For the first post in the series, we'll start with a super simple map: "The Small Library".
This is an example room of a functional-library where some sort of fight took place very recently. The idea behind this room is that it's a library in a dungeon that sees frequent use - perhaps there are a number of scribes who come and go, copying books or otherwise making notes. The room in question is still a living part of the complex. It's clean and the books are normally in tidy lines on the shelves.
To start designing this map, I started with a couple of different goals in mind.
- First, the room is part of a larger complex - wherein the denizens both appreciate and utilize a library space. They need a place to sit and do diligent work, as well as a place to listen to other experts explain complex topics. Think "Wizard's Academy".
- Second, the room should be relatively tidy - the people living here care for their books and care about knowledge.
- Third, the complex has recently come under attack - by motivated attackers who are searching for something - a book in this room.
To convey the feeling of "actively used" in line with the first design goal, each of the desks has a different item on it: An open book, a closed book with an inkwell, a pile of books because the scribe is messy, and so on. Likewise, the lectern at the front is turned towards the desks, giving the room a feeling like it's used for lectures, and the open book atop of it gives the sense that one could have been happening or about to happen before the room was vacated by its normal occupants.
For the second design goal, I used bookshelves that were neat and appropriately lined up. The books are well aligned, with only a few out of place. Even the messy desks in this situation are "clean", the one with the pile of books on it is still believable. Who among us hasn't piled up a bunch of stuff on their desk while in the middle of a really complex problem?
The use of whitespace around the desks between the shelves and the main working space has a couple of different purposes. The primary purpose is for the characters to be able to move around the room and actually conduct a fight without having to worry about the terrain too much. There's a good 10 feet on either side of the room, and 5 feet down the middle of the desks, creating three separate funnels from north to south. It's also there to continue to evoke "clean" and "maintained" - tidy spaces feel more open, and open spaces feel more tidy.
To meet the third design goal, I wanted to give an impression that a fight had recently taken place in this room. For this I chose to have a completely broken desk and a spilled inkwell on the adjoining desk. When designing the encouter for this room, I would likely have someone immobile on top of that desk, as if they had been thrown through it, causing the inkwell to spill.
The books scattered in front of the bookshelves in the east and west corners of the map can convey a couple of different things - since one of the books is scattered open - the feeling I was trying to get across is that someone was looking for something - a particular book on the shelf, perhaps. The stack on the left side of the room is more orderly, however. Did the attacker have more time in his initial search? Were those already stacked up to prepare for the lecture? Either way, the encounter would be the most evocative if the PCs were to interrupt the attacker in progress, after they'd scattered the books on the floor - or, better, after they'd found what they'd been looking for.
Finally, the barrel of scrolls and chest on the back wall round out the room. The scroll barrel could contain any large pieces of rolled up papers, but for my uses I have them as maps of the surrounding region - useful when conducting research.
But what's in the chest? Is it nonsensical, just placed there to hold treasures in a traditional dungeon crawl? Perhaps it holds extra ink for the inkwells, and more parchment for the scribes? I play it for the latter, to evoke realism, but maybe there's something else in there - perhaps one of the scribes was hiding something in there. Or, it could be a mimic. Players absolutely love it when you surprise them with mimics.
I hope you've enjoyed the first installment of The Map Mine - stay tuned next week where we'll be walking through a much larger map, a nonsensical house with a front exterior.
If you liked the icons used in this map and would like to make your own, check out the OSRaon Icon Pack over on itch.io: