On Maps and Mapping

I have come to dislike maps.

Don't get me wrong, I love actual maps - I'm a big fan of the cartographic arts - but not so much in my games.

Drawing maps takes time
Image (cc) xkcd webcomic

When I am planning an adventure I'm usually trying to get as much information out of my head and onto paper as I can, and drawing maps slows me down.  I move things around until they "fit" (and often change them in play anyway) and worry too much about filling all the space.  I learned a lot from reading "Draw Maps, Leave Gaps" in Dungeon World.  Now I might sketch a grid with notes on relative positions, or room ideas, because:

Drawing out maps on the table in play can be painful. If the DM does it, it can break the narrative flow while everyone waits.  If the players deputise then it can end up being a long game of reverse Pictionary as the DM explains how a wall is 35 feet long - 5,10,15,20,25,30,35, is that right? - and then there is a 10 foot alcove. No, ten feet wide not 10 feet deep...

Also: Published maps may look beautiful, but  they never make it onto my table intact; all just wobbly lines of whatever-coloured dry-wipe marker.

Maps can be restrictive

I find that a map can hinder my imagination's view of the space as well as enhance it.  Often we are told that maps help everyone at the table to visualise what is going on, and that can be true.

But often I find that, without a map, our imaginations will help out more.  We make assumptions on what is in, or around, or near a room that can add a lot to the game: an alternative solution, a opportunity for a great scene.  These are things that might not be brought forth if we can see everything that is, and explicitly isn't, there.

Layout is less important than content

I would rather know the contents of all the rooms in a dungeon than how they are connected.  It's easier for me to invent the connections than it is to make up the contents on the fly.  

In fact, without a concrete map I can put rooms where I like as we go, according to whimsy or what the narrative demands. 

Maps are hard to re-use

I'd rather spend an hour drafting up a crib sheet for an area or faction - that I can use every time that area or faction comes into play - than a map I can use once without "hey the Troll Caves look a lot like the Castle of the Stars, I bet there is a 40ft square room at the end of this corridor."

Love 'em or hate 'em, I would love to know your thoughts on maps in the comments.


  1. I only make dungeon maps; actually, I use random map generators and then I edit them until they make some sense.

    But overland maps, not really. Maybe just a few markers on a white sheet to represent relation between cities and landmarks, but I agree, maps are a waste of time.

    1. I've wasted time on overland maps where it's turned out relative distances/location are just not needed.

      Sometimes a pointcrawl type node diagram does the job as well (or better) but mostly, yeah, I don't think I need a map!


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