Sorry if my prose is a bit terse or below par this post, I’m writing it while on painkillers from surgery.
I received an email from a relatively new DM asking how to use my maps in a game – or specifically how I use them.
I have been very inspired by your maps and I wanted to know if you could help me understand how you walk your players through on of your maps?
Do you just set your map down and say “You start here”. or do you talk them through it giving them some graph paper and exempting them to draw out what you reveal to them?
Overall, it depends on the situation.
Either I draw it out as I go, or I just describe the scene (especially for the smaller maps). As Neil Ellis over at DungeonMaster.com pointed out; “[you can re-]draw the map on the spot while laying out the narrative, something I personally always enjoy. It is almost like reading the narrative text in a video game while the next sequence loads. On rare occasion I just lay the map out on the table in full view of the players and run with it – but the element of exploration is such a core theme of classic Dungeons & Dragons that this is truly rare in my games.
Let’s take my most recent map (the Ziggurat of Rhissel the Morning Lord) – This is one I would likely not even draw at all. Just describe the scene as an old and abused 4-step stone pyramid showing the marks of the ages squat in the centre of the valley. There is a single entrance facing to the east seemingly cut into the top tier of the pyramid, like a single eye socket in a dead god’s skull.
Once inside it’s fairly easy to describe the areas.
A. The entrance to the ziggurat shows the signs of the ages and of lack of care. Debris blown in during storms litters the floor. Stone stairs lead down into the pyramid proper, overlooked by a dark alcove.
B. The stairs turn to the right and then to the right again after another dozen steps. At each landing there is a single stone door recessed into the heavy stone block walls. The litter on the floor is significantly reduced compared to upstairs.
C. The stairs end somewhere below the ground at an alcove at an archway into a much larger room with statues in each corner. One of the statues seems to guard an extension of the room where you can spy what appears to be a massive sarcophagus.
Now, for a low-level group or a group that is really into the exploration aspect of the game I might actually draw out the map as I go in addition to those descriptions, but in most cases the descriptions are all that are really needed – especially if you are running a more narrativist or story-oriented style of game.