to get lost, but again that’s skill challenge time. The players are not the ones delving the dungeon, the PCs are, if they say their characters are sketching a map I don’t demand the players do. I did do that back in the 80’s but I stopped long ago, when I branched out into games where maps were not important. Of course the fact that I once played Temple of Elemental Evil and without ever once seeing the map during the session, just using the descriptions the DM gave from the block text I was able to entirely accurately point at our location at the end of the session on the map just highlighted to me why maps were irrelevant for getting the players to draw them during a session.

As to planing, I plan on Masterplan (and previously Map Tools), and I have all the dungeon tile sets I own scanned and ready for use easily at hand in the program. This means I can plan my maps out easily before the session starts. Sometimes I’m less organised and I just throw a map together with tiles as I go from what is on hand. But with 2 of the Dungeon Tiles Master sets, and 1 of the City and Wilderness sets plus quite a few other sets this doesn’t present much difficulty for me.

The one problem with using the tiles is their tendancy to move, well most dollar stores should have non-slip matting in their kitchen sections, it works great for holding the base tiles together, bring along a thumbnail of blu tack or equivalent andstick a tiny amount under a tile as you place it and the layers you build up hold still as well! This means my maps take a pretty serious jolt to mess up with minimal at table prep time, the key is to use the large 8×8 or 8×4 tiles as your main building blocks, then add detail with smaller tiles to mix up the terrain, by doing this you quickly get the major features down, and then the details don’t take long. With the sort of complicated maps you can achieve by smart use of tiles it will take as long to draw all the detail as set up the tiles, so I use tiles.

Thadeous: How my group or I map out the adventure really depends on the campaign at hand. Every campaign requires something unique or different to insure that your players don’t always feel like they are running the same adventures with new paint.

When I run a campaign in a published setting, e.g. Eberron, I tend to go right to the internet and find maps of the world. They are readily available and usually large enough to scale to what ever size I need. Since I tend to run my campaigns in a very open sand box way I often print out maps after my players have entered an area they had previously not explored.

When it comes to cities and towns I love pre-generated maps. I like letting the players work their way through towns by pointing out there they go. I can set up queues and markers for exposition and in depth details in my notes. E.G. if the players make their way down to the docks I’ll give them some flavor text about how the docks look sound and smell. I’ll throw in a little detail about some of the buildings and the people who inhabit the areas.

For combat I use a mixture of dungeon tiles and a wet erase mat. I love the tiles because I can set them up ahead of time, I can plan things out with them and I don’t have to break the story to sit down and draw. With the wet erase mat I can create on the fly. My players often take the story in directions i had not planned, so being able to create on the fly is always awesome.

Arcane Springboard:  I don’t do anything fancy anymore.  The players’ maps are generally chicken scratch that approximates what they see, and I don’t get too picky about exact mapping.  For adventures I do myself, I do still draw them out on graph paper though.  I’ve also found some very cheap map packs on RPGNow that have been useful.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.


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Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.
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