Monday, December 2, 2013

Different Old Schools - dense or sparse maps

I was listening to a podcast talking about that famous picture of EGG running a game at a con, sitting with a dense map in front of him and a very terse key. I think almost every aspect about that map and its implications have been talked about, but some of that just now filtered down to me.

If you have a dungeon where there are rooms everywhere, and the map is that dense, there wont be much space for some things. If you look at many published maps in the blogging community of the old ways, they most often don't look like that. We often do maps with variation in room sizes, some oddly shaped ones and some hallways connecting sections of the level. You know the drill. Gary's map is just crammed full of fairly small rooms.

Imagine if you will a section of the level taken over by gnolls. They might have made one room a lair, another treasury and maybe a larder where you can free some captives, useful for stocking up on PC alternatives if death does occur. Did you see what I did there?

If you have rooms that looks like an abandoned throne room, you will have a gnoll lord sitting there. But, if your dungeon is just crammed with small rooms, you probably never get that 'naturalistic' feel. If your dungeon is more labyrinth than anything else, the kind of play we call player skill is something different that I have been thinking about all this time. Sure, it's skill when you take note of resources, map carefully to note when there's a gap in there indicating a hidden room. But, if the layout makes no sense, then exploring and mapping to make sense of what's "down there" wont make sense. At least not they way I thought about it. 'Naturalism' is not about dungeon layout, in Gary's example.

Some years ago I heard about Ken St. Andre's dungeon Gristlegrim, and though it peculiar. Ken had done a bunch of dungeon rooms on index cards, when they players walked around the dungeon he grabbed another room from the pile. I thought it made the idea of a dungeon moot, since you could not map it and you could not "make sense" of it. Now I realize that maybe that was not so different from Gary's densely packed paper of small rooms in a labyrinth. Labyrinths was never fun, in my book. After you wandered around in the coal mine in Zork, and realized you had to drop stuff to make the similar looking room distinguishable I think the labyrinth had served its purpose.

I think I prefer some kind of naturalism to my dungeons, even though I now think Gristlegrim makes more sense. It's probably more like Castle Greyhawk and the Jakallan Underworld than my dungeons are.


2 comments:

  1. I'm not sure any but the most naive DM's (like teenaged me) populated a dense map with wall-to-wall monster motel. So if you have a map of 30 interesting rooms connected by 70 boring rooms, isn't that functionally similar to 30 interesting rooms connected by passages?

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  2. I'm not sure it will play alike, but sure, they will be very similar in some aspects.

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