Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dungeon Maps - Do You "Frankenstein" Them?

I'm not a good map-maker.  There.  I said it.  I can get VERY creative when it comes to writing dungeons, designing new monsters & treasures, and even re-writing game rules.  And I'm even a somewhat decent artist when I apply myself.  But I have never been able to design kick-ass dungeon maps.  I just can't do it.  Try as I might.

Another common option is to use randomly generated maps.  I've tried the old-school method (like the charts in the back of the DMG).  I've tried modern methods (like random mapping sites).  While both methods can be cool and give you some interesting results, it doesn't quite do it for me.  Things just don't have enough of a uniform feel to them.  It just makes the dungeon map look thrown together.  I'm sure many of these sites are truly excellent, so this is just my own personal experience.

Since I am an active DM, I can't simply say "sorry guys, I don't have a map.  We'll do a story-telling session instead."  But if I can't make my own maps, and I don't like random maps - what do I do?  Simply put, I "Frankenstein" my maps.

Basically, I collect every map I can get my hands on from dungeon modules and other published material.  Any map that looks cool, I photocopy and save it.  I have a lot of modules and many, many maps.  When it comes time to create a dungeon level, I have several choices:
  1. Simply use one of my stockpiled maps and re-number and re-key it
  2. Or, I "Frankenstein" together some cool parts from several maps - and simply add connection points
  3. Or, I use one of my stockpiled maps and add some additional elements to it
My latest dungeon map was basically made using the 1st-3rd levels of the Caverns of Thracia by Judge's Guild (Paul Jacquays).  I think this is an awesome map.  I mean really, really great!  And my players (who didn't know the source of the map) loved it.  They said it was a really creative map.  So to me, it's a win-win for player and busy DM alike.

Do you ever "borrow" published maps for this purpose?


  1. This article begs the question, what qualities make a "kick ass" map? Maybe if you identified that, you could draw you own?

  2. Hi,

    Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I couldn't find a contact email for you.

    I've recently put out an ebook of my writing, called The New Death and others. It's mostly short stories, with some obvious gamer-interest material. For example I have a story inspired by OD&D elves, as well as poems which retell Robert E Howard's King Kull story The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune and HP Lovecraft's Under the Pyramids.

    I was wondering if you'd be interested in doing a review on your blog (either a normal book review, or a review of its suitability as gaming inspiration).

    If so, please let me know your email, and what file format is easiest for you, and I'll send you a free copy. You can email me ( or reply to this thread.

    You can download a sample from Smashwords:

    I'll also link to your review from my blog.


  3. @ ID: I guess you just "know it when you see it." A kick-ass map looks plausible, balanced, non-linear, creatively designed, complex without being annoyingly maze-like. Lots of side passages and turns, some occasional long hallways, a couple of large central chambers, some rough cavern areas. I dunno. I'm rambling now. And most importantly, an old school look with plenty of rooms and space to roam.

  4. @ Anarchist: Sure, I'd be happy to review the book from the perspective of gaming inspiration. It looks very cool! By the way, I just checked out your blog. It looks very fun. Please go ahead and email me at Take care.

  5. @ Anarchist: by the way, PDF is probably the best format.

  6. Thanks! I've emailed you the pdf.

  7. I sometimes borrow ones from the 'net and use them. Used a few of Dyson's maps, which are excellent. Still like, and prefer, making my own, but my map skills aren't always as good as I'd like.

  8. Simon, I must admit that Tyson's maps are awesome! The distinction for me is that I would definitely borrow a Tyson map for a dungeon level but I probably wouldn't use a random map generator that had one of Tyson's grids mixed in with a couple of other grids. That's where things don't feel uniform to me.

  9. Sure! I steal maps all the time. Dyson's maps are great, as are a number of other bloggers. Some of the old school maps, new school maps, and even random finds from the internet.

    In spite of the fact that I contributed to the geomorph project, and dungeon dice, I'm actually not that big a fan of random dungeons either.