Handling maps in your game

Kichwas

First Post
Jeremy757 said:
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.
Grids just make it easier to do movement quickly.

I tried gridless once, and the player all took minutes to move, and nobody ever grabbed all the rulers I had lying around. One play would just grab his figure, drop it down anywhere and say "I go here". Every turn I had to point out that he still had a limit to how far he could go...

That was a few years ago and nearly all different players, but I have a grid and it works well enough and I don't need to hassle.

For mapping in general, vagueness works just fine. I have no need to know that it is exactly 321 feet, 9 and a half feet wide, 7 and 8 inches tall, and 32.3 degrees off of north with a downslope of 4.2 degrees along the corridor.

Northeast and long works fine enough.

"You walk for a while, then come to an intersection." With assorted description of what's important for the game - creatures, any odd runes, maybe the smell or moss or whatever it is the players seem focused on at that moment.

(In a real underground complex, the smell might be the most important feature - unless the gas is oderless... but in fantasy it probably only sets the mood.)

Overland, you can give a regional map, and if you want to geek out you can buy Fractal Mapper (see this image for why).

In cities, I like the method in Cityworks - map it out by blocks, listing the purpose of each square - merchant, working, middle, upper, docks, military, government, slums, and so on... You don't need exact streets unless you deal with a block that the PCs keep returning to over and over again.

Just give a mood description to an area - a city is best described by it's flavor - architecture and people - and not it's layout.
 

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CalicoDave

Explorer
For dungeon maps, or maps where combat might occur, I draw stuff out on an 8.5" x 11" engineering paper with 1/4" squares. One of these pages has exactly the same number of squares as the large chessex battlemat that we use. Therefore, I make each level of a dungeon fit on one of the engineering pages, and I don't have to erase or redraw until the PCs move to the next level.

arcady said:
In cities, I like the method in Cityworks - map it out by blocks, listing the purpose of each square - merchant, working, middle, upper, docks, military, government, slums, and so on... You don't need exact streets unless you deal with a block that the PCs keep returning to over and over again.

This is what I do for cities also. The player's really don't care exactly how the city is layed out, the just want to get to the places they need to go.


D.
 

Woas

First Post
Hey everyone.

I love maps, even though I don't use them nearly as much as I would like to. I really like those professional looking maps that come out of those computer programs like CCPro and Fractal Mapper. However, when you make maps on the computer, you are limited to 8x11 sized maps. I have been known to make 'world' maps for the campaign that are on 28 inch x 32 inch paper.

As far as other maps? I picked up some poster-board sized pieces of dry erase surface and use that as my battlemat. I slaved over it with an Industrial Strengthed Sharpie marker on the back making a grid. It works great. I try not to draw the map until the party is already in combat. Prior to this I use discription as much as possible. This is because if I drew the room they were fighting in (like, in a dungeon) then they would know that combat is on the way. For mapping the dungeon overall so the party knows where their going I use the every hand 'Line Map'. Its a very basic, abstract map that doesn't show any scale, but allows the players to know which direction they go. Basically hallways are lines and rooms are circles, no matter how long or big they are.
 

Sieobahn

First Post
I find getting the players to map out dungeons is too frustrating, so when DMing I generally do a rough map on graph paper. As the game progresses I usually end up with several maps on the front of the DM's screen held there with bulldog clips.

I have also scanned in maps and used image editing software to erase the areas they have not yet seen and modify any symbols or secret doors.
The players missed so many secret doors because they ignored the areas that had been edited well to concentrate on some other areas that didn't scan in so well!

For battles I use a whiteboard marked in 1 inch squares. To mark it I used a perforating took to score the lines, then drew over the cuts with a whiteboard marker to fill in the cuts with ink.
 

Janx

Hero
a note to Woas, most mapping software lets you do multi-page maps. You're not stuck with 8.5" x11" maps.

I've found that making the players map everything slows it down. I ran a game where the top 2 levels of the dungeon, the players had no map. The last 2 levels, I let them find a map, and it sped everything up. And the players had more fun.

Here's what I do:
I draw the DM map (or steal one) on the computer on a grid
I copy the map by hand onto normal paper (actually really old computer form feed paper, it's aged...) with no grid, and much less accuracy.
I use a battlemat or 3d Dungeons pieces, or other terrain for combats

I try to get the players the map early (ie. they find it, or buy it, whichever gets them into the dungeon realistically). The map acts as a prop, as well as a guide to where the players want to go. The map is usually wildly out of scale (much like most player drawn maps) and doesn't show hidden stuff.

This method works out pretty well.

Janx
 

Tom

First Post
Zulithe said:
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

One other alternative product I would recommend is Tact-Tiles at www.bc-products.net. I got a set a few months ago and they work great. They are 10"x10"x1/8" thick tiles with a 1" grid and DRY ERASE! The tiles interlock to form a solid playing/drawing surface. Dry-erase is great because you can erase without getting your hands stained.

Also, you can pre-draw a map before a game and reveal it one tile at a time. You can have a custom shape (like L shaped) surface so your space is used as efficiently as possible. When you reach the edge of the map, you pick up the tiles that are no longer in play and move them to where the party is going, leaving the remainder of the map incase of retreat. And because the tiles can be arranged in any manner, the party has a harder time figuring out where the bad guys are coming from. It really speeds up game play and makes the game more mysterious for the players (can't find that secret door just because it's the only place left on the map, you don't know where the map ends).


-Tom
 

Woas

First Post
printing maps on multiple pages is available, however I don't prefer it because then you have to tape all the sections together, and I don't really like that.

Having the party map where they are isn't hard. You just have to think abstract/shorthand. The line map I mentioned is very handy because of that. All it uses is lines and boxes for hallways and rooms.
For example, take a very simple dungeon design: The entrance is a 10x10 room with a hallway to the east that runs 50 feet to a 40x40 room. The hallway splits in the middle north and south. However the party decides to just go straight. The map would look something like:

[]---+---[]

And thats it. There isn't any need to scale the 10x10 room with the 40x40 room. If there is something special that you need to remember in a room or hallway like a trap or something, just put a star down and write a little note. It comes in handy and works pretty good.
 

Janx

Hero
The problem with describing the map to the players and having them map it is that they DO care about sizes and distances.

It's true that on a map where nothing loops back and reconnects (all clean forks) that distances don't matter much. However, when the map is complicated, with hallways connecting back to other rooms and branches the party passed, the players want to know if it's a new area, or if they're back where they were before. Some areas DO look the same, so they're bound to make that mistake.

Another alternative to giving the PCs the full map, is for th DM to draw the map as the players go. Basically, put out a blank sheet, and draw in what the players see/know. It doesn't have to be pretty, it just ahs to show the players where they are. The sticks and hoops/lines and boxes method works fine here. The players will use a small token to show where the party is on the map. The DM just draws the next room/bend/fork as the party would encounter it. This is pretty quick, though it requires the DM to keep updating the map, but it ensures the players get what the DM is describing. For "realism" the DM could provide more detail/accuracy on his drawing based on the skill of the PC who is "doing" the mapping.

Another method is to print 2 copies of the maps. One for the DM (with the secrets showing), another for the players (secrets hidden). Then take some scissors and cut the map up, for each segment the players can see. The DM can layout the new segment (room/hallway segment) and the players can tape it to the previous segments.

Janx
 

Janx

Hero
2 other ideas just came to me, that fit well in the Fantasy RPG solution:

A) The Harry Potter's Map solution:
Make an magic item that the PCs acquire that is a blank map. Say the magic word and a map is revealed that shows the current area (aka dungeon level).

B)Low Level Cartography spell
Write a spell (and get it into the PCs hands) that is low level. Basically a divination spell that sends out some magical eyeball that scours the area and draws a map of the current floor on a parchment.

Janx
 

RFisher

Explorer
Zulithe said:
Do you give them the map you created, or maybe a cruder version (perhaps aquired from an NPC)?

I do not give the players a map of a dungeon unless the characters have managed to acquire one, which rarely happens. Maps characters find will often be incomplete, incorrect, and/or crude.

Zulithe said:
Do you put it on the table and try to cover up the areas they haven't yet explored?

No. Although I have been known to use a battlemat for combat on occasion, so I might draw out bits of it.

Zulithe said:
Do you get one of the players to "map" the areas as the party progresses (which has went pretty poorly for my players, sadly)

Whether the players map or not is completely up to them. If the players insist on making a detailed map, it will take their characters an appropriate amount of time.

When I'm playing, I generally make very crude maps. Lines for hallways, boxes for rooms, that sort of thing. Distances aren't usually terribly important. The point is only to try to keep track of where we've been & how to get out.

Zulithe said:
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 would give out a town map, although it again would generally only be as accurate & detailed as the characters could obtain. I generally assume that maps (especially of towns) are not very common, but an inhabitant could sketch out something rough just like I could sketch out a rough map of my town.

And sometimes I do sketch out maps of game towns roughly on a player's request. I may not have a map of the place at all until then.

I've only had players request a regional map. For towns geography seldom matters & for dungeons they've been happy with descriptions.
 

Aaron2

Explorer
Zulithe said:
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)?

For dungeons, I bought a large pad of 1" gridded paper at an office supply store. The paper is for presentations and each sheet is about three feet by four feet. I draw the map out on the paper and cut the individual rooms apart. That way I kinda have a puzzle that I reconstruct as the players move about. The main advantage of doing it this way is that I can take the time (non-game time) to carefully draw the floorplan, often coloring the various areas and drawing in interesting bits like floor pattern, rocks and furniture. I can also label things. I found that when I used a battlemat that tmy rooms were dull and uninteresting. Plus, I often design the dungeon as I draw it out in full scale so I don't even need to keep a map for myself. The game map is my map.

Here's something similar. It may look expensive but one pad lasted for a 2 year/once a week campaign.

http://www.officedepot.com/ddSKU.do?level=SK&id=160333&location_info=_SK_160333


For larger scale overland maps, I draw them out on this printer paper that has a parchment pattern.


Aaron
 
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Arnwyn

First Post
For indoor or "close-up" maps, we use a battlemat and delete the sections after the characters pass through.

Any large scale maps (everything from towns to wilderness) are up to the players to come up with on their own, based on the DM's descriptions and the players' questions.
 

Ourph

First Post
Zulithe said:
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 general, I encourage the players to draw their own map. Once you get used to describing the dungeon in "map terms" and the players get used to drawing what you're saying it goes fairly quickly. I will also help them draw particularly confusing rooms if they would be difficult to describe verbally.

That said, the players will make mistakes, which is really part of the fun. Sometimes drawing a good map becomes just as much a goal as finding the treasure or defeating the monsters. When the player's map leads them astray, that's just another opportunity for adventure.

Zulithe said:
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)?

Players who make the attempt will get better with practice. I don't tell the players they HAVE to draw maps, and I certainly don't require they draw EXACT maps; however, players who don't draw maps or aren't careful with their depiction of the dungeon sometimes run into trouble because of it and that's just the way it goes IMC.
 

Dundjinni - a mapping program to consider

Depending on your budget, you might consider the mapping program that we produce, Dundjinni.

It allows you to create maps larger than 8x11 inches, since it can tile the output (so you can then cut off hte borders and tape the pieces together to create a large battle map). It also lets you hide traps, secret doors, etc on the battle map but print them on the 1/4 inch grid reference map that you, as GM, use.

You can check out a free demo at www.dundjinni.com. And while you're there, check out some of the user maps and artwork posted in our forums.
 

gravyboat

Explorer

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Li Shenron

Legend
Our DM normally draws the map in real time on paper or whiteboard when exploring a dungeon, in larger scale when we need it for combat, although we do not always need it.
About half of the times when it's up to me to DM, I use a different method: I prepare some maps beforehand, each "room" on a different paper, so that the players are shown only the room they are currently in (this was important in a few adventures when getting lost in the dungeon was part of the fun :) ).

We never used the old idea of a player (and his character) drawing the map during exploration, because we always thought it was generally unlikely.
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

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