The Dungeon’s Master home group currently uses a rotating DM system. Each of us takes a turn and as we approach the end of our segment we cue who ever is on deck to get ready to take over in a week or two.
The rational for this is that none of us has the time to truly run a long term campaign and it allows each of us to take a turn being the DM. As players we experience different styles in encounter creation, story telling and pacing.
The aspect I’m enjoying is seeing what everyone does with their maps when their shot as the DM comes around.
There tends to be three strong choices that present themselves regarding maps at the table. These are Dungeon Tiles, pre-generated maps, and hand drawn maps. Let’s look at each of these and consider the pros and cons they provide.
Dungeon Tiles are colourful and come with different scenarios. So if you need a wilderness setting you can purchase that pack and create a variety of different encounters. You can also mix and match packs allowing for some very interesting creations and encounters. Difficult terrain is also marked on the tiles making this accessory ready to go right out of the box.
There is a cost to Dungeon Tiles. If you want them you or your gaming group needs to shell out for them. The price isn’t outrageous, but it is a consideration. A lack of pieces might be another issue, I know I’ve often wished for one more statue piece or 4×4 piece and not had it handy. The tiles also may present you with certain design limitations. Most of your rooms will have hard corners etc.
By this I mean the maps that were intended for use with another game or adventure. The best example of these are the maps that Wizards produces for D&D Encounters. If you happen to DM one of these sessions you get to keep the maps. A great benefit for those considering the role of the DM for these sessions.
These are high quality maps, rich in colour and depth. Often featuring tactical and difficult terrain. These maps are a great way to impress your players who don’t participate in Encounters. Finally, they are free so long as you are willing to give of your time as a DM.
The maps are set, and you can’t change them. Which means if you use them you are either settling on a map that doesn’t fit your idea for the encounter 100% or you are modifying your encounter to match the map. There is nothing wrong with either of these things so long as you have seen the map ahead of time. One way that we’ve tried to overcome these issues is to start with the D&D Encounters map and then expand it with some loose dungeon tiles. This at least adds some new elements to the familiar.
Hand Drawn Maps
Usually on large graph paper, most DMs will draw these maps out ahead of time or between sessions.
A hand drawn map conforms exactly to the DMs vision, after all he drew them. Talented artists might draw the map on the spot while laying out the narrative, something I personally always enjoy. It is almost like reading the narrative text in a video game while the next sequence loads. These maps are cheap, easy to produce and can be re-used for multiple sessions. Not a bad combination.
The maps can look rather cheesy if your DM doesn’t have an artistic flair. This isn’t to say don’t do it, just be aware. The time the DM has each week to allocate to map work will also determine if one week the maps receive the full colour treatment and the next week everything is in pencil.
For myself I like a blend between the three and that is what I tend to default to. Though I do slightly favour the Dungeon Tiles as I can at least customize the map with what I have. I’m no artist and I know it, so I tend to stay away from hand drawn maps. What are your preferences when it comes to the maps you use as a DM? As a player do you have a preferred way of having the action displayed?