Halls of Undermountain: How best to describe layout?

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I'm planning on running Halls of Undermountain during the summer so I've been reading through the book and keeping notes on things I like and plan to use. A plan is starting to come together and I'm anticipating a massive ton of fun with my regular players.

The problem is that I'm not sure how best to run this mammoth Gygaxian style dungeon. By that I mean that this dungeon is a massive labyrinth with many twists, turns, and dead ends. The map is a wonderful throwback to an age before dungeon tiles, map tools and poster maps. The problem with these styles of dungeons has always been how to communicate to the players the complexity of the map.

Back when I used to run 1e and 2e these kinds of dungeons were extremely common. I used to use a variety of methods to show the players where they were. Most of the times I would simply sketch out the tunnels on a sheet of graph paper as the PC's explored them. When they stopped, I would stop sketching and everyone would gather round to stare at the map while they made decisions. Some groups enjoyed drawing their own maps and I would simply describe the situation to them creating such memorable conversations as "You walk 20 feet and reach a t-intersection, looking to the left you see a long hallway and to the right you see a hallway go 30 feet before a door on the right and then another 20 feet before a door on the left and the hallway ends 10 feet after that". At the time it worked and everyone seemed to have fun.

But...  I can't see my current group going for that approach. I do have some old school players, but I also have a few newer players who expect dungeon tiles, poster maps, and powerpoint presentations.

What do think would work best in this situation? Should I get maptools and try to do it that way? Is there a program I can use other than maptools whereby I can project the map with everything covered and then reveal only what the players have explored? Should I just go old school?

Given the complexity of the map (certainly the most complex in all of 4e) any advice would be appreciated.


you could lay down tiles as you go, and have them map it on graph paper
Dungeon tiles should work. I've got enough of them that I could keep a supply of corridor and doors handy to lay them out as the party goes and pick them up as they get to the edge of the table. When they get to specially shaped rooms I'll have to sketch it out on my wet erase battle mat. I'm confident this method will work and this is the most likely solution.

One of my players, however, is trying to convince me to use map tools to display the map (ceiling mounted LCD projector shining on a wall next to the gaming table). I've messed around with Map Tools before but never really put it through its paces. We're still going to be rolling real dice and handling combat ourselves using mats, maps, and minis so the only thing I would need it for is handling the map.

How well does Map Tools work if I only want it to do map exploration? Any advice?
The problem with these styles of dungeons has always been how to communicate to the players the complexity of the map.

Traditionally, one of the players with graph paper was designated as the mapper, and the DM said things like "The hallway goes East for 30 feet, then North 20 feet before opening into a 20' by 30' room". Whenever there was combat, you just quickly sketched the local area on a wet (or dry) erase board.

But I frequently just provided the players (and/or had an NPC sell them) an undetailed dungeon map and let them tell me where they were going. I did this for undermountain... but the players definitely would've been using graph-paper had they not agreed to fork over 10% of the haul.

When 3.0 was brand new I hadn't run D&D in 5 years and it'd been longer since I'd played it regularly.   I still had fond memories of old-school, early AD&D, including mapping.  Our DM used a 1" grid battlemat and drew the areas we were exploring or fighting in, and I dutifully 'mapped' them as we went.  He got so sick of it that on one mission he gave us an NPC cartographer so I'd stop - we were going to be going through miles and miles of tunnels, and there was no way he was going to write it out on that battlemat 'screen by screen.'  ;)

After that he got really blasé about exploration.  A few skill rolls to 'find our way' and 'check for traps' and on to the fight.

In 4e, I got back into the habbit of 'mapping,' but it was more for my own reference (I'd sketch the map on a graph 3x5 card, and take notes about the monsters and the battle on the other side), since we continued to use 'story mode' and skill checks for more complex exploration, there was no old-school mapping.

After that group broke up, we formed another, and our current DM doesn't make maps, let alone describe them to us.  She'll use a skill challenge if it's called for, but mostly prefers 'story mode.'



If you're running 4e, the Skill Challenge mechanic makes an easy, abstract way to handle exploring a mostly-filler Labyrinth of any sort.  Dungeoneering, Perception, Theivery and other skills to find your way, avoid traps and unwanted encounters and get where you're going.

 

 

 

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If you're running 4e, the Skill Challenge mechanic makes an easy, abstract way to handle exploring a mostly-filler Labyrinth of any sort.

Although I agree with you in regard to 4e in general, the OP was asking about Undermountain specifically. The Undermountain map is old-school, huge, has lots of decision points, and details all the rooms. The 4e skill challenge method would not work as well for it.

If you're running 4e, the Skill Challenge mechanic makes an easy, abstract way to handle exploring a mostly-filler Labyrinth of any sort.

Although I agree with you in regard to 4e in general, the OP was asking about Undermountain specifically. The Undermountain map is old-school, huge, has lots of decision points, and details all the rooms. The 4e skill challenge method would not work as well for it.




Yes, exactly. I've used skill challenges before to handle exploration and they've worked out really well, but in the case of undermountain half of the fun is figuring out your way through the insane labyrinth. I want the players to be able to clearly exactly where they've been and see all of the branching points available to them.

I'm going to give map tools a try, but in the meantime if anyone know a good program that will allow me to present a map with a "fog of war" feature to obscure areas they havn't seen yet, please post. Thanks!

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> The map is a wonderful throwback to an age before dungeon tiles,
> map tools and poster maps.

Well, no. We were getting poster maps then too, just on a rather different scale. (I still have the poster maps from the original Undermountain boxed set...)

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By the looks of it, if you're sticking mainly to the linked adventure scenarios that are provided in the book then you'll be dealing with relatively self-contained sections of the dungeon. It's probably sufficient to chart it out on graph paper (or an electronic equivalent) and only worry about showing things in full detail when the PCs come across a location where it matters.
Hi,

Ran my first session of Halls of Undermountain yesterday - I laid out dungeon tiles as we went along and it worked pretty well, although I drew the Hall of Heroes [2] on my tact-tiles instead. The (one) player drew the map as we went along on graph paper, old skool style.

We had a lot of fun. Write up here: richgreen01.livejournal.com/221318.html

Cheers


Richard

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