I touched on this briefly in TT’s first PDF (Player Tips: Everyone Likes a Three-Way; 273kb PDF), but it’s worth bringing out into its own post.

When you’re running a game and someone needs to draw a map, that someone should always be you, the GM.

Many GMs like to ask a player to map as they go, particularly in fantasy RPG dungeon crawls. The rationale I hear most often (and the one I used myself, back in the day) is that it’s more realistic — after all, a party stumbling through an ancient dungeon isn’t likely to have much time to spend on cartography. And it is more realistic, but given how many other elements of gaming aren’t realistic, this is a poor spot to draw that line.

On the surface, it sounds like a great timesaver for GMs. Instead of pre-drawing the map and having to carefully reveal it as you go, or drawing it on the spot, you just describe the rooms to your players and have one of them draw the map.

In my experience, here’s how that usually goes:

  • GM: You enter a large square room with a low ceiling. Smoky torches line the walls, and there’s a door in the back corner. There’s also an alcove just to your right.
  • Mapping Player: How big is the room?
  • GM: Roughly ten paces on a side.
  • Mapping Player: The door is in the right corner?
  • GM: No, the left.
  • Mapping Player: Okay, and here’s the alcove…
  • GM: No, the alcove is midway down the wall.
  • Mapping Player: Okay, got it. Crap. Was this room down the right or left fork of that last passage?
  • GM: Left. And you need to leave more room between the other door and the edge of the page, for the next room…

All the time you “saved” by asking one of your players to map gets wasted by explaining things twice (mapping on the fly is hard!), and the flavor you supposedly gained from the added realism is lost when you have to describe the whole place in agonizing detail anyway.

I’ve played in several games that featured player mapping, and filled many roles — I’ve been the GM requiring the mapping, I’ve been the player doing the mapping and I’ve been a player on the sidelines — and every single time, this is how things went. Occasionally they’d go better for a little while, but we always bogged down again before too long.

Save your game from becoming high school Drafting 101, and handle the maps yourself. In the long run, you’ll save time — as well as your sanity.