Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mapping the Megadungeon World Anyway

Yesterday I said you don't need a map for your megadungeon world. That's even if your outside world affects the megadungeon and the megadungeon affects the outside world.

But I'm not oppose to maps. In fact, I love maps. I have lots of them myself. I filled in a hex map by hand, with pencils and colored pencils, instead of paying attention in science class in High School. I pretty much picked the Forgotten Realms for one game because it had very usable maps, and the Known Worlds (aka Mystara) for the same reason when I wanted a complete break with my FR game's history.

I did old-style graph paper maps for my dungeon, 10' to the square, because I like maps.

Felltower Entrance photo felltowerfortifiedentrancesmall.jpg

But then I go and do this sort of sketch map for my DF game:

 photo FelltowerWildernessIIs_zps32cd161f.jpg

That's the entire world map I have.

And I'm running my Lost City games with a wilderness component with no map at all.

This is because the game won't really go beyond that area in a way that requires a map.

Essentially, you don't want to do work you'll never need.

But it's still worth doing so if certain situations apply:

I'll use it later.

If your megadungeon game will eventually grow out into a world-spanning game, a world map can be useful. You don't need it to start, but you might want it later.

You also may want to make your megadungeon game the basis of a larger series of games. Maybe this game spends 90% of its sessions underground in 10' x 10' corridors. But the canon you build up can be part of the history of a later campaign, with different characters or even different players. Putting some cumulative time into defining and mapping the world isn't a waste in those cases. You're laying the groundwork for future campaigns.

You certainly don't need the entire world - Greyhawk's map is pretty big, and yet it's a fraction of the globe. So even "complete world" generally means "big enough for large adventures" and that's it.

You don't need to do it all at once - stick to "just enough to get the job done" and you'll be happy. Better to have a vague, small map than a specific, large one. The former takes less time and is more flexible in play.

I need it for my own sake, right now.

Another good reason for a map. Some people are so visual that without a map they really can't operate. Some people just prefer having one. And some people (I'm one) don't know what they are visualizing exactly until they see it on paper - draw it, see it's not what you envisioned, and fix it iteratively.

Again, though, I'd recommend against overdoing it. I hear more people starting giant campaigns with great detail that die off after a few sessions than of people doing the same with long-running results. Get enough to go on, to satisfy your need to see what the world is like, and then get playing. Fill it in as the world fills out in play.

Like I said yesterday - it's about not spending time on things until you need them. But that's not to say you'll never need them, or that time spent now to save time later (even several campaigns laters!) is a bad thing.


  1. As a kid getting into RPGs, I started big and tried to work small: I'd fill days and days drawing enormous world maps, burning with the possibility of getting to play in this whole world I'd created in my imagination.

    As an adult playing games, I work small and hope to play big: I make just enough of a map to do the adventure people will play, and hope things hang together enough that I'm compelled to put in the work for the world to expand outward.

    Turns out, as Greyhawk knew, starting small-and-useful then expanding outward as player need dictates works a lot better than starting with a grand overarching vision and hoping I can convince players to explore.

    Also turns out, I just enjoy drawing maps. That's the one constant.

    1. Nice maps!

      And yeah, better to start small. Tonight is session 70 of our DF game. It started as, basically, let's play this until we get bored, with just enough to get it rolling. 70 sessions and no sign of stopping. Some players left, others joined, some drop in periodically . . . had I built up all the stuff I needed for all 70 sessions right away, we'd never have even started.

      It's kind of like trying something and then reinforcing success than planning for success and laying out all the groundwork first. As an adult, that's a much more reasonable approach to a hobby.

    2. Thank you! I'm working on getting that blog off the ground.

      Truth be told, every time I put pen to paper I have to remind myself to think small. I want to create new worlds! Too many fantasy novels with frontpapers with evocative world maps will do that to you.

      But then I stop and remember that every game (without exception!) I've started by creating a world map has been a game that never really got going. By far my most successful campaigns have been those that started with a location or two, and then expanded when the PCs chose to go that directions. ("We head east to explore the Starvling Hills. What's out there?" "Come back next week to find out." *frantic scribbling*)

      Well done on session 70, BTW. That's impressive.

  2. It seems I spoke too soon. Yes; to each their own.


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