Tuesday, February 7, 2017

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all different

Just dropping a quick note here to point out what you all already know: this blog's update schedule has taken a mortal blow.

But don't worry. It's just at exactly 0 HP, and in my games that means that with quick attention, it can recover, given time. And I'm reliably told that, while the party didn't bring a cleric, Lubo the linkboy (a scruffy ne'er-do-well sort they picked up in one of their favorite seedy dives in the docks district) did a stint as an assistant to a street surgeon with unsavory tendencies, so he knows the ins and outs of bandaging up sucking chest wounds.

To translate: grad school is kicking my butt, so I'm devoting a lot of time to that. This blog, and D&D in general, have taken a back seat to getting my work done and advancing my academic career. Which means I'm no longer even going to pretend to myself that I plan on the Tue/Thurs regularity this place briefly enjoyed.

However, that doesn't mean we're done here. I still have the Desolate North to flesh out, and I have plenty of backlog posts. A shame, really; some of them are on a bit of a time limit, like a couple play reports. (*ssshh, don't tell anyone, that was supposed to be a surprise!) But needs must, and necessity is the mother of invention, and peasants are full of sayings, and I come from peasant stock.

I might update irregularly throughout the semester. This space might go completely silent until some time in May, or maybe even later. But I do plan to be back, eventually. So throw this on your RSS feed, if you care.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Mapping doors

Doors are driving me a bit batty.

I should explain.

Architecturally, one of the things old-school dungeon mapping has gotten right, I tend to think almost by accident, is the ten-foot square. That is, judging by real-life dungeons like Diocletian's dungeon, in order to support large open rooms in an underground complex made of stone, walls need to be about ten feet thick.

This is a happy bit of synchronicity that I would like to re-enforce in my games (at least for dungeon-sections that are 'naturally' constructed).

(Also, yes, I may be giving our good Gaming Fathers too little credit. I'm sure those more skilled in ludiarchaeology will correct me if so.)

I've quickly run into problems with this little scheme, of the door variety.

Doors in Diocletian's palace sit in the middle of the thickness of the wall. Which means they sit in the middle of a ten-foot section.Which means that a lot of doors on a lot of classic maps don't work.

The Caves of Chaos, as if you don't recognize them. Click to embiggen.
For example, check out the crypt area of the Caves of Chaos, up in the northwestern corner of the map. Impressively, a lot of the doors work, but there are a few that don't. Now, that said, not every wall needs to be 10' thick in order for the structure to hold itself up. Especially here, where it isn't supporting a large complex of rooms on top of itself.

Aside from the compatibility of pre-drawn maps, however, there's the question of how to draw my own. For doors, I see three options:
  1. Make the door take up an entire square of its own.
  2. Create little 'stub-outs' or alcoves for holding the doors, as a measure to accomodate the door setting.
  3. Ignore the problem entirely.
Option #1 is surprisingly attractive. The thing about doorways that take you through a 10' section of wall is that, while the door is certainly recessed, it nevertheless still feels like a straight section of wall while you're standing in the room, rather than standing out as a break in the plumb of the wall. Making the door take up the whole square it's in preserves that feeling on the map, and gets rid of any temptation I have to say something like, "It's a twenty-by-twenty room, except there's a five-foot recess at the southwestern corner leading west," which will get old after a while if I'm just describing doorways.

That said, it does have one huge drawback at least, and that is communicating proper mapping protocols to the players. Honestly, it's not that big of a deal; we're all adults and I could just explain they should generally draw doors as taking up the entire square because that's what I'm doing, but then we get into a discussion of why, and I come of as a pedantic ass looking to save a bit of verisimilitude nobody else cares about and we waste five minutes talking about doors instead of running from monsters so they don't take our stuff.

Another, maybe bigger drawback is that, since practically no published map has ever done this (though I believe I have seen one or two), I sharpen my compatibility issues.

Option #2 is the one I've de facto gone for. It's fairly prevalent, actually; you see it all over the place on the B2 map above. But it, too, has its problems; primarily the opposites of option #1. Rooms stop looking like simple shapes and start looking like 'simple shape but's. Plus there's the fact that having doors on the sides of corridors is hard to accomodate, though looking at the map above (room 56 in particular) I see an elegant solution.

Option #3 has its attractions. This is meant to be a fun game about monsters, dungeons, and treasure, not an archaeological hobby horse. If it's keeping me from mapping, forget the problem and just put things on graph paper.

That said, I can't quite bring myself to do this completely. It's good advice up to a point, but having governing rules for the architecture of your dungeon can be helpful, too, in getting you past that stage of infinite possibility when presented with a blank section, and in helping you as a DM to understand this place you've just drawn and therefore present it in a more cohesive, enjoyable way.

As an example of what I mean, even thinking about this problem in the first place brings up the question of the thickness of any given wall segment. This in turn has led to me contemplating how the players will move through the dungeon. If a section of wall is 10' thick, then it's effectively impassible without high-level magicks. Yes, you could set a team of men at it with pickaxes and shovels and be through in a few hours, but really you're just wasting time and effort. However, if a section of wall is only about a foot thick, then suddenly it opens up tactical options. You can maybe hear into the next room. You can even maybe enter through the thin spot, with some preparation (though it probably won't be quiet). You're more likely to find secret doors or passages or features there because it takes less architectural faffing about to put something useful in.

More difficult than you might think to find the proper place for in your dungeon.