In a thread at Original D&D Discussion about running Tegel Manor Geoffrey McKinney made some comments on how good the map for thatadventure is. I recall liking the map but had forgotten why some folks think it’s special. I realized something I do myself and an awful lot of other folks likely do: we produce sterile dungeon maps. Big empty maps full of walls and door locations and numbers but mostly empty space.
I myself post a number of maps and map sections on this blog but I do them with an eye to other people making use of them for themselves so I don’t clutter the maps with a bunch of stuff I use when making maps as I use them in play. I leave a lot of empty space for other DMs to fill in their own stuff, I even leave out the doors some of the time when posting maps here because those pesky doors are an adventure specific feature of many a dungeon adventure. I think I and many other dungeon builders are shorting each other and everyone else. What I put on my maps for my own use but don’t usually put on maps I post here: traps and trap trigger areas, dungeon vegetation, floor properties, ceiling heights, treasure locations, grumpy smiley faces (meaning monster in this room), air quality, and clutter. When I was a kid I often used big 22”x17” sheets to map out my dungeons at 1” to 10’, an entire dungeon might have ended up all on the maps but as I became more sophisticated and wanted bigger dungeons I drifted towards the more conventional and sterile style of map and notes even if I tend to go beyond empty walls and number for my own use.
My dungeon maps get really cluttered and full as the dungeon is used in play. Footprints get put on the map, dead bodies and broken doors get noted, player navigation marks are noted. A lot of little things end up down on the map that become notable and even important with repeated play in the same dungeon, I end up noting circles of illumination sometimes that really help when describing things (why I don’t do that a heck of a lot more often beforehand I do not know).
I think I’m tired of sterile dungeon maps, we all should be. I’m going to have to put more on the maps I post here and I hope other folks do as well.