DM Briefing Room: Charting the path

Not Exactly a Map
DM Briefing Room provides a look into some of my personal ideas on game design.

While the picture above certainly resembles a map, and in the end it may become one, but it doesn’t have to. Whether for plot, or for mapping, I like using simple flow charts to plan out my game.

I created this chart for an adventure I’m planning for my kids. The area they’ll be exploring consists of natural caverns and tunnels occupied by an assorment of bugs, giant bugs, and related creatures.

I’m not worried about the exact direction or path of the tunnels between the caverns, so I don’t have to create an exact map. Because I want to add some random encounters I may decide to note the length of each tunnel, or perhaps just mark certain segments as predetermined locations for random encounters. The latter might make them a little less random, though I’ll probably build in the chance that no encounter actually occurs a percentage of the time. Of course I can also increase and decrease the chances of random encounters based on how well the party is handling the planned encounters.

On my chart, the different exit choices will represent simple choices between left and right tunnel branches. I’m using circles to represent encounter locations, and I could just scribble a semi-random shape on a battlemat during play, but I think dungeon tiles would impress the kids more, so I’ll probably lay out some dungeon tilesin advance and sketch each room on an index card so I’ll remember which tiles I want to use.

I also use a similar charting method when drawing out more traditional dungeon maps. In that case each circle would represent a major encounter, and while there might be other rooms and areas in the final dungeon map, this type of chart would help me keep in mind which areas I want linked, and in what order encounters should occur. In a more elaborate dungeon there would be more paths that lead to the location of the climatic encounter for the dungeon.

The intention is not to force the party on a specific path through the adventure, but to make sure that the party doesn’t move straight from the low level kobolds to a high level dragon without getting a chance to gain a level or two. This could also make sure the party gets the chance to discover some clues about the nature of the climatic encounter before they arrive at it, such as finding a coffin full or dirt if the warrior they’re expecting to battle is actually a vampire.

This kind of charting can also serve as a plot brainstorm as well either for a single adventure, or an entire campaign, though the actions of players might mean that you have to add links in unexpected places.

Do you use flow charts when planning your maps and adventures? I’d love to hear some of your examples in the comment section.

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