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Creating a Dungeon Map

Mapping is an integral part of Game-Mastering any roleplaying game. Maps are infinitely useful. They functionally visualize settlements (towns, fortresses), ships, or caves, ruins, and dungeons as well as over-maps of landscapes and countries. I also know it can be tough even to get started much less work through to a completed map.

Over a couple of decades of Game-Mastering, I have worked out a certain routine. A routine to follow when formulating and creating maps. Just to be sure of this, I took notes while I created the map for Manifold Maps #2. This routine can get my mind moving and the creative juices flowing even when caught at a standstill. Occasionally, however, I do still run into roadblocks.

Portions of the map I am not happy with or the inability to get a solid picture of what I am trying to do are common obstacles. I also sometimes just seem to run out of ideas somewhere near the beginning. I have learned to work through these dry spells. However, I never try to force it. Eventually, not counting for a possible time-crunch though, I can get going at it again. Although I can stall out for more than a day or two sometimes. Most map-making does involve some stops and starts.

Writing this piece was a personal exploration into my own creative process once I started to realize that I had a process and was working through steps to achieve a completed piece that I was ultimately satisfied with. I hope that others will in the very least find this interesting if not helpful in their own mapping endeavors. The first step in map-making is to have a symbol key at the ready.

Make the Master Key

It is important to have a clear and legible symbol key. This is in order to populate your maps with objects, features, and scenery not to mention encounters, treasures, and traps. A Map Key also sometimes referred to as a Legend is a listing of symbols with their meanings. It is needed to understand a map that uses its symbols. The key can be on the map itself often quartered off. However,  often Games-masters(GMs) might want to use as much of the sheet as possible. So using a Master Key, a universal map key often on a separate sheet of paper, is most useful.

roughing a chamber for map
Roughing some chamber ideas

I have a standard master symbol key that I use for most of my maps. I also may use a few alternate symbols required in certain situations. The key that I use includes adopted symbols and has been refined over a period of several years. So, it might take a while to build or collect a master key suited to your purposes. Personally, I am more concerned when using my key with speed and clarity. I wanted to include symbols in my Legend that are easy to recognize and distinguish from each other. They also had to be easy to draw fast and easily especially when sketching. When in doubt, find already existing ones and crib and adapt them to your needs.

To Start With

I often start with the vision or concept of a single chamber. Which for one reason or another is interesting to me as well as clear in detail. It is often a central or entrance chamber that gives the players a visual taste or general atmosphere of the entire place but not always. Frankly, I grasp at whatever I can clearly visualize. This can be a central or entrance chamber, some side passage, or even the outside mouth/entrance to the place.

An alternate method is to just start laying down features then work a single chamber around those features. This to get the starting point from which to work outward. This I do when the first method is not working for me. This technique is a little more hit or miss. However, I usually come out with something if not a handful of possible chambers to begin plotting.

The map starts to grow from the central chamber

Going back to the visualized chamber; I will sketch this room and try to fumble around with surrounding chambers. How they relate on the map to the central chamber and how they connect. I make a real mess with a pencil on a piece of paper trying to refine the central chamber. Including as I try to find a layout and develop a few chambers that I can string together. This includes creating additional chambers to place on the paper like puzzle pieces, trying the best and most pleasing fit if not the most sadistic or unexpected configurations.

Once a map starts to form, I also try to gain another main idea that may add to the map in a few different ways. These central ideas or main features can include canyons, large pits or fissures, bodies of water, burrows or dugouts that were not a part of the original structure, historical additions or modifications, etc.

The Big Idea

rough sketch of the map
A refined sketch with the big idea

This idea should fill a decent portion of the map, run through it, or help to shape the map and arrangement of chambers. This idea can be a natural or not-so-natural feature, the purpose of the structure that I am mapping or the history of the place that would shape it or its features. With this in hand, I will take a new sheet of paper, sketch the chambers that I designed previously, and use my new idea to arrange the layout.

After I have the layout sketched, I try to add as many details to each chamber (using the SYMBOL KEY) as possible but not so much as to crowd the sketch. I also write notes (sometimes with arrows) around the sketch that I need to draw the refined rough draft or those that need to be included as notes for the map even if they are not present on the map itself. This is also the time that I start writing down ideas for a title.

The title is often times, but not always, based on the central feature or main idea of the map because it is easier to conceive of a name that way. Other things to consider when running through names for your map are its history, current or former uses, what or who may or did reside there, and its reputation (if any). I also like titles that are eye-catching i.e. sound cool and maybe a bit cheesy.

Refining the Rough

ink lined sketch for map
The finished sketch in ink

Now I have my messy pencil sketch. The next step is to carefully pencil a copy of the map on a piece of graph paper. I try to include any notes or symbols on the original rough version. In addition, I take the time to refine my map, add, change, or subtract chambers or other details. In addition, I decide which notes are convertible into symbols and the need for any new ones.

I prefer working with my hands although most of you might want to use other methods, which is fine. Also, I already have all the art supplies so I should use them. My roughs are done entirely in pencil. This refined rough draft is what I use as my blueprint.

I then trace only the parts of the map I will ink. Those are scanned into Photoshop where I have all my Legend symbols ready to place.  I trace the main non-keyed features and walls then clean it up in Photoshop. This is while dropping in the keyed elements and text resulting in the final draft of the map. Essentially, I use Photoshop to create the final polished version of the map. It looks cleaner and the quality is easier to reproduce across several maps if need be.

Recap

  • Decide on a Master Key/Legend to use
  • Try to come up with a single chamber as a starting point
  • Refine it and start thinking about other chambers around it and how they fit together with it
  • Add a central feature or idea to help shape the entire map
  • Start penciling a rough draft from your preliminary sketches
  • Trace off, detail, and refine a draft from the former that will be used as the map blueprint
  • Draw your map based on that blueprint refining your design were necessary
Tabernacle
The finished map

Summation

It is through this process that I draw maps. These include those found in the Zombie Horror book and hopefully future publications. The difficulty really is coming up with the bits and pieces then fitting them together into a coherent, useful, and hopefully aesthetically pleasing map. Start small and work your way out adding in new, bigger ideas as you refine the map. Eventually, you will end up with a complete map. Remember that it does not have to be huge or too complex to be useful. Lastly, the tools to produce should not matter as much as your own personal skill and knowledge with them.

Manifold Maps #2: Tabernacle of the Bottomless Gorge

Tabernacle
The Tabernacle Map

This is a map to the Tabernacle of the Bottomless Gorge, a hidden temple carved from the living rock of a hollow mountain top. This is a free fully marked-up map (only lacking encounters, traps, treasures, etc.) for use with Dice & Glory. It uses a basic key (Note: the small triangular arrows denote edges of a domed ceiling) and numbered portions for the ease of GM’s wanting to populate them. A legend is included as this map uses a variety of symbols.

Manifold maps can be used at the discretion of Game-Masters to add a new crawl type adventure or dueling field to their game. These are self-contained maps that fit on a single page and require only the prep-work to populate them as well as descriptions to flesh out certain areas.

This map was designed around the idea of a hidden temple/tabernacle built around a large gorge. There is a chamber designed to catch rainwater in a reservoir and a simple cave system serving as a secret escape route. The map is contained enough for a brief raid or limited crawl. The terrain is also varied with roughly hewn chambers, temple chambers, caverns, and cliffsides. The scale is meant to be 5 sq.ft. per square.

Manifold Maps #2 – 1 MB

The Map PDF is hosted on Mediafire.

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.9: Fungus Force Five

Map of the Fungus Kingdom
Fungus Kingdom full map

Fauna the druid (played by Jenn), Excor (played by Cris), and Szoo the Black-Scael naga (played by Isis), were surveying the post-battle damage. A few shouldering clumps of slime remained not giving a hint to the tiny creatures’ formerly humanoid shapes. The statue of the four-armed goddess with dragonfly wings had fallen into the cellar up to its golden breasts (The Cabal of Eight Pt.41: The Lotus Vaults Pt.1). The floorboards around it were shattered, soggy and warped.

Cris: “See! I told you we should’ a killed that thing yesterday!”

Jenn: “But we didn’t fight these down there!”

Cris: “What dya think sent those!”

Fauna continued her brewing of healing potions while Szoo inspected the hole. The gap between the statue and the floorboards was enough for either of the human mages to crawl through but it was too narrow for Szoo to slither into the cellar. As the sunset and sky burned gold and pink, Fauna was finished, the trio decided to go back down into the caves below to provoke a final confrontation with the mushroom boss.

Excor holed the statue up in his Portable Hole revealing that the steps into the cellar were completely flattened. He activated his Ring of Ghost Form to float down to the cellar floor. Alternately, Fauna just jumped down after tying a rope off to the marble scrying pool that they had looted from the Lotus Vaults and installed in their makeshift lab-niche (The Cabal of Eight Pt.41: The Lotus Vaults Pt.1). Szoo slithered down into the small root cellar. Fauna took up the lead after finding the secret door wide open, smeared with fishy-smelling moisture and reeking of fungus.

The druid took a few careful cat-steps into the gaping portal into the dark passage. Her nostrils immediately assaulted by the choking stench of wet fungus. She saw about eight tiny sized humanoid creatures identical to those they had already faced above running towards her. The wet sounds of their tiny pseudo-feet slapping on the stone floor alerted the other two mages. As the tiny fiends hit the light of the lantern they appeared composed of black-spotted spongy material with grains throughout and covered in white and greyish hairs.

The battle was brief. Fauna slaughtered them with her dagger and Szoo scorched them with fire. Excor had flung chrono-missiles at them. During the battle, all of the creatures, the mouldmen, had swarmed poor Fauna and dealt some acid damage and drained some of her health (Constitution points). The mages lost no time in rushing into the caverns with Fauna in the lead.

Cris (to Jenn): “See! I told you that thing sent those things to screw with us! Hey, you better let Szoo lead for a little bit!”

Szoo moves into the lead to try to allow Fauna to recover. However, as soon as he took the lead, Szoo immediately spotted the oozing form of a violet blob slithering towards them from further down the main cavern.

Again, the battle was brief but Szoo had been engulfed, as this creature was much bigger than the violet blob that they had faced before (The Cabal of Eight II Pt.6: Facing the Fungus). Likewise, the creature had scored a critical hit on Fauna with a tentacle causing some serious damage to both her and Szoo using its dissolve flesh ability.

Suddenly without warning, a myconid astride a giant centipede charged from the somewhere further down the main cavern followed by two more mushroom-men covered in a thick crust of lichen-like plate armor wielding granite maces followed by an ice imp flying above amongst the dripping stalactites.

Excor whipped out his magic spike and shot a bolt of electricity at the centipede wounding it. Fauna tried to cast Lightning Bolt but the magic got away from her and went wild. A crackling burst of tiny electrical bolts filled the area. Fortunately, Excor was a ghost and unharmed. Szoo was able to avoid the bolts. Unfortunately, their enemies were just outside of the area of effect. The myconid centipede rider held up a small rod carved from red stone and the centipede surged forward heading straight for Fauna, she dodged its venomous fangs. The ice imp soared above the mages and blew a cone of icy breath at Fauna. Her magic shield absorbed the damage. Szoo shot a ray of fire at the centipede dealing some damage to it. The lichen-armored myconids leaped from the wood sled that the centipede was pulling and both attacked Szoo with their bludgeons. Szoo’s shield absorbed both hits.

Excor shot an electrical bolt at the centipede rider wounding it. The rider swung a sling above its head and let fly a stone at Excor but it passed harmlessly through his ghost form. The centipede again struck at Fauna but missed. Szoosha pulled out his fire fang and unleashed a cone of fire at the pair lichen-armored mushroom men barely singing them. The ice imp flew down and tried to kick Fauna in the head with its hooved feet. The druid easily parried the blow. The pair of lichen-armors again attacked Szoo, one missed by a wide margin the other successfully dispersed the shield spell protecting the naga.

Excor cast energy tentacle. Shooting from Excor’s hands a blinding bolt of energy took hold of the centipede rider like a tentacle. Fauna threw a lightning bolt at the imp wounding it. The giant centipede struck at Excor but again his ghost form protected him. Szoo backed up a few steps and cast elemental half-plate armor (fire) on himself. The armored myconids again struck at the naga but parried by his flaming naginata.

Szoo pulled out a bottle of naphtha and tossed it at the armored myconids splashing them both with the pungent substance. Fauna cast a fire ray at the ice imp wounding it badly. The imp again blew a blast of frost at Fauna. The centipede again fruitlessly snapped its jaws at Excor. Excor used the energy tentacle to pull the rider from his saddle and lifted him 20 feet into the damp cavern air. The armored myconids again swung at Szoo who once again easily parried their blows. The rider struggled in the grips of the energy tentacle but was trapped.

Szoo used his fire fang and blasted the pair of armored myconids with fire also igniting the naphtha spattered over them. They took a little damage but were also on fire. Fauna cast another fire ray at the ice imp burning it badly. The imp kicked at and hit Szoo in the head with its hooves but the naga’s fire armor protected him. Again, the centipede struck at Excor’s ghostly form. Excor used his tentacle to toss the unfortunate rider 20 feet down the cavern, a sickly thud sounded from the darkness. The flaming armored myconids both struck at Szoo again, one was easily parried but the other scored a critical hit dealing Szoo a mild wound.

Szoo again unleashed his fire fang on the pair of myconids again causing their armor to start to burn away. Fauna again struck the ice imp with her fire ray this time killing the creature. It disappeared with a blood-curdling scream and a burst of blue energy. The centipede continued to try to attack Excor. Excor tried to cast Force Ram on the giant centipede but failed the chaos of battle overwhelming his senses.  The burning pair of myconids again struck at Szoo but the naga again easily parried the both of them.

Szoo slashed at one of the burning myconids with his naginata but the myconid parried. Excor successfully cast Force Ram and squished the centipede against the cavern wall. Fauna flubbed her spell too anxious to slay her enemies. One of the flaming myconids attacked Fauna and was easily parried. The other attacked the naga and struck home with a massive lucky blow dealing Szoo a mean wound. The battle continued for a few more actions until the last pair of enemies collapsed into flaming smoking heaps.

Isis: “Jeesh! How many more of these guys are down here!”

Cris: “Yeah, he’s trying to wear us down before we get to him!”

Jenn: “Well it’s working! I’m out of shields and low on spells. And I’m kinda hurt.”

Isis: “Same here sis. But I’m still in okay shape!”

Cris: “I’m still pretty good but yeah, I’m out of shields too. … Screw this.”

Excor was going to cast Ghost Form on himself again but thought better of it.

After surveying the carnage and taking time to imbibe in some healing potions, the mages charged deeper into the cavern turning south to where they had previously encountered the boss mushroom. As fortune would have it, they ran straight smack into the monster.

The first round of battle was a blur of lightning bolts, a hurling destructive ball of fungus, a slashing flaming polearm, and a well-placed slow spell. The second was a cacophony of energy rays, chrono-missiles, and repeated thorn blasts that left Excor resembling a porcupine.

The battle raged on and slowed Boss Mushroom went on the attack as the trio of mages went on the defensive casting healing spells on each other, drinking potions, and Szoo casting elemental half-plate armor (fire) on his companions. The monster’s club swept repeatedly catching Szoo once and Excor twice. A well-placed fungus ball spell nailed Fauna wounding her horribly.

The final round found the mages exhausted and all badly wounded unable to take even a mild hit. However, Boss Mushroom was just as wounded. Thorn blasts and energy rays again flew then Excor captured the monster with a shadow ribbons spell. While the horrid thing was trapped, the mages beat and stabbed it to death.

The battle was finished and the trio stood over the large bloated body of the giant mushroom creature. Its flesh was starting to break down and liquefy. Excor observed the still brightly glowing ruby embedded in its chest. He shrugged and reached out to pull the gem from the monster’s melting flesh. To his surprise the gem was set into gold and attached to that was a fine gold chain, it was a necklace. He continued to pull the treasure free though there was some resistance so it took an effort on his part.

He almost had it free of the gross corpse and gave a mighty final yank. The warty skin of the chest split open and a human skeleton, the necklace still about its neck bones, was pulled out with a gush of yellow pus-like liquid matter. The skull clattered to the cavern floor, pulled off in a nervous reflex action by Excor. The necklace was his.

Cris: “Yech!”

Excor identified the gold necklace bearing a large central ruby that sparkled like blood-fire. The gem enraptured Szoo. His eyes sparkled in time with the strange light of it. Excor described the magic abilities of the necklace. It was a necklace of Shield three-times-a-day at level 8. However, something about it was bothering him but he just could not put his finger on it. Szoo grabbed for the gem, Excor let the naga have it. The naga Elementalist immediately donned the magic necklace.

Cris: “I don’t want that stinking thing! It was embedded in a monster-mushroom’s chest!”

Szoo wanted to explore the cavern further but everyone was suffering significant wounds including Szoo who only just realized his condition when prodded by Excor. Disappointed the naga relented. To satisfy the naga at least a little, Excor cast ghost form on himself once more and scouted the cave getting a general sense of where all of the passages and chambers were. The naga seemed even more disappointed afterward.

Exhausted, the trio moved back up into the house for some well-needed rest. Excor grumbled something about having to hire some carpenters to fix the trap door and floor.

To Be Continued…

Manifold Maps #1: Deadfall Cavern

Deadfall Cave Map
The Cave Map

This is the map to the Deadfall Caverns, a pre-generated and marked up map for use with Dice & Glory. It uses a basic key (Note: the small triangular arrows denote edges of a domed ceiling) and numbered portions for the ease of GM’s wanting to populate them.

Manifold maps can be used at the discretion of Game-Masters to add a new crawl type adventure or dueling field to their game. These are self-contained maps that fit on a single page and require only the prep-work to populate them as well as descriptions to flesh out certain areas.

This map was designed around the idea of a cavern with a large body of water flowing underneath it. This body of water accessible from outside near the mouth of the cave although the water goes quite deep. There are many potential ambush points and plenty of nooks and crannies where enemies can hide. The terrain is also varied with water traps, sandpits, cliffs, and holes that fall into other parts of the cave system (indicated by the 8-pointed black stars). The scale is meant to be 5 sq.ft. per square.

Manifold Maps #1 – 1 MB

The Map PDF is hosted on Mediafire.