Cardinal Moves

Some worthwhile thoughts on giving scale and directions over at Dungeon Fantastic. Subject was also recently broached over at the Autarch forums. There’s also the fantastic Tale of Two Maps at Story Games.

I’m still new at this. While I’ve run games where mapping matters before, it’s been a long enough a while that I feel like I’m starting with a clean slate. Last session we had a short discussion on the phrasing I use when describing a corridor what turns. What does “hallways continues for 30′ and then turns left” mean? How long are the left and right straight walls? I think we got that sorted out…

One the subject of using North/South versus Left/Right styles, I think next session I will try to do both. First give a thumbnail sketch without accurate directions, then assuming the characters are moving at exploration speed give out cardinal directions and measurements.

Otherwise, this is what I’ve been doing so far:

  • When rooms are regular, they have light, and are moving at the normal exploration rate I describe things as clearly as I can. If there’s mistake that would be obvious to the characters I will point it out. Exploration movement is really slow and IMO assumes they’re being careful about measuring things, etc.
  • If there’s an irregular or tricky room I might sketch it — assuming they have light and are moving slowly.
  • I very much try to observe the visibility rules: 30′ with a torch. (The important corollary is that light sources can be seen much farther than they illuminate.)
  • If the light is bad or movement is faster I describe things less accurately.
  • If they’re moving too quickly to map they must draw the map after the fact. (This is when the mapping proficiency will be handy.)
  • The character who draws the map has it. If the party splits and they have only one map… ooops. If the map is dropped, I take hold of it while it’s on the ground.
  • Those mapping cannot carry torches or lanterns, and cannot hold shields or weapons in hand.

I haven’t been 100% strict about all this all the time — but when I’ve slipped it’s because I’ve slipped, not because I thought it a good idea at the time.

Couple of extended possibilities I’m also contemplating:

  • Allowing exploration speed to be the speed of the slowest mapper. Allowing those not mapping to search one 10′ by 10′ area for traps or secret doors per turn if they also move at their exploration speed. This would mean somewhat faster movement if there are just one or two people carrying heavy burdens — it’s not like everyone has to count their paces, only the mappers. It would also allow more of the dungeon to be spot-searched without increasing the number of random encounters.
  • Allowing mapping at double exploration speed at the cost of accuracy. “The corridor continues straight 40-60 yards.”

What do you think?


  1. If you can pull it of such effort is of course recommendable.
    I have found out that giving players unrealistically good descriptions and measures for their mapping has worked good too. Sacrificing the simulation for sake of speedier gameplay, I also tend to be quite sloppy at measuring time and amount of encumbrance too.

  2. Mapping is definately tricky. I’ve started using a little white board to draw quick sketches but leave them to map things. They’ve been fairly lax so far…I don’t know what’s going to happen the first time it becomes an issue.

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