Friday, January 24, 2020

the opposite of walls

I haven't used dungeon tiles in years, but I sometimes like to relax by watching people make their own tiles. I'm talking about folks like DM Scotty, Wyloch, Black Magic Craft, The Tabletop Engineer, Professor Dungeon Master*, and DungeonMasterG. There's just something soothing about watching someone turn a bit of corrugated cardboard or some foamcore into a little piece of dungeon architecture. I especially like the painting, where often simple mixes of blacks and whites and greys become a sophisticated dungeony look.

But something has bugged me about dungeon tiles for a long time. They tend to encourage two-dimensional thinking. Sure, we have 3-D figures, and maybe furniture, too. But they all exist in what tends to be a flat plane. And I think the presence of walls on tiles, although aesthetically pleasing, doesn't do much to help in getting the DM and the players to think in three dimensions. Crooked Staff Terrain recently has done some work to alleviate this problem, but today I want to talk about the problem with walls specifically.

I'm going to start with a very simple argument: walls are so ubiquitous in dungeons that, in most circumstances, you don't need them on the playing board. For example, I tell you that the corridor you're going down ends in a T-intersection. I then put down this tile:

 You have a pretty clear idea of where the walls are and where they aren't, don't you? If there is ambiguity, like say the western leg of the T turn's north, then an additional 10'x10' tile should do the trick:

(I've gone to 3 squares for a 10' wide tile because I think that better fits. 2 square wide corridors always seemed super-cramped to me. And Gygax recommends 3 and a third foot squares on page 10 of the first edition DMG. As I recall, Empire of the Petal Throne allows 3 adventurers breast in 10' corridors as well. There's more variability there, though. In EPT you can fit 4 abreast if no one is wearing metal armor, while 2-handed weapon users can only fit 2 abreast. Except for 2-handed sword wielders, who need the entirety of the 10' corridor to operate properly.)

Below is a normal corridor. What if I want to represent that one side of it has no wall, but rather looks down on something below? Since dungeon delves involve piercing deeper and deeper underground, I think that would be a more common scenario than the stacking up that Crooked Staff does in the video I linked above.

Here's one idea how to represent that:

The black part represents the yawning void where the east wall should be. There's got to be other ways of depicting this sort of thing, so that adventurers can better interact with the 3-D dungeon environment. How do I show, for example, that there's more dungeon down there?

(BTW, these tile images were made with the Flagstones font. S. John Ross made it many years ago. It's a pretty great way to crank out a lot of paper tiles quickly. I don't see it currently listed at his store on drivethru, but he has lots of other cool stuff there for sale.)

*Special recognition for Professor Dungeon Master who, in addition to great crafting videos, has some really sound DM advice videos.


  1. Food for thought. I use Roll20 a lot so I have a similar problem. Thanks for the links to the maker videos.

  2. What I do with my dwarven forge is place the tiles on top of a battlemap with the appropriate void background. In your example it would just be a piece of paper with a black background.

    If you can see to the other side of the void then I will lay down additional pieces with the floors place in a way to indicate either it is a sheer drop or floor more or less on the same plane as where the character are.

    If I do this in roll20 either I am using one of my own maps and the voids is clearly indicated. Or I am using tiles that have enough of a 3D effect to see which sides are wall. In this case I do the same thing I do with the physical DF pieces.

    Having Dwarven Forge helps because there is a 1/4" edge to the floor. But it fine with paper tiles if you put them on top of a background.

    Finally one issue with the post is the assumption about walls being ubiquitous. Yes that true but you need to consider that many dungeons are packed mazes where tunneling through a wall opens into a new passageway. Not a series of isolated passages.

    For example the map to B1. The entrance with the magic mouths is an isolated passage. Beyond that most of the dungeon is a packed maze. So you need to have the walls marked because all the squares are floor tiles in essence.

    Finally the more serious issue is the placement of the wall on the tile.

    Ideally the walls would straggle the tile's edge with 1/2 on one side and 1/2 on the other. However for various reason this is not the case with physical tiles. Either the wall is placed on the inside of the tile. Or the wall is placed on the outside of the tile. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. But you need to keep them in mind as the layout is built or you will get odd joins at various points.

  3. I have used Dungeon Tac-Tiles for about the past 15 years, then with multi-colored dry-erase can pretty much indicate whatever terrain or features on the fly. Of course here are hours and hours of D&D gaming with no miniatures at all. I have kind of gone back to that model recently although we always at least set up PC minis for marching order. Ha, and am always looking to incorporate furniture in whatever our gaming space to denote terrain features mostly for overland hills and cliffs and stuff. Can't do that online though.

  4. I stumbled across some stuff on dungeon tile 2.5D and it was pretty nice. The tiles each have five foot squares and half a square on each side for short walls big enough to indicate walls without getting in the way. The walls being on the outside has the advantage of forming a 5' square archway when the door on one tile is mated to the door on the next. If you have an opening you'd simply not put a wall on that side.

  5. Dwarf Fortress visualizes a z-axis pretty well using a strictly codified language of ascii graphics. At first the eye can only see the familiar roguelike parts with the rest looking like matrix code. But eventually you can just *see* the landscape and 3d structures you've created as well. So maybe representing 3d space optimally is Secondary to simply representing it consistently.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. As a GURPS player, I approve of your three-square-wide corridors. GURPS hexes on a battle map are 1 inch = 1 yard across (edge to edge). As I'm converting an adventure such as B2 KotB, then I treat 10 feet map scale as 3 yards across. But I round off where convenient; an echoing 3yd tunnel opens out into some extensively roomy multi-page chambers when using a larger scale. My floorplans however are merely hand-drawn onto hex paper, rather than crafted and painted offerings of the artisans whom you linked above :)

  8. Sorry I was so caught up in seeing 3 square wide D&D corridors, that I completely failed to address your central point! For my paper hex-maps, I indicate the walls by a thick black border (typically a fine point Sharpie) backed by hatching. So the absence of that is clearly an opening by visual comparison. I haven't done many open drops, and this is something that I should correct! For smaller-scale drops (say flight of steps or the ledge of a raised dais), I use a combination of a thinner black line and some smaller shading or lines to mark the bank.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.