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Worst Dungeon Map Ever?

(Nb., while this post could be constructed as negative I’m hoping instead it will be seen as an attempt to suggest good design practises to any freelancers currently working on a dungeon map).

It will probably come as no surprise that although my mapping skills are utterly terrible I spend a lot of time thinking about map design. A decent map can make or break a module. Providing meaningful choices to characters and interesting areas in which to battle as they explore a dungeon are essential components of good dungeon design.

That’s why I hate the map below so much. I’d go so far as to say it is the worst dungeon map I have ever seen. Sure, although it looks very pretty and is produced to the highest standard of cartography it is truly terrible. My gripes are exclusively with the map design; I want to run the module – it would be perfect for my campaign and as I recall has an interesting premise -  but I’d have to redesign the map to do so.


Apologises that the map doesn’t line up exactly - my scanner only does A4. In any event, hopefully you get my point. Take a look at the map. In the vast majority of cases, the PCs have precisely two choices – to go forward or to go back. At very few points in the complex do they even get to decide which door to open next! As a player, I’d be so colossally bored by about room eight. No matter how compelling the story or the fights, I think this key facet of the dungeon’s design not only falls flat on its face, but also manages to break the floor and fall into the cellar below.

So, if you are designing a dungeon in the future keep this map in mind as a cracking example of exactly what not to do.

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Yes, but look, there's a maze! That will be challenging. Right?

Rarely have I seen a so penetrable maze!

I think (and this is just one opinion) that this dungeon map is just fine... if anything, for my tastes, it's too long and involved. I think it depends on what you want out of the experience.

I started gaming with Old School D&D and the one aspect of the game I've not enjoyed even since those beginnings was long, complicated dungeon delves. You say you'd be bored by the eighth door in this dungeon (which is admittedly very linear) but I'm nearly the exact opposite. I'm nearly pulling my hair out by the fifth door if I realize that a dungeon is huge, full of rooms going everywhere and such. As a player, I find that experience terribly frustrating.

It also depends on what you want the dungeon experience to accomplish in the scenario... is it all about exploring a huge ancient ruin? Is it a series of encounters the PCs know are leading up to a specific encounter? It also depends on your view of dungeon design. Do you believe that spaces should be "realistic" in that they are designed for a purpose and so do not have extraneous stuff just to make the experience more exploration-like or do you want dungeons to be sprawling mega-dungeons? Maybe a villain set up a dungeon as a gauntlet that heroes must run to get to the inner sanctum?

There is also the consideration that, as a player, I am willing (in fact, perfectly happy) to accept certain basic assumptions. When I'm on the surface, playing my character, I expect to have the freedom to say, "Hey, guys, so... this whole working for the orphanage thing is kinda boring. You guys wanna head out to New Theris? I hear there's war brewing!" But when I go into an underground tomb - well - I assume that my choices will be limited and my paths will be few. This works for me, in fact, I kind of prefer it (again) over a sprawling, maze-like megadungeon.

Okay, so that was a long response - but it basically comes down to - as a player myself siting just my own opinion, I would like this dungeon map a heck of a lot more than one with 55 rooms and two hundred doors. Linear does not always equal boring.

Ugh. (Last sentence) *citing just my own opinion...

In some respects I agree. I don't mind only having a few choices - not every dungeon should be a crazy massive maze. But as a GM and a player I hate railroading.

On the other hand, in real life so often we have no real choice as to what to do. It's nice in a game to be able to have a modicum (or the illusion) of free will. I don't think that maps provides it!

The map is far too linear for my liking too. There is far too little choice for the party in where they should go.

While I imagine I could tolerate the map and would probably not be bothered by it enough to resdesign it, the adventure would need to be particularly good to make me want to run it.

In my opinion while some railroading may be required to get the PCs to the adventure, once at the location railroading should be minimal.

Edited at 2012-08-02 08:46 pm (UTC)

I agree. The investment in time for me to redesign this map would have to make the module pretty spectacular (as my mapping skills are truly terrible)!

Memo from the Evil Overlord

From: The Evil Overlord
To: Digger, Trapem and Howe Evil Archetecture firm.
Re: Lair design.

For my latest lair, I need to have it designed in a completely linear fashion. There will be no branching or alternate paths, no matter how much you enjoy these in your design.

The justification is to show my authority to those snivelling excuses for heroes. Many of them will become upset that I have thwarted their free will and will abandon their attempts to destroy me by going off to some sandbox somewhere. Victory by resignation!

P.S. Crossbreed the sandsharks with the quantum ogres, just in case.

Re: Memo from the Evil Overlord

Curse you, your logic is unbreakable!

one of the players created a centaur PC to take through this map. was hilarious. overall the trilogy was pretty good, i really liked the mad city in the 2nd mod

But yeah the above map is a bad map to adventure through, but pretty much realistic for a major tomb (most pharoah tombs have no way but forward or back)

good topic

I hadn't considered that - that the layout was "realistic" from the point of view of a pharoh's tomb. I'll have to think about that a bit more - thanks for the thought!

Yeah, it's like an Egyptian tomb. Not great for D&D though.

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