Tuesday, December 30, 2008

When mapping becomes a chore (Wife's solo game observation)

Taken from the OSRIC Version 2.0 Core Rulebook:

It is important to understand the purpose of the players’ map. The goal is not to create an exact copy of the GM’s map, but to keep a record of which areas are explored and which not, to allow the party to fi nd their way back to the entrance and, on subsequent expeditions, fi nd their way back to where they left off. If the dungeon is small or simple in layout the players may not need a map. Even if the dungeon is larger or more complex, a “trailing map” with lines for corridors and squares for rooms and chambers, maybe with marginal markings showing length or size, is almost always enough. Only in the most labyrinthine of dungeon levels, with rooms and corridors tightly packed together, are players likely to fi nd making a strictly accurate map rewarding.
Many players hate mapping, considering it a fun-killing burden, and these players will often try to get the GM to design simpler dungeons or even to draw the map for them. The OSRIC GM
should avoid these “solutions”; play goes quicker if a player maps. Encourage the players to map appropriately—i.e. only when necessary and use a trailing map where possible.

During the past couple of sessions with my wife, I've watched her slave more and more over the map. She did some things that I've done in the past - she tried to accurately map the rooms dimensions in scale with the other rooms and what she's interpreted from my descriptions. Of course, this leads to a mess - unless one is using graph paper (instead of lined notebook paper or blank paper) and precise measurements then a map is going to be all relative, and soon enough become a mess.(wandering monsters love careful/slow mappers...)

This happened to her as she circled through Zenopus's Tower in the Holmes Basic book. When I told her that she had come into the room with the burnt spider body, I could see the frustration on her face. She shuffled the three pieces of paper she had laboriously worked over, looked up at me and said "We're back where we came from!"

It was getting late, we were getting a bit tired, but I didn't want her to walk away from the table with that frustration, and since there are no other experienced players at the table who could talk to her about mapping, I paused the game and took some time to walk her through where she'd been.

I think there's a fine balance between "throwing someone in the pond and sink or swim" and taking a few minutes to teach the fine art of dog-paddling. In this case, since she is solo and since it's going to be up to her to find her (and the party's) way out of places, I wanted to give her an idea of what mapping should be:

1. Mapping is useful for solving riddles and finding your way back out. Put enough time into it to serve your purposes. It's usually sufficient to draw enough of a map so that you have a general idea of where you're at and how to get out. Notes will be very useful, especially on places that are noteworthy.

As we were going through where she'd been, my wife said to the effect that she hadn't been paying attention to the descriptions and probably should have been. To me, that kind of experience is just as much a "win" as slaying the monsters. She's becoming a better player and that's really neat to see. One thing my wife loves is competition, and if she learns that by being a good player, she'll be challenging the DM to get better, that will get her going. Game on!

2. Learn to use what OSRIC describes as a "trailing map" - just a set of squares and lines that represent the corridors between.

I did this for my wife of where'd she been so far. I had her write down what she could remember from each room. So that she wouldn't get frustrated, I gave her small hints (and in one case reminded her outright) of what she had seen there to fill out her notes. At the end, I "toured" her around to show her that she could find her way through where she'd been. (In writing this, I realized that I need to 'redo' it a bit to show her the value of leaving lots of white space so when you run into places you haven't been, you can put them in there.)

3. Accept that your map is probably not going to be reality - and doesn't need to be.

When she looked at me and complained "That's not right, that's not what my map says", I had to let her know that her map didn't reflect reality. She accepted that, once we talked about scales and how hard it would be to make things all line up. Again, the trailing map (I also used to call it a 'flowchart' map) will help - can you find your way out? Yup - so what if your map doesn't show the exact corridor dimensions? Unless you're in a maze, or unless you *know* you have to find something secret, a map is not going to really need to be detailed. Knowing that you need to go down a corridor that turns left and right 3 times versus knowing that each leg to the west was 20' and to the right was 40' is not critical. If it is, well, you'll have to do it, but that's something you'll find out as a player as you go through the dungeon. As a DM, if the setting doesn't scream "Map Me!", and it's a critical piece, you'll have to use your judgement on how much you'll hint that maybe a more detailed map is a good idea.

One of the tricks that I use is to leave a LOT of space between areas on the trailing map when I have multiple sessions in the same dungeon. Sometimes the corridors will look like spaghetti, but that's OK, as long as the rough room layout is good, at least with room counts and door/opening layouts. Enough for someone to say "OK, we've come to the room with 4 doors and we just came from the room where we bashed the skeletons last time, I know where we are!"

4. Don't let mapping get in the way of fun.

I tried to nip her frustration in the bud - definitely one of the nice things about playing one on one. She had no problem running through the corridors and I didn't give her much of a chance to map while that was happening. In the future, if someone's running full tilt after monsters, I'm not going to let them map at all... but again, I'm introducing her one step at a time to things.

If you see your players getting frustrated at mapping, it's not a bad idea to have an experienced person talk to them, or even talk to them yourself. It took up 20 minutes of our night for me to review the map with her, but that's OK. I think the benefits of that are worth the effort.

How have you had frustrations at mapping or have taught people how to map? This is all stuff that works for me, does it work for you?

ETA - One final funny bit - my wife also asked "How can a room be behind the stairs?" and that just threw me until I explained it in terms of a set of basement stairs... sometimes my brain locks in how to describe things.


Anonymous said...

You know this reminds me of when I mapping one of the Desert of Desolation locations. Smoke obscured directions and caused us players to not know distance. This lead to a circuit diagram type map. It didn't reflect what was there but it did allow us to navigate around.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't require players map anything without help. I do require they make int checks or something of the sort to see if they get lost though :) That works better.

Sham aka Dave said...

I've often considered a "flow-chart" type of mapping for dungeons, with notations for traps or other notables added after the lay-out. It would speed up the dungeon design process, and replicate the more detailed map drawings I normally do. I haven't tried it yet because I enjoy making maps so much, BUT it would be a very simple way for players to map a dungeon as they go.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@bonemaster and dave - that's what I'm teaching my wife because that is how I learned to map while I was playing. It's not always pretty, but it at least gets me from area to area.

@Viriatha - I try to make mapping as much about the player skill as the character skill. I have a feeling I'll be doing a few more INT/WIS or outdoor skill checks in the Dark Ages campaign if the players are getting lost.