Thursday, August 8, 2013

Visual Dungeon Challenge

Okay, friends, for my 999th post I'm throwing down my glove and offering a challenge to each and every one of you:
Make a one page dungeon that uses only images and visual devices.  No words.  No abbreviations.
This is intended to be given to another DM, not a personal bookkeeping system.  Because of that it can allow for some customization by the other DM.  You can use numbers, roman numerals, or your own invented symbols if you can convey what they mean to someone.

Post your attempt to your blog, link in the comments below, or email me, just share your map with us somehow.

This is not a contest.  You win if you make a damn attempt.  There is no time limit.  You can keep making these.  I think this should be an interesting exercise for any DM, because it will force you to look very closely at what exactly you require to run a dungeon, and how that may or not be different from what other DMs require.

Here is my first attempt:

I tried to indicate elevation with shades of gray and curved steps.  Each step is 10' and the darker it gets the deeper you are.  So, for example, the central area has a 90' drop to the right.  I think numbers might work better but didn't want them confused with room numbers.

I used a number to distinguish similar icons, so you can distinguish the potions, for example.  This will only work for very small dungeons or bare ones.  So I might need to come up with symbols for spells to put beside a scroll or for potion affects beside each potion, etc.  Though, that sounds very challenging.  Rather than use the same technique for the coins symbol, I could just put a number for the amount of coins in the hoard right next to it on the map.  Of course that would assume it was a hoard of one coin type or get very cluttered quickly.  A lot of problems.  But this is all okay, it's why I'm doing this: seeing what the limits are, seeing what is possible.

Now, I'm kind of cheating by telling you all that.  But maybe a sentence or two of explanation is okay-- something you might put in an image caption or email to a fellow DM.  Like "Roman numerals are NPC level" or "Greek letters are for traps."  And certainly we want to hear your thoughts behind your design decisions.  You just can't make something that requires a long explanation to be functional.

Good luck.


  1. Reminds me of HeroQuest's quest maps...

  2. Here is a random idea: maybe a Visual Dungeon could be made to be more evocative than descriptive. Then it would be no real meaning behind the symbols, just those given to them by the individual DM. For example if I put a skull icon in chamber 5, what does it mean? Skelletons? A corpse? A magic item with that shape? God forbid, a demilich? Hell if I know, is up to you to decide. Then we wouldn't be searching for a quick way to convey meaning, but giving a tool for the creation of meaning. Stealing from philosophy, it would be something like a non-essencialist dungeon. Maybe I am overthinking it?

    (Sorry for my english, I'm sure I've made mistakes).

  3. This looks atrocious.

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    @rorschachhamster: Interesting. I've never played that game.

    @Jose: Absolutely, I probably shouldn't have posted my own attempt so it wouldn't lead people in any one direction (It just felt lazy to ask other people to do it and not try). Check out this post where I praise Tony Dowler for doing something similar with one word descriptors:

    Or you might just use a collage of images like ZakS. Here is an example:

    @Anon: lol, it is pretty ugly. So show me how it's done. The challenge stands.

  5. I'm not buying into the concept. Zak makes his maps using pictures and visual cues to replace words as much as possible and his maps are unsightly too. The baseline 1-page dungeon format inflicts barren brevity by definition... that's not short enough already?

    Next stop: blipverts.

  6. Whipped one up. Simple with some icons for monsters, pit traps, treaasure and locks. Doing something other then a straight up hack and hunt dungeon crawl is tricky.

  7. Tried my hand at it, too. Not sure how successful it is, but it did help me get back into the swing of blogging after a period of slow posting/inactivity.

  8. Thanks for the maps folks! I'm soaking them in I'll try to comment on your posts tomorrow.

    @JDJarvis: That was pretty fast. I think you could actually do a lot with npcs visually: a relationship web showing all involved and + and - signs, or symbols to show if they are drunk or mad, or symbols to show they have some quest and then the DM would have to roll on a chart.

    @New Big Dragon: Great!

    @Jose: Very nice. Also, appreciate the translation, but don't worry about the quality of your English. Seems perfect to me. Besides, I'm monolingual and kind of ashamed of that fact.

    @Anon: I wouldn't worry about this as some new trend in the hobby; I feel like one of a very few minimalists in a sea of baroque maximalists. Even some of the one page dungeons are pretty verbose, or verbose about the wrong things.

    You've touched on aesthetics a few times, but a good looking map is not my first goal. My first goal is an elegant map that does what it needs to do in the simplest and clearest way possible. Hopefully if I achieve that, it will also be beautiful. But I don't care about these as artifacts that gamers will look at in gamebooks. I care about the session they will lead to when my friends and I play.

    I've got a lot of other ideas rolling around in my head but I'll save them for a post.

  9. OMG, what monster squeezed out that massive turd in the top, second from left room?

    I like the concept. It may take me a few months to find the time but I'm in...ideally I'd like to draw a map on a battlemat and place some minis and take a snapshot but I doubt I'd get good enough resolution ... my "Pit" dungeon was originally meant as a purely visual representation for my own reference :

    but then I went and made a table/encounter chart too. Worked well enough in practice.

  10. That's no turd, it's a coprolite wand. What are you a noob ;)

    I remember the pit well. And you gave me the idea that if people want to share links to existing one pagers that do something visually that would be a cool addition to the conversation.

    Also, charts and tables could be like repeated bits in computer programs. If you have one weird magic effect table, I see it as a boon to just use a symbol on all your maps to "go roll on this chart." If it's a chart specific to that map, then yeah, it isn't re-usable and should really be located on a page near the map, consider part of the description/instructions.

  11. Fun idea! And tricky as hell. My attempt:

    If I did another I think I'd have to settle a small set of symbols first, for representing different things (e.g. "grapples", "tough to hit", "poisonous" etc.), before even starting to draw the map.

    And we need stats for that Dungeon Turd!

  12. Awesome. Yeah, a set of agreed upon symbols makes a big difference, like the door symbols on traditional maps (which might be hard to recognize as doors if they were new now).

    I'm remembering a map I think you did, one page dungeon in handwriting script. But I can't find it again. While the opposite of this challenge in that it was all words, it seems similar in spirit in that all you need is on the map. That was your map, right?

    1. Yep, it's on my old blog:

      They're pretty fun to make, but I don't know how practical they really are. I think the ultimate map would be one made in Arabic script.