Sunday, October 11, 2015

Visualizing the Dungeon

As a DM I'm often wondering if I'm presenting the dungeon to the players and even myself as best as I can.

Do players see the same thing I do? Can they? I've noticed over time groups if players tend to develop a shorthand to describe a dungeon environment to as quickly and meaningfully as possible (unless it;s an insanely boring campaign) but I wonder what is lost in that shorthand.  While I still spend plenty of time analyzing and exploring the traditional dungeon maps I do tend to find the classical empty dungeon map boring, there is so much wasted space to convey information and keep notes but we habitually split it all up or keep the details lite.  I understand some of the reasons to keep the details on the low end I tend to scribble on maps as the PC go rampaging through noting doors broken, piles of bodies, and missed loot on my copy of the map so I can track and present those changes (and other that may follow) to the players later in the adventure, yet  I still wonder if more could be put on the map in the first place. There was a brief trend for isometric looking dungeon maps but these fell out of favor becasue not every DM is an artist and the time spent prettying up isometric dungeons didn't always add to the play experience, sure it made the maps less boring for the DM to stare out compared to a set of squares and rectangles with numbers in the middle but didn't really add significantly to the experience.

I wonder to myself if by keeping to old tools we are keeping our campaign and adventures from developing beyond old boundaries. My imagination can picture vast dungeon environments that the classical graph paper method is just sorely lacking in properly recording. Maybe the computer has given us the means but the exact tool-set isn't here yet as compter and video games allow impressive spaces to be designed but the means these are explored by players are still significantly different from how tabletop play unfolds.

Are we visualizing our dungeons well, and are the other players really seeing what we think they are?

1 comment:

  1. I've been considering trying out a "point dungeon" style. A map of connected encounter areas but without all of the 20' x 20' type of things. I notice that when my players make maps, they rarely use a grid, but rather are focused on what connects where - using to ensure escape and track where they have yet to explore. While I really love my good old graph paper, I think that a point-crawl kind of dungeon is going to allow for just as much tone and possibly a bit more flexibility. Of course at the same time when I read the player's maps I love the strange notes and symbols they write. We can get the feel of things, the thrill of combat dread of an impending doom across without anyone actually caring the room is a truncated triangle. "Oddly shaped large room" is often more than enough for the players.