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Saturday, April 24, 2010

To Map Or Not

I want to expand on some issues raised in the comments to the mapping post. Norman Harman thinks players conflate "maps as visual aids" with "maps as tools to find a usable route". If the players don't enjoy mapping, then the GM should handwave getting back to a dungeon entrance. Just say, "you make it back to the entrance," or draw the whole map for them, or maybe use a roll similar to the Map skill in Chaosium's Stormbringer.

Now, I can see value in distinguishing the two goals of mapping, but I have a problem with the handwave solution. I think it's important not to treat "mission/quest" adventures the same as "dungeon crawl/exploration" adventures. For an adventure with a mission, it's practically mandatory to handwave getting to or from a location when there's nothing of interest along the way. If there's a chance of getting lost along the way, it makes sense to reduce it to a die roll.

But for exploration, where there's always a chance of getting lost, player choice is important. The players are not required to map, but they should be required to find their way back. If there are five tunnels connecting at a single intersection, the players must pick which tunnel they walk down.

This doesn't mean I would never draw a map for players during a dungeon crawl. In keeping with the "visual aid" side of mapping, I would draw a quick sketch of rooms with columns or unusual shapes, or complicated intersections. I would not draw ordinary rectangular, circular, or elliptical rooms, or four-way or T intersections.

I would also not punish players for not mapping; if they've passed through an intersection or room within the last turn, I'd tell them, "you think you've been here before." Certainly, if there are signs of their former presence, I'd tell them that, too: "You see the corpse of the lion you killed earlier." And if they can see far enough down one corridor to spot a familiar landmark, I'd tell them that as well: "Down the middle corridor to the north, you see another intersection, with a familiar-looking statue of a crow."

But I would refuse to make a decision for the players. If there are three identical tunnels in the north wall of a room they've been in before, they have to remember which one they came through. First, because that's the point: they're exploring. Second, because if their choice leads to danger, even if it's the path they actually took previously, then I can't railroad them into danger: they must have the chance to avoid that danger by making a different choice. Third, because even if they don't map, there are other actions the players can take to not get lost. They can keep notes ("Entered 3-north-tunnel room from middle tunnel.") They can make marks (Hey! Maybe the monsters won't erase or change the marks.) They can use magic, like Find Path.

Urban adventures? Sure, handwave getting back to the inn from the marketplace. Rescuing the princess from a simple tower, or slaying a monitor lizard in a shallow cave? Handwave those, too. But if the point is exploration, the players must have an opportunity to fail.


  1. Old Sckool Adventuring Rule #7

    If you dungeon crawl, you map.

  2. To be clear I don't think players conflate the two, I think *modern* (meaning young) players conflate the two. Because the only games they've ever played are all modern storypath/using minis and battle maps types and not sandbox/exploration style games. The point being is they come to the table with the expectation that "the DM will map".

    I agree with you about mapping/exploration. I disagree with you about forcing players to map.

    > you make it back to the entrance

    Is an extreme method of handwave. Another would be to look at your map and (like many other aspects of the game) interpret for the players their characters knowledge. Saying you are at a four way, left is the way you came straight ahead is where you found the spider webs and to the right is unexplored.

    The nuclear option is don't run any "exploration" style adventures. Which is probably the better solution since players who say "we hate mapping" probably really mean "we hate exploration style adventures where 1/2 the point is drawing a map so we know where we've been and how to get home".

  3. A large reason for mapping is removed if there is no reason to consult the map again. If the party never leaves the dungeon until they "complete" the adventure and never go back there is little to motivate mapping.

  4. One of the reasons I see for mapping is to know where you were and what you did last session. I play in 2 different games that meet (more or less) regularly every 2 weeks and 1 game that meets 3 times a year or so (so it doesn't really count)... and having a map (as well as some notes as to what has occurred before)is an invaluable continuity tool.

    The player maps can be the sketchiest of sketchy things, with just lines for halls and squares for rooms with a note or two scrawled here or there. As a player, I usually try to take charge of remembering/noting where we were when last we met and what we were doing because with family and work obligations we seem to be able to meet to game so infrequently, and I like to be able to get back to things as quickly as possible. Maps and notes can be like the clips from the previous episode on your favorite TV show.

    Maybe it makes me an old 'stick in the mud' player, but I also like to explore dungeons rather than my character. I'm not saying that is the "right" way or the only way to play it, but I've been playing long enough to know that it is the way I prefer.