Thursday, February 9, 2017

Alternative players' map for D1-2, Descent into the Depths of the Earth

For your possible enjoyment, here is a custom players' map for the old TSR modules D1 and D2 from 1978. These modules were later republished together as D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth in 1981 and appeared again, with some modifications, in GDQ 1-7, The Queen of the Spiders from 1986.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW! If learning details of the contents of these modules would ruin your enjoyment of them as a player, please stop reading.

The map is a player handout that guides the PCs from the lower levels of the Halls of the Fire Giant King (module G3) through a vast region of the Underdark to the great Drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu situated within a great vaulted dome of rock. In general the route runs northwest and represents a trek of 55 miles through underground tunnels of various sizes. In addition to the main route, the map shows a number of branching side passages that extend several miles west or east; if explored, the PCs will discover that these lead to other regions of the Underdark. The DM's map reveals much more of this vast underworld, including numerous chambers and a subterranean sea. However, the modules themselves only provide detail on encounters within the zone covered by the players' map.

Original players' map from D1-2.
In form, the players' map is essentially a cropped version of the DM's map but with key details erased. It is laid out on a hex grid of the same dimensions as the DM's and the passages and encounter areas (which correspond exactly to individual hexes) are identical to those on the master map. In this sense, the map is truly a players' map: it shows what a table of careful players would produce from having their PCs explore the region and from carefully noting the results on a piece of graph paper.

But at the same time it's clearly intended to be something of a prop: an object that, through the kind of suspension of disbelief that animates RPGs generally, immerses players in the game world.  Within the fiction of the modules, the map is supposed to have been dropped by a fleeing Drow noble (see G1-3 Against the Giants, p. 29). (In The Queen of the Spiders, it's asserted that one of the Drow deliberately left the map behind — something to do with complicated rivalries between Drow factions.) We can only presume, therefore, that it is a map of Drow creation, and details of the handout support this notion: specifically, ten or so symbols that appear within the hexes marking keyed encounters. These symbols don't appear on the DM's map. From the players' perspective, they are possible clues to what will be found in those hexes. The first one is an eye: if the players go there, they will discover a Drow guard post. The second looks like an octopus: it's a pair of Mind Flayers. Another looks like a spider... well, you get the idea. In addition, the map shows the quickest path through the Underdark from King Snurre's hall to the vault of the Drow: it is, in other words, basically a Google Maps itinerary, showing only what the Drow in G3 would need to get from their homeland to the realm of the Fire Giants. Its content, in other words, is clearly intended to support the fiction of the module.

But in that regard, its form leaves much to be desired. How many medieval maps have you seen on a hex grid? And why would a Drow cartographer use possibly ambiguous symbols when such a simple map could easily be supplemented by text?

I'm a DM who likes props, although I don't usually have the time to make many. When (if?) my players encounter the villains behind the giant raids, I wanted them to have something like Thror's map from The Hobbit: an object they'll scrutinize for clues and have their characters cast Comprehend Languages on. 

This is the result of a few hours of work during a recent snow storm when game night got cancelled. 

My alternative map is intentionally inexact in terms of distances, so careful players may still want to make their own hex map to conform to the DM's master map of the route through the Underdark. The general direction of passages and the intersections remain faithful to the original. I figure this would have been a map drawn in haste from memory, highlighting key locations and main routing alternatives from the Drow city to the surface. 

Since this is supposed to be a Drow map accidentally left behind, I decided that it would have been more likely for its creator to have made notes rather than used symbols to give the map's user(s) an idea of what lay along the route. Therefore, I've replaced the symbols with eight numbered locations, each with a one- or two-word description, in the hope that these will be just as interesting for players to puzzle over. To make the writing appear exotic, I grabbed a free font called Drow Angular, which replaces roman characters with Drow-y ones. The numbering system is pretty easy to figure out so clever players might easily catch on without having a PC cast Comprehend Languages. I began the numbering with the last area the PCs would see, since the map represents the perspective of the Drow who left their Underdark home to venture to the surface; the PCs of course proceed in the reverse order, from location 8 to location 1 — that is, from the lower right hand corner to the upper left — in their quest. From top to bottom the numbered locations are:

1. "The Vault" (encounter area Y2-55 on the DM's map)
2. "Children" (encounter area U2-48)
3. "Great Gate" (Q2-49)
4. "Mad Fish" (L2-41 and L2-42)
5. "Svartjet" (W-27)
6. "Slave Warrens" (Q-19 and Q-18)
7. "Ancient Foes" (M-12)
8. "Last Outpost" (D-3)

(N.B. Encounter area A2-31 is not shown on this alternative map. It's marked on the original players' map but since it involves a chance meeting with Deep Gnome scouts there's absolutely no reason for a Drow to have placed it on her/his map!)

I'm posting two versions on Google Drive for others to use: one with a parchment background, another in plain white in case, like me, you want to print it out, crinkle it up, soak it in tea or coffee, and bake it in the oven to get that old-timey effect. Enjoy! Feedback welcome.

Credits: Created in Keynote. Drow Angular font by Daniel U. Thibault from Old Parchment background by George Hadon at