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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Mapping a Maze

In my previous post, I wrote:
I’m leaning away from treating mazes as skill challenges, myself, but perhaps this is worth thinking about more. Is there a different way to create a feeling of isolation? Can it be done with mapping? Is a feeling of isolation what you, the GM, really want to impart?
There were several detailed replies to that, generally favoring either skill challenges or some kind of map reveal/fog of war. I’ve been mulling over my own thoughts on this.

First, let’s get this out of the way: I don’t agree with Dyson’s emphasis on a feeling of isolation, and don’t think a skill challenge will help with that, anyways. I think mazes are there to get you lost, period. However you feel about being in a maze is however you feel, but not my concern as a GM. This doesn’t mean that skill challenges aren’t useful for the other factor Dyson mentioned, getting lost. I’m just dismissing part of the discussion that’s not really useful. We’ll focus instead on getting lost.

What this all boils down to is an age-old debate about mapping. Some people like it, some don’t, and some are in between. People have suggested things like skill challenges before: Chaosium’s Stormbringer, as I recall, has a Map skill which players roll when trying to get somewhere using a map they’ve made. For BRP/Chaosium-style games, where dungeon-crawling or exploration in general is not usually the focus, this might make sense.

I’m more in the “love maps” side of things. But what I find is that describing things for mapping isn’t always handled right. I’ve blown it myself in the early days. On the other side, interpreting descriptions and recording them on a map isn’t always handled in the best manner, either. There’s basically not much advice available for either side of the process. I’ve tried to address this in other posts, for example To Map or Not and Find Your Own Way (which actually sort of has a skill challenge in it, but only a small one.) But more needs to be done.

On the player side, I started advocating something closer to a flow chart than to a precise map. Actually, more like just lines, with an occasional box to write short landmark descriptions like “statue room” or “big pit”.

If a player doesn’t feel like mapping a maze when doing a flow chart map, they could try just mapping intersections:
  1. Start to draw the line a short distance in the direction you are facing.
  2. Stop drawing until you get to an intersection. Keep track of turns, though, either mentally or on scratch paper.
  3. Draw a short extension of the line turning in the new direction as it approaches the intersection.
  4. Draw stubs of lines indicating possible directions you can take at the intersection.
  5. Once you make a choice, repeat Steps 2-4 as needed until out of the maze.
This records every choice you make, but not every turn made, or how far you’ve actually traveled. It could get confusing if you have to backtrack, though, because lines might cross each other… perhaps you’d need colored pencils, switching colors every time you go back and try a different route.

The GM, on the other hand, probably needs a more detailed map, but perhaps I’ll have more thought on this later.

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