Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Secrets of Myrddin, part 2

So about this time last year I pitched the idea of vertical geomorphs to the carto-dungeon-graphic portion of the OSR community.  The basic idea was to take all those side-view maps that show the relationships between levels in a dungeon and actually use them like you do the level maps.  The geomorph artists came through in spades, so I decided to make a vertical map the centerpiece of my new dungeon.  Here are the parts that have been pretty well explored.

Because I actually wanted to use this map I decided that all the initially available entrances to the dungeon would lead onto this map, rather than directly to one of the horizontal (i.e. 'normal') levels.  Later one party excavated the Great Heap in the center of the courtyard of Castle Dundagel, opening up access directly to a medusa-infested Level 2.  But the majority of visitors to these dungeons have spent part (or all!) of each session slogging through this map. 

This behavior amused me greatly, because I originally envisioned the vertical map as sort of an underground Wilderness Area, where random encounters aren't tied to any sliding difficulty level.  Hence the vicious metallic spiders (Dave Hargrave critters, in fact) and the vampires.  I honestly expected the players to spend less time scouting the vertical access once some decent routes to various upper levels were discovered.

But I guess I didn't count on the twin fascinations caused by the Last Dragon in England and the Great Spiral Stairs.  When first assembling the geomorphs to form the vertical level (The above map is not a product of the random generation of Dave's Mapper.  When first assembling this thing the vertical randomizer wasn't fully implemented yet, so I stiched this thing together in MS Paint.) I decided on two things:  1) I wanted to use four "top border" geomorphs that had towers on them, to give a simple four-towered castle.  2) I wanted to see how deep of a spiral staircase I could get away with.

The latter was important to me because I wanted to give a quickie way for high level or daring low level characters to get down to deep levels.  This has come up in threads at places like Dragonsfoot and OD&D Discussion.  Don't just connect level 1 to level 2 to level 3.  Give the players some options so they can influence how big of a challenge they'll be facing.  The Great Spiral Staircase gives direct access to level 8 as well as a chance at finding the lair of the Last Dragon, labeled '11b' at the bottom of the map.  The two holes leading off the bottom of the map are the known Hellmouths.  One of them is under a trapdoor.  So far no PC has fallen to Hell.

One other factor I hadn't fully counted on: players just love climbing shit.  Seriously, most of my players love spelunking around this map, pounding in spikes, lowering ropes, dropping torches to see how far they go.  In some sessions the sheer joy of exploration really seemed to trump any concern for finding loot.


  1. Keep this stuff coming! I'm particularly interested in hearing how you found managing multiple groups (and in seeing more maps!).

  2. I always tried to get off of the vertical geomorphs and onto a dungeon level, but damn those things were confusing. I wasn't fascinated. I was just lost.

  3. I'm kind of there with Evan. I like to look at the verts and i like the design inspirations they encourage, but i don't really like trying to play in them. It's probably just lack of familiarity.

    I'm also there with Welleran - these behind-the-screen peeks are great!

  4. I'd love to hear more about how you connected this vertical map to your horizontal levels. Does this map reflect all the interlevel connections?

    For a complex dungeon, I could see using two or three vertical maps to show all the connections, but maybe one map is sufficient (one could always have a couple small overlays if it would help).

    Does horizontal distance on this map always correspond to distance on the horizontal levels?

  5. Ditto to what Frank and Evan said, I'd really like to get a better idea of how people translate from the vertical layout to the overhead, especially for some of the more complex ones like the one pictured. Obviously some of the early ones where each level is just a box with interconnecting stairs and passages, it's easy to translate since on the vertical map the level is just a featureless box. But on these more detailed ones? I'm lost.

  6. This looks very good to me. You have chosen a pleasing size for the whole dungeon. If I might make a suggestion: take four or so vertical or profile slices through your dungeon - this is simply achieved by blacking out some of the horizontal levels in each slice from four copies of your picture above, ie not all the levels are directly above each other even if there are passages connectng them.

  7. Kudos Jeff. I think this vertical map really accomplished something special.

    At first I only found it confusing. Wandering around meant constantly going up and down stairs and ropes. I might be able to retrace my/Vithujin's steps and get back out, but it was always hard for me to imagine how deep we were or how far to the left or right we'd gone. It made me uncomfortable. Seriously. I remember feeling a sense of relief when we opened a door and discovered that Fred the Dwarf could start mapping in "proper" overhead fashion again.

    But that's the magic of it really. I've DMed whole campaigns trying to instill a sense of dread. You managed it on me with a single map. Well done, sir!

    Even now, after XX sessions and Fred the Dwarf's obsession with mapping the vertical section; it still feels vast. There was never any sense of having reached the edge of the page.

    1. So then the vertical map was run as a separate map? Like it's own floor, but instead of horizontal vertical?

    2. What kind of cues were you given that you were mapping vertically? Did you have to figure that out, or was it made clear "you may want to switch to another sheet of paper to represent a vertical map"?

    3. Right, the vertical map is separate. A kind of nexus connecting most of the horizontally mapped levels. When you click the vertical map above, you'll see some of the level entrances as arched doorways facing toward you.

      I imagine that the doors labeled 1a and 1b both lead to different sections of the Level 1 horizontal map. Once there you might find a secret passage to a new section of Level 1 (1z?) which may or may not have it's own connection to the vertical map. Level 1 might also have a short stairway down to a level 2, or a long shaft down to level 5 or whatever. It was all a maze of interconnections.

      Thankfully, Jeff was pretty generous about telling us when to switch between mapping styles. It was always made clear to us. He even gave exploration xp to the first party to enter a new level, "You each gain 800xp, and you can start a new map for level 8".

    4. Anonymous1:02 PM

      I tried integrating the vertical and horizontal maps, but I just couldn't make it work. Maybe with a computer, but certainly not by hand. So, instead I'd just note on the vertical map a letter that corresponded to one of my many horizontal maps... "A" was the section of dungeon that led to "Goblin World," "B" led to the Keep's basement, etc.

      --Fred the Dwarf.

  8. Love it, and I'm finding the varied reactions interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Anonymous1:04 AM

    I always got a strong sense of vertical-ness just from reading your game writeups. Now I see why that was!

  10. "I wonder what could be in this vast white space?"

    Somehow Basil coppers The Great White Space springs to my mind, something leading to insanity and death and not coming back right.

  11. Your map looks great. The vertical map is a great addition to any dungeon. It provides a good overview of each level in relation to one another, and even a spatial overview of the entire dungeon that is missing from the horizontal maps. I find vertical maps are a great complement to regular dungeon mapping. In fact, I decided to use it on my own campaign around and in an as yet unnamed megadungeon.

  12. Anonymous9:47 AM

    Quick question re: vertical geomorph: do you use it as its own level? I may have misread, but I thought the dm just used this to situate the levels in his head. Is this actually it's own ant-farm style dungeon level? If so, do you think of it as being 2 dimensional?

    Thanks for the post,

    Long-time Lurker

  13. I love vertical maps! This looks great.