Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Graph Paper Architects

"One final enigma surrounding the architects of the Mythic Underworld: their complexes, catacombs, tombs, strongholds and hypogea were all built to more or less completely fill a 340 by 440 foot rectangle. Perhaps akin to the mining extravagance of their corridors built to a width of either 10 or 20 feet, it is clear that some strange concern with geomancy impelled the rigid proportion of their constructions."

One of many dungeon maps by Tim Hartin.
In the graph-paper shaped dungeon, after a while players figure out to look in corners for secret doors, and have a pretty good idea when they've explored the whole level. And yet so many megadungeons - even less ambitious adventures - are mapped this way. Castle of the Mad Archmage jams four sheets together for each level. Stonehell uses the one page dungeon template, a square about two-thirds the size of the standard graph paper, but otherwise does the same, and makes each square a stand-alone section. World's Largest Dungeon uses 16 blocky maps, each about twice as big as the standard graph paper but still uniformly rectangular.

Standard maps at first glance seem to solve more problems for the DM than the player. The DM doesn't need to wrestle with large or odd-sized pieces of paper. Players, though, don't know exactly where they enter on the graph paper, so even in the most orderly dungeons their maps will tend to go off the edge.

But in actual play, how much usefulness does the graph paper dungeon add? After all, the DM doesn't usually need to see all of the 440 x 340 foot area - only the immediate area of 5-10 rooms is useful to a session of play.

This argues for the modular megadungeon to be portioned out in smaller sections, such as Talysman recently demonstrates. The overall strategic map can then be as irregular as it wants to be. In fact, the fitting together of the modules in a whole ten-level dungeon can be easily mapped on a 1 square to 100' scale, where each section, approximately 7x7 or 6x8 squares, is a separate level.

A related issue on a smaller scale is the way of dungeon geomorphs, as cool as they are, to create an overly dense and connected "wallpaper" of rooms and passages. The standard format seems to be a 10' x 10' square with exits in the middle of each 5' length of side, 8 in all.  This has been the aesthetic barrier to my using geomorphs, up until now.

One solution would be to just arbitrarily say that 1 in 3 geomorph squares is blank. You deal them face-down from your stack on a d6 roll of 1 or 2, and erase or block off the connecting doors and passages.

Another idea is ... well, I'll show you what I mean next time.

1 comment:

  1. Numenhalla, my mega-dungeon, explicitly does *not* follow this pattern. It uses 5 squares to the inch, and spreads out infinitely on each level.