I grew up old school with AD&D. Scrawling out huge dungeons on graph paper was always an entertaining pastime, even if many of the lairs I drew never saw the game table. It was just a fun creative exercise to line up rooms and try to interconnect them all. This is something I have clung to over the years. Then of course I see some gorgeous freeform maps from Fearless DM and after picking my jaw up off the floor, come to the realization that trying to get something like this mapped out in its entirety would likely be an insurmountable task.
Something dawns on me, why bother mapping out the interconnecting bits? Why etch out on paper that you’ve got a hallway that goes 30’ and then branches into a T, heading east and west, each going another 40’ ending in at a set of doors? Why mess with all that detail?
Instead, just concentrate on mapping the rooms. The stuff with monsters in it. Where all the action is taking place. That is the meat and potatoes for just about any dungeon jaunt. Why bother trying to accurately get a layout for the entire network of corridors and hallways that interconnect everything? Why not just stick to getting the details set for where the players will be actively adventuring.
With that mindset, maps like these become more manageable and something easier to work with. In the past I occasionally would just handwave the layout of a dungeon. Now I’ve been doing it exclusively. I try to keep a framework of room connections through lines and intersections with a few notes, but it is all a rough sketch. I save the actual mapping for where encounters will be.
I’ve been liking this as it’s been making my adventure planning more modular and dynamic. So the group has been through a series of monster encounters. At the descriptive intersection they head left towards another combat, where heading right would lead them to a trapped room. I’m able to switch out the rooms and give my players something else to tackle aside from another hack and slash fight. Best of all, I don’t have to muddle around with trying to keep every interconnecting hallway accurately mapped out.
It gives me some options to make encounters more interesting also. Now I can throw monsters coming in from two directions when the party stumbles into a room (including from behind). Keeping the rooms networked together with a narrative description gives me some wiggle room. If I keep things general and tell the group they’ve gone through a series of corridors which head into a large chamber, that allows me to plop in monster reinforcements right in the direction they entered the room from. It helps keep the players from being complacent and too overconfident of their tactical situation in an encounter.
I’ve been liking this so much I’ve thrown out the idea of mapping out hallways. Just leaving things as a rough networked sketch has been great. It’s made it mentally easier for me to keep rooms dynamic and eased the ability of switching things around on the fly. Even better, when I see inspiring stuff like the maps here I’m more likely to use it and not worry about keeping in the corridors.
( Sadly, Fearless DM wrapped up his blog (where I snatched up these wonderful maps), but you can usually find him still dispensing RPG gems via twitter: @pseckler )