Image from: https://www.foodiebaker.com/skocjan-caves-slovenia/
Everyone is an expert on map making, just google dungeon map tutorial, or something similar, and you'll get a gagillion hits that lead to sites where people tell you that they have the answer to how it is supposed to be done.
It's sort of funny to think that some people will try to tell you that there is a right way, and a wrong way.
Not long ago, we got to visit a cave complex in Slovenia. It was fascinating to see just how big the caves are. And also how high the ceilings were, or how deep a canyon can be underground:
This site has an interactive that is pretty awesome too:
Being in a real cave complex makes the little wheels in your head start to turn, and the idea of a river cave dungeon complex was born.
Because the original rules suggested using graph paper, that is exactly what we do, and most of us end up following the lines and treat the graph paper like the lines in a coloring book. It's sort of amazing that all of our underground places align to the cardinal points like the streets in Mayberry U.S.A. And of course, because so many of us have seen pre-published dungeon modules, we try to make our own hand drawn maps look as tidy and professional as what you see in the commercial products.
So, what if we just stop caring about it so much?
Map courtesy of: Worlds Lamest Map Makers and Bic Ball Point Pens :P
This is a map that was drawn yesterday while lying on the couch. It isn't even finished. It's really sloppy. It's embarrassing to share this publicly because the only award it will get is as World's Worst Map Ever.
There are places that upon further inspection, we'd like to alter a bit. Well, it's drawn in pen, so the next step will look even worse!
Having played for a long long time, we're less and less obsessed with dungeon map perfection. In fact, we have stopped using graph paper and just draw what comes to mind on whatever piece of paper seems to be handy. This means that the actual distances and dimensions during a game are estimated on the spot. The little tunnels are about 10' wide. The pathways around the canyon walls are likely more like 20' wide, which should make the players begin to worry about just exactly who lives here?
Most of the maps in our current game are really chaotic because of this, but it doesn't seem to change anything and the players have no clue just how sloppy they are!
You may be wondering why we do this, there are several reasons:
-The Dungeon Master Mystique. No one will ever see our maps because players aren't ever supposed to know what the Dungeon Master knows.
-Anachronisms. Even though players want to have exact duplicates of your map that they create: there are no such things as graph paper and mechanical pencils in our fantasy world!
Never mind surveying poles and equipment.
-Old School Play. We play a fully immersive game, where all of the action takes place as a verbal exchange. We prefer to only use minis in order to determine marching orders. Once a battle starts, the action is all in your head like so:
Ref - There are two orcs standing in the room.
Player - Ok, I run over and attack the one on the left with my sword - RAHR!
Frenzied die rolling follows. ;)
If you play the verbal style of RPG things can also move really fast and you can clear half a dungeon level in one night.
-Confusion. It's fun to trick the players about what direction they are traveling in and we make maps with lots of squiggly passages that angle in all directions. This makes it so they end up with their own sloppy, but realistic maps -- and sometimes they get lost.
-Game Time. Sure, the players can do a very accurate map, but this will take time, and guess what -- the DM gets to make more wandering monster die rolls.
-Scale. If you use graph paper and use a scale 1 square = 10', your dungeon is actually a really tiny thing, how the heck is a dragon supposed to get in there?
-Real World Time. Mapping and populating an entire dungeon could literally take weeks. Our players can clean out a dungeon in just a couple game sessions. When they are done with a dungeon, they just move on and forget about it. All that effort and OCD detail gets put in a drawer, possibly forever.
-D.I.Y. That's right -- DO IT YOURSELF. The essence of the original set of rules for D&D was that they were a template for how to run a game; a lot of it was not defined. Every DM played differently and made things differently. This means that each and every D&D dungeon was a unique experience to be delved into.
The most important part of all of this, is that making maps is actually fun to do. It's like a hobby within a hobby. All you need is a pencil, or pen, and a piece of paper, and you can descend into a magical world that is all your own.
Remember the words of the greatest Dungeon Designer of all time...
A few hours of day dreaming on paper and you end up with an instant home made Dungeon Module!
Our attitude is that maps don't really matter. They can be as poorly made as possible, and the experience of playing an RPG is still the same -- it's how you use the map that matters.
So relax and have fun. better yet, get a piece of blank paper and a pen(cil) and get drawing!
Oh and --Thank you Dave Arneson, for inventing RPG dungeons!
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