Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Underworld & Wilderness Adventures Examination Pt 1

This first examination of Underworld & Wilderness Adventures will only be concerned with one thing: mapping the dungeon. Specifically, player mapping of the dungeon environment. It will be brief.

There are several schools of thought regarding player mapping. EGG recommends basically trying to confuse the players at every opportunity, rendering their map useless, unless the players are very diligent. At the other end of the spectrum are referees who essentially reveal the entire map from the outset, simply placing it on the table for all to see.

Somewhere in the middle are those who enjoy the experience of a player-maintained map, but who dislike the notion of "screwing" the players by allowing their map to be grossly inaccurate. They reason that the characters are actually occupying the imagined space, and would not be prone to the same mistakes the players might make.

I have a background in drafting. I have held numerous jobs which required me to measure and draw existing structures. I can tell you from my own experience, as well as that of co-workers, that accurately diagramming a given space is not simple nor easy. I have performed this function at an easy pace, with the proper measuring equipment (including laser-type measuring tools), with good lighting, and without the stress of worrying about a pack of ravenous kobolds rushing around a corner. Rarely do corners line up, do doors or windows fall where they should, or is a square room square.

Characters are in a setting which features flickering torchlight and highly stressful conditions. They are likely using a measuring device no more sophisticated than a knotted string. They are certainly not drawing on neatly lined graph paper.

I believe that if a referee decides to require player mapping, he should accept that players will misinterpret his descriptions and make mistakes. He should not feel somehow guilty or responsible (unless, that is, he intentionally misleads them). Mapping in a dungeon as you go is an inaccurate undertaking, at best. Perfection is unattainable. Get over it.


  1. I've never understood why people need to be so accurate in their mappings any way. It seems more of a resource to remember which path is out and where the unexplored areas are.

  2. Well, like most else in OD&D, it depends on the referee. In his role as Ultimate Authority, the referee really sets the tone for his particular campaign. Since D&D is fundamentally about resource management, mapping can be vitally important, if a referee emphasizes it in his campaign. Imagine being 3 levels down a dungeon, banged up, loaded down with booty, no more healing potions or spells, and the party becomes lost. Now they have a gauntlet of wandering monsters to deal with before they can get out.

    I like player mapping to play a role in the campaigns I referee. In my experience the players enjoy the tactical edge they feel it gives them when they are plotting an ambush or potential escape routes and rallying points. I would never impose it as divine edict, though, because that wouldn't be fun, which is the name of the game. I would also never screw my players into some TPK or loss of a favorite character over a mapping error. Bitch move supreme.

    1. I suppose that's fair, but I meant more so that it's useful as a tool to help a party's delve, and shouldn't ever require them to be absolutely perfect and accurate in drawing each individual room, and its dimensions. There's even a charm in beholding maps drawn without grid paper; very personal thing with lots of notes and scrip. It's fascinating though, how that Gygaxian mentality is to put in teleporting traps or non-Euclidean geometry to make mapping nigh impossible. But yes, death by mapping error is very lame to say the least.

      For non-standard room shapes I would be willing to quickly sketch out the shape and tell them the box dimension around it, because part of map error is equal parts failure to communicate, and registering information by the receiving party. If the players should die, it should be by their own doing, not miss-communication.