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Sunday, February 15, 2015

A GM needs a different dungeon than the players.

I have written a bit about  dungeons before,  today I figured I would start climbing this hill again.

I love fine maps such as those made by Dyson Logo's * (to name perhaps the best known example) as art.
I have shared some of my own maps on this blog. I enjoy drawing / painting them, and as player visual aids they are pretty much unmatched.
I will never give up a good old fashioned dungeon map to throw in front of the  players.

However as a Gm, the standard square by square grid map with a bunch of scribbles and numbers on it, while traditional, can probably be made more usable. The Gm needs more from a map than the  players do form theirs.

I look at my  Dungeons as being made up of three distinct types of areas:

  • Transitional rooms.
    • These are the  areas between  points of interest. Most dungeon settings could have miles of hallways that are noting but barren rocks, and  dank damp floors. 
    • For my Gm maps I don't even  map these areas I write down a number denoting how many feet the transitional area covers. 
    • I will put a note denoting what random monster chart to use in that transition (if I have more than one) and how many rolls to make.
    • I will also note any traps that might be in the transition and at what point, so I don't forget to  spring them.
    • The rest of a transitional area is what the player group makes of it. If they declare they are using a 10 foot pole to check form traps every five feet, I describe a long and  arduous trip through the winding  corridors, perhaps some false alarm traps , I might even toss in a real one if it's appropriate. If the party declares they are  moving briskly though the  corridors I will go lighter on the descriptions and spring traps if I had previously decided there were any there.
    • Transition areas are where I get to  set the  tone and mood of the dungeon , painting description as heavily or as vaguely as I need.
  • Challenge rooms.
    • These are points of interest planed by the  GM.
    •  For these I draw a box large enough to add the text description of the point of interest. 
    • For example a room  might say this: "In this wall there is an old cracked fountain, covered with  moss, a traditional Green Man's face on the wall was once a spout, but water no longer flows." (If the player's examine the  cracked fountain the spout is blocked by moss, removing the moss will allow just a trickle of water to run. 1.) Will take 10 minutes to fill a flask with the water. 2.) The water form a flask will cure acid or fire damage  for 1d6 points if poured on a wound. 3.) The moss removed form the spout can be used to  cover or pack wound and will double normal healing rates. 4.) the fountain will only  fill a maximum of three flasks. 5.) While a flask is filling roll a random encounter.
    • As you can see it's brief and not over detailed, this is not a module. Chances are if this is a Gm's map for the Gm's own game, that Gm will have an idea of the details in their head. This is more of an organisational tool.
    • Challenge rooms can be anything the  gm needs to be reminded of.
      • From an interesting feature like the one above.
      • Complex traps.
      • Areas where there is hidden loot, and so on.
      • Puzzles if that's your thing (I generally avoid them but each to their own)
  • Conflict rooms.
    • Conflict rooms are the locations of planned important encounters.
    • Conflict rooms will be the stages for big fights.
    • I generally denote them as squares with important details about the encounter. Number of monsters,  environmental threats, and  important attack information should all be noted.
It's about now that someone might be thinking, "Hey wait! You just boiled the dungeon down to a bunch of boxes,  numbers, and, scripted events that you're going to railroad down the  players throats. You sir SUCK as a GM and as a person!" **
I can see where that might be a concern, but a misplaced one. In reality I'm taking the same map I have always used and re-arranging the information so that it is more accessible. The  players decision making over what  path to take through the  dungeon will still determine what information I reference, not the other way around. The players aren't following some kind of flow chart. The whole thing should be transparent to the players, they should never even see the GM's map.

Here is a quick example of a players map and a GM's map to go with it.
Including my amazing art and handwriting skills.

Noravank Monastery
My point not being to show off how illiterate I am but rather that these things can be sketched out relatively quickly and  easily.

Notice the map on the left, even though it clearly shows where a secret door is in room 2 it could still be a player hand out. A map the party purchased or found of an old monastery locked away on a hill side somewhere.

The diagram on the  right has all the information I woudl need to run the exploration of the same map. Each room shows what it is connected too, distances of halls are noted, and I gave myself some  base line descriptive words for the interior of the  building. (Musty , mildew, Dark Heavy.)

Two brief random encounter charts, notes denoting where to roll on them, two rooms with set encounters.
Notes about each  room which are sparse in this example beyond the "Fireplace, rotten tapestries, bones form ritual suicide," written in room 9. These help to round out what I need to run. The fine points and details will get made up during play in reaction what the players do, say, and examine.

Another thing to think about is how much ideas like this can shine with services like roll 20 that provides the GM with their own map layer on which the GM could create a map flow chart independent of what they show the players.

Naturally Everyone's millage may vary for this kind of thing. For me I need things to be organized in a visual way,  this works out much better than a column of numbered room descriptions, and encounters.

As always Thank you for reading.
Please leave questions and comments behind the  dreadfully obvious secret door below.

* I linked to his Patreon in case you want to fun him.  His maps are awesome.
** This still might prove true but what ever.