Patterns in Dungeon Maps: For Fun and Profit and TPK
April 14, 2011
One night last year, I dumped the crate of wooden toy blocks out on the floor and spread out a random collection of shapes. (You’ve seen these blocks before.) My goal was to create a random dungeon, each block representing a room. I didn’t discover a revolutionary new method of generating dungeons that night, but after putting the blocks away I started to draw a map. The consistently sized and oriented blocks still on my mind, I drew this map in pencil:
Actually, that is how the map looked after several evenings of modifying the original map I had drawn on that wooden block night. LOTS of erasing occurred as I moved, rotated, and fiddled with the rooms and corridors to make it fit together. Later, I used ink and tracing paper to create a version suitable for scanning into GIMP. (Alternatively, I could have just traced in GIMP using transparent layers.) Digitally adding color resulted in the map for the Tomb of the Monkey God, the dungeon contained in the Fire in the Jungle supplement.
It’s a four-level dungeon, the darker greens representing deeper levels. Quite a tangled mess of rooms and corridors at first glance, but its structure is simple once you get familiar with it. There are miniature level maps provided along the bottom of the map to help the DM understand the level structure. If you look closely, you’ll notice that levels 2 and 3 are actually each split into two separate sub-levels.
ChicagoWiz and I discussed some benefits and drawbacks of this this style of dungeon presentation (click here), but what I want to highlight here is how some features of the design facilitate ease of mapping, despite its complexity.
- Simple and consistent room shapes and sizes aid the DM in describing the tomb’s structure. All the circular rooms are the same size and all the rectangular rooms are the same size.
- More importantly, the corridors always enter and leave the rectangle rooms from the corners and always in cardinal directions. No entrances or exits in the middle of a wall.
- The above two factors being true, the DM can succinctly and accurately describe each room (except the final two chambers on the deepest level). For example: “You’ve entered the SW corner of a standard rectangular room stretching to the north, with another exit in the NE corner heading N.”
While these repeating patterns can aid in mapping, they also (in conjunction with a lack of overlaid measurement grid, forcing DMs to “eyeball” corridor lengths) may cause PCs to puzzle over their map, wondering if they got it right:
“Hey, haven’t we been here before? Lemme look at the map.” [Player intensely studies the map, rotates it several times, pulls out hair.]
Meanwhile, the escalating danger of the tomb sends more and more wandering monsters bearing in on the delvers. Dare the PCs push ahead without taking the time to validate the accuracy of their maps?
Great rewards for the living who have dared.
This post is part of the RPG Blog Carnival: RPG Cartography.