Do You Know Why I Hate Dungeons?

Mapping.

That one word as a GM fills me with dread. Why create a maze of irrelevant intersections only to have your players deliberate over every decision when all you need them to do is get to the bottom?

map

And who in their right mind still thinks having their players map the dungeon/maze/where ever on squared paper is conducive to a good gaming experience? Of the many times we’ve tried that there has not been a single occasion where the player mapping hasn’t made a mistake at some point which has completely ruined the map. An intersection wrongly marked or a tunnel 5 squares long instead of 6. I’ve yet to see an aspect of gaming that wastes more time and cause more unnecessary arguments than mapping.

But how do you get around explaining the players locale without it? Bear in mind I very rarely use minatures and hate being limited by using pre-built dungeon cardboard cut-outs.

You could take the route of just giving/selling them a ‘complete’ without any of your encounters or items marked on it. At least that way there is no arguments over layouts but you can’t do that every time. It’s the equivalent of handing your players a bag of holding because they just happen to want to carry every item they have ever looted about with them at all times. It’s far to easy a trap to fall into at the best of times.

Going on past experiences the best way I’ve found to deal with this problem is to first of all stop designing huge dungeons. Unless you are just going to miss out most of the map and just tell the players they have found a way to the secret room you still get a decent level of exploration on small scale tunnels. The other method is to produce several copies of the same map. One with all your notes on it, a blank one without the notes and several copies of the blank one that has for example everything but the opening few rooms blanked out and then one with the next section showing. Use a blank bit of paper and sketch the initial tunnels/rooms until they have discovered most of what’s on the first sectioned map and then replace the scribble with the actual map section. Keep doing this until they end up with the almost completed map in their hands.

It may sound like an awful lot of work but if you limit it to a few map sections it’s the quickest and most accurate way I’ve found yet whilst not boring the players have to death.

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18 Comments

  1. Bonemaster says:

    Think you will find just that in most adventures these days. The maps are very simple. No complex mazes. Most things are designed small. Take the Paizo’s Adventure Paths, I’m starting the third book in the Second Darkness AP. So far, most of the maps have been no bigger than half a page and in many cases that half page would either be somewhat open area, such as a dock, or contain several levels, such as a small tower. So it seems you are not the only one that has stopped doing large dungeons. While some people still generate Mega-Dungeons, I think the market for those is much smaller than than they use to be and many more people are looking for slightly simpler dungeons.

    Bonemasters last blog post..Not so Random , Random Encounters

  2. Bob says:

    Yeah I’ve noticed that as well in a few modules I’ve looked at. I’m still seeing huge dungeons cropping up in GM written settings though. :(

  3. Josh says:

    We use Dungeon Tiles a ton in our group, but before we started, mapping was more of a scribbling than an art. The point is to know where things are in relationship to each other.

    Using grid paper to map a dungeon can be great for a DM, but it is next to useless for players. Try lines for corridors and shapes for rooms… anything more detailed than that is unrealistic anyway unless your characters are carrying tape measures.

    Joshs last blog post..Was Actually Considering D&D Insider, But…

  4. Bob says:

    Thats roughly what I do although when it comes to encounters I’ll scribble out a far more detailed area on a pad of paper for players to use.

  5. Shent says:

    I’ll draw the dungeon or a section of the dungeon on a 34inch x 48inch chessex battle mat, and cover it with a couple sheets of paper. I reveal more of the map as players move through the dungeon. I have two battle mats like this, and have yet in twenty years of using them had any complaints. Oh, and they last forever.

    Shents last blog post..Boy Have Monsters Changed Over the Years

  6. Ravyn says:

    One of my GMs just mapped the entire dungeon onto a dry erase grid as the group entered the room. Another really didn’t care that much about proportion, but between the two of us we could get a pretty good idea where we were and what was where. And me–I just plain don’t do more than the basics when mapping. My group’s going to be too busy looking at the walls or listening at the doors to really care about the exact dimensions of a given room, and I don’t think I’ve ever needed a battlemat.

    Ravyns last blog post..The Generic Villain on Women in the Industry, Part 2

  7. Swordgleam says:

    This is one aspect of gaming I just don’t understand, even after gaming for years. I have never been with a group where the players map the dungeon. As soon as I heard about this style of play, all I heard about it was bad. I don’t understand why people do it.

    If my players need to find there way back out of somewhere, I have them make whatever check is most relevant in the system to see if they remembered. If they say they’re drawing a map, the check will be to see how good the map is. It’s the characters who are exploring the dungeon, so why do the players even need a map? If it’s to notice secret rooms and whatnot – there are dice rolls that can accomplish that.

    It’s one thing if it’s fun. If it’s fun for the players, sounds awesome. But everyone seems to have it, and yet everyone acts as if it’s the only way. I don’t get it.

  8. Swordgleam says:

    *their instead of there, and more importantly, hate instead of have in the last sentence.

    I apparently cannot type today.

  9. Bob says:

    If your not using miniatures then the only real benefit I can come up with is helping the players immerse themselves in the story and to imagine the location. It always helps to have prompts and why reduce everything to skill checks when navigating these places when it could just be a 50/50 choice which way the group goes at an intersection.

    If players want to get back out of somewhere unless they have absolutely no skills or stats high enough then they just get out. The adventure is usually getting in there so unless the story is furthered by rping them getting back out is there really a point in even having them roll dice?

  10. Swordgleam says:

    Usually, when I have them roll dice in that kind of situation, it’s less “are you going to make it” and more “how much longer is it going to take you than you planned and how many beasties will you run into along the way.” I have one player who calls himself my “random encounter generator,” because despite having very high dungeoneering and nature bonuses, he nearly always rolls badly for those checks.

    We do use minis, but I just draw out the room the combat is taking place in, and maybe a little ways into the nearest rooms in case the fight expands. Otherwise, I just have them arrange their minis in marching order on a blank sheet of grid paper, and let them know if the corridor gets too narrow for that formation.

  11. Bob says:

    Ah I get you now.

    Whenever I read about players and their use of mini, maps and/or scenery I always feel like I’m the guy taking a knee and drawing out a crude map in the dirt with a stick at times. It works though.

  12. Donny_the_DM says:

    So I take it you will not be running ruins of the undermountain (2E) anytime soon :)

    I feel your pain!

    Donny_the_DMs last blog post..Skill Challenges – Own that @#$%!!

  13. Bob says:

    The sheer thought of that game puts a shiver down my spine!

  14. Swordgleam says:

    I know the feeling. This is the first game I’ve ever been involved in that uses minis. We got sick of erasing and redrawing everything whenever we moved, and I’m no good at keeping distances in my head, so minis seemed like the only option.

  15. When I used to do a dungeon crawl I used the tiles from Space Hulk and lay it out on my table, then draw it on graph. That way I can lay out just the pieces that they can see. It was fun the first two times, but it feels lazy. Not much time is spent actually describing the area, and it turns out to be more of a ‘Kill the monster, grab the treasure, move on to the next door’, but that’s my own shortfall.

  16. Bob says:

    Room clearance is always going to end up being played like that I think. I can’t really think of any other way unfortunately.

  17. Chgowiz says:

    My wife struggled with that shortly after we started our OD&D solo game. It was a fairly easy dungeon but mapping frustrated her.

    I showed her some words of wisdom I read from the OSRIC manual and perhaps they can help your players:

    It is important to understand the purpose of the players’ map. The goal is not to create an exact copy of the GM’s map, but to keep a record of which areas are explored and which not, to allow the party to find their way back to the entrance and, on subsequent expeditions, find their way back to where they left off. If the dungeon is small or simple in layout the players may not need a map. Even if the dungeon is larger or more complex, a “trailing map” with lines for corridors and squares for rooms and chambers, maybe with marginal markings showing length or size, is almost always enough. Only in the most labyrinthine of dungeon levels, with rooms and corridors tightly packed together, are players likely to find making a strictly accurate map rewarding.

    Many players hate mapping, considering it a fun-killing burden, and these players will often try to get the GM to design simpler dungeons or even to draw the map for them.

    The GM should avoid these “solutions”; play goes quicker if a player maps. Encourage the players to map appropriately—i.e. only when necessary and use a trailing map where possible.

    It’s very true – once she started just making boxes with lines to interconnect and leave herself room to add, and it was more about “getting out quickly” than mapping each little square, mapping became much easier. I’m still helping her to learn that, but it’s worked well.

    I think RPG skills as a player are just as important as the statistics that make up their character. It’s no different than learning specific skills/ways to play on video games or board games. Learning to map effectively is a good skill to have. As a GM, I’m going to give them tough challenges and complex dungeons because they are enjoyable. If the mapping gets in the way, then I will help them improve mapping or change how they map (trailing/circuit maps) instead of simplifying things for them.

  18. Derek says:

    We never used maps or miniatures. Our DM was amazing. Plus we were a crazy group of players so we dont usually do what the DM wants….and he could roll with it. no matter what we threw at him, he could counter. too bad he actually got a job :(

    He would just describe the dungeon to us as we explored. It was up to us to memorize it cause our characters certainly weren’t gonna draw a map as they went down a dark tunnel laced with traps. there was killin to be done!


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