Monday, January 6, 2014

Handing My Players the Map

Two sessions ago in my DF game, the PCs found a labyrinth and explored a little of it. Just enough to realize it was dangerous and time-consuming, so they backed off to leave it for the next session.

Last session, they spent most of their time trying to puzzle out the labyrinth. They gamely tried to map it, and because of the difficulty in doing so, ended up spending more time checking their location and backtracking and re-mapping then actually solving any puzzle aspects of the labyrinth.

Part of that was because the maze is a little confusing, but also because it's hard to describe, it's hard to settle on orientation (who is facing where when I say "left" or "right"). Not a little confusion was because I copied the labyrinth from someone else's megadungeon, because I liked it so much. (I can't say which, because it might spoil the surprise if any of my players have read it.) That guy uses a lot of "no thickness" walls - those pencil lines on graph paper than separate one room from another. My tunnel walls are almost all 10+ thick, so it was a real shift when the PCs confronted walls under a foot thick and 10' ahead meant well into the turn, not reaching the edge point.

So I offered them a chance to buy a 100% accurate, but incomplete, map of the labyrinth in town from a sage. Usual price for a sage, but out of game I assured them it would be correct, no roll.

Out of game, this spares me another session of "do you mean your right or our right?" "That can't be, it circles back to the door." "How can that be if I'm facing there?" and so on. It spares my players a session of trying to orient themselves, when their characters could, would, and should have a much better perspective on the maze.

The puzzle of the maze isn't the maze, per se, but the dangers in it and what they expect will be a reward for figuring it out. After all, the wizard they killed was fleeing to this labyrinth, and a rumor they'd heard backs up the idea it might be a good place to check out.

In game, the explanation is that the maze's layout had been drawn in a book, but until the PCs put out some description of the labyrinth it wasn't clear what the map was of. So they paid their money and got a copy of the map, assured to be accurate as far as it goes and done by the designers (or possibly previous users) of the maze.

Honestly, last session was fun but could have been much more fun had they gone in armed with the map. The danger is unchanged, but the out-of-game frustration of maze orientation is gone. It's not like the previous maze they'd dealt with, in which the confusing layout was the point. This has another point and giving them the map makes it easier on all of us to get to the fun.

I just wish I'd decided to do this and taken the time to make the map before last time. But what's done is done, and they've got the map now!


  1. Yeah, it's fun as a GM to come up with puzzles, mazes, and whatnot, but it's not fun if the players get frustrated, so having a shortcut or out is often a good idea.

  2. You devil spawn!


  3. In a way, this philosophy animates Pelgrane's GUMSHOE system. it's not the clues (the map) that's the issue. It's putting the clues together to solve the puzzle that's the fun of the show. In this case, the only issue that I guess you'd want to obfuscate would be secret doors and rooms. Everything else is, as you say in your post, a matter of "this room would be boring except for the 48 Dire Badgers trying to bite my greaves off."

    1. That's interesting, I need to look at Gumshoe at some point.

      Exploration and map orientation is one thing, but when the players are lost and the PCs wouldn't be it's kind of silly. There came a moment when I'd realized they'd closed off all possible ways around the maze on their map, but not on mine, that the players were being hampered by confision but the PCs would have just seen new ground they clearly hadn't covered.

  4. I was thinking after the fact that a directional token (e.g. an arrow) would have helped a great deal in mapping out this maze. That way there would be no ambiguity between the players and yourself as to the mapper's position and facing. Of course, maybe this would be too close to just giving the players the map in the first place, but I can't really think of another way to do it.

    Obviously I wholeheartedly approve of purchasing a physically accurate map. Most important thing of playing games with friends is the fun part.

    1. We should have settled on "Map North," or "the Door is East" or something like that. It could have smoothed out a lot.


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