In this age of beautiful Dwarven Forge terrain, full color Dungeon Tiles, and more game-ready combat maps than you can shake a +1 Staff of Map Shaking at, sitting down to draw out a dungeon on graph paper may seem like a throwback to a bygone era, but it’s how I roll.
Er, well, it’s how I prepare to roll, anyway.
While it’s possible to build maps and dungeons and Keeps and fortresses by simply putting together tiles and pre-built terrain – and I frequently use these things when I run my games – I cling to the old ways. Every encounter I design starts out by putting pencil against graph paper, and seeing what my imagination serves up. As I once told my friend Scott, the lack of computer-generated map-making software today isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. (More on Techland: See what thrilled us at this year’s E3)
I am from a generation of gamers who carried characters, NPCs, monsters, and entire dungeons around in Pee-Chee folders and Trapper Keepers. I was drawn to RPGs because they engaged my imagination, and gave me escape from the crucible of the playground and the cool kids who ran it. I learned how to make it look like I was doing homework, when I was actually drawing out a castle or a system of caves on graph paper, so people would just pass me by, and when I come across those maps today, it’s like I’ve discovered a long lost friend, or a hundred dollars in my pocket.
Whenever I go to game cons (I just got back from GenCon) and game shops, I always look for classic D&D modules to bring home. When I do, I always find some child’s printing, in number 2 pencil, in the margins or on the maps, and more often than not, that kid’s name will be written inside the front cover, with his phone number beneath it.
Today, when I hit Techland during my breakfast reading, I saw this, and it blew my mind right out of my head. Once I scraped it up off the floor and poked it back in with a stick, I saw the ultimate and perfect use for this magical device: making dungeons that will stand the test of time.
Think about it: this device – surely a gift from the gods themselves – will make it easy for us to plot out our maps, erase our mistakes, let our imaginations run rampant, and then three days later, have something as permanent as the paper upon which it’s been drawn. (More on Techland: Read Wil Wheaton’s last column: Why I Hate DRM (Example 147,000,000))
We can use it for everything associated with tabletop gaming, confident that it will be pliable while we’re playing, and easily become a part of our permanent archive once we’re finished.
It is pretty awesome to be living in the future, especially when it makes it easy for me to cling to the old ways.
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