Should a DM handout area maps?

15 posts / 0 new
Last post
Hello everyone,

I am relatively new to D&D, and me and a couple of my friends interested in the game, as myself in the role of the DM. I have extensively studied the 4th Edition Core Rulebooks, and watched several pro sessions online, and have decided to run a somewhat modified version of the published adventure "Reavers of Harkenwold". However, I am still not certain about one thing - do DMs in general give maps to the players as handouts? I.e. should I give my players a copy of the map of Harkenwold? To some extent this doesn't make sense to me, after all, if they are new adventurers, they shouldn't bear any knowledge about the region. And, if you look at it the other way, as though someone gave them a physical copy of the same map, wouldn't it make things less interesting? A fun thing to do would be for them to do a quest involving the map as a reward or something like that.

Or maybe I'm wrong, could the players be handicapped by a lack of the map?
Thanks in advance.
Hello everyone,

I am relatively new to D&D, and me and a couple of my friends interested in the game, as myself in the role of the DM. I have extensively studied the 4th Edition Core Rulebooks, and watched several pro sessions online, and have decided to run a somewhat modified version of the published adventure "Reavers of Harkenwold".



Welcome to the DMing, and to the forums. I'll offer some advice, but please note I haven't read nor played Harkenwold, though I've heard good things about it from people I trust. So any advice I give should be taken with that in mind.

As well, check out my signature for good articles that are helpful for DMs and players both!

However, I am still not certain about one thing - do DMs in general give maps to the players as handouts? I.e. should I give my players a copy of the map of Harkenwold?



Yes, you can, if it facilitates smoother gameplay.

To some extent this doesn't make sense to me, after all, if they are new adventurers, they shouldn't bear any knowledge about the region.



In general, my advice is to try to think of ways that things can be rather than ways they can't be. This is more positive and productive and will set you apart from many DMs who would rather block and shut down ideas because it doesn't meet their personal standards of logic or whatever.

Try this: Assume that they do have knowledge for some reason, then ask yourself or your players how. Perhaps they read about it in a book. Or once travelled there before becoming adventurers. Or one of the PCs is from there. Or they found One-Eyed Willie's treasure map. The possibilities are endless. In a fantasy world based upon your collective imaginations, always remember that the only reason something can't be is because you say it can't be.

And, if you look at it the other way, as though someone gave them a physical copy of the same map, wouldn't it make things less interesting?



Not necessarily. What if their 100-year-old uncle gave it to them the night he died with a cryptic message that they've yet to be able to decipher... until they found it written in invisible ink on the back of the map!

A fun thing to do would be for them to do a quest involving the map as a reward or something like that.



Yes, it could be.

Or maybe I'm wrong, could the players be handicapped by a lack of the map?



Yes, it's possible but not certain. If it's easier to get your group to visualize the situation with a map in front of them or they act more readily with more information, then give it over to facilitate smooth gameplay.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Find Your GM Style  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools

I'm Recruiting Players for a D&D 5e Game: Interested?  |  Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Or maybe I'm wrong, could the players be handicapped by a lack of the map?

I usually find players are most handicapped by not knowing or caring what they're supposed to be doing. The clearer an idea of the situation they have, the better.

And I agree with what iserith said.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I have Had good results from having maps. it stirs players interest to see a continent drawn up with clear played to go and choices for travel and even an idea of their impact on the world.

some suggestions. generalize on the map. show only what their common knowledge would know. ie well known cities and borders and then as they travel add new places to the map so they see the world grow. you can make changes as you go to show different events such as a war with a border change. or add a town that they hear of some event.

while some players might be disinterested in the map, it will never hurt the game. and really they would have some idea of the world they live in
Even if the characters don't know every detail of the area, the players ought to because it prevents a lot of confusion that is time-wasting at best and game-busting at worst.

If there's any doubt about whether the characters would know something, instead of "Your character doesn't know that," make it "Tell us how your character knows that." The player can then make something up to explain it. This is a good way to further integrate characters into the setting and get the players more involved in it as well.
If there's any doubt about whether the characters would know something, instead of "Your character doesn't know that," make it "Tell us how your character knows that." The player can then make something up to explain it. This is a good way to further integrate characters into the setting and get the players more involved in it as well.

Agreed. And set the bar for characters knowing something as low as possible. Don't ask for a character explanation and then say "No, not good enough." If it's not good enough, add to it, don't negate it.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Should a DM handout area maps?

Yup. It'll make the game better for visually-oriented players.

Good advice from everyone. If your players go looking to purchase a map of the general area, it makes sense that they can buy if from a shop or some other venue. That's what you would do if you didn't know the location well in the real world or google map it.
You have made a novice DM's understanding of the game widen a lot. Thank you all for your effort, I'll be sure to follow your helpful advice.
Welcome to the wonderful world of DMing!

I am relatively new to D&D, and me and a couple of my friends interested in the game, as myself in the role of the DM. I have extensively studied the 4th Edition Core Rulebooks, and watched several pro sessions online, and have decided to run a somewhat modified version of the published adventure "Reavers of Harkenwold". However, I am still not certain about one thing - do DMs in general give maps to the players as handouts?



I can't remember the last time I handed out a pre-made map to the players.  It can help put them in the world, but it can also be a bit of information overload - showing dozens of cities which they will never even go to.

I.e. should I give my players a copy of the map of Harkenwold? To some extent this doesn't make sense to me, after all, if they are new adventurers, they shouldn't bear any knowledge about the region.



The thing is, you don't know that.  Maybe they were traders before they picked up the sword?  Maybe one of them was a cartographer?  Maybe one of them was smart enough to buy a map?

I think you're better off not worrying about players using potentially out of character knowledge, and if it does come up, roll with it and use it to develop your characters rather than trying to work against it.

For example, what sounds funner:

Player:  There's an orc village off to the west
DM:  Your character doesn't know that!  Everyone pretend to forget he said that, and I forbid you to act on that knowledge, ya bunch of metagamers!

or

Player:  There's an orc village off to the west
DM:  How does your character know that?
Player:  Um... my father was a trader.  He'd trade with the orcs, until one day there was a dispute with the chief and they took him prisoner.  That taught me that this is a rough world, which is why I started training with a sword.
DM:  Cool, do you think he might still be alive?
Player:  Maybe... lets search for him while we're there!

Admittedly, the difference won't always be that stark, but at the very least you'll generally get a little tidbit of information which can enrich the tapestry that is your world, as opposed to a potential conflict over "meta-gaming"

Plus, it's hard to imagine even simple townsfolk living their whole lives having no clue as to what's two towns over.

And, if you look at it the other way, as though someone gave them a physical copy of the same map, wouldn't it make things less interesting? A fun thing to do would be for them to do a quest involving the map as a reward or something like that.

Or maybe I'm wrong, could the players be handicapped by a lack of the map?
Thanks in advance.



I don't know, I think a map is kind of a mundane thing to quest for (seriously, a crude map is worth what, a few gold, tops?).  It's not even worth role-playing going to the map shop (incidentally, never do this).  Just wave your hands and say "yeah, you have a map"

***************************
As an aside, I don't like to throw out premade maps.  I like to either leave that to our collective imagination, or draw the maps collaboratively.  One thing you can do is start with a blank piece of paper and a pencil.  Draw in the starting location yourself (protip:  start with action in a place like the mouth of a dungeon or something, don't start in a town trying to dangle adventure hooks in front of them hoping they'll bite.  And definitely don't start in a tavern, unless it's on fire), then ask the players where they're from.  If one of them says "yeah, I'm from the Dwarven kingdom in the mountains to the west," draw in some mountains and a Dwarven kingdom.  If the next guy says "I'm a hunter from the tundras of the north," draw that in and so on.
DM advice: 1. Do a Session Zero. 2. Start With Action. 3. Always say "Yes" to player ideas. 4. Don't build railroads. 5. Make success, failure, and middling rolls interesting. Player advice: 1. Don't be a dick. 2. Build off each other, don't block each other. 3. You're supposed to be a badass. Act like it. Take risks. My poorly updated blog: http://engineeredfun.wordpress.com/
Map, nothing!

One of the PCs has a rusty old shield with pictograms, some of which conform to some ancient landmarks, but some of which seem to show caves and towns where none are known to exist.

The PCs got together because each of them was lulled to sleep by a lullaby known by no one else they've ever met. Each knows a different verse and only when sung together, in harmony, does the song reveal itself as an aural gazatteer.

Etc.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Hello everyone,

I am relatively new to D&D, and me and a couple of my friends interested in the game, as myself in the role of the DM. I have extensively studied the 4th Edition Core Rulebooks, and watched several pro sessions online, and have decided to run a somewhat modified version of the published adventure "Reavers of Harkenwold". However, I am still not certain about one thing - do DMs in general give maps to the players as handouts? I.e. should I give my players a copy of the map of Harkenwold? To some extent this doesn't make sense to me, after all, if they are new adventurers, they shouldn't bear any knowledge about the region. And, if you look at it the other way, as though someone gave them a physical copy of the same map, wouldn't it make things less interesting? A fun thing to do would be for them to do a quest involving the map as a reward or something like that.

Or maybe I'm wrong, could the players be handicapped by a lack of the map?
Thanks in advance.



If they can buy a map of the region in-game, sure. Otherwise, nah. Make'em map it themselves. Just make sure your descriptions are up to snuff. Don't be afraid to go completely mechanical with it though. "a wall on your right extends ten feet northwards, then bends right and extends fifteen feet eastwardly, then wraps back around towards you on the left another ten feet. The door is in the center of the wall you enter from"

It's simple, and they'll understand it easily. So long as N, S, W, E are marked on the paper.

If it's an outdoor area or peaceful inner area, go ahead and present them with a master map of sorts that shows the general area since they should be able to see in all directions.

I like placing a master map of any area in the center of the table and working off that instead of everyone having their own. But they're free to make a map for their own records as I describe things.

The handicap caused by the lack of a map is mostly a non-issue most of the time unless specifics of combat make things super complex. Hell, most of the time, the combat is the only reason to use a map. Unless you just want some really kick ass representations of the areas they are in. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
In general, my advice is to try to think of ways that things can be rather than ways they can't be.



This is going to be where I completely agree with Iserith, find a way for them to get a map and let them have one, for Harkenwold it only helped immersion and direction to have access to a map, I say from having played it, unless there is a player who really enjoys making maps and then do as Lunar suggests. There was no great advantage bestowed upon us for having a map, it just made certain things easier to relate, or make more sense, and that is what a DM should always be looking for from a handout.
I've been running a points of light campaign in the Nentir Vale and have printed out maps of the vale and a couple of the towns. I've found it spurs exploration, with players pointing to areas and saying "What's over here? We should find out" or "This looks interesting, lets try there."

I also sketched an encounter map for my group prior to a bit setpiece encounter. They had an ally who'd been in the enemy camp and said "Couldn't he give us an idea of what we are getting into?" So I used a pen and scratch paper and sketched it out. The players loved it, and it didn't make the encounter any less challenging.
Thank you all once again, I really must try out all of the options noted above. All quite good ideas though, thanks a million.
Sign In to post comments