[RPG] How best to progressively reveal the layout of a location to players


I have been gamemastering tabletop RPGs for years now, but I'm still wondering what is the best way to deal with this.

Specifically: how to graphically describe to your players their surroundings when they crawl in a dungeon, explore a spaceship or sneak into the local inn by night. The goal being for them to discover the architecture of the place as they progress inside, without any initial idea of its size, main rooms or exits.

What technique are most effective, to this end?

Ideally I'd like a solution that doesn't require electronic devices nor too much preparation work, and requires minimal drawing.

I have used the following methods in the past:

  • Verbal descriptions of the places, no map. The players can still try to draw plans themselves, but I do not tell them when they get it wrong.

  • Provide them with a full map of the place, without any characters nor objects at first. (For multi-level areas, possibly only revealing new levels as they enter them.) I allow myself to later reveal that some paths are obstructed, or that some hidden passages exist.

  • Draw the map progressively as the players explore. (Sadly, I am a bad drawer.)

  • Use map tiles. (Usually from board games like Twilight Creations Inc.'s Zombies!!!.)

  • I once used pages of 3×5 white label stickers, drawing the map on them beforehand. During the game I progressively added the stickers to a large white sheet as the players discovered the rooms of the abandoned facility.

This question is related, but not similar to, Could a "Fog of war" prop break a game in any way?

Best Answer

I print off custom maps from map creators, then lay an acrylic sheet over top. The hard surface is easier to place minis on and you can use dry-erase markers to augment the map with traps, AoE effects, etc.

To add Fog of War to this setup, I use butcher paper in between the map and the acrylic then slid it out as the players progress. I have also used overlay map pieces (from the map creators) to hide portions of the maps (a roof for the hut, cave rock texture, etc.). From the player's point of view, they see a large map with a full-colour map texture but no paths or rooms or interiors. These pockets get 'revealed' as they get in range. It has worked well for my games.