Prepping for Atmosphere

I have one player who loves maps and mapping any and all dungeons and buildings the party enter. There is nothing inherently wrong with the party mapping. In fact the character has bought copper plates and a stylus exactly for mapping their route.

My issue is that mapping the parties progress kills the atmosphere in  the game. It can become almost mechanical, the party enters an area, everything stops while the player updates the map, play continues, rinse and repeat.

I am considering using preprinted map sheets with a black card overlay. The card will have a circular hole cut out to represent the light shed by a torch or lantern. It  the player then wants to sketch what  he sees then that is fine. I may need a couple of extra bits of paper to mask off bits that the top  page may reveal that the players don’t know but it all seems extremely easy to do. Part of the problem is, in my opinion that it is too  easy to fall into the trap  of describing interiors in a location by location way. It seems natural to describe somewhere right up to the closed door, knowing that the door will stop the parties progress and line of sight. Once they  have opened the door then they can see what lays beyond and react to it.

If on the other hand one started to treat both sides of the barrier as a single location what happens when the party approaches the door can be scripted in to  the adventure notes.

The same thing happenso of course if the GM knows the entire map and every location off by heart but I cannot retain that amount of information.

So what I  am starting to do is insert additional locations into the adventure modules with this overlap information incorporated into it. The first time I did this it occurred to me that my style of describing the location was different to TSR’s. So to make the thing more consistent I then rewrote all the location descriptions.

Now if you are writing descriptive text you may as well pour on the atmospherics at the same time. I have nearly finished updating  every location in  the next module the party are going to tackle and I seriously think it is much darker and atmospheric than the original which considering they are going to be investigating a tomb is just about right.

What struck me is that the original texts had very little mention of smell and sound. They would tell you how a room looked but little else unless it had a direct impact on the plot. No mention of dripping water, creaking timbers or the sounds of rats scurrying overhead. Likewise the frequent bodies found in rooms have obviously been recently given the once over with a monster sized bottle of fabreeze.

So this week I am  going  to have to set about redrawing all the maps to  a larger scale to  use at the gaming table.

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