Tuesday, 22 March 2011

What do we want in a map? 1: The Elvis Door

I'm going to lead up to the release of my dungeon mapping Powerpoint resource with a few reflections on what I find useful in site maps. If you want to jump ahead and see the Dungeon.ppt protocol in action, check out my OPD entry "Egg of the Gazolba" which I've now linked in the download section.

The classic old school look to maps is a great starting point. Playing a low-rules, easy-improv game gets hamstrung by the requirement to have everything laid out in professionally produced battletiles. And yet there are a few improvements that I'd find real useful when looking at the map in actual play.

Improvement number one is showing which way hinges swing on doors.
Door fight ... roll init!

Huh? It's lost in the blogosphere now, but before I started my current campaign I saw someone's dungeon map that had that detail, and scoffed. How picayune can you get!

Then I got DMing. And my players wanted to know which way doors swung.

It's actually pretty important if you treat door opening as a major event fraught with danger ... as you should. Whether the door swings in or out will determine what method you use to open a difficult door: push or pry. This has real consequences if you're trying to combine many man-strengths into one, following my "feats of strength" method. It's easier to get multiple people to push than to operate a crowbar. Where's that ten-foot jimmy when you need it?

And then when you open the door, you're not just going to swing it all the way open. It creaks open ... you peep in and see ... which half of the room? And monsters could be lurking this side or that.

So okay, I could just wing it, say "right" or "left." Or roll d6, evens or odds. But it seems like the kind of persistent detail I really should have put down, graphically, on a map. Especially because it can make the difference between opening a tough door and having to hack it down.

It can even give some clues about the defensive architecture of the dungeon. Were the builders worried about invaders from the topside? Then the doors push in, as explorers progress, because the opening side is more easily barred. What if the doors have to be pulled open? Then the concern was more about barricading whatever could be rising up from some place in front of the party's line of march. Then again, if the door gives on a 10' x 10' broom closet (yep, I think an adult green dragon could fit in there), it's probably going to open out into the more spacious room or hallway.

Anyway, I modified the traditional door icon with a slanty-topped "Elvis hairdo" rectangle from the Powerpoint flowchart shapes set.* The slanty top would show how the door opens. And because that was kind of hard to see, I added a line across the shape, to make it clearer that the shape was a swinging triangle stacked on a traditional door icon. Results to the left. I'm not taking chances, anyway. My dungeon.ppt file also has some classic, flat-topped door icons, and I resort to those when I need a slab, sliding door, or other hingeless apparatus.

The Elvis door works fine on my maps, and keeps my players happy. But I have to know, is this the kind of thing you find useful?

*You know, a pompadoor.


  1. Yes. And i'm one of those people who likes to know which way the door swings ...

    Plus, I think it adds additional vision interest and communicates important information about the environment. The more that can go on the map, rather than in the notes the better.

  2. I too like to know which way a door opens. With the limited tactical advantages in older versions of the game, being able to 'wedge' a door shut is advantagous. Plus, as mentioned, if it opens away, the Fighter opens it. If it opens to, someone else may open it to allow the Fighter to then rush.

    Just my two copper,

  3. Okay, that's extremely useful. I've long wanted to represent this on my maps but was aesthetically dissatisfied with the method of showing the arc of the doors swing. Thanks a bunch!

  4. I spend six years as an architectural draftsman. So when I saw the first image on this article, I actually wondered if it was something I worked on in the past.

    Another about door swings it that they can also help to determine placement of traps. If opening the door caused something to fall from the ceiling on the PCs, it would likely be on the side opposite of the swing, lest it hit the door first. A scything blade in the door jamb that cuts off the opener's arm would also only be effective if the door swung open inward.

    Overall, I do like the 'pompadour' on the doors as a designation of swing. Like Jeff, I also had problems drawing door swings. Mine always ended up looking like a letter V. This looks like something I might be able to use. Thanks.

  5. You're welcome and thanks for all the comments and support for hinge mania!

  6. Awesome stuff! My players are always asking what side hinges are on and which way doors swing, because they love opening doors without touching them (grappling hooks, ramming, etc.). When they started such tactics and asking questions as to door hinges, swing, and etc., I was always just winging my answers- which was never consistent enough. When I recently started drafting a revision of my Dungeons for use with my own house rules, I started putting little circles to indicate hinges but it was sloppy as hell and not nearly as satisfying as this will no doubt prove!

  7. Awesome! Now if only Dungeonographer would incorporate these…