Blood, Sweat and Tears: Mapmaking Basics

In the past months on the FTDM blog, we’ve held several matches and doled out countless deaths on new and unique maps that strive to push the razor’s edge of possibility with Dungeons and Dragons. Today, I’d like to take a moment to put down the weapons, recover from the bloodthirst, and talk about what goes into the FTDM maps, and some tips on how to make a map that’s both fun, fast, and streamlined for FTDM.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears will be a periodic mini-series within the FTDM blog to help those out there itching to get into FTDM, and have a really interesting idea for a map. Today we will cover some of the basics of making a FTDM map before we even start on a layout or idea. After that, I plan to release articles on different sections of published maps, and what the developers went through to get to the finished product.


At the heart of FTDM, we want to have a fast and engaging event in a live setting. There is a Play-by-Post format, but a map shouldn’t be created just for the PbP setting. In a live game, each PC has roughly 5-10 seconds of time to start, act, and resolve their turn, or suffer the wrath of the gib-thirsty DM. Live events are fast paced, chaotic, and brutal. Even the best PC’s at the table will make mistakes. There is no room for hesitation.

Before creating your map idea you need to keep the Player’s turn in mind. If your map will take a player more than 10 seconds to process what’s happening to make a decision, it won’t work. Overly complicated special rules or terrain effects will drastically slow a game down, and thus be a less fun game. This is a common pitfall when players start to think with a “Fourthcore” mindset. It’s easy to confuse brutal, unforgiving and deadly map elements, with complicated, convoluted, and lumbering ones. Many people will get caught on this crucial point, and their map will suffer until they realize it, and move beyond it. A FTDM map does not need very complex elements in order to be fun. We’ve had many great maps, but they are all complicated in their own way. I would wager that a map could be made with only 4 walls and spawn points, and be just as fun as any of the existing maps out there. It’d be simple, fast, deadly, and chaotic. C. Steven Ross is developing one now (E1M6: Dead Simple), and I can’t wait! The core of FTDM is about one team killing the other, and this should never be forgotten.

With the speed of a PC’s turn in mind, another element to consider is what is the special focal point of the map? Is there a meat grinder in the middle? Can you ride mine carts? Maybe the map loops around itself. While 4 walls and spawn points is fun, what gives your map character? A map with a good core feature is what will keep pushing the envelope of this series. A primary feature of your map will make it iconic and memorable. It will give PC’s something to strategize around, and should act as a focal point of your map. It should be something that can be fun and enjoyable to fight over, but not take the focus away from the Deathmatch theme of FTDM. Keep in mind the warning above about complexity, as it is easy to get carried away once you start work. It’s important to realize what you – the author – think is fun, is not always the same as what the PC’s will think is fun.

The final point we’ll go over today is through your FTDM map development, it is important to realize that your first draft is a good starting point, but should by no means be considered complete. It takes many revisions and edits to create a finished map. Of the selection in the Maps section, I would only consider one or two suitably finished. Of the few maps I’ve made, I was told to revise countless times before posting it up. Being politely told it’s wrong, and to do it again sucks, and is something I thought I’d get away from after submitting a crappy paper in college, but a drop of humility goes a long way. We want good, fun maps for FTDM, and we want everyone who submits one to get there. I’d love to see all the maps I’ve looked at get published, but I want them to truly shine with a FTDM experience we all want to see.

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