Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Dungeon Building with 3x5 Index Cards

Over the weekend I was fiddling with my 3x5 index card map idea when my children started to take a keen interest in what dad was doing. When I explained the concept, all three got super excited and insisted on helping. To my pleasant surprise, the three of them are well on their way to becoming creative dungeon masters. I am not ashamed to say that I swiped some of their ideas and cleaned them up.

At this point, I have to make an admission. I have been struggling with making a map for the dungeon underneath Hucwind Castle for my re-imagined Slave Pits of the Undercity. Random generation, geomorphs and just doodling were not giving me the results I wanted. Not that I didn’t get good maps, they just weren’t evoking the kind of atmosphere that I wanted.

When my kids came to me with some of their sketches and ideas, I realized that some of them would make great additions to the very dungeon I was struggling with. It then dawned on me how powerful 3x5 index cards can be at making dungeon maps.

Imagine wanting a dungeon level with the following features:

  • A Throne Room
  • Catacombs
  • Alchemist Lab
  • Giant Hornet Lair

Draw each feature on separate 3x5 card. Grab some of your favorite geomorphs, draw a couple other generic 3x5 cards plus a few “dead end” 3x5 cards (that have only one exit) and then start fiddling. Rather than having to re-draw a map every time you don’t like it, all you have to do is rearrange some 3x5 cards. The result is almost like a mini-game of dungeon building. The end result is far more organic (and therefore makes more sense) than simply drawing a map. It is also, at least for me, really satisfying.

As an example, here is one of my favorite incarnations of the dungeon that resulted from using this technique (and including some of my kid’s ideas):

I still have some fiddling to do, but this is vastly superior to anything I had come up with before.


  1. that is very very nice, mmmm I must get my daughter to start drawing maps for me!

  2. Nice. How about some triangular geomorphs? You could cut some cards diagonally in half, or you could cut some to make 3-by-3-by-approx. 4.24 triangles.

  3. That is as impressive as can be. I think you're really onto something here, Dave. These have been much more exciting maps than the usual 8.5x11 types.

  4. I like this idea a lot.
    I made a castle map with a very similar process:
    Huge Castle