I was thinking about the mapping for my game, because i’m considering giving my players a couple of “work-in-progress” maps of the Maze of Nuromen, representing where they’ve been so far; the first to the group of goblins, who, since they started in the middle of the dungeon, need something for a bit of orientation, and the second for the alpha party, whose mapper is a novice.
The eldest member of the group pointed out to the novice mapper that he should be grateful that I’ve helped him with mapping and pointed to a few significant mistakes (“dude, you mixed up East and West; here, let me just turn your map upside-down. Now it’s right. I’ll draw you a compass rose”)
I guess the reason why I feel like mapping is unfair is because it’s much easier to draw a map based on what you’re seeing around you than what you’re being told. I mean, the game already takes into account “mapping speed”, implying that the characters, if not the players, are carefully measuring and taking account of things. Room descriptions can be somewhat cumbersome, because you have to tell your players what’s in the room that immediately jumps out at them (either an encounter or a more figurative ‘jumps out’, like a big statue or altar or whatever), what’s in the room, what’s in the room after careful inspection of the room, dimensions of the room (god help you if you’re in anything that’s not a rectangle or something that resembles a tetris piece!), the locations of the exits from said room, and you need to figure out the best order in which to tell the players this! The problem is even worse if the players are in the subterrain and the walls and tunnels are irregular. For instance, while Dyson is a phenomenal artist when it comes to dungeon maps, a lot of his maps I would have a difficult time describing effectively enough to my players for them map.
I like some of the things I’ve seen for 4e, which wholly embraced the board game nature, of which there are many vestiges found in Basic, of Dungeons & Dragons, that took iconic dungeons like the Tomb of Horrors and made printable tile-sets for the rooms and tunnels. No worrying about where the players were actually stepping, whether they did or did not walk over a certain spot or getting lost even though the character in game are mapping and are capable mappers (the player doesn’t have to know magic or be good with a sword to play a wizard or a swordman, but he has to be able to map to play a character who can map; that hardly seems fair).
But you can’t always print off your dungeons in handy tile or geomorph format, and you can’t always work your dungeons onto a HeroQuest board (unless you’re running a HeroQuest to D&D conversion!), so what’s a DM to do? Right now, I don’t have the answer to that. My game is running myriad OSR dungeons, all of which are using the 10′ square grid maps.
One thing I’ve been considering as a future solution, however, is flowchart dungeons. I’m inspired partially by Random Wizard’s interactive node maps of some of the old modules and also Matthew Schmeer’s incredibly bizarre One Page Dungeon, The Wizard in the Woods is Up to Something (Maybe), which has almost twice the real-estate of Maze of Nuromen on a single page thanks to its keyed flow-chart. Even Zork, with its massive underworld, is just a big flowchart. Thinking about how we conceptualize space, locations and the distance between them, the flowchart makes more sense than a rigidly scaled map, and is much easier to convey to your players. It’s easier to say “You’re in a large underground room held up by 4 pillars, there are 6 exits; north, northeast, east, southeast, south, and west” than “…there are doors north and south, and a door on the opposite end of the room from which you came in. Also there are two doors on the east wall at the northeast and southeast corners of the room”, which would be the Room 2 in the Maze of Nuromen.
After this dungeon, I might experiment with treating the mapped dungeons as a flowchart rather than in concrete terms. If they ask for or need dimensions, I can give it to them. We’ll see!