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Dungeon Mapping


Gamer Talk


How does your group like to do it?

Do you draw the dungeon before game night? Or do you draw-as-you-explore? Does your GM draw the whole map out and lay it out, relying on the players to ignore the details? Or do you draw each section and lay them out as you go along?

Do you use map tiles? Do you worry about the map tiles not matching the environment?

I'm just curious. And a little bored.

- jack


3 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I mostly use maps provided in the adventures and reveal as they advance.*
Sometimes I make them myself in CC3.
If you need a dungeon map quickly then I recommend this.

* Using the VTT Fantasy Grounds, now fully working with PF.**
** Currently in Test Mode.


Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Somewhere online I found a site that would generate a pdf given the size of the squares and the style (corner dots only, corner crosses only, fully lined squares, etc.). I would print as many as I thought I'd need. Since the module I was running came as a PDF, in some cases I was able to cut and paste from the module, scale as needed, and blank out things the players don't know (like the location of secret doors). In other cases, I just drew right on them. I'd lay 'em down like tiles, sometimes sticking them together with clear tape.


Jack Thorn wrote:

How does your group like to do it?

Do you draw the dungeon before game night? Or do you draw-as-you-explore? Does your GM draw the whole map out and lay it out, relying on the players to ignore the details? Or do you draw each section and lay them out as you go along?

Do you use map tiles? Do you worry about the map tiles not matching the environment?

I'm just curious. And a little bored.

- jack

I own a number of poster maps collected from purchased adventures, an assortment of D&D dungeon tiles, a few sets of map packs (graveyard, shops, and wizard towers being most used), the forest flipmat, and two different sized Chessex battle mats...

What I use depends on where the encounter takes place - if I can just use a map card, poster map, the flipmat or tiles to make something very close to what I want (no angled walls or strikingly unique features or wide rivers) then I do.

If not I draw it out on the battle map.

From time to time, especially now that I have a new computer and wonderful wacom tablet, I find myself making maps digitally and then using MapTool to display high quality graphics on a television - My group tends to love it because every map always looks "just right," as if we had a poster map for every encounter... and because they can see the monster art on the screen instead of having to remember that the Ogre mini sitting on the table is actually an enlarged hobgoblin, etc.

I should also mention that there are a large number of circumstances - such as when I expect a 1 or 2 round brutal slap down - that I don't even bother with a map of the area


The groups I've played in (including when I DM) primarily draw as you explore, but we have used tiles when we had them.


I generally draw out large sections of the dungeon before we begin playing. I then cover it up with various Dm screens and books and reveal what I've covered up the players get there.


One trick I learned that works BEAUTIFULLY is this: First, get as many transparencies as you can. (The easiest/cheapest solution for this is to take clear plastic sheet covers, and cut them apart so you've got two per cover.) Then, before the session, draw out each individual room on each transparency by placing it down on the battlemat and tracing the room, using the visible squares as guides. Once you've done that for each room, only place down the room that the PCs are in. (Maybe change the orientation from time to time.) That way, the players can only see the parts of the map that they're currently in, and it can keep the PCs from easily remembering exactly where they've been (if their characters aren't drawing a map, they shouldn't necessarily know that the room they just entered connects to the hallway they passed by earlier).

One thing that has always bugged me (or, rather, confused the heck out of me) is how adventure designers think that mazes can somehow work in D&D. The biggest transgressor, in my opinion, is whoever wrote the second adventure of the Age of Worms adventure path- one third of the adventure is a giant maze, which is supposed to be filled with enemies that use hidden passages and whatnot. But I have NEVER understood how you can make a maze work in D&D. Either you're drawing the map out right there in front of the players (and it ceases to be a confusing maze), or you're describing each and every turn/intersection/straightaway, which would be just as confusing for the DM as for the players (if not moreso), and would be a nightmare to actually try to run through. Yet more than one published adventure that I've seen involves a maze. Can someone tell me how these are supposed to be run, without frustrating every single player at the table to the point of quitting?

Osirion

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Rely on one of your players to charge off and get separated, get a few glasses of wine, go for a smoke break, then rotate his part of the map while he's out of the room?


UltimaGabe wrote:
One thing that has always bugged me (or, rather, confused the heck out of me) is how adventure designers think that mazes can somehow work in D&D.

Here's how I manage, in a few simple steps:

1) Print or draw a black & white line copy of a map to the maze. Keep it behind your GM screen.

2) Describe to the players the general appearance of the maze passages so that you will only have to mention any special features encountered later.

3) Tell the players what directions passages lead, allow them to chose just on direction - or ask you for more info about what they see further down. This makes it so you aren't speaking more than needed.

4) Mark the path they take on your map with colored pencil (so you can track different characters in different colors should the fools split up).

Using this method I have successfully run dozens and dozens of mazes, and the only players, in my experience, to ever get frustrated are the ones that will get frustrated by anything other than straight-forward linear path slaughter fests.

Alternate method: draw map to maze in map tool and set vision blocking lines for all the walls, activate fog of war, insert token representing player with appropriate vision distance - and viola, the screen only shows where the players have already been.


MapTool with images taken directly from the PDF.

Even if we're playing in person. Then I bust out the projector, a mirror, and a glass tabletop.

Spoiler:
You don't know what you're missing.


Evil Lincoln wrote:

MapTool with images taken directly from the PDF.

Even if we're playing in person. Then I bust out the projector, a mirror, and a glass tabletop.

** spoiler omitted **

And for those, like myself, that do not have a projector: Hook your computer up to a TV and run MapTool that way - of course, that requires one to have a TV with appropriate connections for a computer... which nearly all HDTVs I have ever seen have, especially when one considers the existence of DVI to HDMI adapters.


thenobledrake wrote:
Evil Lincoln wrote:

MapTool with images taken directly from the PDF.

Even if we're playing in person. Then I bust out the projector, a mirror, and a glass tabletop.

** spoiler omitted **

And for those, like myself, that do not have a projector: Hook your computer up to a TV and run MapTool that way - of course, that requires one to have a TV with appropriate connections for a computer... which nearly all HDTVs I have ever seen have, especially when one considers the existence of DVI to HDMI adapters.

Yeah, but then you can't use miniatures. :)

No actually, the TV works just fine for a quick setup.Plus having it on a vertical surface makes it really easy for people to track what's going on if you have more beer-n-pretzels players who don't always lean in over the battlemat.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Has anyone tried simply building an HDTV into a tabletop? (And no I'm not talking about that Microsoft table.) I'm guessing you'd want to cover the screen in something to protect it from the base of the minis and spilled drinks. Any experience with this?


Laithoron wrote:
Has anyone tried simply building an HDTV into a tabletop? (And no I'm not talking about that Microsoft table.) I'm guessing you'd want to cover the screen in something to protect it from the base of the minis and spilled drinks. Any experience with this?

This is how my current GM runs her campaign. A little bit of felt on the bottom of the minis works great, but we eventually switched to all digital minis.

Even flat TVs are thick enough that spilled drinks isn't a big issue, with the 'play surface' being raised a few inches off the table.

//edit - I missed the part about actually building it into the table top. Yes you would probably want a surface protector for that.


organized wrote:
Laithoron wrote:
Has anyone tried simply building an HDTV into a tabletop? (And no I'm not talking about that Microsoft table.) I'm guessing you'd want to cover the screen in something to protect it from the base of the minis and spilled drinks. Any experience with this?

This is how my current GM runs her campaign. A little bit of felt on the bottom of the minis works great, but we eventually switched to all digital minis.

Even flat TVs are thick enough that spilled drinks isn't a big issue, with the 'play surface' being raised a few inches off the table.

//edit - I missed the part about actually building it into the table top. Yes you would probably want a surface protector for that.

I have a plan for one such table - it involves placing the TV screen surface a few inches beneath the wooden edges of the table, and then putting a clear acryllic or plexiglass surface over that and sealing it into the table in a water-proof fashion to protect the TV from beverages gone rogue.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Thanks for the replies, both. Felt on the feet of the minis seems like a simple solution, but my players are always knocking minis over...

Drake, do you foresee any problems with it being difficult to see what square a character is in if the TV is too far below the level of the table-top? I'm wondering if there would be much parallax when viewed at an angle by players who are still seated.

I'd be interested to see a side-by-side comparison at some point.


Of course if you are going through the trouble to build a custom in laid screen you might as well go all they way and include built in drink holders and dice trays.


Jack Thorn wrote:

How does your group like to do it?

Do you draw the dungeon before game night? Or do you draw-as-you-explore? Does your GM draw the whole map out and lay it out, relying on the players to ignore the details? Or do you draw each section and lay them out as you go along?

Do you use map tiles? Do you worry about the map tiles not matching the environment?

I'm just curious. And a little bored.

In person we use Dwarven Forge and over the net I send my group a pre-drawn map with letters one side and numbers on the top. That way, they can draw the map out on their battle map and use minis. The pre-drawn map is emailed to the group ahead of time. But, the rooms appear empty and have no details to them.


If I had an HDTV, I'd totally hook up my computer to it and use the maps I make in Campaign Cartographer 3. That would be awesome--especially since you can link maps together, so click from overland map to the city you're in to the map of the tavern they enter, etc.

Normally though I just describe the area, maybe draw a mini map on the battle grid, and then only draw out a whole map (or use a flip mat or map card) for combat. Sometimes I provide a handout (the nice thing about mapping in CC3 is I can put details on a GM Only layer, and then hide that layer and export the map to a printable file as a player handout).

It'd be cool if players drew their own maps and if someone volunteered to, I wouldn't stop them, but at the same time it's often time consuming and usually isn't necessary unless they are in combat or dealing with a very specific environment related puzzle (in which case I'd definitely just provide the map).

Grand Lodge

Laithoron wrote:
Has anyone tried simply building an HDTV into a tabletop? (And no I'm not talking about that Microsoft table.) I'm guessing you'd want to cover the screen in something to protect it from the base of the minis and spilled drinks. Any experience with this?

I have a portable version of this. 32" widescreen TV layed flat sunk into the surface of a rolling table. Plexiglass over the screen to keep it from being scuffed. Players love it, I love it and random people that stop in at the FLGS where we play PFS usually take pictures. I can hook it up to either a netbook or laptop (both have their pros/cons).

Laithoron wrote:
Drake, do you foresee any problems with it being difficult to see what square a character is in if the TV is too far below the level of the table-top? I'm wondering if there would be much parallax when viewed at an angle by players who are still seated.

The first version had a case built around the TV with about a 2" gap between the screen and plexiglass. Unless you stood up and looked straight down you could not tell where on the map your characters are. This was solved by removing the case and laying the plexiglass on the screen its self.


Fumihasa wrote:


Laithoron wrote:
Drake, do you foresee any problems with it being difficult to see what square a character is in if the TV is too far below the level of the table-top? I'm wondering if there would be much parallax when viewed at an angle by players who are still seated.
The first version had a case built around the TV with about a 2" gap between the screen and plexiglass. Unless you stood up and looked straight down you could not tell where on the map your characters are. This was solved by removing the case and laying the plexiglass on the screen its self.

It seems Fumihasa has confirmed what I believed could be a problem in my initial brainstorming phase, and confirmed that the solution I proposed to myself works.

I had also considered taking the expense of applying the same sort of coating you can get on your eye glasses these days to the protective surface over the TV - the glare and reflection reducing coatings. They make it so I can barely even tell that my glasses have lenses in them unless their is dirt or smudges on the lenses... not sure if the expense would be warranted though, as I'm not sure there would be enough glare to actually be concerned about.

Sadly, my plan for this "ultimate gaming table" is still a number of years away from coming to fruition.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Fumihasa wrote:
Laithoron wrote:
Has anyone tried simply building an HDTV into a tabletop? (And no I'm not talking about that Microsoft table.) I'm guessing you'd want to cover the screen in something to protect it from the base of the minis and spilled drinks. Any experience with this?
I have a portable version of this. 32" widescreen TV layed flat sunk into the surface of a rolling table. Plexiglass over the screen to keep it from being scuffed. Players love it, I love it and random people that stop in at the FLGS where we play PFS usually take pictures. I can hook it up to either a netbook or laptop (both have their pros/cons).

I've considered doing this, but I lack the tools or skills to build a table. Did you build your own table, or modify one? Do you have pics you could share of the finished product?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
thenobledrake wrote:
It seems Fumihasa has confirmed what I believed could be a problem in my initial brainstorming phase, and confirmed that the solution I proposed to myself works.

Yes, glad to hear that the solution was that simple. Thanks for the feedback Fumihasa. Now to figure out where to come up with the gp for a TV big enough to duplicate a Flip-Mat. By my calculations, the smallest 16:9 TV that could do it would be one with a 49" diagonal... @_@


I use a digital gaming table and create my maps in different tools like "Dundjinni" or "Maptools" or even "Gimp." I do my best to use Maptools for most dungeons or buildings so that I can have light cones revealing areas of the map in real-time.

Mazes work OK with Maptools. But it's best if the maze is large enough that you can't see the whole thing at a glance, so that the players have to actually remember or mark paths.

I also use 3D terrain elements and try to incorporate them into the digital maps so that when the party reaches a spot with a 3D element, I can place the 3D object or objects on the table where they belong.

In some cases I use blank white board gridded pages which I draw on-the-fly maps on. That's mostly used for random encounters or areas where the party has ventured into areas I haven't yet mapped on the PC.


Fumihasa wrote:
Laithoron wrote:
Has anyone tried simply building an HDTV into a tabletop? (And no I'm not talking about that Microsoft table.) I'm guessing you'd want to cover the screen in something to protect it from the base of the minis and spilled drinks. Any experience with this?

I have a portable version of this. 32" widescreen TV layed flat sunk into the surface of a rolling table. Plexiglass over the screen to keep it from being scuffed. Players love it, I love it and random people that stop in at the FLGS where we play PFS usually take pictures. I can hook it up to either a netbook or laptop (both have their pros/cons).

Laithoron wrote:
Drake, do you foresee any problems with it being difficult to see what square a character is in if the TV is too far below the level of the table-top? I'm wondering if there would be much parallax when viewed at an angle by players who are still seated.
The first version had a case built around the TV with about a 2" gap between the screen and plexiglass. Unless you stood up and looked straight down you could not tell where on the map your characters are. This was solved by removing the case and laying the plexiglass on the screen its self.

I have been considering this to replace my current projector-based table. But I've been concerned about the potential fragility of the HDTV and the chance of spilled drinks or dropped huge metal dragons breaking the screen.

I just can't make myself pull the trigger. If someone were to drop an anvil on my table, it might break the plexiglas and the mirror, but it would not break the expensive projector....

Grand Lodge

fanguad wrote:
I've considered doing this, but I lack the tools or skills to build a table. Did you build your own table, or modify one? Do you have pics you could share of the finished product?

I posted somewhere else under fizzle sticks the link to the original (EGT Mk 1) table but here is the link. My dad is a fabricator and knows just about every tradesmen in this town (which isn't hard since its a mile square) so I pretty much bought a case of beer and a couple of the guys come over and it was done in a couple of hours with materials laying around. Can't quote a price sorry. If I had to make it myself... yeah I would still be recutting the wood a 100th time lol. Other alterations that I have made/will be making is shelving under the TV and adding a collapsible shelf on the side to place my netbook/laptop. We use a 4' table butted up the long way against one side that the players sit at so everyone can still see whats going on. Once the the EGT Mk 3 is done I'll post new pictures.


thenobledrake wrote:
UltimaGabe wrote:
One thing that has always bugged me (or, rather, confused the heck out of me) is how adventure designers think that mazes can somehow work in D&D.

Here's how I manage, in a few simple steps:

1) Print or draw a black & white line copy of a map to the maze. Keep it behind your GM screen.

2) Describe to the players the general appearance of the maze passages so that you will only have to mention any special features encountered later.

3) Tell the players what directions passages lead, allow them to chose just on direction - or ask you for more info about what they see further down. This makes it so you aren't speaking more than needed.

4) Mark the path they take on your map with colored pencil (so you can track different characters in different colors should the fools split up).

Using this method I have successfully run dozens and dozens of mazes, and the only players, in my experience, to ever get frustrated are the ones that will get frustrated by anything other than straight-forward linear path slaughter fests.

Alternate method: draw map to maze in map tool and set vision blocking lines for all the walls, activate fog of war, insert token representing player with appropriate vision distance - and viola, the screen only shows where the players have already been.

How did the players map where they were going? Wander blindly, rely on your map or draw their own? If the latter, do you give distances & dimensions.

We use the old fashioned, GM gives brief description; one PC (i am the mapper in our group) then draws it on paper (badly). Of course he rarely gives dimensions throughout the dungeon so 'our' maps are unique.

This means i absolutely hate caves, especially since our light source is never large enough, or there are too many nooks and shadows. So we always end up being ambushed as we follow the wall around.

Mazes are worse (but rarer), especially when we played the AoW & the walls in the maze kept moving or the GM put in teleport traps. :(


Jack Thorn wrote:

How does your group like to do it?

Do you draw the dungeon before game night? Or do you draw-as-you-explore? Does your GM draw the whole map out and lay it out, relying on the players to ignore the details? Or do you draw each section and lay them out as you go along?

Do you use map tiles? Do you worry about the map tiles not matching the environment?

I'm just curious. And a little bored.

- jack

Hi Jack and Netizens,

I used to do most of the maps using a dry erase battlemat.

That worked well with RPGs where the emphasis was on descriptions and verbal interactions.

My current group is using 4th Ed. D&D where the layout of the grid and the details on various kinds of hazards and terrain need to have visual clues to be fair to the players. (Hate or love it; it is what it is.)

Several years ago, I picked up a copy of Campaign Cartographer at ORIGINS with a bevy of add-ons. I found that putting together maps in CC took awhile, and the ones that I did hand cartography, calligraphy, and illumination resulted in more positive feedback from the players. (If you were going to take 4-5 hours to do a really nice map then you might as well go with the one that turns the players' heads.)

Now I do all of my maps in Campaign Cartographer, and the gaming group is absolutely delighted.

The current maps take me less than two hours to develop (less on pretty and more on scale and tactical completeness), and I know that the grids, terrain, etc. is going to work in the context of the 4e rules.

It is more important that everything is depicted to scale and that the squares match up than that it is "pretty."

(Of course, CC can do **both**, but you have to invest the time.)

Check out some of the current campaigns battlemaps at Bold Beginning Maps.

In service,

Rich
Zhalindor.com


DSXMachina wrote:
How did the players map where they were going? Wander blindly, rely on your map or draw their own? If the latter, do you give distances & dimensions.

Unless a character were actually drawing the map, I have never had a player draw a map.

Typically they chalk walls, lay string, or other sorts of path tracking in character so that the characters being in a maze doesn't end up boiling down to a long session of "wait... did you say there were two paths we could see that branch left, and three that branch right?" over and over again.

DSXMachina wrote:
We use the old fashioned, GM gives brief description; one PC (i am the mapper in our group) then draws it on paper (badly). Of course he rarely gives dimensions throughout the dungeon so 'our' maps are unique.

The only time I have ever had a player map - voluntarily or otherwise - was when I was playing HackMaster Basic and it was a skill in the game determining what tools the player could use and another skill determining how accurately they knew the dimensions of a space without stopping to measure.

I tend to allow exploration of a dungeon/cave/maze/or whatever be as abstract as possible - my dungeon maps consist of free floating rooms with any exit labeled with where the passages found beyond eventually lead and how long it takes to walk there - because I have noticed that not many of my players appreciate the minutia of dungeon construction. I almost make a point of making the players feel like, while their character is exploring, they are reading the paragraph or two you would find in a novel that simply sets the scene for the action about to occur.


The GM draws as we explore. While drawing, the GM answers questions from the players about the area - this helps everyone understand where we are, what to expect, etc, with no one being bored while the GM draws (i.e. efficient use of everyone's time).

We have a (very) large gridded dry-erase board on our tabletop, so it's drawn and used right in front of everyone.

We never ever use map tiles, and purposely steer as far away from them as we can.


Arnwyn wrote:
We never ever use map tiles, and purposely steer as far away from them as we can.

Right-o!

I was certainly in your camp for 35 years of role-playing.

My parties and I happily used dry erase and wet erase mats, paper, and later, a big white board for thousands of hours of fun.

Most of the new games still work well using the tried and true tools of the trade. The recently released Warhammer FRPG 3.0 (see REVIEWS) uses range bands to adjudicate movement and combat. A dry erase battlemat would work nicely for that system.

D&D 4e presents a bit of a sticky wicket.

The whole game revolves around squares. Power effects affect squares as opposed to set distances. Also, the rules spend a lot of time talking through the various attributes of "kinds" of terrain and the impact on movement, powers, etc. To be fair to the players, you need to designate the special squares.

Take a look at Sample Battlemat from Bold Beginnings.

The spaces with the triangles on them require extra movement points.

The slightly blurred spaces had acid puddles in them that caused the PCs to take 5 points of acid damage if they did not make a successful athletics check.

The mushrooms had potential effects if the spores were released through rough handling.

Etc.

To prevent the game from slowing down, it is best to have all that prepared in advance.

It is a core mechanic in 4e.

For me, it was not a big transition, because I had a copy of Campaign Cartographer (CC) mostly sitting idle for the past few years. It takes less than two hours from the time I dream up a battlemat until it is printed out on 8 1/2 x 11 cardstock.

There is a lot more information at the Bold Beginnings WWW site.

In service,

Rich


Anyone know of a computer program available that can create Isometric maps, similar to those used in the old Ravenloft adventure products of years gone by? ~KGM

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