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I use a huge Chessex wet-erase battle mat to draw maps from published adventures on and I'm currently running The Lost Mines of Karak Lode. It's, by far, the largest map I've had my party play. It's so large that I can't fit the entire map of one floor onto a single battle mat-- and there are two floors!

Since my party has the option of taking any number of paths through the dungeon, I can't anticipate which rooms they'll go to first. Therefore, I can't only draw selective parts of the dungeon.

My only idea at this point is to have everyone sit down to play, draw the room they're currently in, and ask them which direction they'd like to go in. Once they decide what door, hallway, etc. to go through, I'll then draw that part of the map. The only thing I don't like about this is that it really holds up play. Especially if I have to draw a large, complex room, this could pause play for as long as 10 minutes.

Does anyone have any suggestions or ideas to help me overcome this issue?

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This is one of the advantages of using tiles. Even just going low-tech with the rooms pre-drawn on plain or gridded letter paper can make a large dungeon layout much easier to manage. – SevenSidedDie Jun 19 '13 at 18:59
Another option is to draw each room/hallway on a transparency with a wet-erase marker. As the player explore, lay down the transparencies onto the battle map. This can be expensive though - transparencies aren't cheap. – Corion Jul 14 '13 at 16:06
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I use to draw maps on the fly, as the players explore or get into a situation. I must say that those maps aren't generally very detailed, so the task is done fast and it doesn't slow too much the game.

The only advices that I can give if you draw more detailed maps are:

  1. Try to know beforehand the next possible rooms, and have them ready so you can draw them fast. Don't be too perfectionist while drawing. Value speed over quality of draw.

  2. Try that the first thing your players decide after an encounter is where to go, then let them discuss other things, or apply XP, or divide loot, etc while you draw the next room.

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I draw maps on the fly, and here's a few tips

  1. Make sure the map is easily reachable for drawing - you'll probably have to forgo (or at least move) a DM screen.
  2. Speed is better than precision - since your grid lines are already on the page, don't worry if your lines exactly match. Drop rocks on any players who complain.
  3. I tend to minimalism on my drawings, only adding mechanics-relevant details, and often only when the players bring their attention to it. You can still have all the "ritz" in your verbal descriptions, but until a player asks where exactly those curtains are on the wall there's no need to put them down. (This also has the nice side-effect of giving you some wiggle room if you need to change something on-the-fly.)
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One solution would be to use your map only to draw fight zones, and keep the rest of the map sketchy or abstract. While that sounds weird, it can be more immersive to wander through caves that meander, climb up and down cracks, etc.--which I find I tend to avoid when grid lines guide me to straight lines.

You'll save yourself the effort of drawing areas that you want your players to vividly imagine. Sometimes the grid--especially a plain brown grid with black marker lines for walls--subtracts rather than contributes to building a mental picture of a place.

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One good solution I've found to the mega-map issue is sectional maps... each room is a separate chunk of map, laminated, and cut to outline. A little bit of scotch tape, and they stay together as needed.

You can even add little details - the only hard part is keeping things organized. And that's what accordion-files are for...

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The last time I played D&D, I used PosteRazor to create battle mats on 110-lb cardstock. Just crop the map sections with a paper trimmer and tape them together. This works great with the single-room encounter maps that are common in modern D&D adventures, reasonably well with whole-level maps. You may need to tweak things a little to hide map secrets, but many maps will work as-is.

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What I have started doing is drawing maps on transparencies ahead of time and overlaying them as we go over my battle map. as I run out of room the unneeded can be removed as we go. For large rooms I have a few transparences taped together. Also I keep my transparencies labeled with astick-on white small dot label and a # of the room written on it. I have been in other groups that do not use a mat but the large 1" grid Easel Pads and maps drawn on the fly

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Surprised nobody has mentioned it, but a roll of Gaming Grid Paper is a great way to prepare before hand. This way you are prepared no matter which direction your players decide to go! (You can never guess what your players will do)

You can make it as detailed as you like and not worry about it erasing or smudging! There are several different brands, and they come in rolls of 12 feet so plenty of room for all your rooms. If space is still an issue then just pick up a 2nd roll and at about $5/roll even a DM on a budget can manage!

Bonus: For rooms/dungeons/campaigns you plan on running again just throw the entire roll(s) in your gaming closet and you are all set for next time.

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  1. Graph Paper... You can draw each flor (don't know if this map contains multiple floors, on graph paper before getting into play... While playing, if the players enter a specific room, you draw it on the chessex mat. I saw it with a group playing 3.5 ed... Maybe it works for you!

  2. Do you have LEGOs? One time we were out of markers (my group also bought the CHESSEX mat) and we literally didn't drew anything, we just did the outlines of the rooms, hallways and other pertinent stuff with LEGOs.. We did had a ton of fun and the DM had to describe each room a little more, but my group loved it and sometimes still use LEGO to outline the rooms or show a city view (houses, buildings, castles, temples, etc.)

NOTE: Drawing things on the spot does give the players a sense of discovering the place... You only draw what they can see at the moment, and so little by little the place opens up... Ofc, you can have the outline of the building/dungeon/thing, but he hallways and rooms just left for them to uncover...!

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lol Awesome idea with the legos. I like that. – kwikness Jun 27 '13 at 19:23
@kwikness This is my blog, where you will find some pictures of what happened :P… – Eilleen Jun 27 '13 at 22:34
Nice! I'd definitely like to try that sometime! – kwikness Jul 25 '13 at 15:01

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