Archive for December, 2012

Thief. Huh. Yeah. What is he good for?

December 31, 2012

Had a revelation earlier today: Thieves establish surprise dominance. In case it wasn’t clear, “surprise dominance” is when you aren’t surprised but you surprise your enemy, thereby getting a bunch of bonus attacks on him without them alerting their friends. And, this applies most in 1E D&D, less in 2E and 3E.

Here’s why I say this: Open Locks, Move Silently, Hear Noise.

Open Locks lets you open a door without making any noise. If you fail your Open Locks, you didn’t get through the door, but you also didn’t alert any monsters inside. Once the door is unlocked, you can have any member of the party open it and the rest rush in to attack a potentially-surprised opponent.

If you don’t have Open Locks, you have to break down the door using Open Doors (STR). If you fail to Open Doors, you alert the monsters inside and they can’t be surprised – and if they have multiple rounds of warning they can set up defenses or call for reinforcements. You might be able to get up to 3 people in front of a door for Open Doors, ensuring a good chance to succeed and still possibly surprise monsters, but all of those PCs used their actions trying the door so none can take advantage of the first combat round. Fewer bashers means lower opening chance but more available attackers if you DO get it open.

Open Locks takes time, which is the downside to using it. Time spent means more wandering monsters.

Move Silently allows a Thief ahead of the group to better surprise a monster. Silent movers like Giant Spiders and Elves / Halflings in non-metal armor surprise 4 in 6 instead of the normal 2 in 6. In 2E the surprise roll is on d10 and unlike 1E, you can be surprised for only 1 round. In 1E you’re surprised for the number of rounds shown on the die (so a Giant Spider surprises you 4 in 6, if you roll 3 you’re surprised for 3 rounds but if you roll 5 or 6 you’re not surprised at all).

(Yes I know it’s actually “surprise segments” but they act like rounds except for spellcasting and it’s easier to not explain that).

Here’s the thing: your Thief can surprise the enemy, then call for help and the PCs can race forward to take advantage of the surprised monster. They lose a round of attacks against it, but potentially a Thief can give several rounds of surprise.

Your DM might make the PCs roll for surprise, possibly eliminating one or two of these surprise rounds. He might also just say this trick doesn’t work for some reason, though it seems like that’s how the rules are supposed to work and it does make scouts worthwhile.

Backstab is basically a Move Silently ability since you can’t move while Hiding in Shadows. Backstab is how a scout can take huge advantage of surprise. Let’s say your scout surprised a guard for 4 rounds. The scout gets four whole rounds of backstabs on him, since he’s surprised the entire time and can’t do anything about it! And those attacks are all at +4 to hit and double to quintuple damage! Assassins or Fighter/Thieves can even backstab with big-damage weapons like Two-Handed Swords.

Silent movement takes longer, which is why you wouldn’t sneak everywhere.

Hear Noise (something Elves and Halflings are also able to do though they don’t improve at it) lets you hear if something is behind a door or down a hallway. If you succeed, you can’t be surprised by the thing, but you can still surprise it.

Because there are notes describing Hear Noise as not working against certain monsters (Undead never make noise etc), I’d say you’re still going to roll surprise if things are not as they audibly seemed. For example if you enter the Thieve’s Guildhouse and you hear some people inside talking, but in an alcove over the door are hidden guards, you would still roll for surprise because your Hear Noise didn’t catch the guards. Same with hearing some Orcs in a room but then you bust down the door and see a line of Skeletons standing between you and them.

Hear Noise, like Open Locks, also takes time. You might want to sit around listening at a door a bunch of times just to be sure, but maybe you should just pick your 3 best listeners and have them do it once. There’s also the occasional Ear Seeker or Mimic-disguised-as-door that can ruin a listener’s day.

A party without a Thief comes upon a door. Their Halfling tries to Hear Noise but has a 2 in 6 chance. They choose to break down the door, but either they use one breaker and fail or use multiple breakers and then can’t do many attacks against any surprised monsters. They also attract monsters from nearby rooms by breaking the door.

A party with a Thief gets a good chance to Hear Noise, possibly eliminating PC surprise. Then he tries the lock, and has a chance to open it quietly so almost everyone gets to attack. Even if he fails to pick the lock, he can sneak around and try to find another entrance and pick that one. If he slithers into a room he has a much better chance to surprise enemies and can surprise them for many rounds.

The Thief’s surprise dominance skills are very situational. In a wide-open wilderness his abilities could be a lot less useful, especially Open Locks, although in anything but plains and tundra the Thief should be able to do some Move Silently / Hear Noise. They’re also a lot less important as you get into 2nd Edition and especially 3rd Edition, mainly because in those games surprise is a thing that happens for only one round. In 3E backstab is replaced with Sneak Attack, which any Rogue worth his salt will get on every attack in every combat round.

As I wrote in an earlier post about Surprise in 1E, Elves and Halflings basically get 100% Move Silently because of their racial stealth ability. As for this post, they also get a small Hear Noise bonus but the Thief will eventually get better at it and become the most reliable listener. Of course nobody else gets Open Locks although an M-U with a Staff of the Magi (or is it Power?) who gets free Knocks makes Open Locks useless … exactly how many such staves exist in the whole world?

In all, the 1E/2E Thief really is combat-oriented, in a way that beefs up the whole party, just in a very subtle way. He’s also very powerful in a hand-to-hand fight, but again in a very subtle way. When people look at a Thief’s stats and claim that he’s underpowered, I think that’s partly because the DM’s adventure design diverges from the expected norm (few locked doors, not using surprise rules) or the player doesn’t take advantage of his abilities (staying in the rear, not scouting, refusing to pick locks because he’s afraid of traps). The Thief was simply diluted in 2E (lower Thief skills, surprise rules nerfed) and redirected completely in 3E.

I think that given the above, a party lacking a Thief is really missing out. A party of all-Thieves could be pretty interesting, but a balance is probably better (such as a Cleric for healing / light / rations, a Ranger to improve the party’s surprise roll and help in the wilderness, an M-U for combat magic and identifying magic items, Fighters for reliable damage output and reception).

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Normal / Hurt / KO / Dead (Damage Threshhold)

December 12, 2012

We have Hit Points to give a granularity to character survival, but in a lot of war-games a figure is simply alive or dead – in some, it can be wounded too.

In some RPGs you roll to survive, or against damage. For example, in Shadowrun 2 you get hit and take damage, but roll Body to reduce it. Everyone has 10 HP physical and 10 HP mental, but tougher people are less likely to take damage.

I heard [citation needed] that early on in D&D development (or maybe it was Chainmail) a figure would die only if it took its HD in damage in a single round. So if your Hero (4 HD) took 3 hits, he would be fine and next round you would still need to get in 4 hits to kill him. That rule didn’t last long, in favor of HP degraded by damage and recovered by healing.

On one hand the “Death Threshhold” mechanic is neat because it makes your character more of a hero, so a bunch of lame darts won’t slowly kill him. But it also makes it so combat is more foregone since a 4th level character vs. three 1st levels can’t possibly take enough damage to die, but will generally slay the three over the course of several rounds. Critical hits could make the combat unpredictable.

On the other hand there’s the resource management of HP to consider: this shifts HP from adventure-level strategy to round-level strategy. Recovery of HP after the fight would give you battle-level HP management strategy.

And maybe you want a little more granularity than OK or Dead.

So how about this:

Your character is either Normal, Hurt, KO, or Dead. If you take your HD in wounds in one round you drop one category. If you take double your HD in one round, you drop two. If 3x HD, just die because seriously you’re outmatched dude.

For example, consider a fight between our 4th level Hero and three 1st level Bandits. Anyone who hits will do 1 wound. A hit is a 50% chance, say 3 in 6. If you roll 6 you give two hits. We’re ignoring armor (say they’re fighting naked in a bathhouse).

Hero has a 50% chance of wounding one bandit, or an 18% chance to knock him out. Each bandit has a 50% chance to hit, but only if two hit and one gets a crit will the Hero get hurt (or a miss and two crits). Pretty much, our Hero will win and probably leave unscathed.

Generally this will keep individuals from killing high-HD creatures. You simply need a mob to take down a 10 HD creature! The same goes for high-HD PCs. Magic weapons and large creatures will deal more than 1 hit, but probably a 10 HD PC will be doing something like 2 or 3 hits depending on what he has. This is where spells becomes really important, since a Lightning Bolt would do 1 hit per level of the caster (save for half).

The rule would be suspended for helpless creatures (for example if a headsman swings his big axe at the exposed neck of the 10th level PC in shackles on the block, don’t bother even rolling to hit – the crowd is awash in blood) and ambushes would give big bonuses to hit.

What about healing? A Cleric would heal you upward one place with a Healing spell as long as he was at least your HD or higher. An 8th level Superhero would need eight 1st level Clerics or else four 2nd or one 8th to heal him. Or possibly a Cleric could blow multiple Healing spells, so a 3rd level Cleric could use 3 spells to heal the Superhero. But do we want healing high-level heroes to be harder than healing farmers? Would they take equal amount of time to heal from resting? If so, shouldn’t magic work on them the same way? And if that’s the case, how would healing magic get more powerful from the basic spell?

I don’t know if I like it. It feels like the regenerating-health-FPS trend lately, which I don’t favor. You get a game that’s pretty brutal on damage and they call it realistic, but if you crouch in a puddle behind a crate your wounds go away. I don’t know if I’d rather spend time managing medical items, or run away to rest up in town, or walk on healing pickups as in Doom.

Again, I guess if you want to minimize resource management it might be a way to go.

Why are crossbows so lame? And can we apply this fix to spellcasting?

December 10, 2012

Not in every game system, but specifically in 2E AD&D crossbows are just plain lame. The roots are farther back, for example in 1E bows are less powerful and crossbows gain a better bonus to hit against all armor types. Short bows in 1E, for example, have an enormous penalty against plate armor. Long bows in 1E don’t have the Sheaf Arrows from 2E that do d8 damage instead of d6 (crossbows do d4 and d4+1 for light and heavy respectively). In general, bows were beefed up and crossbows nerfed in the switch to 2E.

But even if you give crossbows better damage, bows have a higher rate of fire. And you still need both hands to load a crossbow even if you need just one hand to fire. Even in 1E crossbows sucked.

A crossbow that require long loading time, say a full round to reload one shot, should have a commensurate damage bonus. If an archer can pull back a bow but he can’t pull back the crossbow by hand, the crossbow’s pull must be greater and so deal more damage. OR since D&D has an abstract combat system if crossbows had an attack bonus they would effectively deal damage more often, which is sorta the same thing. An attack roll bonus would also account for the crossbow’s ease of use and armor penetration, which I think was one of the reasons it was popular in reality.

But this post isn’t really about crossbows. It’s about how a crossbow should work: spend more time loading, and you get a better damage output and success chance. That’s how a spellcasting system could work.

Let’s say you want to cast Lightning Bolt. If you spend longer casting it, your enemies have a save penalty or take more damage. Or both, whatever works out balance-wise. You might have spell points, or drain after casting, or memorized slots. The former two could easily tie into this “charge-up” system because they use numbers with more granularity than spell slots.

If it’s a saving throw penalty, I’d say the spell takes 1 round per spell level just to cast it, and then every extra casting time you spend gives -1 to save. For example, the Lightning Bolt (level 3) would take 3 rounds to cast and if you cast for 9 rounds instead it would give a -2 penalty to save. This long casting time could replace other limitations on number of spells per day (spell points, memorization).

If you wanted to use the charge-up rule with 2E without changing anything, say that every extra round of casting gives -1 to save, but if the spell’s normal CT is longer than 1 round then it uses whatever unit the CT uses (so if the CT is 1 turn, you get -1 save per extra turn).

Cheap Magic Items

December 5, 2012

Generally in D&D you get normal equipment, then the first magic item is like “OMG this thing is worth how many thousand gold?!” It’s always cool to get magic items, even at first level, but they’re so powerful! And if you get a +1 Sword by 2nd level, and a +2 Sword by 4th, you’re quickly going to run out of swords to get. I like stretching out the growing collection of magic items a little. One way to handle it is to just put the lowest-power magic items in and hope for the best. But some item types don’t have low-value examples (such as rings, weapons).

Let’s use 1E AD&D as the example. It works because it actually has magic items values, unlike 2E’s DMG, a paucity they quickly realized was a terrible idea and fixed in the Magic Item Encyclopedias. Another reason is that 3E, the other system for which I would have input, has valuation tables for magic items but they’re easy to break and they’re really more of a set of guidelines.

1: Use existing magic items, possibly with few charges.
Here is where you get to make a potion, a few magic arrows, or a Wand of Magic Missiles (5 charges) a worthwhile treasure.

2: Permanent items can have charges.
Found this in a Dragon article. Maybe take a +1 Sword that has 30 charges, and each charge gives you 1 turn (10 rounds) of magic. Otherwise it gives no bonuses. Generally making a +1 Sword that only works 1 day per week or 1 hour per day will cause players to waste time waiting for their stuff to pop back up. But if it’s a finite resource like charges, they gain nothing by waiting.

3: New weak magic items.
Think about stuff that doesn’t have as big of an impact as a 1st level spell or +1 Sword. But who can come up with enough of these things?

Here ya go, this should get you started.

Ring
Detect Disturbance: Keep the ring in a container for 1 week. Thereafter the ring will vibrate if the container is touched, moved, picked open, etc. or if magic affects it. Resets to new container if kept in it 1 wk.

Detect Spellcaster: Throbs if you point it toward a spellcaster, monster with spell-like abilities, or someone who has the potential for magic within 60′. But the target also notices you! Requires line-of-sight and is blocked by a wall or even a curtain. WIll detect invisibles if they qualify, but won’t give distance – only direction. Takes 1 round to check a cmopass direction (of eight).

Protection from Charms: Ring has six little gems, and if you would get charmed by spell or spell-like ability one of the gems shatters instead. Even affects higher-level charms like domination, geas, etc. but it’s up to you if it works against psionics or mutations (I’d say no).

Gambler’s Telekinesis: Low-range low-power TK ability, not enough to use in combat or untie your ropes but enough to subtly alter a die roll. Only works for times when your PC is rolling dice in the game, not for you rolling dice in Kristy’s basement. Lets you change the die facing one place from where it will fall. Experienced gamblers may notice that something funny is going on and a Detect Magic will reveal your deceit.

Rod / Staff / Wand
Magic Detection: One charge determines whether or not the touched item is magical, because the rod glows if it is.

Beeping: Wand will beep or glow on silent command by the person who has carried it the most in the past week. It’s great for “detecting evil” and the like.

Ugly Stick: When you hit someone it makes them really ugly for one hour per CHA point, using 1 charge.

Shutup: Whomp on someone and he can’t talk (or cast spells with verbal component, or use magic items with a command word) for 1d6+1 rounds. Takes 1 charge.

Misc Magic
Hood of Veiled Sight: Can’t see while you wear it except basic outlines. You can’t tell friend from foe unless their shapes are extremely different (such as your human buddies vs. some sprites or a basilisk) (in 3E terms, call it “Medium Humanoid” vs. “Large Magical Beast” if you wanna get technical). Immune to gaze attacks, but you do not reflect them as a mirror would.

Liquid Mirror: If it breaks, the pieces melt and reform in the frame in 1 hour. Separated pieces evaporate and the frame heals the gap. If broken over a creature it takes 1 HP damage and has -1 to all rolls for 7 days.

Gas Bag: On command it sucks up a 10′ cube of nearby gasses (which might be just air) and seals shut. If commanded again it exhales the 10′ cube of gas. It can knock things over like a Gust of Wind in its 10′ cube area. Corrosive gasses don’t affect it. It can’t hold anything denser than gasses. What it holds will come out at the same temperature it went in. With practice, you can control the exhalation to sustain a person underwater for 1 hour.

Skeleton Bone: It can turn into a Skeleton monster on command, and turns back again if it’s killed. It can be transformed 1/day. But if it takes 10 HP or more damage at once there is a 1 in 6 chance the bone shatters.

Busker’s Case: Case for an instrument; will change shape to fit any instrument you try to put in it as long as such an instrument usually gets a case (no pianos). If set out while you play for tips on the street, you get +10% money. If some mishap would damage an instrument carried in the case it affects the case instead. Three such mishaps destroy the case’s magic.

Armor
Water Barrier: Prevents water from seeping in or sweat from evaporating out. Won’t let you breathe underwater unless you supply air somehow.

Heat Barrier: Your body heat won’t go out and the armor won’t overheat from outside. Armor has minor effect in making you warmer if it’s cold or cooler if it’s hot (as in Wilderness Survival Guide, but a minor change, such as -/+ 20 degrees toward comfort). Mainly it makes you invisible to Infravision.

Oily: It’s hard to grapple you (-4 to hit or something) but if struck by fire you burn for an extra 1d3 HP for 1d3 rounds. Then you need to pour 1 flask of oil on to re-oil it. You can’t get oil out of it. If struck by a rusting attack while oiled, it de-oils instead.

Reflected Brilliance: If there is a light source that touches you (as in, it’s bright radius, such as the 20′ for a torch or whatever) then you also glow in all directions for 10′. You cast no shadow, even if the light isn’t bright enough to activate the armor.

Shield
Protection From Magic Missiles: MM against you have a 1 in 6 chance to hit the shield and bounce away harmlessly. These bounced MMs become mopey little light motes that you could capture if you cared; they eat aphids and crumbs.

Floating Disc Shield: Can carry stuff like a Floating Disc spell as a 1st level M-U. It has all these coin-shaped depressions in the front and it requires 10 GP to fuel one hour of operation. The coins get consumed by the shield but you can pry them back out if you haven’t activated it yet.

Campfire Shield: On command the front surface heats up and small flames come out. In combat if you shield-bash you deal +1 fire damage. But every turn you carry it lit you take 1 HP because it’s so hot, and it takes 3 rounds to heat up or cool off. Mainly it’s a nice guaranteed campfire (you can always light it, you don’t need fuel, it won’t blow out).

Sled: Enlarges into a one-man + cargo sled (with all the normal harness) on command, though to go cross-country you’ll need dogs or something to pull it. The enlarging / shrinking won’t cause damage but can scoot small objects out of the way.

Sword
Sword-Friend: When it hits a swordsman (or a swordsman hits you) the two swords bind together and fall to the floor. They come apart again in 1 turn. Until then neither can be used in combat. Usable 1/day.

Sacrificial Sword: When you kill something there is a (HD %) chance that you get an immediate 1st level spell effect on you or a nearby target. You can’t save it up. The effect is based on the religion of the sword, and you might get to pick from a couple choices. Only works if the thing you killed wasn’t a worshipper of the sword’s religion. Each time it happens you have a 1 in 10 chance of switching religions (and possibly alignments) as you begin to see the truth.

Sword of Courage: Followers of your party or men in your unit gain +1 Morale (and/or Save vs. Fear). DM decides whether it works for full party members (PC or NPC) or wielder. You get +1 or +5% to recruiting new hirelings.

Willow-Sword: Very flexible, bends to get that hit when it would otherwise miss. If you miss by 3 or less, the sword hits anyway for just 1 HP of damage.

Misc Weapon
Axe of Wood-Chopping: +1 vs. wood. Succeed at Open Door 2/day vs. wooden enclosures.

Bitespear: Wounds caused by it look like they came from whatever animal you choose (has to be something you have experience with). The wounds still look / feel just as serious, so if you choose hornets it’ll be a whole lot of hornet stings per stab. Spear makes a medium-volume sound like the animal when you attack.

Digger-Dagger: +1 vs. earth and stone creatures. Acts as a full-size shovel for digging purposes.

Hammer of the Heavy Drop: After you attack it takes 2 rounds to recover from the swing. If you drop the hammer and pick it up, or someone else does, it still can’t attack faster than once per three rounds. It deals triple normal hammer damage. If used to Open Doors you get three chances in one swing. It’s throw distance is 10′ maximum.

Iron Spike Hammer: When it hits it drives in an iron spike automatically. It holds 20 spikes, and you refill it by inserting the spikes into the little hole on the hammer’s face. It causes +1 damage (and all damage is piercing type) if a spike is driven in, or normal hammer damage if there are none. You can’t fire the spikes as missiles. If a rope or chain is threaded through the hole also, it will be attached to the spike when it’s driven in. You can use wooden stakes instead, but these have a special effect on Vampires only if the DM allows (he should read his description of vampires’ weaknesses carefully, and consider how he handles “called shots” already). Special spikes could be made, but must be durable (not ceramic or glass) or else they shatter with no effect.

Liquid Tool: Can change form so the head is shaped like an axe, pick, shovel, hammer, blade, skillet, saw, drill, or crowbar. It’s always Medium-sized. The haft is nonmagical and can be replaced. If the head chips or breaks you can press iron scraps into the break and it will heal over. It automatically sharpens / straightens when it changes shape.

Muleskinner’s Whip: Unskilled user counts as a skilled drover / teamster. Skilled user gets extra 10% distance per day OR ignores one animal / wagon mishap. Wielder tends to swear more often.

Heavy Armor

December 4, 2012

We have some basic types of D&D with basic armor types: Leather, Chain, Plate. Then we have some versions of the game where there are tons of armor types in between: Studded Leather, Chain Shirt, Scale, Splint, Banded. Generally these are included to fill in missing AC values, since the armor choices tend to span 8-10 points’ worth.

How about just giving people the chance to wear “Heavy X” armor. Such as multiple layers of chainmail, or cuir boili with furs over it, or full plate armor. New armor types can count as these Heavy types, for example Studded Leather can be Heavy Leather.

Here I’m giving rules for 1E AD&D, but you can alter to fit other games by modifying the armor check penalty or max dex bonus or whatever. If you wear such heavy armor, you get +2 AC bonus but you have -2 to hit and -3 MV.

(The symmetry of the table below is a little nicer if, in your game system, Unarmored is 9 and Leather is 7 instead of 10/8 respectively)

Leather: AC 8 / MV 12 (Also Padded)
Hv. Leather: AC 6 / MV 9 / -2 to hit (Also Studded Leather and Hide)

Chain: AC 5 / MV 9
Hv. Chain: AC 3 / MV 6 / -2 to hit (Also Brigandine, Scale, and Splint)

Plate: AC 3 / MV 6 (Also Banded)
Hv. Plate: AC 1 / MV 3 / -2 to hit

As you can see, the basic armor types are still optimized better than Heavy version of the earlier type. So why bother? This is an explanation of what happens when you try to wear two suits of Chainmail at once, a choice for characters who can’t wear metal armor, an upgrade for games with technological limits on armor choices, and an upper-AC choice for people who absolutely must have the best AC available.

Specifically, I want to look at Heavy Plate as the kind of armor worn by trap-springers, shock troops, and knights. Remember the knight’s MV doesn’t come into play while he’s on horseback, and the attack roll penalty won’t matter because of his bonus for horseback elevation, skill, and charge, and also the relatively low AC of the infantry he charges.

How does this fit with 2E? The rules don’t give armor-based movement penalties. I’d say the person counts as one place more encumbered regardless of weight carried, if wearing Heavy Armor. That lowers his MV and gives various penalties which should be used instead of -2 to hit because they’re already in the system.

How about 3E? Give half again the armor check penalty and spell failure, and halve max dex bonus. The AC values of the armor are Leather +2, Chain +5, Plate +6 (as usual) but +2 for Heavy version. I’m going based on memory here so you might want to compare the penalties to the armor you would otherwise have to wear to get the new AC: you want the penalty for Heavy Armor to be worse, but only a little, and the Heavy Armor should be cheaper.

Player Maps Will Look Pretty Bad

December 3, 2012

I like having a good map of whatever thing I’m DMing, and describing to the players what they see, and if they want to map it then they can.

There are problems: what about players who feel the need to map every alcove with precision? What if it’s hard to describe a complex room?

There are things that could be problems or benefits: what if the players screw up their map and get confused? What if nobody wants to map and they keep getting lost?

And there are benefits: will they be more connected to the game world? Will they feel mystery at not seeing the whole map? Will they feel accomplishment at mapping on their own? Will the player map as a shared-creation artifact be a cool thing?

I like to consider the game-ability of any place I map. Is this going to just be a pain in the butt to describe? Maybe I simpify it. Or maybe I think of ways to describe it in terms of structural shapes instead of map squares.

What’s important to me is to implant what the thing looks like to players. It’s fine if the specifics aren’t quite right. When you get into a fight you draw stuff out quickly on the grid mat or arrange your building blocks or whatever, and that has to be a good map.

Not showing the map to the players means I can make my DM map quickly and it doesn’t need to look nice. I can mark all kinds of DM information on it that they shouldn’t see. It can be a map that’s maximally useful to me and drawn quickly.

The players have to make their own map based on what I describe. It doesn’t need to match my map. It just needs to give the players perspective and show the relationships of different features. If the player map shows that the players have to head south to get to the pass, that’s cool. If they arrive a day early and the distance was not what they expected, that’s fine.

Some blogger recently mentioned using tracing paper or a light table to make edited copies of a DM map for players, maintaining accuracy but leaving out the grid, secrets, and DM notes – and probably mapping only a small section. I like this, but its utility is limited to times when you want to give an accurate map. I’d rather scrawl something on unlined paper that’s kinda like the dungeon outline.

I like making a poor quality DM map and adding notes. I can make a good game-able map in a very short time. All I need is room size, hallway length, and I’m good. For wilderness maps it’s easy to just draw stuff, and I think drawing on ungridded paper is more common for wilderness than dungeon maps. Maybe it’s because there’s more wiggle room: it’s ok for your wilderness map to be off by 1/4″ but not your dungeon map, because the former adds an hour of travel but the latter changes spell range and area of effect.

You might not appreciate fast mapping but if your party heads off to a dungeon you haven’t detailed beyond a line in your notes that says “abandoned dwarf mine – center hole – spiral walk down – side passages connect – plants in bottom and level below has lava” you’ll be glad you can whip it up while the players are settling in and picking their spells.