Noisms recentlz wrote Elementary Principles of Dungeon Drawing and his first point is this: “Snazzy weird shapes and arrangements of rooms look good on paper but in my experience are really hard to explain at the table without ending up with the DM doing lots of drawing, which defeats the purpose of having players do the mapping.”
The longer I run Castle of the Mad Archmage, the more I agree with this assessment.
If I can’t communicate it at the table in a reasonable amount of time, it’s a waste of time.
Check out levels 3 to 5 of Castle of Mad Archmage for an example of what I’m talking about. This is the absolute limit of what I’m willing to communicate to my players.
I get questions by the mapper because they want to get it right and everybody just zones out after “The one in the north western face heads westerly…” it’s not a question of difficulty in describing it. It’s a question of time taken to describe it before the game breaks down.
One could argue about verisimilitude, or how the referee should be drawing maps, or I could just simplify all the maps. After all, it’s a game for all of us to enjoy at the table.
Generally speaking though, I’ve found myself drifting towards node-based dungeon maps. The question of mapping now has a simple answer: draw a beautiful map to represent the nodes and entertain the referee. That’s it.
Back in 2010 I wrote about quality dungeons. Here are some of the points I made regarding the map:
Recent examples from my own games trying to strike a balance between these points and my free time: