In Phil’s recent article: Prep-Lite: Maps, he proposes a system of making maps for your RPG that reduces prep time but still produces simple and elegant maps. In overview, Phil proposes breaking your map into important and unimportant rooms, making a rough map of the ways your important rooms connect, and using this as a frameworkÂ for lite improvisation. However, Phil makes this provision in his article:
For some types of games, especially the Dungeon Crawl where the dungeon is a character of its own, the map is an essential component of the game. What I am going to talk about for the rest of the article, does not apply to games like that.
While it’s true that Phil’s approach is non-traditional, with a few minor tweaks and some optional steps, it can be used to replace the typical 1” grid dungeon map even in these situations.
For best effect, there are two minor tweaks to Phil’s system to emulate a more traditional kick in the door, loot the room, tactical grid map dungeon:
- Note on each line of your lite map a number to roll against to see if there are “complications” while moving from major location to another. These numbers should be based on how busy the dungeon is between those two areas, how far the party has to travel, the structure or setup of the area, the perceptiveness of local denizens, etc… Note that if you’re comfortable winging these numbers on the fly, you should do it.
If these rolls succeed the party moves from one important room to the other without any events forced on them, though you can describe some tense near misses if the rolls support it, and of course the PCs can almost always find trouble if they look for it.
If the rolls fail, the party encounters some kind of hang up in their exploration. They could have met a wandering monster, ended up in a dead-end, have to play out bypassing an obstacle, etc…
If the roll is extra successful you might reward the PCs with a secret location, a hidden treasure or a clue.
- Have a handful of dungeon tiles, misc small maps, gaming paper, a white board, tact-tiles, or other setup for when the PCs do need to resolve a normal tactical battle. These should have the right flavor to them if possible. When the party gets into an encounter (either a set one in an important room or a misc one elsewhere) lay out or draw these maps. In general it doesn’t really matter how you lay them out. One hallway looks pretty much like another, and if you don’t have any indication how big or what shape the room or hall should be, neither do your players. Just make it up.Â The only reason you’ll need to do anything more than slap something down on the fly is if you plan on having more than one encounter in the same important room, in which case you need to remember the broad details correctly but which wall the sacrificial alter is on or little details like that probably aren’t important enough to worry about consistency.
That’s it!Â Your lite map is ready for traditional dungeon exploration play! However, there is some additional prep you could do if and only if you have time and don’t feel comfortable winging them on the fly:
- Wandering monsters/Random encounters: If you’re not comfortable just making up random encounters and wandering monsters, planning out a few general ones is a good idea. They don’t have to be more complicated than “random goblins” or “loose brick with bag of silver” to get your imagination flowing when you’re stuck. If these vary per area between important rooms you may want some brief notes about that as well.
- Think about size: If you’ve got time, think about how many random encounters the party can have between any two given important rooms before that area has been as thoroughly explored as it’s going to get without a team of Anti-Hickman forensic accountant gnomes. If the area between the rooms is a thirty foot hallway with a broom closet, it probably supports only one encounter, but if it’s a quarter mile of twisty maze-like passages, it probably supports a nigh-unlimited number.
- Flavor: just like you wrote down a few notes on each important room, you can write down a few sentences (at most) on the general appearance/flavor of the dungeon, and note if any areas are different, just as a jump start for when you need to describe traveling through them or an encounter there.
The BIG lite map
In addition to classic dungeon crawls, this same general approach can be used for overland and underdark maps with “important rooms” as important landmarks, sites, and cities, and “unimportant rooms” as everything in between.Â In the big lite map the rolls to get from one area to another without incident are probably survival or dungeoneering rolls and “random encounters” for failing travel rolls include things like getting lost, monsters or bandits, or even discovering a lair or hideout. The only new feature for a BIG lite map is the addition of travel times between locations.
The Exploration Campaign
It would seem that the lite map is antithetical to the exploration campaign in which the PCs pour over the countryside with a fine tooth comb, performing search checks every twenty feet to uncover all the clues, secrets, hidden locations, long lost dungeons, etc… that the GM has carefully placed, but in fact the lite map can be adapted to this style of campaign with only a few tweaks. Starting with a BIG lite map, where “important rooms” are any locations that it’s given the PCs know about or that you’d have to be blind to miss, make a list of secret locations and the rolls necessary to find them within each “important room” Now whenever the PCs search that area, if their roll succeeds, they find the most difficult to find secret that their roll uncovered. If it’s a tie, they discovered whichever one you feel like introducing. Once a secret is discovered it can be traveled to like any other location, via a successful travel roll.
Lite maps are a great tool for any GM that wants to reduce prep time, travel light, or just simplify their game. Though it may appear at first blush that they aren’t right in every situation, with some thought and creativity, they can be applied to any style of campaign or map.
I like the idea of rolling to determine what complications, if any, the party finds en route to a major location. I’ll have to see about better encorporating that into future campaigns. Using search rolls to unveil new “secret major locations” is also pretty cool, and I could see that being an interesting mechanic for driving a more open world game in a semi random fashion.
I’m going to endorse Goodman Games “The Dungeon Alphabet” to accompany Matt’s article here. It is a $9.99 48 page hardcover bound book of tables that has one classic dungeon element for every letter of the alphabet. If you want complications on the fly, and interesting ideas to populate your dungeon with give this book a look!