Drafting a Dungeon Map

I went to college, the first time, to be an architect. Architecture turned out to be a more artistic and less mathematical field than I’d anticipated, and it didn’t work out since I have very, very little artistic talent. But thanks to four years of high school drafting in preparation for architecture, I can knock out a fairly decent dungeon map.

I’ve dug out some of my old maps and may be posting them later on, but for now I’m starting a new map that I’ll be doing a step-by-step walkthrough on. Maps should have names, at least, to hang a concept on: this one is Thorngate Manor. I have some more specific ideas in mind for it, but that’s all we need to get started.

I’m going to go old school here and not use any electronic aids — I’ll draw by hand, like they used to in the days when DMs drank the tears of players before breakfast. Nor will I use any fancy gadgets like a drafting table or a t-square. I have a pencil, one ballpoint and one gel pen, a Sharpie and a piece of what looks like 4 square to the inch graph paper I had laying around in a random notebook. I collect graph paper notebooks with an almost fetishistic passion; sometimes I’m afraid to write in them for fear of “ruining” them with a project that turns out badly or unfinished, but this one’s already been partly used, so it’ll be okay.

I start by sketching the map in pencil, starting with the basic floorplan as shown below. I draw this kind of thing fairly light as I’ll erase it later after it’s inked, so it may be hard to see. I stipulate that Thorngate Manor has three floors: a ground floor, an upper floor and an attic/roof level. I’d thought a doing a cellar underneath the place, but I’d need either a second page for that or to drop the attic level. As you can see, the sketch takes up pretty close to the whole page. An underground dungeon map can end up looking kind of artificial if it fits the page more or less exactly, but for a three-level, rectangular outdoor structure it’s not a problem, and this kind of this is pleasingly old-school anyway.

I next begin to sketch the internal layout of each level. Obviously, I’m going to sketch the entire layout in pencil before beginning to ink, although any dressing like beds, tables and such I will just draw directly in ink. I need to make sure to line up the interfaces between levels correctly; there’s some math involved to do this strictly accurately, but I won’t bother, and will merely line them up by eye and according to the grid. I will use hallways to make the layout makes sense to the modern eye, even though architecturally hallways are a relatively modern invention – take a look at ancient and medieval floorplans sometime and you’ll notice the lack of them.

The attic is a little tricky, since I’m going to assume that the roof is pitched rather than flat, which means that parts of the attic will boast less-than-ideal headroom. Which I want, because it’ll make for an interesting encounter or two in cramped confines. But it means I have to figure out where the confined areas are. But — and this is the trick — the slope of the roof can be anything I want. I’ll “just so happen” that I will set it up so that everything works out based on my grid.

I will (more or less arbitrarily) draw the ridgelines of the roof. There will be three of these, one for each wing (drawn vertically) and another for the center section which is horizontal. The center section’s roof will intersect those of the wings at some angle which will in turn project down onto my flat paper at some different angle, but I can again draw this arbitrarily because I leave the roof pitch undefined. (The whole thing would be moot if I’d just declared “there’s a roof” and screw the attic.)

From the ends of the ridgelines in each wing, I draw straight lines to each corner of that section of the manor. For the center section, I stipulate that the roof peak is higher than on the wings, and cut the central ridgeline two squares short of the wing ridgelines. I then draw straight lines to the corners of the center section from its ends. Since the slope of the roof is arbitrary, I decide that two squares, around the edges of the attic, are the cramped confines, so I draw a hashed line to reflect that. And I place a couple of walls; this is all nominally storage space (no doubt now inhabited by some kind of natsy) so I don’t want a bunch of rooms in it, but neither do I want the whole attic to be one huge open space.

I also jotted a few notes on the map and added some details to the grounds: some trees and shrubbery, the groundskeeper’s shack, a stable and a small smithy and a small orchard. At this point I could easily number some encounter areas and populate the place, considering it done enough for government work. But hopefully I’ll get around to Part 2 later this week, where I will ink the thing and make it look slightly more professional.