How To Teach New DMs (Dungeon crawling, etc.)

aramis erak

Legend
I'm not sure these were the best instructions.
They were better than no directions.
I'll note that my preferred mapping modes were developed from Moldvay-Cook D&D, then 2.5 years later, by Traveller... but Traveller at that time barely included mapping symbology, specifically for the subsector maps.
I recall some terrible dungeons where the oft talked about orc in a 10ft room guarding a chest is from. There is also the dungeons where orcs live down from the trolls and the dragon is just below them as well. Oh, we will just say that it was a mad wizard who constructed the place and charmed all the monsters to be there. Blah.
TSR was providing advice in Dragon, especially with the "Ecology of the ___" articles, but some of Gygax's dungeons make less sense than an LSD-fueled retranslation of the Nabokov translation of Alice in Wonderland back to English... (Roommates...)
I thought we have had several good threats on dungeons in the past. I seem to recall some stuff on Jayquaying the map and 5-room dungeons.
Jennel Jacquays (as Paul so you can find it via used bookstores) did do probably the single-most useful book on dungeons. I wish she'd get it back via the CRA and get it up on DTRPG, My dead tree is getting fragile. (The Character books were less useful, but still useful occasionally - They look to have been around a core rule system similar to WEG D6)
 

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aramis erak

Legend
My key tools, inspired by Jennel's Central Casting: Dungeons, are
  • 5 questions...
    • Who built this site?
    • What did they intend it to be used for?
    • Who is in it now?
    • what are they using it for?
    • Whats the Geology/Geography of the site.
  • Standard Symbol sets for drawing setting maps
    • I tend towards the D&D BX symbols out of habit for overland, and using hexographer for D&D mapping.
    • I tend to use the following, which is derived from several sources.
      • Doors are red, as are swing arcs.
      • Walls are black.
      • downward hatches drawn to shape, upward use dashed-lines. Black, red, or grey, depending upon mood.
      • Stairs have an overlain arrow pointing in the upward direction. If space and time permit, I also narrow the low end's width, and hit full width at the top.
    • I occasionally do the dungeon in Google Sketchup (not the trimble versions), as a three-d structure, then take section planes as maps, both orthogonal, 45° rotation isometric and/or perspective.
    • I usually do ships in sketchup.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
My key tools, inspired by Jennel's Central Casting: Dungeons, are
  • 5 questions...
    • Who built this site?
    • What did they intend it to be used for?
    • Who is in it now?
    • what are they using it for?
    • Whats the Geology/Geography of the site.
I'd add a sixth one, as it's often very relevant: What have the current occupants and-or any other intervening occupants done to the place since it was built? I just got done putting together a dungeon that's old enough it really didn't matter what it was originally built for, as the subsequent occupants (most notably, the current one) have made so many changes to it that the only relevant things remaining from the original are a couple of forgotten chambers and the very distinctive exterior.
  • Standard Symbol sets for drawing setting maps
    • I tend towards the D&D BX symbols out of habit for overland, and using hexographer for D&D mapping.
    • I tend to use the following, which is derived from several sources.
      • Doors are red, as are swing arcs.
I use brown for doors and a red line to show it in the partly-open position (unless it's not on conventional hinges e.g. a sliding door, in which case the red line just parallels the door). For outdoors maps I've always used squares, as six-way hexes don't play nice with eight cardinal compass points and I do all my narration by compass. :)
  • Walls are black.
  • downward hatches drawn to shape, upward use dashed-lines. Black, red, or grey, depending upon mood.
I usually put a 'T' on trap doors or hatches in the floor to remind me what it is. I also sometimes use brown instead of black to indicate wooden balconies and the like.
  • Stairs have an overlain arrow pointing in the upward direction. If space and time permit, I also narrow the low end's width, and hit full width at the top.
I also do the narrow-to-wide, and if it still seems unclear I put "up" and "down" text at each end (or, if it'll fit, "Up to [area xx]" or "Down to [area xx"]". Spiral stairs are the worst for trying to show which way goes up/down.
  • I occasionally do the dungeon in Google Sketchup (not the trimble versions), as a three-d structure, then take section planes as maps, both orthogonal, 45° rotation isometric and/or perspective.
Sorry, but having run a few published dungeons where isometric maps were all they gave, they'rre hideous to use!

One other tip for mapping that often gets overlooked: unless all the floors are dead level, show elevation differences somehow. Doesn't have to be as fancy (or as messy) as full contour lines, but a simple 0' or +4' or -12' here and there, relative to an obvious peg point such as the floor level in room 1, can really help in caverns and other non-level terrain...or when otherwise smooth floors are on a slope. This can also sometimes be useful for showing the elevation difference between the top and bottom of stairs or shafts or banks.
 

Good point about in medias res, but our hypothetical new GM will still need to run the actual hexcrawl at some point. He needs to know that hexcrawls have action measured in hours or days, not minutes; someone needs to tell him what to do when players say "I go north". How far north? Where do I stop? What do I need to remember to make sure they know?

It's not too different from Dungeon Crawl procedure in the OP, but things like determining how far you can see ahead are more important. I'll see if I can write up directions, maybe.

Indeed. And in fact when I was first learning that was something that really bugged the heck out of me with hex crawl guidelines is that they seemed very cagey about actually laying out the procedure in a clear and concise way.

Even the Alexandrian, as good a resource as his entire site is, takes some reading to really grok it.
 

Alby87

Adventurer
I've started playing D&D in 2020, and mastering some months later. I found that both the starter set and books were lacking in advices on how to run the game. And this is to tell a lot, saying that a complessive 900 pages (PHB+DMG+MM) or the Starter Set, made to teach new players how to play, are missing rules on how to play.

Sure, we are in multimedia era, where a lot of videos exists. But a game that was sold in bookstores in 80s could not have a book to teach you to play?

Tried reading some retroclones... OSE tells you "Don't know how to play an RPG? Search on Internet".

Then, a friend of mine showed the Red Box. Wow. How is difficulty to make a couple of booklet like those in our days? First a simple tutorial on how to play, then some the rules to create and play characters, then another small tutorial on mechanics. Then, the DM booklet, plenty of procedures: exploration, encounter, combat. Then, a first complete dungeon to teach how to dm those, then an incomplete one to teach to stock one. And no need to put QR codes to videos because information is missing in the printed booklet.

D&D starts again from the Red Box. I think the 2024 revision of the game should have a truly starter set (first 4 levels, player and DM tutorials, small adventure, dungeon making informations), then classic PHB-DMG-MM with all content dedicated to people which can already play thanks to the starter set.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I'd add a sixth one, as it's often very relevant: What have the current occupants and-or any other intervening occupants done to the place since it was built?
To me, that's part of "what are they using it for?"
I also do the narrow-to-wide, and if it still seems unclear I put "up" and "down" text at each end (or, if it'll fit, "Up to [area xx]" or "Down to [area xx"]". Spiral stairs are the worst for trying to show which way goes up/down.
For me, I've not found that to be an issue... I put all the radial lines for steps aligned to the inside-the-curve wall/column/edge, instead of centered as I would for straight descents.

  • I occasionally do the dungeon in Google Sketchup (not the trimble versions), as a three-d structure, then take section planes as maps, both orthogonal, 45° rotation isometric and/or perspective..

Sorry, but having run a few published dungeons where isometric maps were all they gave, they'rre hideous to use!
perhaps you missed that I use 2 of three options, and didn't state clearly that I don't use solely orthogonal. (in fact, I think I pissed off Mongoose by complaining about their isometric-only plans in MgT2.0)

I use 2 of these 3 often:
  • orthoganal - along the grain front-back and left right, not diagonal. (in other words, normal plan view.)
  • 45° isometric : no perspective, when done with a section plane, trims everything above that out of the image. AFAIK, introduced to D&D/AD&D in the original Ravenloft module.
  • Pespective. Distances reduce in plane of view by distance back; when I do this, the view is usually set on a 2m focal height but a <1m wall height.
Many of the dungeons I create are hard to make sense of without isometric and/or perspective views, but I always make standard orthogonal top-down views via section planes.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I usually get players to 'map' using a flowchart rather than specifically sized rooms. I spent many hours happily doing the opposite in my youth but I find that the time spent at table isn't given back in utility. To each his own though.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I usually get players to 'map' using a flowchart rather than specifically sized rooms. I spent many hours happily doing the opposite in my youth but I find that the time spent at table isn't given back in utility. To each his own though.
Yuuuuup...

How to GM? Get the PCs to help... (mapper, treasurer, leader, chronicler)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To me, that's part of "what are they using it for?"
True, but I also want to account for what's happened to the place between the time the original builders left and the current occupants moved in. I mean, the place could have had half a dozen different sets of occupants over the centuries, each making their own changes and additions and subtractions... :)
perhaps you missed that I use 2 of three options, and didn't state clearly that I don't use solely orthogonal. (in fact, I think I pissed off Mongoose by complaining about their isometric-only plans in MgT2.0)

I use 2 of these 3 often:
  • orthoganal - along the grain front-back and left right, not diagonal. (in other words, normal plan view.)
  • 45° isometric : no perspective, when done with a section plane, trims everything above that out of the image. AFAIK, introduced to D&D/AD&D in the original Ravenloft module.
Not sure if it came before or after Ravenloft, but I think it's X13 Crown of Ancient Glory (if I'm remembering right) that turned me off isometric mapping forever.

A plan view with elevation markers will more than do. If it gets to the point where things overlap vertically, it's time to split that map into two levels.
  • Pespective. Distances reduce in plane of view by distance back; when I do this, the view is usually set on a 2m focal height but a <1m wall height.
Which risks hiding important features behind a wall, doesn't it? For example, if the map's view is looking north and there's a feature on the floor along the south wall of a room, the map won't be able to show it.
Many of the dungeons I create are hard to make sense of without isometric and/or perspective views, but I always make standard orthogonal top-down views via section planes.
You're willing to do more work than I, then, if you're making two maps of the same areas. :)

The one thing I will sometimes do is include a basic side view when it's not clear how things relate vertically.
 

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