Saturday, January 15, 2011


During the early paleolithic age of gaming, back when we had to draw our own rocks, the creation of dungeon maps was a process done by hand using pens, rulers, graph paper and all the art supplies you had on hand. A few stalwarts got fancy and used Zip-a-Tone, Scraps of salvaged Rubylith, rubber cement and photocopied bits to make fancier-shmancier maps, but generally one just got a sheet of paper and drew the frikkin' thing out. People still do this, though in an age of Hexographer, Dundjinni, Campaign Cartographer, GIMP, Artweaver, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. one sometimes wonders why. Unless you're one of the mad mappers who contracted the need to draw your own geomorphs and design things like would-be Piranesis like so many of us did.

So don't get the wrong impression--we do a lot of maps around here, have been since the Seventies and will be until the day they pry the pen from our cold dead fingers. Maybe even past that point if all goes well...gotta love the internet...

We love maps.

But sometimes you need something less detailed and more tactically adaptable. Sometimes you go with a Flow-chart approach and just create a set of nodes and draw lines to show the connections between each of them. One major advantage is that you can easily swap-out the doors with teleporters, make the connection into a shaft or a pit-trap, even make use of a table of random doors like the very nice Megadungeon Doors random generator over at the Beyond the Black Gate blog.

A flow-chart dungeon isn't new by any stretch of the imagination. We were using this approach for smaller, one-off lairs and the like back in the OD&D days and we knew quite a few other DMs who were using something similar back then. It's an Old School concept that nobody owns and is well worth revisiting and reconsidering in conjunction with the One Page Dungeons idea, or the more minimalist sorts of approaches to things like going back to index-card character sheets, etc.

The nice thing about using a Node-Based mapping scheme is that you can develop the connections either on the fly or completely at random, and if you include a selection of suitable description text options, you can really lay down some decent versimilitude with minimal fuss and bother...once you've built the tables, etc.

This is something that we'll be talking about a bit more next week.
Until then take care and have fun gaming.
Be Well,


  1. I love node based maps as expressed in text based adventure games, MUDS and gamebooks...so literary as opposed to literal.

  2. Ok, I can see the appeal of the node-based approach, especially if you are playing in a sandbox campaign with a lot of encounters prepped.

    But damn it, the Internet provides a lot of mapping goodness that is too good to pass up. I love unkeyed maps the most--with or without numbers--as they allow for maximum flexibility in encounter design.:

    That said, I hope you have seen this:


    That is pure mapping goodness right there.

  3. Ya know....other night I had a jones to make a dungeon. Right? So I wrote down a list of all the important rooms first, and started putting them down on graph paper. The idea was to connect 'em with hallways and other rooms, but as I worked on it, I thought: "I oughtta lay it out just as a flowchart/node map fi-- naaah, screw it. I'm just gonna do it as a node map. Screw it."

    And thus was I pleased.

  4. @Blair: The approach does offer a lot of flexibility. It works great for doing stuff that would otherwise be insane or practically impossible to do otherwise like massive ruined arcologies, gigantic orbital habitats, etc.

    @Matthew W. Schmeer: Indeed there are a lot of maps available out there and like we said--we do love maps--but the node-based approach does have its uses and can allow for a lot of freeform on-the-fly dungeon development where you do all the connections based off of random rolls, etc. It's a different appraoch, not better or worse, just different with it's own merits and its own weaknesses. Just haven't seen it talked about a loot as yet...

    Thanks for the link--we'll check that out right away!

    @Dr. Rotwang: There's certainly something twisted in getting players to map out a dungeon that you have set up as a flow chart...

    There's also something to be said for being able to really ramp up the productivity on your dungeon-building efforts that using a node-based mapping approach can do for things. It's certainly not the way to do everything, but it is useful.

    We love big, hand-drawn or compuer-generated mega-maps a lot though...


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