June 2, 2010 by deadorcs
So it seems last night I played a little Dungeons & Dragons with @newbiedm and a crew of experienced DMs as his players. The roster filled out with myself (@deadorcs), @DMSamuel, @ThadeousC, @SarahDarkmagic, @gamefiend, & @chattydm.
I knew that getting a group of experienced and engaged players (and all bloggers to boot!) was going to be quite an experience. I wasn’t disappointed. NewbieDM ran a great game, with only an overland map to really guide us. We did a little exploring, a little role-playing, and got to kill a monster or three. All in all a fantastic time. My character, Toma, performed well and was not bashful at taking things to task when “stuff needed killin”. Such is the life of a Dwarf.
By the by, NewbieDM gives great Hobgoblin.
After the game ended for the evening, the group (sans ChattyDM) stayed on the line and began to discuss how the game of Dungeons & Dragons had evolved over time. Of the group online at the time, DMSamuel and I were probably the oldest players, although many of us had used the OD&D rules before. That discussion was fantastic, and we stayed up almost another hour to share each others’ wisdom.
This morning on Twitter, that discussion continued somewhat (as things on Twitter are want to do), and the subject of mapping came up. One of the primary differences between OD&D and it’s historical descendant, 4th Edition, is the level of abstractness in the game. A few of our players struggled with accurately visualizing the battlefield since in 4e, you don’t really have to use a grid map.
As I thought about these differences, it occurred to me, that even since my first days of playing the game (set the Wayback Machine to 1980, Sherman), I’ve always drawn a map of the dungeon we were exploring. Such a map was almost always drawn on graph paper, and the mapping responsibilities were usually given to the most patient and careful drawer. One square equaled 10 feet and you were annoyed when the DM was using a map that included 5 foot alcoves or diagonal walls that weren’t 45° from corner to corner of a square.
The game play was still abstract, but since you had a map, (with a scale) you could easily visualize where your character was within that room. You didn’t even have to use miniatures. Since all of the rule effects were in 10′ increments (except outdoors where it changed to yards), it all worked quite nicely. However, occasionally, you could get into arguments about whether or not this monster could reach that far , or if that spell effect was really going to catch you where you stood. All resolvable with time, trust and understanding, of course, but players don’t always bring those skill sets to the table.
I think the 4th edition fixed a great deal of that. It combined a way to simplify combat without sacrificing the visual accuracy gained at using a battle grid and miniatures. The 3.0/3.5 version of the rules was on track, but complex rules variants made actually running the combat a nightmare (at least for me).
All this background and history is what brought me to this idea. Why not take an old school process like having one of your players draw a map and combine it with a new school process of using dungeon tiles. As the DM would describe the dungeon (cave, temple, mine, etc), a player would map out the said area with a stack of nearby fairly generic dungeon tiles. Mapping the area in this fashion would accomplish a number of things:
1) Dungeons become “explorations” once again. Yes, you’re using dungeon tiles, but you’re not laying them all out at once, thus eliminating potential spoilers.
2) The DM can effectively “hide” certain terrain features by replacing a “generic” tile with one of his own special tiles.
3) The DM can easily add 3D features (doors, chests, beds, etc) as desired without taking additional time out of the game.
4) The DM can spend more time on the story, and less having to draw out (or lay out) every little detail of the area up front.
Combining player mapping with dungeon tile use seemed like a eureka moment for me, but I’m sure some of you might have thought of this before. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.
Until next time…
Game excellently with one another.