Handling maps in your game

Zulithe

Explorer
I've been a DM on and off for about 8 years, sometimes with as much as 18 months in between sessions (finding a playerbase when everyone is busy with school, work and blossoming families has provided many hurdles), and one thing that I have found awkward is the usage of maps while gaming. I just am not sure of the right way to go about using them in my campaign.

Let's say your players are ready to delve into a dungeon. Do you give them the map you created, or maybe a cruder version (perhaps aquired from an NPC)? Do you put it on the table and try to cover up the areas they haven't yet explored? Do you get one of the players to "map" the areas as the party progresses (which has went pretty poorly for my players, sadly)

Same thing goes for towns. Should they be given access to a town map (or map it themselves) assuming that it is a place of at least moderate importance to the plot?

I guess I'm really just fishing for ideas ... how do maps fit into your campaign, do they play a major role in your sessions, would you encourage players to map out areas even if none of your players seem to be apt at doing so, and if none are, then how can you make up for this weakness (rather it be theirs or my own inability to describe the information in an easily mapable form)?
 
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Emiricol

Registered User
In my campaigns, maps aren't much use outside of dungeons, but I would give the players a town map or a vague regional map if they asked for it. For dungeons, I draw it out as they go on a battlemat, or if I am playing online via OpenRPG I just whiteboard it as they go.
 

haiiro

First Post
With 3.x, I find battlemaps for combat to be essential -- what's lost in terms of the "chaos of battle" factor is more than made up for by the "everyone has fun and gets to use their abilities intelligently" factor. ;) I draw my combat maps on big sheets of 1" square graph paper, cut to size from the roll it comes in.

Knowing this, my players rightly expect that if I pull out a map of an area, there's at least a very high likelihood that they're going to get into a combat there. To avoid this, I sometimes map areas where I don't expect them to get into a fight, and sometimes wait until the actual session to map ones where I do expect combat (which can slow things down -- I don't do this often).

In every D&D game I've run or played in, having the players map things out as they go -- while appropriate from the standpoint of versimilitude -- is a nightmare. IMO, it's always less fun overall than just having the DM do the mapping.

With really large areas, I either map them in small chunks -- taping new areas on as needed -- or map them all at once and cover up the parts they haven't seen. Both work pretty well.

As far as town and city maps go, I don't usually find them to be necessary. IMC, the party asked an NPC contact for a city map early on, so I drew one up to give them as an in-game prop. This city is also the current home base for the campaign, so it makes a lot of sense for them to have access to detailed info about it.
 

Raven Crowking

First Post
IMC, town maps (where appropriate) and large-scale regional maps are made available to players. Inside the dungeon (or for overland travel), I use description. We use a battlemat with the PC marching order, which is then sketched in if/when a fight occurs. If they don't map, and get lost, that's cool with me. Some of the PC maps, sketched from memory, are fun reminders of good times.

RC
 

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
Zulithe said:
Let's say your players are ready to delve into a dungeon. Do you give them the map you created, or maybe a cruder version (perhaps aquired from an NPC)? Do you put it on the table and try to cover up the areas they haven't yet explored? Do you get one of the players to "map" the areas as the party progresses (which has went pretty poorly for my players, sadly)
In Face-to-face games, I map it out for the players on a "battlemap" which is discarded/erased when they leave the area or space is needed. It's their job to keep a record of what they've seen. I do NOT redraw the map again. I have separate sheets of individual rooms if they are needed for a reoccuring battle in a room they've already been through.

Same thing goes for towns. Should they be given access to a town map (or map it themselves) assuming that it is a place of at least moderate importance to the plot?
I hand out a map to towns/cities. It should be noted that, depending on the size of the town/city, individual buildings are NOT noted. For example, a city would only have city blocks noted while a small town (20 or less buildings) would have every building mapped but not labeled. I do not label buildings, that's the players' job as they explore the town.

I guess I'm really just fishing for ideas ... how do maps fit into your campaign, do they play a major role in your sessions,
Maps are very important in my campaigns (despite it's kick-in-the-door, hack-slash, gather-the-treasure mentality) as it's a dynamic world and there is a chance the characters will revisit important places (cities/towns/citadels/castles/etc). Individual "dungeon" maps need not be kept/aren't that important as chance of revisiting them are slim to none.

would you encourage players to map out areas even if none of your players seem to be apt at doing so,
I would encourage it, but would not force it. I HATE it when I'm forced to do something I don't enjoy/am not good at, so I use that frame of mind with my players.

and if none are, then how can you make up for this weakness (rather it be theirs or my own inability to describe the information in an easily mapable form)?
I'd map it for them myself, but I wouldn't let them keep a copy unless they made it themselves (which is what I currently do).

For On-Line gaming, I use Kloogeworks, push-to-talk, etc., so that's a whole other thread/topic which I currently don't have time to go into... (I'm off to the movies in a few minutes!)
 


Jeremy757

First Post
Ive never understood everyones dependency on grids. You don't need them. Get a ruler and the game will work just fine with out them. This is how my group has been doing it since we have been together.

On that note go down to your local Hobby Lobby or hobby store and buy a couple sheets of dry erase poster board. It only costs about $2. You can draw all the maps on them you need your players to visualize and you can draw your combat maps on them too. They last a long time too.
 


caudor

Adventurer
Yeah, I know what you mean about feeling your way around with maps. I've grappled with the same thing. Over the years, I've tried numerous methods: computer-assisted, graph paper and pencil, and battle maps/minis.

After 3.0 hit, I finally settled on a battlemat with paper miniatures (i.e. counter collections series) since I run on a low budget. I draw sections of the dungeon on the battlemaps as the party progress through it. For complicated areas, I might prepare a scene on a paper grid in advance. Otherwise, I just wing it; things work out pretty good this way.

I also enjoy using commerical adventures that provide player handouts. (The Kalamar adventures get an honorable mention here). Such handouts/maps that are prepared for players really help me out as a DM.

In the end, you'll have to go with a method that works for you game and style of play. But...you may have to feel around for it before you find it.

Good luck.
 

ElvishBard

First Post
Computers rule

I use my laptop at the gaming table that has Interactive Dungeon (a great map program) that lets me run my map at a chosen starting place so the party can see the rooms and everything, and we all know what is where to elminate the confusion.
I don't have the site but if you want to download Interactive Dungeon just type it in google.
 

moticon

First Post
mapping?

We bought the Mondo-battle mat (8'x4') after using the small battle mat for several years. It serves the purpose of protecting the dining room table from the dice and Mini's, and it's nice to be able to draw large maps for the PC's as they move along.

We erase and redraw when we run out of room, and the PC's have to keep up with their own maps.

I found for my players and for myself it helps a great deal to see the layout, although now we're starting to get into flying encounters quite a bit and it's once again complex to visualize and measure distance, etc.

any ideas about that would be great!

Moticon
 

Raven Crowking

First Post
moticon said:
I found for my players and for myself it helps a great deal to see the layout, although now we're starting to get into flying encounters quite a bit and it's once again complex to visualize and measure distance, etc.

any ideas about that would be great!

Wizkids' MageKnight game came with clear plastic pieces that could either turn the bases of the figures or be used to represent altitude. Another (maybe simpler) possibility is to place pennies near the figures to represent height. Each penny represents one unit of altitude....Of course, if they really soar high, use dimes to represent 10 units, etc. Luckily for us in Canada, $1 and $2 are coins! :D

RC
 

Zulithe

Explorer
Thanks everyone, this advice has been invaluable. I think the best method for me would be to get one of these erasable mats everyone keeps going on and on about ^_^ Some of my players have bought the new plastic/pre-painted D&D minis so we are in no short supply of placeholders ... I'll keep all of the ideas in mind depending on what each individual situation may demand ... thanks again :p
 

DaveStebbins

First Post
I'll give my standard advice. No matter what type of battlemat you use (dry-erase, chalkboard, showerboard, etc.), if you have it on the table, make a mini-table support to raise it six to eight inches off the table. The battlemat is still easily accessible and prominent, and you've just opened up all that space underneath for books, paper, dice, and whatever else will fit. When my group first did this, it felt like we doubled the size of our playing surface.
 

Eltern

First Post
I take the maps, scan them in (or if they're PDFs, which they normally are, copy and paste) to Photoshop, and then use layering to add a layer of stone/dirt/trees/etc. over the different areas. This means that rooms they haven't seen just blend in with the "other stuff," not blackness. Project the map onto a screen from a laptop. Then, when a party enters a room, just click that room's layer to "don't see" and tada! you see the room.
Problems:
-Don't have photoshop, you're in trubs
-Takes some time, but you can read along with the adventure as you do it, prepping

Coolness:
-Don't want the party to know where they've been? Turn off the layers as they leave them!
-Want the party to know where they've been? Leave the rooms visible!
-Secret doors and similar objects look really nifty as they are uncovered in the middle of the room where before they had not been visible.
-Don't have to draw out every room, but when you do have combat you have the map there to sketch down on your battlemat.

Eltern
 

Neo

Explorer
Regional Maps I let them buy a map in town and then effectively allow them to use the main overland overview map that the setting provides (e.g. FRCG's map).

Town Maps if one exists I scan it and remove or add what I need them to know about usually significant land marks and points of reference such as the tavern they're staying at etc..

Dungeon Maps... well in days of old when there were only straight corridors and square rooms :D I made them map themselves based on description.. however now I provide a pad of graph paper and add what they can see on as they explore... leaving off all things they miss, do not discover or do not explore of course..

For combats we use a home made battlemat thin bit of wood with 1 inch squares marked on and then I think it was clingfilm (surround wrap) stretched over it. It is sturdy and clear and allows markers to be used on it and washed off easy enough for drawing on walls, doors, marking peoples positions at the end of a session etc... We use miniatures on the battlemat for combats.
 
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Jürgen Hubert

First Post
The following scheme has served us well:

We draw all our maps on 5mm square graph paper. To show the locations of all characters, we put the map on a flat piece of styrofoam (a cardboard box will do in a pinch) and stick small pins into the map. PCs get pins with individualized flags to show their facing (as do some of the bigger foes).

With this method, it's possible to use some very large maps that simply couldn't be done if you used a larger grid (like the inch mentioned above). And since it's easily possible to stick more than one pin into a single square, you can make maps that cover an even larger relative size...
 

Namfoddle

First Post
Usually I do my maps with programmes like CCPro2 und Dundjinni. Those programmes offer the possibility to hide information on the player-print out. So I give my players a regional map as soon as they enter a new region, however they have to find the secret places on that map themselves.

I also use town-maps. The players can buy them from NPCs, but usually those maps are given to the players without a legend. They have to find out themselves where the important buildings are (e.g. by asking other NPCs or by just wandering around).

In dungeons I let my players map themselves which can be very interesting, especially when using stuff like teleporters ;) For myself, however I also do those maps with Dundjinni or CCPro2. Since I bought Dundjinni I use the option to print out part of the map as battle-map with 5ft-grid and use them in battle (along with some cool miniatures) which has increased fun at the gaming table a lot!
 
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D+1

First Post
Dungeons are drawn out on a battlemat, generally only as encounters actually occur, but often simply to show players where they are going even when nothing is really happening. We also use Dwarven Forge pieces for creating 3d representations of most dungeons.

Villages - I just give them a map that covers the main buildings; what they can see. Towns, I give them a map but it's generally going to be unlabeled and I'll point out a few of the known highlights. ("This is the tavern you're in, this is the mayors house, these are temples, here's the mill...") Cities - depends on the city. Either they get a map like they would for a town along with a key since covering all the highlights one at a time would take too long, or they get a players map and have to fill in details as they explore. But some cities don't lend themselves to the latter approach.

Overland maps - I give them a players map if I have it. Or I show them a generalized judges map and point out major features of rivers, mountains, nations, roads - and then take that map away. If they WANT accuracy, they can map it for themselves or at least note to me that their character is mapping and ask that I keep that in mind when they ask later what they know about the terrain, etc.

Players don't need to re-draw everything I draw, but it often helps. Players don't need access to fiendish levels of detail that a DM does - but they'll take it if they can get it.

In any campaign, if it goes on long enough, I'll eventually just say, "Okay, you've explored enough, and learned enough about the world. Here's the map to the world." Then hand them the game map. But there's still going to be things about that map that I know and they don't. Things on it that are wrong, things NOT on it that nonetheless exist.
 

Buttercup

Princess of Florin
I usuall provide the players with town maps, but I don't label much, if anything.

For combat, I've purchased a 22"x28" tablet with a 1" grid. I use magic markers to draw the dungeon as they progress through it. This has been helpful as well on a few occasions when we had to stop while the players were camped. We can mark on the paper where everyone's counter is, and just pick up where we left off at our next session. The tablets are about 15 bucks for 50 sheets, so it seems like a reasonable value to me.
 

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