Make your dungeon maps come to life with patterned paper

For half a century, we nerdmappers (ie, Dungeon Masters) have used graph paper for our dungeon maps. I’m still happy to draw square rooms on blue grids like when I was a kid. But I have this notebook that has inserts of patterns reminiscent of Renaissance coffered ceilings, maybe. I had the idea of using these pages to draw maps, following some of the patterns, as inspiration comes.

These are the ones I’ve made so far (click for full size photos).

I have found a few benefits to this technique:

  • Even if the map doesn’t make much practical sense, its organic appearance makes it feel more real to the players;
  • These maps end up being more interesting to explore (if more difficult for the players to map);
  • Tactical challenges gain in complexity and interest because of all the nooks and crannies;
  • In a team building context, weird maps encourage teamwork, as players want to use the quirks in the architecture to their advantage;
  • Drawing these maps didn’t take me longer than regular ones would have (as I was following the patterns and my inspiration), and it was way more fun!

I guess I like odd but believable maps, mostly because I grew up reading Casus Belli magazine. ‘Casus’ was the most influential RPG magazine in 1980s France — and it still is nowadays, despite having needed a few necromantic rituals over the decades. One fondly remembered column was Bâtisses & artifices (Buildings & Stratagems) that described a location with detailed maps, taking pains to keep everything medieval looking. Here are a couple of examples from that time, and also a more recent one. I remember the first column explaining that all castle rooms shouldn’t be 30’x30′ squares.

And while I’m on the subject of French mapmakers, let me mention John Grümph’s Des plans sur la tomette (I’m not even attempting to translate the pun), a lovely little book of medieval maps to use in your games – you should grab it, it’s cheap and contains very little text ; and of course Guillaume Tavernier‘s masterful work. Now this is someone else who works tirelessly to make fantasy middle ages look more interesting!

Do you draw quirky maps? I’d love to see them (and maybe steal them for my games 😉 Share links in the comments!

Edit (24 May): Mystery solved!

The Pattern Journals from Laurence King Publishing
The Pattern Journals from Laurence King Publishing

I’ve been asked by several of you where did the notebook came from. And my answer was “I don’t know” — I’d picked it up on a rubbish pile when the Fumbally Exchange was moving this winter. Turns out Helen had put it on a different pile (the donations one) but it ended up there in the confusion.
Now JammerJun found it on the Laurence King Publishing website (I’d searched there, but there is nothing on their UK site). The US site seems to have more choice than the German one.

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