I am currently prepping an adventure and have purchased some source material from an older D&D 2E one-shot (The Shattered Circle) which I have loaded onto Roll20 and am prepping for a 5E adventure.

The map that comes with the adventure, and would have been on the front cover of the adventure has notations as to where the traps are on the map. Here is a small snippet as an example : enter image description here

I know my players, and if they see that they are going to spend as much time as possible trying to figure out what trap is there and how to get around it. I can think of a few options to make it less of an issue in my game however it made me wonder how adventures like this would have been run.

So My question is How would this map have been used "back in the day"? (Would it be that this map would only have been used for guidance to the DM and then they would draw their own?)


2 Answers 2


In the old days, in the 1980s and 1990s, scenarios never came with a map at an appropriate scale for use with miniatures. The GM's map would be complete, with secrets, at a much smaller scale, in the region of 0.25" on paper to 10' of character scale. For playing with miniatures it would be used like this:

  1. The players would set up a generic marching order, using their figures, on the table.

  2. The GM would progressively draw a map of what the characters could see as they explored. The earliest D&D rules had examples of the GM explaining what the characters could see and the players drawing the map, but most people found that this was too confusing, and had the GM draw the map for ease of play.

  3. When an encounter started, the GM would either sketch the surroundings at the right scale for the figures, or set it up using some kind of tile system. I used Games Workshop "Dungeon floor plans," which were simply cardboard printed with squares over an appropriate background, which you could cut into appropriate shapes with scissors. There are examples of what they looked like here and a hex-based version is available here.

  4. The players would put their figures onto the encounter map, the GM would deploy figures and/or counters to represent monsters, and the fight would proceed.

This worked well, at least in part because combat was much simpler. The grid was an aid to positioning, rather than there being hard rules about creature size and space occupied. There were no Attacks of Opportunity, and everything about combat was less formal.

I never ran across a GM drawing their own map in advance for a published scenario. There wouldn't have been much point to doing that, unless the GM wanted to re-arrange the scenario significantly. I have seen GMs at conventions, where they could have a large table, with a pre-drawn map at figure scale, which they would reveal piece by piece by removing sheets of paper that they had placed over it. However, this is surprisingly cumbersome if the map is at all complicated, and always seemed to me like too much work for the (minor) improvement it made to the game.


I will assume that "back in the day" means pre-2000 (before 3rd edition). In my experience and locale, it was simply far less common to play with miniatures as they were expensive and heavy, and less available and detailed than what they are today. As a result, most groups in my area would play in the theater of mind style. Comments below suggest that this definitely wasn't the case everywhere or even in most places, so my prior assumption about the authors and publishers catering to that demand must've been wrong.

The reason the maps were printed so small was that printing images was rather expensive. As such, printing two maps (one with DM information and one without) would've been considered insane, especially if one was printed at a scale large enough for miniatures. Even today it isn't uncommon for printed adventures to not include player copies of dungeons (although, PDF adventures often do as there is essentially no additional cost). Due to the adventures not including miniature-sized maps, the groups that did play with miniatures had to redraw the map.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't downvote this answer, but I can see why a reader would. It may be best to rephrase this as your experience, maybe even limiting it geographically and further by decade. Further, that "the rules for playing with miniatures were barely established at the time" may have been your group's perception, but D&D's roots in miniature wargaming means such rules existed since the hobby's beginning. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 24, 2018 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about the (non-)use of minis through D&D's first few decades has been moved to chat. If you've got relevant experience certainly go ahead and chime in--it's been an interesting trip down memory lane =) \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jun 25, 2018 at 23:51

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