by Mike Shea on 20 April 2020
Dyson of Dyson Logos, the best site for D&D cartography on the internet, posted about how D&D BECMI creator Frank Mentzer used a single map over 30 times when running D&D in public. Dyson [recreated the map] in his wonderful printer-friendly style.
This idea resonated strongly with my lazy dungeon master philosophies. What if you only had one map in your DM kit? If you could only use one D&D map for the rest of your games, which map would you grab?
Clickbaity title aside, I'm not going to give you that one single map. But I will help you find your own ideal map and we're going look at a few great examples.
Hopefully this article will help you answer a question you may never have asked yourself:
Which map is your map? Which map is your go-to map when you don't have anything prepared and need a map to run your game right now? What map can you print out, stick in your kit, and use for the next 40 years?
Before we start digging through maps, let's decide what makes a great map we can use again and again. I'm going to use some of the criteria found in excellent articles like the Alexandrian's Jaquaying the Dungeon and DM David's 5 Tricks for Creating Brilliant Dungeon Maps from Will Doyle. I'll also be adding a few of my own criteria specific to the purpose of finding a single versatile map:
This list isn't perfect but hopefully it helps you consider what your own criteria are for finding an ideal map.
I found this topic inspiring enough to ask on Twitter what maps people would use if they could only use one. Here are a few maps people chose and some of my own that I think work particularly well.
Tears of the Crocodile God designed by Will Doyle, cartography by Mike Schley, in Dungeon 209.
Note, I'm only showing the bottom half of the map here. It's huge.
This is obviously my favorite. This map happens to be included in the appendices of the Dungeon Master's Guide so you likely already have it on hand!
Caves of Chaos from Keep on the Borderlands remastered by Dyson
When looking for your own ideal map, I can't recommend scanning through Dyson's map library enough. It's one of the best D&D sites on the net. You can also check out the wonderful maps of Mike Schley and pick up high resolution versions of them for $2 a piece.
Why would we limit ourselves to just one map? Why aren't a bunch of maps more useful? After all, my own book, the Lazy DM's Workbook includes ten maps of the ten most common locations we'd come across in D&D.
Most of the time we can pick and choose which map we want for a given situation. Dyson's map library let's us pick from nearly 900 maps, for example. Other times, however, keeps our D&D improv toolkit small. The fewer items we have in our kit, the easier it is to grab the thing we need when we need it. If you're familiar with your single ldeal map, if you can close your eyes and visualize it, it will be easy for you to use it during your game. One map may not be enough for you but I'd recommend starting there and branching out to your second, third, fourth, and so-on when you absolutely need a different map than the one you have.
Obviously as we run our games we'll use lots of different maps. The intent of this article is to give you ideas for a single map you can keep on hand for those occasions when you're caught flat footed and need a solid dungeon with no prep at all. Having a single familiar map you love and adore will give you a great tool to use when your game goes in a direction you never expected.
What's your ideal map? Send links and pictures on Twitter!