Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My megadungeon mapping "best" practices - Part II

Here is Part I


Not a rule really, just what I'm using:

- assorted mechanical pencils.
- a couple of rulers.
- Japanese plastic erasers (the ones that remove anything without smudging and ripping)
- anything I can to make a shape. Coin edges are good, a stencil would be better but I don't have one.
- home-made graph paper using this site's tools. I managed to convince my cheapo HP4400 series printer (came free with a PC) to print it edge to edge with no margins, so I can put multiple sheets together if I want. I have some 8 1/2" x 11" and 8 1/2" x 17" paper with 8-squares-to-the-inch. That's the right size for me.
- a pad of graph paper at 4-squares-to-the-inch for "zoom in" maps of special areas, ala the Slaver Series of modules.

Label and Erase

Label broad areas of the map lightly in pencil - "storage rooms." "Wizard's labs." "Goblin warrens." Then you can go and erase them and fill in the details. This will help visualize the level before you draw it. You can also back-fill from those places to the known areas and vice versa.

Corallary: Labels keep you on track.
Having labeled areas helps you keep a theme. You can even grab whole blank sheets of paper and write labels on them. "Prison Level." "Warden's Apartments." "Escape tunnel." "Gladiator Pits." "Gladiator Prep Areas." That sheet alone is inspirational, even before you start drawing corridors and rooms on it.

Map in Pencil, Play on a Photocopy

What I've been doing is creating a photocopy backup of my map after I do big sections. Then I realized the map really "pops" on the photocopy. The lines are a bit darker and clearer, and they won't smudge. I can also use the copies to create progressive destruction by PCs or monsters, add or remove bits, and put on temporary notes - knowing I have a master copy elsewhere. Scanning it into the PC isn't a bad idea either.

That's it for now. I hope this helps.


  1. I hand drew big poster maps of my wilderlands campaign when the originals started wearing out. When the local copy shop got in a blueprint photocopier I used that to copy the map after I drew in the coastlines or city outlines. Then make the final map off of the photocopy.

  2. How do you maintain details for keyed areas? I've never been happy with the organization schemes I have tried. Various digital methods are obviously the most flexible (and searchable), but I have been trying to avoid using a laptop at the table, and I find the iPad to be (surprisingly) too slow during play (though it is a masterful PDF reader outside of play). Using a sheet of notebook paper with two lines per area is not bad.

    For my next dungeon project, I am thinking about trying index cards.

  3. @Rob: That's a good idea. I actually learned the method of copying map outlines from a Dragon magazine article. But until now I didn't realize it was a great way to preserve and improve dungeon maps.

    @Brendan: I don't know yet. I have been using one Word document for monster stats, one for keyed areas, and a map. That's been very clumsy, so I'm trying to decide how to improve it. I like the one-page dungeon approach but the map area is too small. So I might just do facing pages to detail a level or level section. . . I haven't decided yet.

  4. I think Gygax did the facing page method. As you can sort of see here.

  5. I meant using, say, a layout where pages 1-2 of a level are on the left and right side of a folded piece of 11" x 17" paper. That way I could have my map (either 8 1/2" x 11" or 11" x 17") over on one side of my PC and the key on the other. That gives me a LOT of acreage to key out areas and put in details, but it's all easily visible.

    Still haven't decided. I'll try that next time I key an area and see how it works in game.


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