Sometimes in my shadowrun game(s), I have to invent a building interior on the fly for my players. I like to draw a floor plan or something similar for them. My problem is that I find it hard to invent building layouts in an instant. Most of my tries stop to make sense in one way or the other (particularly when it comes to door placement and stairs) and I already ask my players if my layouts make sense to them (They never complained, so this is not a problem, but I still want to improve myself)

Do you have any tips on how to quickly create such layouts on the fly?

  • I know that many pre-existing building plans exist on the internet, and I have access to them, but most of the time they are either not what I was looking for or they are too big and detailed for what we need
  • I have (this might be clear from the question) no idea about building layouts myself, I just make them up on the fly, but I want to prevent them from looking like "rectangle dungeons"
  • Another problem is that I frequently forget things like toilets and the like
  • I am not looking for a tool or anything to help me, but I might accept a tool as an answer, if it is a) free and b) easily available in a play session (I do own and use an iPad for my sessions)
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related for sure, but not a duplicate, as my main focus is not looking for a tool to help me, but instead a way to improve myself. See my last bullet point, too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Jul 1, 2015 at 14:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this not system agnostic? I've never played shadowrun but it seems like this can help with other systems as well? \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Jul 2, 2015 at 9:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried pre-genning building layouts to re-use so that you don't have to do it all on the fly? A number of good answers here suggest methods for doing that, and I think doing so explicitly would be a good idea, rather than trying to make them up during the session. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Jul 2, 2015 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 There's good advice available and many helpful tools for spontaneously mapping dungeons but not much of either for, for example, office buildings and resort hotels. Besides, knowing the system means possibly tailoring an answer for that system, which will help the querent even more. (It's almost always better to have a system tag than not.) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 2, 2015 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zibbobz I have, and event though that gives me more time to think about the building, the same mistakes still apply: forgetting toilets, not thinking about room/hallway structure enough, placing doors and stairs in a relatively stupid way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Jul 3, 2015 at 6:18

3 Answers 3


One option is to re-purpose buildings already known to you. Your grandparents' house can become the floor plan of a safehouse. Your old job can be the floor plan of an office they're breaking into.

You can play around with this -- for example, in the real world, homes get turned into small offices; your parents' place can now be a dentist's. The ground floor of best friend's house can be a tiny apartment the players have to search.

This will help with memory issues (like where to fit in the bathrooms) and give you some variety: but you don't need endless variety. The dentist's office this week can be a realtor's in two weeks, it's not that big an issue if the walls are the same -- the contents of the building, where you place guards or traps or etc are what the players will be concerned with.

You can also do some sketches in advance. Make a floor plan folder full of things you think you might need in future or wished you had in the past. Do a safe house. Do an office, etc. Then practice with those a bit -- take one, and design it as one thing, then do it again as another. This has two purposes -- one, getting you used to designing the floor plans in the first place, and two, if you like them, you have at least a small stockpile you can refer to at a moment's notice.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This reminds me of WoW's all-alike dungeons… sure, there it was a problem because you actually saw them, here if you change some details (like removing a single room here and there) they'll likely never notice. \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Jul 1, 2015 at 17:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note, the lack of variety is VERY appropriate to the 1980s anti-corporate punk theme of Shadowrun. I wouldn't hide it, hell, I'd lampshade it. If the PCs don't, have an NPC do so. Even better is to have each corp have a certain set of cookie cutter layouts. Once your players get used to it, you can use architecture as a plot point. e.g. "Hey guys, why does this building feel like an S-K joint? Doesn't S-K have a bounty on us? I've got a bad feeling about this..." \$\endgroup\$
    – Smithers
    Jul 3, 2015 at 17:33

A method that I have used in the past is to have predefined rooms/area layouts on index cards, organized by the purpose of the area.

By pulling out a few variations of say, office layout, and combining them you can create unique areas that do not miss any of the features you would like to have. This also allows you to scale into larger areas, campuses, or even full Arcologies by combining different purposes. For example, you could combine several research blocks, a testing block, and as much office space as feels right for an out of city R&D facility.


Coming up with things on the fly is indeed often quite hard! Another method is simply remembering that a lot of buildings are very similar or the same.

Apartment complexes are often identical rooms, mirrored, and placed in blocks. if your players are investigating a series of apartments, why not base them quite close? It's not a stretch to believe they're all part of the same apartment complex. Indeed, these complexes are often built in clusters so you could have them trying to move from one to another without going down first (avoiding surveillance, police, gangs, genetically engineered guard orang-utans etc...)

Equally, modern housing estates are usually mixes of three or four different basic house "templates". Assuming the houses of the future are not too dissimilar to those of today, it's not necessary to build a completely unique layout every time.

Its easy to come up with explanations too if the players query the similarities. I'm currently planning a sci-fi Savage World's campaign, and the houses for the workers of the colony I'm having my players explore are going to be 100% identical, with minor décor and alterations as you might expect from lived in buildings. The justification here is that they're duel use shipping containers as the corporation wanted to keep costs down.

Office buildings are often also very similar - particularly if they're all based in the same area. I'm not familiar with the Shadowrun setting but I know that all of the office buildings in the business park I work in are 99% identical with minor changes in placement of walls and partitions. I can think of several other office areas in the city I work in that this is also true of. Assuming that the office complexes of the future are (again) not too dissimilar from today, you could assume this is true in the future. This could also lead to some fun asides, like bumping into the security guard you fooled a few weeks ago and having to dupe him again (for example).

Therefore, one easy out is to design half a dozen of each layouts, map out in your head where these will be clustered and go from there. Then you can just pull up a design you've already got and add little details like knocked through walls or extra offices.

Remember though, that really big companies often have custom built headquarters, and a wealthy individual may have a custom built home. If you're planning a big raid it might therefore be worth planning something complex in advance for these "high points". That way you can really highlight the importance or potential difficulty of the raid.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! I see you've checked out the tour, if there's anything you're not sure about take a look at the help center. That said, great first answer, +1! \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Jul 2, 2015 at 9:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Most (pretty much all) of what you said is indeed correct in the shadowrun setting, yes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Jul 2, 2015 at 10:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even though it is not the accepted answer, your answer makes a close second! Just sayin'. Thank you for your answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Jul 3, 2015 at 12:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not a problem Patta :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Miller86
    Jul 3, 2015 at 13:43

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