I have a question about flexibility of map use while running LFR modules. I was digging through my stuff and I found a stack of folded maps from the D&D Minis game and I began to wonder if we were able to use them while running LFR modules.
If it's a private game, I say you can use a different map. If it's a public game, like a convention, where completion time is important, then I advise against it.
The adventures as written (including maps) are playtested to where they should be able to be completed in four hours. Changing the map can drastically alter how an encounter plays out. My experience is anything more than a small change to a map in an adventure tends to drag out that encounter, especially if the altered terrain provides added challenges (difficult terrain, cover/concealment that favors the monsters, pigeonholing the PCs, etc...) to the encounter.
It's good you mention something like convention play because, yeah, I would never use anything but an exact version of the map in convention play like that.
DME, hmm, yes.
There is a question of whether or not it is permitted under the revised DME guidelines.
I won't comment on that. But if you assume that it is either permitted or you don't care whether or not it is permitted, then the key is to understand the impact that the terrain you select has on the encounters you use.
Using the maps from the minis sets or the Fantastic Locations adventures will rarely result in one-sided changes the way that a previous poster suggested. For the most part, maps that were designed for competitive play were also designed to be relatively even. Unless you try, you are unlikely to box players in. You do run the risk of unboxing players when it was the author's intention to screw them with placement and terrain. (Personally, I think that adventures that do that ought to be screwed up, but that's beside the point). If you are running one of the many many many higher tier adventures where the only way to get to the multitude of ranged monsters is over a wide chasm bridged only by a narrow, rickety bridge (that is, of course trapped) and the other side is guarded by boneclaws while the PCs' side provides no cover from any of the monsters, you will have trouble replicating that set of characteristics with a fantastic locations map. (Even Dragondown grotto and the dwarven ruins river map from the 2.0 starter set have more cover than that and the lack of an exposed victory area or a victory countdown will make those maps less favorable to ranged monsters than they were to ranged warbands in the minis game). In fact, the primary impact that using the poster maps will have is simply that they are bigger than the standard LFR encounter areas. The larger area will reward monsters and PCs with ranged attacks and mobility based powers and will allow monsters to split up in order to avoid being all pinned at once. That is, itself something to be careful of, but it will rarely have the dramaticaly disparate impact that previous posters have suggested.
The other thing to be aware of is what the terrain does. It's relatively simple for most LFR maps. There is blocking terrain, difficult terrain and that's it. Every now and then there is a table, desk or similar structure that comes with its own rules. With a lot of the fantastic locations, though, you will need to decide how you will treat forest terrain (does it block LOS; how much of it does it take to block LOS, etc), market stall terrain, water (is it all difficult? Does it require swim checks?), spiderwebs (what do they do?) etc. Using those maps to run MYRE adventures, I have found that players generally respond well to terrain rules from the minis game (which is handy for me because i remember them and they are designed to allow simple rules and quick determinations) but you need to explain those rules to the players so they know what they are seeing and how they can interact with it.
Before the revision to DME, I used Fantastic location maps for East 1-1. The first encounter works very well on Temple of the Prismatic Flame. (I think giving the fire bad and magma hurlers more room to manuever makes that a little bit more deadly, but not a lot). I used Dungeon of Blood for the next two encounters, but if that seems a bit evil for a dwarven temple, broken demongate would probably work quite well instead.
I think if the map adds atmosphere and doesn't change the encounter too much, go for it. Last weekend I played in an adventure and the DM used a dungeon tile that fit the setting of the encounter perfectly but was somewhat smaller than the map in the mod. Did it change the encounter? Probably. Did we care? No, because style and atmosphere are important in a role playing game.
Maps can have a substantial impact on play. I've seen some big tactical differences between play in adventures with a different map and with the actual map. For example:
Having said all of that, other variables are generally more important, but in using any custom map I try to consider what I may have changed and whether I need to compensate for it in other ways. In both of my authoring efforts I have at least one map where I altered things down to an exact square due to deliberate efforts to have the encounter play out a certain way. That one square can throw the balance off to favor one side or the other. It won't happen every time, but it will happen sometimes.
- In the majority of games I've been a player in, the DM modified the map (usually to accommodate the tiles he had available).
- In the cases where the terrain was unaltered, it was usually drawn by hand without embellishment
- In cases where a folded map was used, the terrain looked wonderful and set up quickly, but was often dissimilar to the original map. However, even this didn't seem to hinder fun, and balance didn't seem to be affected as much as by say, confusion on what the terrain actually was (in the above cases).
Overall, I personally prefer visual appeal and quick setup both as a player and DM... it's actually the main reason I play. To this end I've accumulated a lot of different maps (WotC Fantastic locations, WotC tiles, Paizo map packs, Paizo flip-mats, etc.) to come as close to the original as possible. I acknowledge that encounter terrain is sometimes closely measured by the author. Still, if altering the map were not an option, then most DM's I know are doing it wrong (and I am probably in the wrong hobby).
I don't personally use dungeon tiles since I prefer to use a gaming mat. When I draw a map I try to get close to the original tiles but don't worry about getting exact details correct. I worry about approximate size, terrain features, possible chokepoints and general layout and feel.
I was just drawing maps for this weekend's COSCON where i'm running 5 mods over 7 slots, I drew 12 maps yesterday, will use tiles for a few that are easily transportable as tiles and my battlemat for one that is too large for the 30x27 paper I was using. All of them are spot on except one, where I made some shrubs a bit larger than they were supposed to be, I had no desire to redo the map just because I added 3 extra accidental squares of shrubbery and it added a nice two level effect... I mean it just wasn't worth redoing it to fix 3 squares that in all likelyhood won't matter, but if they do, so be it. maybe if I had some whiteout nearby i'd have fixed it but I think it honestly made it look more natural I mean what's with all the shrubbery in LFR being 2x4 landing strips, it's like the 90's porn world invaded the shrubbery industry. (as a point of reference, in the modern porn world, there just wouldn't be shrubberies)
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