... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Graph paper is a cheat.

I mean for players, of course. I do think that mapping is a good thing: the party needs a map to find their way back out. You can risk relying on memory, but if you have a map, you can say, "We go back to the elephant statue room" and I'll assume you follow your map, only describing things seen on the way back if they matter. If you have no map, I would briefly describe each room or corridor branch and let you pick your route at each stage, and you can hope you remember correctly.

I also think that Travis at The Mule Abides has a good point about mapping being one of the few things the adventurers do that the players can also do. It adds to a feeling of "being there".

But graph paper is a cheat. Actual pre-industrial people most likely would make a sketch of their route, maybe with crude distances written besides lines indicating tunnels or other routes. If they are an official expedition, equipped with surveying instruments, maybe they can use precise measurements; but otherwise, all the measurements would be in terms of "I think I could walk that distance in 1 minute." Nothing precise.

So players can use graph paper if they want, but I'm only giving out sketch map-precision descriptions.


  1. For our last campaign I only allowed the players to use blank paper. No graph paper for mapping! I considered forcing them to use charcoal to draw as well - instead of pens and pencils - but I decided that might be going a bit too far (and be a bit messy!)

  2. There's really two "mapping/drawing/layout" tasks going on in games. A map the characters really should draw so they can figure out were they are and how to get home. And visual aid to the layout of an area esp for use during combat, best drawn by DM (cause if the players could draw it it's probably unneeded).

    Modern games/players have conflated the two and are, IME, rather hostile to mapping themselves. Many players are visual and need the layout aid. Others are just accustom to having it and the miniature / combat style it supports.

    I find this frustrating.

  3. >>So players can use graph paper if they want, but I'm only giving out sketch map-precision descriptions.

    I give out precise dimensions, because that justifies the snails pace movement rate characters get in a dungeon.

  4. @Norman: maybe I'm reading that wrong, but are you saying that players shouldn't map, but the GM should map for them?

    @Jim: That's a good point, although I think I'd just speed up movement. But on the other hand, I think the snail's pace is reasonable if the party is checking for traps while advancing and trying to avoid unnecessary noise.

  5. @Talysman

    I'm saying there's two distinct activities.

    1) Visual description of area (usually, but not necessarily, to facilitate miniature use) which should be done by DM. And which "modern" games and players are familiar with and conflate with mapping, the second activity. Could be wet-erase markers on whiteboard, or Dwarven Forge pieces, or preprinted dungeon tiles, etc. It's purpose is to aide player understanding of the structure/layout of a specific area. It is rarely saved, once characters move onto next area. It's supplants or supplements DM's verbal descriptions.

    2) Mapping which is done by characters and by players. cause it's a large and fun part of exploration style gaming. It's purpose is to provide a "history" of where party has been (and importantly how to get back home), a map of an entire dungeon. It is usually saved. If your group chooses to not partake in this part of the game then mapping should be hand waved (characters assumed to do it and always know where they are) rather than have the DM do it.

  6. OK, I'd agree with that division, except that I definitely don't believe in the handwaving part. If it's not an exploration situation, yes, you can handwave. But otherwise, either the players make a crude sketch-map, or they rely on memory. Nothing wrong with either, but character choices *do* matter.

  7. I think handwaving mapping depends on the style of game. Some folks handwave encumbrance and the resource management game. It lends itself to a different type of game, so I wouldn't handwave it myself (if you want to play, you signed up for it, so do it or suffer the consequences) but I can definitely see that some people don't do it.