To map or not to map in Dungeons & Dragons?

Originally published at: To map or not to map in Dungeons & Dragons? | Boing Boing

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i dungeon mastered a long campaign in the early to mid-80s. i worked from several maps at varying scales. i had a map which lined out the major and minor kingdoms with large cities shown. a copy of that map was part of the treasure horde in one of the dungeons. i had a seto of 10 small scale cavern maps which the characters could randomly end up in if they went exploring. i had two large scale city maps for a couple of major city encounters, and i had five large building/castle maps for the most important interior encounter sequences. two fortresses, a monastery, a castle, and a manor house, all of them with appropriate outbuildings.

i’m afraid i was not too kind to my adventurers when they showed poor planning so they eventually became quite adept at map-making and provisioning.


I think it depends on what a DM wants to focus on. Ours is pretty lax about the mechanics of management on various things, we generally have limited time to play so getting bogged down in certain elements like weight, space, and other details would slow down the pace of the story. And frankly i probably wouldn’t be playing with them if that was the case but for those that have the time and attention span to do it more power to them


It depends on what you want to focus on, really.

My tongue in cheek motto is “I’m here for stories, not spreadsheets.” and when I GM I ignore mechanics and rolls are relatively rare. But I can go an entire campaign without combat, and even when it occurs violence is rare and significant and unpleasant.

I have friends who are all about the stats and maps and fights, though, which is fine. We just don’t roleplay together.


I DM’d with a similar approach. I like our motto,


my philosophy of dungeon mastering was that there were generally multiple ways through every planned encounter and violent solutions were only one of those many. i specialized in well-rounded non-player characters with depth and texture. in the end, it was always up to the adventurers playing whether those non-violent solutions were tried but i always rewarded them when they did.


Our group is fairly combat-intensive; if more than a couple of games go by without a fight, players get antsy. We definitely use maps and terrain when fighting because it impacts actions. If it’s more talking than fighting, we aren’t that concerned with maps. OTOH, we very much believe that if it isn’t written down, it never happened and you don’t have the item.


“You don’t have to deal with resource management”

And that’s… a bad thing? I guess it’s a pretty radically different notion of what the fun part of an RPG is… my gaming groups started off, when first starting to play RPGs, taking those things into account, but that was perhaps only because we felt we had to, because it was “the rules.” We abandoned that very quickly because it wasn’t fun; rules got streamlined or ignored if they didn’t contribute to role-playing. The systems that appeal to me now are more hand-wavy in terms of gear, like Blades in the Dark, which has item mechanics that allow you to determine what you have when you need it.

Otherwise you’re not just building a character while considering their personality and background and skills and abilities and their relationships with others, but methodically figuring out what sorts of things they would reasonably carry and might need, and it ends up eating a lot of time that could be spent playing. The problem is more severe if your gaming group tends to one-shots and short campaigns in different systems, and not playing week after week building up the same characters, where you can refine your approach. But still, if rigorous supply book-keeping is enforced, and players get sloppy, it seems like the outcome is that the game is derailed while characters stop what they’re doing to go get the supplies they need. Which seems like the sort of scenario that most GMs are trying to avoid


I watched that vid with some interest - even in the Before Times, we’d often have one or more folks at the table mapping, particularly if we were TOTM. I’ve been playing a bit over Discord, lately, also TOTM, and the various mappers/sketchers tend to post up their interpretations of the DM descriptions after session for comparison.


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