For you latecomers, "Dungeoncraft" is a column devoted to exploring the fine art of Dungeon Mastering. Over the past nine installments, we've examined the process of developing an AD&D campaign from scratch. So far, we've constructed the basic framework of a fantasy world, mapped a home base, and built some interesting NPCs. Along the way, we've gathered a series of special guidelines that form the cornerstones of good dungeoncraft.
This month, let's begin mapping the outdoor environment for the PCs to explore over the first three or four months of play. Our goal is to create an interesting, expansive space that gives the PCs plenty to do without straying too far from the base of operations (from Dragon Magazine issues #260-261).
Before putting pen to paper, we have some thinking to do. First on our agenda is some careful consideration of the important issue of scale. How much area should this map cover? Ten miles? Fifty miles? Five hundred? Before answering that question, consider these goals:
1. Start With the Familiar
This first outdoor map should detail the chunk of the gameworld that is intimately familiar to the player characters when the campaign begins. In other words, most buildings, locales, or towns known to the player characters or visited by the PCs prior to the beginning of play should be depicted on this map. Such a map should go a long way toward helping you answer questions about these locales during play. Achieving this goal probably seems like a tall order. After all, if any of you were to make a map depicting all the places you've visited, it might span several hundred (or even several thousand) miles. In the Middle Ages, though, it was common for the average citizen to spend the whole of his or her life within 20 miles of home. The only forms of relatively fast transportation that existed at the time (horses and sailing ships) were well beyond the means of most citizens.
2. Include the Unknown
The AD&D game is about exploration. As a consequence, this first map should cover plenty of unfamiliar territory for the PCs to explore. As a general rule, the familiar territory should occupy no more than 25% of this first map. The PCs should have only a vague idea as to what lies in the remaining 75%.
3. Plan Ahead for Adventures
Your first outdoor map should house enough interesting details to keep the players occupied for several months of play. You'll soon learn that drawing one of these maps is a lot of work, and since you'll have plenty of other tasks to occupy your time as your campaign gets off the ground, you'll want to make sure that you won't have to draw another one for some time. In practice, this means that you should sprinkle your map with interesting locations and possible adventure sites. These sites should be placed far enough apart that it takes the PCs some time to find and explore them all.
Combining the Three Goals
Together, these three guidelines suggest that the first map should cover a radius of approximately 60 miles. This means that it takes the adventurers about three days to cross your entire map location on horseback and approximately a week to cross it on foot. Most of your locations lie two or three full days of travel apart, which should work out just about right. At this distance, you can focus on the journeys that take place between the various adventures as much or as little as you like, allowing you to control the pace of the campaign. Across two days of travel, it's equally plausible that the players experience several encounters en route or none at all.
If we presume that our map fills a half sheet of paper and covers a roughly circular area with a radius of 60 miles, its scale works out to about 15 miles per inch. This scale offers plenty of space to depict towns, roads, and other relevant features on the map.
Now that we've decided upon a scale, let's look at the individual characteristics of a good small-area map.
One of our goals, remember, is to keep the adventurers more or less confined to this first map for several months. As a consequence, we should think about how to surround the fringes of the map with natural barriers or other obstacles that make it a challenge to leave the area. We must be careful here; we don't want the players to feel like they're imprisoned. Our boundaries should be as subtle and formidable as possible.
Some of our options are obvious: impassable mountains, deep seas, and thick forests; but there are plenty of other, more creative possibilities. Fear can serve as an excellent boundary. Suppose that the only trail leading off the map to the east is known to cross a long-abandoned cemetery that is home to hordes of undead. Or what if the lands that lie just beyond one edge of the map are controlled by an enemy state known to imprison trespassers?
Lack of amenities and motivation are other strong possibilities. Suppose there are no obvious sources of fresh water for several days' travel in one direction. To cross this barrier, the players must either locate hidden water sources or acquire the resources necessary to outfit an expedition large enough to carry several weeks' worth of water. Many game months are likely to pass before the players are in a position to explore either possibility. Similarly, you can often prevent the players from traveling in a given direction simply by giving them a strong reason to believe that nothing of interest lies in that direction. Why, for instance, would the PCs venture out into the middle of a vast desert said to be devoid of life? Of course, you can always change their beliefs later, when you're ready for them to move on. Perhaps they learn there is a hidden city in the middle of the desert that appears only at sunrise and sunset each day.
In the AD&D game, you can even call upon supernatural or otherworldly means of keeping your players in check. Perhaps a strange caustic mist permeates one border of your map and wreaks havoc upon anyone who ventures inside. No one knows the origin of the mysterious mist or what lies beyond it. (Sounds like a great opportunity for a future adventure.)
Alternatively, in a more whimsical fantasy world, perhaps your starting map consists of a small valley that rests beneath a ring of tall, sheer cliffs. The only way out of the valley is to pay an enormous giant 1,000 gold pieces to lift you up and over the rim. It should take some time before the PCs accumulate enough wealth to get the whole party out.
Of course, the best strategy is to erect a series of boundaries that employ a combination of all these methods. In the world of Aris, high, forested mountains, nearly impassable without the aid of a skilled guide, close off a couple of flanks. Sparsely populated forests seal off another border. Until they can obtain the appropriate magic (create food and water spells, for instance) or secure the financing necessary to mount a large expedition, PCs won't be able to carry enough supplies to go too far in this direction. Yet another approach is sealed off by a series of formidable humanoid strongholds. It will be quite some time before the PCs are mighty enough to fight their way past these encampments. The final approach is bordered by the "wandering forest" first described in Dragon Magazine #256. This forest is secretly populated by a large tribe of treants who continuously move from place to place, shifting the location of the trails that cut through their domain. Most travelers who enter these woods become hopelessly lost.
Wilderness and Non-Wilderness Areas
In most AD&D campaigns, the players spend the bulk of their time on just two activities: adventuring and planning. You should accommodate them by making sure there is terrain appropriate to both activities on your area map. In essence, this means that you should make sure that your area map contains both tame, civilized areas and wild, unsettled areas. The former territory makes an ideal retreat during the planning phases of the campaign. By adding it to your map, you guarantee that the players have a haven where they can feel safe. The wilderness areas, on the other hand, give the players something to explore and provide a nice venue for their daring exploits.
Perhaps the most important reason to include both types of terrain on your area map, however, is to facilitate adventuring. Later, when you begin to devise adventures, you'll find that some of your adventure concepts require a wild setting, while others require a civilized setting. Exploring an undiscovered ancient ruin and seeking the lair of a fearsome monster are both good examples of the former. Helping a merchant outwit his crooked rival and hunting down a vampire terrorizing local barmaids are good illustrations of the latter. Giving yourself the flexibility necessary to run a wide variety of adventures in the area covered by this first map makes it a lot easier to keep the players comfortably confined to this area for as along as possible.
Note that these civilized and wilderness areas don't necessarily equate to the known and unknown areas mentioned earlier. You can certainly include civilized areas that are unfamiliar to the PCs on your initial map, just as you can include wilderness areas they know well.
The civilized areas on the Aris campaign map consist of the Ironoak stronghold, its immediate surroundings, and the area surrounding a small town located about two days' travel from Ironoak. Although much of the intervening land is wilderness, at least a couple of the PCs have grown up in the area and are familiar with this terrain.
Adventuring over the same ground can grow stale fast. Try to depict a wide variety of terrain types on your initial area map. This gives you a lot of options when deciding upon where to set your adventures, as well as the opportunity to throw a variety of challenges at the players as the campaign progresses. Maybe a mountain climbing adventure would be fun, or an adventure in which the players must cross a great sea or a burning desert. Most importantly, a wide variety of terrain types in your initial starting area allows you to make use of a wide variety of monsters. The PCs aren't likely to encounter a hill giant when there aren't any hills within a hundred miles.
Of course, this doesn't mean your terrain placement doesn't have to make sense. A tropical jungle just a few miles away from a desert isn't plausible. Try to observe the basic rules of geography. For example, mountains are usually surrounded by foothills, and dense forests are usually found along the coast or near a major river.
Since the Aris campaign is set on a forest world, variety is a bit of a challenge. We can solve this problem by varying the terrain that lies beneath the forests (forested hills, forested mountains, arctic forests, and so on), the types of trees that comprise the forests and the density of the forest clusters. We'll also invent some exotic tree types to provide the players with new and unexpected terrain to explore: trees that secrete poison from their leaves, trees covered with dangerous thorns, and forests that grow a canopy so thick it blocks all sunlight from overhead.
Next month, we'll continue to review the key features of a good local map and address strategies for drawing the map itself.
Ray Winninger is an author and game designer. He enjoys reading your letters,
so keep them coming!