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Friday, January 24, 2020

Blog Post of Note: How Much Mapping Is Actually Required?

Alex Schroeder raises the question: How much mapping is actually required? He’s not talking about mazes, where the architects include features meant to confuse invaders or lead them into traps or ambush spots. The example he gives is of a fairly linear map with a few branches.

He suggests that this map doesn’t really need to exist at all. The details of the dungeon can be handled entirely with text. I’d agree that a truly linear map with no branches or even one with just one or two side passages could be handled this way.

But some areas should always be mapped, for example one with more than one exit in most of the walls. Even if the area can be described in words, it’s actually easier to understand it with a map. Another example is a room with large furniture, statues, pillars, or anything else that breaks up the floor space. It’s not complicated to describe, but figuring that stuff out with a map is practically instantaneous.

This does lead to some ideas about mapping, but I’ll save those for other posts.

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  1. I agree about the multiple exits. Furniture? It depends. Would one kitchen improvisation really differ from another? Many details only need mapping if their spacial arrangement is important for the game and non-trivial to improvise. But that gets me into another problem: at the end of the day I’m going to use words to describe the rooms to my players and if I can’t put it into words on the screen then chances are I won’t be able to it into words at the table. That’s why I’m drifting towards ever simpler layouts.
    Some of the thoughts I had regarding maps were due to me wondering what I should add to the Gridmapper bot at https://botsin.space/@gridmapper – do I really need to add pillars and chests and beds and tables and shelves? It would look nicer for sure. But would it be more useful?

    1. re: furniture

      Of course you could improvise furniture details in a room based on what the room's function is. After all, if you draw it beforehand, you're just improvising in advance (I've never heard of anyone using precise furniture placement tables...)

      But it's easier to do it on the map for two particular kinds of furniture: furniture that you can hide behind, and furniture you can jump or climb on. The benefit, for me, is the inverse of what you describe: if I can put a picture into words while playing at the table, it saves a lot of space to just draw it now rather than put it into words immediately. After all, words are linear, and words can change based on the situation. A picture gives you ... well, the whole picture, all at once.

    2. re: Gridmapper bot

      Not sure if this would be helpful, but based on what I was talking about re: obstructions and platforms, maybe you could add a feature that draws "walls" made out of pillars and other objects. You could just overlay a partial "room" with these replacement "walls" on the current room to place the obstacles.

      That way, rather than focusing on decoration, Gridmapper would focus on elements that alter movement possibilities, much in the same way regular rooms do.

  2. I have a couple of opinions about that collected in a couple of posts you guys might find interesting (I hope) and I'd love to add them to the discussion (I'll offer a link to part 4, as it relates the most to what is discussed here):


    The tl;dr would be (or at least a few aspects of it), that I believe a DM has the duty to prepare his game in a way that allows agency for the players. If the pattern, in which a dungeon should manifest, exits, it allows producing foreshadowing the players can work with as they explore. It allows for their decisions to have meaning. Having a map for that is one way to go about it. What that map ideally looks like is an entirely different matter. One thing to consider is that characters move through numbers and words and that doesn't necessarily relate to visual representations beyond being a player/GM guide, Another thing is the discrepancy between how exploration builds maps and how maps that are already complete stand in the way of that process ...

    1. I may have already read your series on this, but I will probably have to read it again before I could comment on it.

      Off the top of my head, I think we probably need to distinguish between published maps, GM's personal maps, player-facing maps, and player-created maps. Which things are important for a map is going to be influenced by the map's purpose.

      Also, I should link my own ideas about designing maps for publication: