Thursday, 4 June 2015

Security Through Oldschoolity

Recent discussions started by Kiel and continued on G+ have got me thinking about why completely separating an adventure's text from its map, or printing the map devoid of details, still seems like a viable idea to publishers. Is it just tradition?

Looking at the design of the first TSR modules, it seems clear that one goal was to have the map contain as little information as possible, so that an accidental peek by players behind the screen would not reveal too much.

Thus, the need to constantly flip back and forth between the big map and the numbered section of text, rather than using map insets in the text or text notes on the map.

This technique is what security experts call "security through obfuscation." By making things hard to find for yourself, you try to make them impossible to find for others. Closely related is the idea of "security through obscurity," which you also saw in old school Advanced D&D with the injunctions that players not be able to access the DM book or monster manual. And of course, the very cerulean color of the old-school maps is another security device, to make them unreadable by the xerographic technology of the day.

Today, with everything available online legally or illegally for most published modules, the best defense is just to assume that players are their own security; that they play not to defeat you, but to enjoy discovery and surprise;and that you the GM help them in this goal by keeping the map discreetly covered, but with whatever marks are necessary to help you run the game smoothly.


  1. Also, these days it would be cost effective to have both an annotated and an unannotated version of maps, which wasn't the case 40ish years ago.

  2. I suspect it's because of the division of labor between writing, cartography and layout. Often these skills are spread between three people, and doing an excellent one-page overview of a scenario requires all three skills contributing to the same one- or two-page spread.

    Sensible folks like Kevin Crawford advocate getting all the writing done before you go to layout. This is great advice for a document, but I've found that with my own one-pagers, layout and writing are a dance. Got some room here in the corner? Add some detail. Things a bit tight? Edit the text down.

    That kind of iteration is difficult to do when there are handoffs between separate people.

  3. Remember also that D&D came out of wargaming, and limited or partial information on maps was part of how these games were played at times. Take a look at Sturmgeshutz and Sorcery-there are three maps! The germans, The Wizard and the referee each have their own version of what is what on the board.

  4. I believe it was a matter of economy not utility as the artist drawing the map would like to be compensated for their work and
    But it also leaves room for a DMto mark the map up as they themselves wish (well okay.A copy). I'll draaw footprints for where PCs went, draw in stick figure bodies and skulls for slin critters, show what doors are smashed, dollar signs for treasure left behind, put in frownie faces for monsters that were encountered but not defeated and smiley faces for monsters befriended (that last one is rare).
    On a cluttered high detail map there would be little room for all that.
    Big empty maps are a relic and fetish of the hobby.

    1. That's a good point. Also, the blue-scale background (instead of hatching, black or fancier patterns) means you can write on that too.

  5. Yay for lots of whitespace on maps! But also: Yay for One Page Dungeons. I guess I need an A3 printer, next.