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Schley Stack
The Dungeon Master Experience
Chris Perkins

This regular column is for Dungeon Masters who like to build worlds and campaigns as much as I do. Here I share my experiences as a DM through the lens of Iomandra, my Dungeons & Dragons campaign world. Even though the campaign uses the 4th Edition rules, the topics covered here often transcend editions. Hopefully this series of articles will give you inspiration, ideas, and awesome new ways to menace your players in your home campaigns.

If you’re interested in learning more about the world of Iomandra, check out the wiki.



MONDAY NIGHT. Paragon tier. Thanks to a number of successful quests, the party has amassed more wealth than some of the characters can reasonably spend on magic items. Two of the characters—Bartho the human fighter (played by Matt Sernett) and Kithvolar the elf ranger (played by Jeff Alvarez)—decide to buy a base of operations for the party . . . a clubhouse, if you prefer. Matt and Jeff invest in a coastal tavern called the Crooked Capstan, located in a city built inside a series of interconnected coastal grottos. The tavern, a favorite watering hole among seafaring merchants and gossipy locals, is built into a rough-hewn cavern wall. With the aid of their halfling rogue buddy Oleander (played by Peter Schaefer), Bartho and Kithvolar build a secret complex behind the tavern. Within these chambers, the PCs hide their loot and plot their next move.

I wasn't the least bit surprised when Bartho and Kithvolar decided to sink several thousand hard-won gold pieces into a run-down tavern, given the characters' rather limited imagination and given Matt and Jeff's admiration for good beer. It occurred to me almost immediately that I would need a map of the tavern and the secret lair hidden behind it . . . you know, just in case a fight broke out in the taproom or a campaign villain decided to pay the heroes a visit. It hasn't happened yet, but given the frequency with which the party retires to its secret stronghold, it's only a matter of time.

I keep a folder of published maps on my desktop, organized by cartographer and subcategorized by type (building, dungeon, ship, wilderness). Since I work closely with cartographers as part of my job, my brain is trained to associate maps with the folks who worked on them. Thus, when I recall a map from memory, it's usually "that Mike Schley map of the tower" or "that Kyle Hunter map of the caravel." My folder looks something like this:


At the risk of shattering an illusion, I don't create new maps for every possible encounter location in my campaign. I could have created a new map of the Crooked Capstan if I really wanted to, but c'mon, there are so many preexisting maps of inns and taverns to choose from! I decided to plunder two Mike Schley maps originally published in the 3rd Edition adventure Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk. The map of the Green Dragon Inn was perfect for the tavern proper, and the map of the Iuzite Safe House would serve nicely as the secret lair hidden behind the tavern. The only thing I had to do was add a secret door leading from one to the other.

Lessons Learned

I love making maps, but like most DMs, I don't have a lot of time. When I need a map quickly, the first thing I do is rattle my brain for something that already exists, and when my brain comes up short, I go straight to my folder of maps — all of which are plucked from the map galleries on the Wizards website.

I try to be discriminating when it comes to adding new maps to my desktop map folder. In general, I avoid picking up maps that the players are likely to recognize. I get more use out of generic maps that players don't instantly know ("Hey, that's the Tomb of Horrors!") and maps that can potentially be used more than once, maybe with a few minor tweaks and modifications made on the fly. A tower is a tower is a tower. And if World of Warcraft can get away with stock buildings, my campaign can, too! Fortunately for all of us, Wizards has created a multitude of versatile maps over the past two editions . . . more than any one DM can reasonably use, and more than most players can hope to remember.

This column often focuses on providing sage DM advice, but this week I'd like to give you something you can USE. I've compiled a number of maps from my personal stash and presented them below. They're all from the Mike Schley collection — he's one of my all-time favorites. I recommend you create your own desktop folder called "Maps," move all of these jpegs into it, and sort them in a manner to your liking. That way, the next time you need an inn, an alley, a temple, a wizard's tower, or a cave complex, you don't need to dig too deep to find inspiration.

Black Spire

Bottle and Blade Speakeasy

Coffin Maker's Shop

Dragon Library

Fark's Road

Farmhouse Ground Floor

Farmhouse Upper Level

Green Dragon Inn

Homesteads

Iron Keep

Iuzite Safe House

Styx Oarsman

Tenement

Tower of Woe

Ancient Temple

Balhannoth Cavern

Coastal Lair

Corrupted Temple of Moradin

Dragon Lair

Ghostly Lair

Grand Tomb

Mithral Mines

Nightwatch

Palace of Burning Ice

Random Dungeon 1

Random Dungeon 2

Random Dungeon 3

Random Dungeon 4

Rebel Camp in Ruined Temple

Reliquary of Six

Sewer Pipe Black Market

Underground Lair and Shrine

Vault of Catharandamus

Yuan-Ti Snake Farm

Blackspawn Raider Camp

Frost Giant Tower

Great Geode

Sample Wilderness Lair

Whitespawn Hunter Lair

If you enjoy this sort of thing, let me know. I have a bunch more maps I'd be happy to send your way.

Until the next encounter!

—Dungeon Master for Life,
Chris Perkins

Previous Poll Results

The adventure begins with a stranger approaching the heroes in a tavern. Which approach would you choose?
The Orson Welles approach. 892 49.9%
The Quentin Tarantino approach. 537 30.1%
The Woody Allen approach. 115 6.4%
None of the above. 242 13.5%
Total 1786 100.0%

The Dungeon Master Experience: Poll #65

 Hey DMs: What kind of maps do you consider the hardest to create?  
Wilderness maps
City street maps
Building maps
Dungeon maps
Dunno / not sure

Christopher Perkins
Christopher Perkins joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the editor of Dungeon magazine. Today, he’s the senior producer for the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game and leads the team of designers, developers, and editors who produce D&D RPG products. On Monday and Wednesday nights, he runs a D&D campaign for two different groups of players set in his homegrown world of Iomandra.
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