DM of the Rings XVIII:
Cartographer’s Lament

 By Shamus Oct 18, 2006 36 comments

Dungeon mapping, Graph paper.

Nothing adds excitement to a campaign like hours of detailing room dimensions and doorway placements. Remember, if you can’t keep them engaged, you can at least keep them busy. Well, one of them, anyway.

(As an aside, in our campaigns we use a a dry-erase board for this sort of thing.)

201636 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. Mrs T says:

    Better yet, do what my last GM did and build a table with a dry erase top. The coated boards for lining showers are a cheap way to get large whiteboard square footage.

  2. Ubu Roi says:

    We just used one of those vinyl mats. Until the dog ate it. It was a big dog.

    Ok, he only ate one corner, but it was enough.

  3. kat says:

    We had the graph paper, and for whatever reason, I was the designated map-maker. Which was rough, because what I wrote down never matched what the DM was seeing…

  4. bkw says:

    Have you seen this?

    http://www.d20srd.org/extras/mapProjection.htm

    Guy uses a DLP projector hanging from the ceiling, and a bunch of photoshop tricks to display and reveal the dungeon.

  5. BeckoningChasm says:

    “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

  6. David V.S. says:

    bkw,

    If I remember, this site is even older…

  7. Scotty G says:

    We have a 4′ x 8′ grid of 1.5″ squares on one wall of each of our gaming rooms. We got some of the cheap white paneling, marked it with permanent markers and a drywall square, hung it up, and then covered it with 4′ x 4′ sheets of double-strength glass. It is awesome, except we have to be a little careful to use good markers so they show up.

  8. Deadman says:

    My friend pointed this out to me 30 minutes ago.

    I have read your entire series and I absolutely love it !!!!

    As a DM for the last 20 years it really rings true. :D And it doesn’t matter what fantasy system you are using too. hehe.

    Keep up the good work !

  9. Bridget says:

    My roommate tried to run a LOTR campaign a couple of years ago. From the stories he brought back from the gaming table, it sounded like it went very much like this! (I think they only got as far as Moria in his campaign, too.) =)

  10. ponyboy says:

    My friend showed me your site a few minutes ago and omg. I PLOTZED. Seriously, this is the funniest shit I’ve read in a loooooong time. I can’t wait to read more!

    NO. REALLY. I CAN’T WAIT. O_____O

  11. Keith says:

    How awesome! And how TRUE! As a DM since the beginning of the time, I found this unbearably hysterical!!! Somewhere along the line you have to introduce the inevitable god-call. DM, I am going to call on my god to get me out of this jam. I rolled a 20. Does he answer?

    Please, please, please continue this …

  12. Jaleh says:

    Actually in our campaigns, you actually want a 1 for a god call. Especially since you probably got there by rolling low anyway. I love this series! My GM pointed this out to our group. Too funny!

  13. VirtualWizard says:

    Then you must have a very big dry-erase board if you can map Moria on it ;)

  14. Chaon says:

    Keith, I can appreciate your achievement in having been a DM since the beginning of time. But just so we are all clear here, when I started out as a DM, Cthulhu was a first level cleric in my campaign. And that was, by any reasonable definition, *before* the beginning of time.

  15. Antiquated Tory says:

    May I take a snapshot of that last frame and use it as an occasional picture sig?

  16. Shamus says:

    Go for it.

    Anyone else: You’re always free to take as much liberty with these images as I have with the originals. :)

  17. Trail says:

    This kills me because:

    A) I was always the mapper, and B) I was usually the Dwarf.

    I feel his pain.

  18. Nicki-Joe says:

    Again, hilarious. I just leave it up to the eager beavers in the group who love graphs n’ stuff. I stand by and wait for any kills. lol

  19. Bayushi Akidai says:

    Aw man I’m a long time player of D&D but soon I’m going to do my first game a DM and I’m afraid this is a accurate representation of what were going to be like. Only difference is we’re doing a Oriental Adventures campaign. got any tips for a new DM.

  20. Eryn says:

    My first DM laminated the grid that comes with the PH, used dry erase markers on it, and gave some experience points to whoever cleaned it off after we were done with it.

  21. 2cosmic says:

    One habit we got into was having to ask “are there any doors?” The reason? Well when you are leaving a room and the DM asks, “Arent you going to check that door?” and it was never in his detailing of the room, or the map…

  22. mocking bird says:

    Too funny. We regretted many a Gygax map with irregular septagons and winding passageways.

    One way to tick off a player – mix up R&L with directions ‘Go north 30 feet then turn left. You go another 100 feet the passage turns south.’

    ‘Umm – what way are we headed again???’

  23. Sewicked says:

    When one of our players moved out of state we were reluctant to lose him (he was our rogue with ranks in Profession: criminal mastermind), so he telegames. You want pain? Try setting up the table map, with PCs, NPCs & furniture and then match the online map to it. Oh. The freaking agony. And I’m not even the one set to that task. I just watch.

  24. Fage of Kexy says:

    I was in a game once and was playing a kender. The rest of the party decided to make my kender the official mapper of the party. So I drew the map in typical kender fashion, including notes like there is 103 stairs here and on the 57 stair there is a crack that looks like the wizards staff. I would also not draw a protion of the map right after a long series of notes to represent the stuff that I missed as I was writing down the notes on the map. Once the party saw what I was doing they took the map making job away from me. Which is what I wanted to happen. lol

  25. Seve says:

    I just never understand ppl who bother to make complicated maps from dungeons as simple lines and small boxes get the job done much easier and when done with some precision can be much clearer too.

  26. Kat2 says:

    We never had maps, it never really mattered. I’m really enjoying this comic, it’s so true to gaming!

  27. JD says:

    We found out that drawing maps was pointless when we ended up in a maze of caverns and doors. Everyone who tried to draw a map got screwed up.

  28. ShadowsLight says:

    In an Ars Magica game, our DM gave us a maze that seemed like a very simple maze. We walked around and around carefully mapping out all the twists and turns (but wierdly, it had no options, like a T junction… it was just one long corridor).

    It was not until the 2nd day we had spent in the maze when we decided to back track, and the maze going back was nowhere near the same as when we had gone in.

    It turns out, that every time we went around a corner, the corner piece walls would swing 90 degrees, and so the path in the maze would change.

    To this day, I still have the 20 – 40 pieces of paper we had to MAP the maze and the ONE piece of paper my DM had to RUN the maze.

  29. cheesebunny says:

    now you see, our old maths teacher was a gamer too, so he sympathised and always gave us graph paper, we never had the problem of too little

  30. Saoirse Young says:

    our DM had to do the whole “spend an hour and design a room ” thing and by the time she had it all figured out, none of us remembered what it was we were in the room for in the first place. INCLUDING the DM.

  31. ERROR says:

    “Uh-oh. I’m gonna need a lot more graph paper.”

    Heh.

  32. Maladjester says:

    The Golden Rules of GMing, for Bayushi Akidai
    1. No matter what problem you put in front of them, your players will NEVER take the solution you imagined. Roll with it as best you can. Don’t tell them they’re “wrong” if what they come up with could work. Sometimes their answer will be better than yours. With that in mind, CONSIDER MULTIPLE PATHS TO VICTORY. Give every player a chance. If the party has a rogue, post strong guards at the front door, but leave that second-story window open. Even if the headstrong fighter decides to beat up the guards, the rogue can do his thing, getting in and out in the time it takes the rest of the party to win and loot the bodies. And so forth.

    2. Generally you’ll have at least one player who will react to all scenarios as if his character is mildly retarded, seriously drunk, and armed only with a sledgehammer — whether that’s the case or not. He will never think, he only wants to hit things, and he doesn’t much care who or what he hits. THIS PLAYER IS *ALWAYS* A HANDFUL. Remember he’ll be there and plan accordingly.

    3. PROVIDE AND ENFORCE CONSEQUENCES. For example, cops hate cop killers more than anything. Suppose a PC has a misunderstanding with a drunken city watchman, and kills him in self-defense. None of the other watchmen will care WHY he did it, they will only care about catching him and making him pay. Watchmen in the city become ready to kill first and ask questions later, and they are suddenly EXTREMELY suspicious of any armed strangers who recently arrived…..

  33. Trae says:

    My attempts to map weren’t too terribly good, but then all I had to really work with was notebook paper. Even though the game is actually played in a chatroom, I wasn’t going to do it in Paint or something either (I have enough windows open with the game itself, calculator, and various pdf books).

    But then, my first attempt was in a multi-level temple complex and the DM doesn’t give out exact distances, particularly since we’re actually roleplaying what our characters are doing and nobody’s going to be able to measure out the rooms in the middle of a fight. She will give distances if directly asked, but the attempts at mapping are for my personal use to keep track of where we’ve been, so it’s no big deal.

  34. Emma says:

    This is hilarious!! My second time reading this. Remember I’m only 10.

  35. This is why I would play with legos when playing D&D, not to mention using a little bit of geometry with a ruler to simulate movement without using spaces.

    I therefore would use scale models using a standardized engineer’s scale of 1/4 inch=1 foot, which is about the right size for using legos for building sets.

    It is also the reason why I prefer using hex maps for overall campaign maps. There is one really good hex map of Medieval Europe I found online.

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