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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Player Mapping in OSR Games (Guest Poster)

Tonight we have a guest post from +Eric Hoffman , one of the guys behind Stormlord Publishing and the Zine Vault Kickstarter. Remember, The Tavern is as much yours as it is mine and the doors are always open to members of the community that have thoughts they wish to share.

I don't think I am very unique amongst OSR gamers in my map fetish.  Maps were one of the first things that drew me to Dungeons and Dragons.  I had an immediate visceral reaction when I first gazed upon the map of the Haunted Keep in the Moldvay Basic Rulebook and the Caves of Chaos in The Keep on the Borderlands that accompanied it.  Before I ever played an actual game of D&D I created my own floor plan on the graph paper provided in the back of B2.

Players mapping their adventures was a big part of early editions of Dungeons and Dragons.  Graph paper ("6 lines per inch is best") is listed as an essential part of the game in Book I of Dungeons and Dragons (OD&D).  "One player should map the dungeon..." in Holmes' edition. formalizes the position with "This player is called the mapper" in my beloved Moldvay revision.

It has also been mentioned that player mapping of a dungeon can facilitate emergent gameplay.  By drawing out their explorations they may discover dimensional magics at work, divine the possible location of secret chambers, or solve puzzles based on the very construction of the dungeon rooms and corridors.

As I grow older I waffle between the nostalgia of player mapping and the expediency of just giving the players a map of where they have been.  Technology certainly makes that easier today.  Most of my games are online; and programs like Roll20 make it ever-so-easy to just 'reveal' to the players what they see.

Right now I am contemplating how to handle this for an in-person game for some old friends who are coming for a visit.  Do I eat up the limited time we have to game by laboriously describing the dungeon and letting them fumble through the mapping process?  Or do I use the technology readily available and just throw the map up on the big screen TV as they explore the area?
What method do you prefer, and why?


  1. Either I draw the map as we go as DM, or for simpler areas I describe it and let the mapper draw it.

    When I'm playing, I love to be the mapper (surprise surprise, right?)

    I recently posted two maps I drew as a player in two different games last week: https://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/party-mapper/

  2. I'm a huge fan of using the dirt-cheap 2.5D cardboard terrain like you can see over at http://dmscraft.proboards.com/. Now that's mostly because I enjoy making it, but having made two dozen tiles and some assorted dressings, I can approximate most dungeons. It even takes about as long to draw out maps, and it helps with immersion (along with going gridless). Anyone else here do 2.5D or do the more expensive Dwarven Forge route?

  3. As Erik our host well knows, I favor players doing their own mapping. In fact, there are a number of features in Castle of the Mad Archmage which are specifically designed to make mapping difficult, which completely lose their effect if the map is just displayed to the players. Teleporters, shifting walls, elevator and rotating rooms, slanted floors, etc.

  4. I like sketching individual rooms of interest and encounters on a pad of scratch paper or whiteboard to clarify spacial relations and tactics... nothing worse than explaining that a pit runs across the middle of the room with enemies on the far side, only to discover half-way through the fight that that one player thought the pit ran along a wall and everybody was on the same side at far ends of the room from one another, usually discovered as they explain some epic action they are about to take or after the fact when somebody reveals why they refrained from using an attack that could have averted a TPK.

    Beyond that consideration I prefer making players responsible for the mapping, be they simple node-maps or detailed cartography that may well put the DM's map to shame.

  5. They map with paper based on what they are told and if they make a mistake they're stuck with it until they discover their errors.

  6. Eric - I think if your players enjoy mapping as part of the game then it's not wasting precious time - it's spending precious time doing something they enjoy. I feel like we got pretty quick at mapping as long as we weren't in caverns or other crazy places. I do like doing what Nate McD says, of sketching out interesting places (or having them pre-drawn) to allow for easy visualization of complicated rooms. That can add some tactical fun to a combat. On the other hand, if it's only going to be effectively a one shot, they don't really have to get back out of the dungeon....

  7. Years ago, one of my regular players and I worked out a way to describe a common dungeon map in words that lets me quickly describe a corridor or room while he draws it exactly. I wrote it all down in my RPG Primer book. He's still a regular in my game, but sometimes he can't make it, so I'm trying to train another guy to follow the same instructions. But the first guy, he's an engineer; the second is an accountant. Not the same type of mental skill set. Still, it works pretty well for us.

  8. I describe what they can see whilst tracing it onto thin paper. It goes quickly and works for any sort of map (dungeon, wilderness, town, isomorphic, printed or sketched) and features such as Joseph Bloch mentions work (i.e. you draw it as they see it, not as it is), and it allows me to copy only what they can see (e.g. only half the chamber). See Mapping During Play for some maps from actual play.

  9. The players map if they want a map. It serves them well when it's importantand they may find the need to discoverbetter routes in the future. The need to map diminishesgreatlyif there is noneed to go back to whereyou were.
    I'velearned over the years as DMit isn't my job to worry about the players maps.

  10. The players map if they want a map. It serves them well when it's importantand they may find the need to discoverbetter routes in the future. The need to map diminishesgreatlyif there is noneed to go back to whereyou were.
    I'velearned over the years as DMit isn't my job to worry about the players maps.

  11. Players map during my games or they're S.O.L. when it comes to finding their way around. I'm sure not mapping for them.

    I've never had players complain about mapping. It's part of the game.

  12. 1) I can not translate directions given to me into meaningful information. I have serious cognitive problems trying to make sense of verbal directions.
    2) Characters would not get lost.
    3) Characters would not make actual maps, that's fucking impossible in dungeon environments, not to mention a waste of time because of #2.
    4) It is too difficult for players to compare and discuss the maps they make online to ensure accuracy.
    5) The only practical reason for player mapping is to free up the DM .
    Some people apparently like getting lost. I personally think it's fucking retarded to have a ranger get lost in something the size of a city block just because his player can't draw or didn't understand what the DM said. It is not fun. It does not make any in-game sense. Now, using VTT software, it is also significantly more tedious and time consuming than simply having the GM use progressive revelation of a prepared map.
    Making players map is like making them play blindfolded: some people can do it, some people might even like it, but it makes no sense and is more likely to detract from the act playing of the game and behaving in character.