Monday, November 23, 2020

Rival Adventuring Parties and Dungeon Maps as Treasure

Been thinking about mapping more.  Once upon a time, my players encountered a rival adventuring party in the dungeon, fought them, and took their stuff.  At the time it didn't occur to either them or me that that rival party probably ought to have had a map of parts of the dungeon that they had explored.

On the one hand, having rival adventuring parties be a source of intel in addition to magic items makes them a great target.  Stealing their maps might even qualify as a good use for my least favorite thief skill, Picking Pockets, and maps could be a good target for skullduggery in town too rather than just in the dungeon.  I also like that this would allow a DM to provide information to the party about the layout of the dungeon, but there's a good reason for that information to be unreliable - just as the party may make mapping mistakes, so too their rivals.  This casts the players' map into doubt and requires them to resolve inconsistencies.  Some of my favorite mapping moments in previous campaigns have been when multiple players had their own maps and have had to build a consensus map out of their fragments, and having NPC maps as an additional source seems likely to lead to similar moments.

But on the other hand, figuring out what parts of the dungeon each rival party has explored and building unreliable map-fragments sounds like a pain in the ass.  It's the sort of thing that I would probably want to do after the session in which the party captured the map (ie, random encounter result of Rival Party, PCs capture the map, session ends, I figure out where exactly they had been and what they knew).  Maybe this is a good reason for OD&D's Read Languages to specify that it can be used to read maps - "Oh you didn't prepare Read Languages today?  I guess you can't read the map and will have to do it after the session."  Maybe it's normal for adventurers to keep their maps encoded, so that when captured you need to bring it back to town and spend some time deciphering it.  I dunno.

I wonder if the intent for treasure maps in OD&D was for them to be maps of parts of the dungeon, rather than maps pointing to wilderness lairs like I have used them in ACKS.  Looking at the text again it really doesn't say.


  1. It was very common in the early days for an entire campaign to be one dungeon (what is now usually called a megadungeon) and only later for there to be any overland travel at all. So, yes, I think in most cases treasure maps were maps to other places in the dungeon. It was very exciting to get one suggesting a route to someplace with a fabulous treasure, and could entice a party to attempt to visit much riskier lower levels than they would otherwise feel comfortable exploring.

    1. Just chiming in to echo what Joshua said as a likely occurrence. Plus, if it's juicy enough, it basically dares the players to go for it.

      It'd be interesting, if presented as a thing that exists, how often a party would try and parley a map out of intelligent denizens that the outmatch, etc.

      Expounding, it'd also be a nice thing to tack onto the Caving/Mapping proficiencies; translating a map
      from goblin scrawl to something useful.

  2. In my dimmermount campaign I have used both kinds of treasure maps; some to treasures in the dungeon, some to places outside the dungeon. Both kinds were great fun.

    I think the key to fun with treasure maps in the dungeon is to have the party figure out the starting place and/or format of the map. The fun with outside maps is mostly in getting the party to a unique location. Both are also great for building lore and flavor into the game.