Handling maps in-game


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


I'm curious how other GMs draw maps in their games. Do you draw the entire dungeon out as the players go through or only draw it out for tactical encounters? If it's the latter how do you deal with player navigation? I find relying on description alone tends to lead to more confusion, but I wanted to get other peoples' thoughts on it.

Scarab Sages

I'd love to have the whole thing ready, and pull away the cover, to go "Ta-Da!".

But in reality, game prep ends up in a mad rush, and I draw it as I go.

Scarab Sages

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A large factor in GM mapping is the level of the PCs.

If the PCs are low-level, the GM can more easily predict what floorplans and maps he'll need, or draw out what he believes they could reasonably encounter during the session.
The PCs don't have many (or any) tools to break those expectations. There's a natural limit to how far they can explore on limited resources during one session.

As soon as they get reliable access to flight, teleportation, burrowing, swimming, planeshifting, or can summon/call creatures who can, then your carefully crafted dungeon environment becomes a Swiss cheese, attacked with a blowtorch.
At any point, someone can decide they'd rather be someplace else, and you've wasted time setting up what you thought would be the focus of the night's play.

This is one of the factors making high-level play less fun for some.
In my experience, the beginning of a campaign is more likely filled with specially-printed floorplans, maybe a bit of 3D furniture, the right figures, and the GM has practiced a voice for all the relevant NPCs.

By the end of a campaign, the GM is having to run on the fly, maps are hastily pulled from other sources or made up on the spot, the by-now-huge cast of NPCs are blending into one another (especially when PCs teleport into their chambers at all hours, and the GM has to remember how he RPed this person last). Many of the figures are proxies, because the GM and players have exhausted their collection, and the casters can summon things from a list of dozens (and heaven forbid a player might actually build a collection for his summons, right?).

It's not as visually appealing, and for people who are visually-oriented, not as memorable or fun.

"Remember that encounter, where the Gargantuan box of teabags came over the hill of books, and we took it out with our salt and pepper pot minions?"

Sovereign Court

I've seen lots of different things done.

* Some people just put the map on the table. It's easy, but it's hard not to metagame if you see a significant-looking room.

* Some people draw the map beforehand, then cover it with some newspapers. As the party explores the dungeon, the GM peels away some of the covering. I prefer this one, because you don't have to do mental gymnastics as a player to not metagame.

* Some people draw everything in real-time. If you're running an improvized dungeon, you have little choice. Not a lot of metagaming (except where the edge of the map is going to be). However, it's time-consuming. If the GM has to spend five minutes drawing a room and positioning enemies, that does take away some of the fast pace of combat.

* I've seen someone use flipover paper with 1-inch gridding. He had a stack of maps of encounter locations. He could just put them on the table whenever a planned encounter happened. This helps speed up the setup of combat; you could even draw small numbers where (visible) monsters start. This is really helpful if the dungeon won't fit on a single dry-erase map anyway, or if you're having encounters outside the dungeon.

As a bonus, I've also had GMs who had people roll up initiative at the start of the game session, and after every combat. So that when the next combat starts, he only needs roll monster initiative and drop down miniatures.

---

Some dungeons are huge, and don't fit on a single map. In that case though, it might be more useful to draw a graph to demonstrate the connections between specific zones of the dungeon. A circle indicates a notable region, perhaps with a grid map and encounters. The lines indicate corridors, caves, roads, or even interdimensional portals, connecting the zones.


Some GMs like myself also craft their own modular dungeon tiles with plaster and molds. Once made, you can throw them down to make just about any room or dungeon. Sometimes I like to just lay out a dungeon before the guys get here and then throw a sheet over it, pulling it back as areas are explored.


I drew as I went on a large sheet of paper, or erasable graph sheet, but I am now going digital! I bought a projector and tablet and loading it up with Maptool, and we're good.

Reaching over the players and letting them get a wiff of my armpits was getting a little old. (They never complained, I just thought I'd be more considerate).


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I miss the Olde Days, when no maps were drawn on the table at all, all descriptions were verbal, and a character had to explicitly carry ink, quills, and parchment to create their own map as they went, or risk being hopelessly lost. Descriptions took the form of:

Player: I look right, into the archway, what do I see?
GM: A stone corridor, 30' on the right, 40' on the left, corner right. There is a stone door on the left-hand side of the corridor, 20' away.

etc ...

Players who lost their mapping equipment would still receive the verbal instructions, but were forbidden from recording them. At the end of the dungeon, the players were left with their own replica of the GM's map, which we'd then compare, for fun.

Scarab Sages

Zalman wrote:

I miss the Olde Days, when no maps were drawn on the table at all, all descriptions were verbal, and a character had to explicitly carry ink, quills, and parchment to create their own map as they went, or risk being hopelessly lost. Descriptions took the form of:

Player: I look right, into the archway, what do I see?
GM: A stone corridor, 30' on the right, 40' on the left, corner right. There is a stone door on the left-hand side of the corridor, 20' away.

etc ...

Players who lost their mapping equipment would still receive the verbal instructions, but were forbidden from recording them. At the end of the dungeon, the players were left with their own replica of the GM's map, which we'd then compare, for fun.

The good old days (80's) .....

... when I carried a special box for predrawn maps using very large sheets of graph paper. I even had my own mega-dungeon.

Scarab Sages

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Zalman wrote:

I miss the Olde Days, when no maps were drawn on the table at all, all descriptions were verbal, and a character had to explicitly carry ink, quills, and parchment to create their own map as they went, or risk being hopelessly lost.

At the end of the dungeon, the players were left with their own replica of the GM's map, which we'd then compare, for fun.

If you ran the adventure for another group, you could use the maps made by the previous players, as 'treasure maps', or found on an unlucky corpse.

Your hands are clean, when the amateurish map leads the new group astray.
"Hey, don't blame me. I didn't draw it..."


I still haven't found a style I'm satisfied. currently we are doing:

1.) cities, countries, the player base and similiar permanent fixtures are hand drawn by my on paper (a bit thicker than normal) and often artificially aged with coffee in the oven. when they enter a new mayor city or other fixture, I produce the fruits of my labours and let them write notes on it where things are etc.

2.) any form of dungeon or wilderness I describe to them as well as I can and we usually have one guy in charge of drawing a map. my own map is usually just a graph. (the last one was made in paint with a pile of arrows and notes for myself, not fit for the public )

3.) if combat happens I draw up the scene on graph paper as accurate as I can manage, 1 square on paper is one square in game an we put a corkboard under it and use pins with different coloured heads to represent the players and monsters.

-LO


I like to draw as I go. I assume that (unless there's a reason not to) the pc's can see the entirety of a room when they enter, so i draw the entire area out as they go in. The only drawback is when I have an odd-shaped room in a pre-published adventure, like in Dragon's Demand, where the area is bigger than I can quickly draw. Then I have to wing it.


I enlarge and print the direct map at 1" square grid scale. I then lay a sheet of plexi-glass over the map. Then I lay 'fog-of-war' made of black construction paper squares in about 4"x4" cuts all over the map to cover it up, brushing aside or removing the layered squares as the PCs make progress and reveal hall/rooms/areas.

I try to be clear when I need the PCs to position themselves, establish a marching order/formation or just also when they can "final fantasy" their movement, showing where the lead PC is and moving that one PC accordingly to show the progress of the party.


Lamontius wrote:

I enlarge and print the direct map at 1" square grid scale. I then lay a sheet of plexi-glass over the map. Then I lay 'fog-of-war' made of black construction paper squares in about 4"x4" cuts all over the map to cover it up, brushing aside or removing the layered squares as the PCs make progress and reveal hall/rooms/areas.

That's pretty cool. There's some semi-famous description online somewhere of a guy with a digital setup that he uses similarly, using image layers and masks.

It makes me think also of another solution that might work well for me: pre-drawn maps under glass, with dry-erase marker covering what cannot yet be seen. Erase-as-you-go.


LuxuriantOak wrote:
...hand drawn by my on paper (a bit thicker than normal) and often artificially aged with coffee in the oven.

I love the aging trick ... thanks for reminding me of that one. I just have to remember to take them out before they get too crispy!

Sovereign Court

You can color/age paper pretty easily just by laying it in tea and then drying it again. It's a fairly subtle shift.

I hadn't thought of doing it to predrawn maps; I just bought a roll of flipover paper. Maybe I'll do that, since the paper is pretty stark white.


My favorite (but expensive) approach was my friend, who used a 30" color printer to do full-sized maps (1" per square). Once we'd used them, they made great wrapping paper. (Nothing like seeing the nephews at Christmas and having them get more excited about the map wrapping the gift than the gift itself.)

My current solution:
- For cities, wildernesses, and other large areas (more than 10' per square) I use roll20.net and show the region on a monitor with fog of war turned on. This lets them zoom in and out, get an idea of where they've been, and they can add notes to places on the map pretty easily. I have two roll20.net accounts and a laptop attached to a monitor. I show the "player" account in Google Chrome on the monitor, and the "GM" account in Mozilla Firefox on the laptop. Works well, and takes very little time.

- For larger dungeons (Pinnacle of Avarice in RotRL, Scarwall in CotCT, Citadel Drezen in WotR) I again use roll20.net to give then an idea as to where they are, but if any combat occurs they copy the room(s) to a vinyl mat.

- For smaller dungeons we go straight to a vinyl mat.

I'm still hoping to switch to a ceiling-mounted projector and roll20.net exclusively, but I've heard the "affordable" $300 projectors aren't bright enough to give you a good map, so if you want to do this right you need the $1200 and up projectors. I've been checking my sofa every day, but I haven't reached $1200 in change yet...

======
OVERALL OPINIONS ON MAPPING:
- I love, "Map it yourself" suggestions, except if they don't draw it well, combat can be... interesting... Whenever there's a significant fight I need a well-drawn to-scale map. Example: 12 giants versus 5 party members in an area with plenty of narrow hallways and bolt holes. Just hand-waving and saying, "We don't need minis for fights" starts breaking down when you have too many enemies. At least for me.

- My friend just laid the entire dungeon in front of us, secret doors and all, and said, "I expect you not to meta-game." Didn't happen. So I really feel there's a need to hide unmapped areas from the PCs.

- If at least one PC has Knowledge: Dungeoneering and writing tools I don't mind giving them a decent map. You paid a skill point into a nigh-useless skill. Here's your map.

- There's a wonderful visceral feel for moving your minis around on a giant color paper map. But it does waste tons of ink and paper.

- I really don't care much for the digital solutions (it doesn't "feel" as immersive), but they're a lot easier.


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Hiya.

Zalman wrote:

I miss the Olde Days, when no maps were drawn on the table at all, all descriptions were verbal, and a character had to explicitly carry ink, quills, and parchment to create their own map as they went, or risk being hopelessly lost. Descriptions took the form of:

Player: I look right, into the archway, what do I see?
GM: A stone corridor, 30' on the right, 40' on the left, corner right. There is a stone door on the left-hand side of the corridor, 20' away.

etc ...

Players who lost their mapping equipment would still receive the verbal instructions, but were forbidden from recording them. At the end of the dungeon, the players were left with their own replica of the GM's map, which we'd then compare, for fun.

What's this talk of "Olde Days"? When I first started reading this thread I was confused for the first half-dozen posts...then I figured everyone *must* be talking about "1-inch/5' 'squares' for miniatures" type maps. o_O Is this really the norm? Do most people play with mini's on big-@$$ maps? (I feel so old!)

I (er, we, my group and I) have pretty much never really done this. I have used a smallish whiteboard, with tokens, mini's, or whatever. But we found it more of a hassle than a boon. Besides, at the end of the adventure, the player(s) have a map that they drew themselves...with their own notes, scribbles and whatnot as well. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is cooler than seeing a player whip out a binder with a hundred-odd pages of notes, maps, scribbles, drawings, handouts, etc. for his 14th level character that he's been playing for 4 years. To be able to look back at where the character has come from and where he is now, with all the accompanying paperwork to show...it's, well, it's really frickin' cool is what it is.

Yeah, we may be old, but the old way is the best way, IMHO. You can keep your digital-projected, full-color, blown-up, miniature-friendly maps...give me a fresh pad of graph paper, an HB pencil and a pink eraser any day of the week! :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming


I prefer a clear plastic grid map over a plain piece of butcher paper. When combat occurs I can quickly draw the map using dry erase markers. When exploring, the players don't get to look at the map; they have to draw their own from my description of what they see.


I rarely do 'dungeons', per se, anymore. If a fight is just a little speedbump-waste some resources-not important fight, then I'll just narrate it ... or more likely, just not include it.

If it's a big set-piece plot-important fight, then out comes the map.


We draw the battle-map as the players explore. We like doing it this way for a few reasons:

1) We have a massive gridded white-board that covers the entire tabletop that we play on - which happens to be a custom-built pool table cover. So we have lots of room available.

2) While the drawing occurs, the players have a chance to digest what they're seeing; further, at the same time, the DM describes the room at the same time he's drawing the features and the players can ask questions about what they're seeing right then. (This covers both the 'boxed text' section of an area description and all the players' questions at one time.)

We've discovered this method is (on average/overall) the most efficient and time-saving method of drawing maps.

Sovereign Court

^^That. Chessex battle mat, a huge ass one that covers most the table. then draw out what we need with wet erase markers. I dont draw anything ahead of time. As the players uncover things I jump in and draw the next room or path or etc. We are slowly getting into some 3D terrain but its usually only for something huge like an end of a module or campaign. Though Id like to use 3D terrain more often.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Battle maps? We don't need no steenkin battle maps! <g>

Last year I splurged and finally bought Dwarven Forge, lots of it. I'd been dreaming of it for *decades* and finally I had a ready-made pre-painted dungeon decor set that I didn't have to spend hundreds of hours doing up myself. Works good for buildings in an outdoor setting, too.

If you don't know about Dwarven Forge, google it, it's just amazing.

This does suffer from the sort of difficulties Snorter mentioned above, in mid- to high-level play. I'd hate to have taken the time to set up an entire dungeon or temple complex, only to have players teleport past it.


I pre-draw the rooms of a dungeon on 1-inch grid paper and cut them out individually, then I lay the rooms down one-by-one as the exploration progresses.

I draw encounter areas in real time on a Chessex battlemap if they are so big that site distance becomes a factor either due to lighting conditions or concealment from intervening foliage, mist, etc.

However, if an encounter can be executed completely in the narrative then I much prefer that.

The Exchange

I've just gone in for battle tiles. Covers most encounters for my games easily, plus lets me make spontaneous maps for random encounters too and they look great.

I combine these with simple wooden blocks from a play set my kids had,to add height to maps as well. Gives a 3d feel without the need of expensive 3d kits. Just place the blocks underneath the tile so they know its a higher plinth etc. makes working out cover and line of sight a little easier too. Circular prism blocks are good height counter too for flying minis etc.

I plan on painting those wooden blocks a neutral grey to give them a stone appearance as well, then it looks even more natural on the table.

We tried map tools and screens/projectors, but my players and I didn't go for it. A number of us actually paint miniatures as well, and we enjoy the miniature aspect of the game quite a bit. So back to tabletop map it was.

Cheers


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

My groups have tried and still do almost everything mentioned above except the projection/screen terrain maps. We only rarely use description--mostly urban shopping and encounters. We also paint minis and enjoy seeing them on the table. There is a balance to be struck using 3D terrain. Often it helps clarify the layout with lines of sight, ambush points, etc. other times it simply blocks players's views of parts of the area. We most often draw as we go, one room at a time with the GM handling questions as she draws. We use gridded vinyl or paper. Using 3D we often go "off the grid" and bring out tape measures for movement. For instance, in my Skull and Shackles campaign I built about a dozen and a half insulation foam model ships and these figure heavily into the swashbuckling shenanigans but make gridded movement all but impossible. I also build 3D terrain and or predraw maps for areas that will likely see multiple visits from the PCs.


NobodysHome wrote:
My favorite (but expensive) approach was my friend, who used a 30" color printer to do full-sized maps (1" per square). Once we'd used them, they made great wrapping paper. (Nothing like seeing the nephews at Christmas and having them get more excited about the map wrapping the gift than the gift itself.)

That is awesome!

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