In early 2010, when I was just getting the interesting places series of maps started, a reader commented that, "I still have this problem with how to describe such an environment without just draw out the intricate twists on a battlemap." (This was in reference to the Caves of Madness map.) Having drawn some caves recently, I have been revisiting this very problem.

I mentioned this to Z and she recommended that I look into bubble diagrams, a spatial organization technique used by designers to establish relationships between rooms and areas in a house or building. First, what a great way to spec out the flow of a map before setting down to draw it. Second, it reminded me of the kinds of maps we used to make while trying to figure out how to navigate through Zork back in the day. Without any further thought, I quickly sketched out a flow:
If you look closely, you can see that this sketch corresponds to the cave map up top that I eventually drew. I didn't follow any of the conventions associated with bubble diagrams. In fact, owing to my computer science background, this sketch turned out to be closer to a graph than a bubble diagram. Nevertheless, it's good enough for our purposes. The next step was to translate the graph into a series of twisty caves. I pulled out the trusty light box and turned this out in about five minutes:
Although this map is closer to reality, it is still just a guide. The main thing to note is that the edges are now no longer straight. Now admittedly, this is a nothing more than a quick and dirty example. I didn't spend a lot of time trying to make this map beautiful. Other than a couple of dead end caves, there aren't any dead end passages. Aside from a few ledges and terraces, there are no vertical challenges detailed anywhere. This map is simply an experiment to illustrate one method of describing a subterranean trek.

How would you use these maps in play? For those of you into production, you could turn the graph into a transparency and overlay the actual map. I'm lazy, however, and would be happy to use both maps simultaneously. When describing the location of passages and general directions, and perhaps even for looking up the key, I would use the graph. For everything else, including calculating distances and areas, I would use the detailed map. Your mileage may vary.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.


  1. I like the simplicity of your graph approach, though the finished map is very attractive.

  2. I draw many of my maps like the bubble graph version and then flesh out the details (exactly where along the tunnel is the fish mouth fountain, etc) during play.

  3. Agree with 1d30. I like the bubble map approach. However, since players would never get to see a detailed map of the caverns, if I were to run an adventure that required them to explore caverns, the most preparation I'd do would be the rough bubble map. (In practice I know I wouldn't even do that!)