Saturday, June 28, 2014

Keying the Map, or Mapping the Key

I've seen this discussed before on a message board, but I can't find the thread. The question was this: when getting ready for the game, do you (a) draw a map first and then key it, (b) draw the map and the key at the same time working as you go, or (c) write some sort of key (such as a roster of monsters and traps) before building the map to suit? This also begs another question, that of the backstory. In general, unless it's a funhouse type of dungeon, there's a backstory -- whether or not it's ever revealed to the players, some sort of idea usually unifies the encounters even in a location-based adventure.

What's the order in which you mentally organize, prioritize, and develop your adventures?


  1. I start in one of two ways. If I have an idea (which usually involves a "boss" monster conducting some particular operation), I make a short list of things, rooms, treasures, and other monsters associated with the idea. Then, I start drawing a map to incorporate those elements, and the process of mapping and arranging usually suggests other things to include. If I don't have an overall idea, I start drawing a map, and randomly stocking room until some random combination evolves into an idea.

  2. Usually an idea for a challenging situation just pops into my head ... often inspired by whatever real world thing I happen to be doing at the moment, and then my brain twists it into something rpg-ish. I write these down as soon as I can, so I don't lose track of them; I have pages and pages of these kinds of ideas in my general rpg notes file. Eventually, some of the ideas blossom into adventure sites of various sizes.

    ... so it's not necessarily map-first or key-first. Sometimes the ideas are more about a place, and sometimes the ideas are more about people/creatures. Inspiration takes over from there and fills out whatever is missing.

  3. I used to start with a map, where I tested system rules and character abilities (mass combat in large rooms, lots of sheer drops to next level etc), then I changed to backstories aiming for a collage of different events/situations like How To Host A Dungeon, trying to get away from 'the wizard built it, he lived there, now it's monster zoo' . The backstories are hinted at through the environs, cultural debris and inhabitants but there's never any absolute confirmation - I simply believe the dungeon is there to raise questions rather than provide clear answers.

  4. Map first for me. Then I can weave a backstory around it. I've written an adventure first then mapped it, but for some reason it's a lot more difficult for me to make a map to create the adventure than it is to make an adventure that fits the map.