Thursday, December 7, 2017

Isometric Map Experiment

Of all the iconic and popular TSR modules, the one I probably dislike the most is I6: Ravenloft. While it reads like a pretty decent dungeon crawl with some nice innovations (like the different goals of the Count and his variable locations through the castle, etc.), I have always found it to be unplayable. 

The reason for this is simple: trying to read and make sense of that isometric map gives me a headache. I actually tried to run Ravenloft once in a session and practically abandoned the module in favor of making stuff up on the spot because that was far more enjoyable that trying to figure out where everything was on the map.

Ever since the release of Ravenloft, I have avoided isometric maps like the plague. I would even be tempted to say that I hate them because they render otherwise good material into real or digital toilet paper. I say almost because I will certainly admit that a well done isometric map is a pretty thing to look at. I will also concede that I have wondered if there aren't times when an isometric map could actually do a better job at the table of presenting certain ideas.

As I am gearing up to actually do my own version of ToEE, I got an idea that might very well fall into this category: it is a four story tall room with entrances on all four stories. As an experiment, I ventured to produce an isometric map. I then produced the exact same map in a more traditional way to see which of the two did a better job.

Please note: these two maps are not finished products. I kept the maps relatively simple so that I could easily wrap my head around both versions; however, as rough drafts of an idea I think they both do a very good job of being proofs of concept.

Putting aside which one is "prettier," because I am not really interested in that at this point, which one would you rather have at the table to run a game?


  1. For what it's worth, I would want both of them. The isometric map really helps explain the room with the stairs - but the flat map gives me a better sense of how things "fit" together - what is above what (which is hard for me to really grasp with an isometric map).

  2. I agree that I would prefer both styles. The only suggestion I might make is to draw a separate top-down map for each level. I once mapped a temple complex with multiple stairs, ventilation shafts, trap doors, sloped passages, etc. It was the only way I could keep up with it all and not lose my mind!

    1. Agreed on both. I'm in the process of doing this right now, and I'm drawing each level in plan view ('top down') first, then isometric detail views of particularly complex areas, but not the whole complex, as it's simply too big to be rendered in a timely fashion.

  3. I was impressed how well the isomorphic map worked (though suspect it takes a bit of shuffling to *get* isomorphs to work in general). A subtle colour code for the different levels might help (pale pastel background? different colours for the lines on different levels?)
    More generally, why do want different levels as opposed to (say) a series of linked rooms, with notes on the links saying what they are (corridor, stairs, chimney), rather like the Rainbow Mounds in the old RQ module Apple Lane?