How do you annotate your paper maps?

I need a new software project and thought that Iight make a mapper. It would, alas, have to be manual, as previous discussions have shown automating to be a nonstarter.

Is there even any point to such a project?

I usually draw one box per room/location, and connect them with lines with arrowheads to show passages/movement. I might use different lines types to indicate properties of the passage.

Inside each location, I list the current contents, and might make notes. A lot of erasing and redrawing is involved as objects are revealed, taken, discarded, destroyed or changed (a seed becomes a flower).

I sometimes colo(u)r code rooms to indicate that they are dark, have water, an NPC, (involved) puzzle, etc. software would make it easy to search for such rooms, ir indeed anything.

I define a room location as anything that can contain anything else. E.g a garage can contain a car which contains the player who has an inventory which includes a bag which contains…

That’s actually much easier to do in software than on paper, especially as the car drives around.

Before I ramble too much, is there any call for such an app? If so, how would you like it to operate to be of help to you?


Imma sit this one out, because I’m still making maps with lincoln logs and legos (well, I already own them now). I dunno why, but tactilely reconstructing the space with my hands mentally cements the gamespace in a way that digital recreations do not. That said, I’m the odd one out here.


If you are, that makes two odds. Does that make us even?

I use different kinds of paper (thick drawing paper, millimeter-squared paper, brown recycled,…), a whole box of felt tip colouring pens, and my favourite black writing pen.

I never write notes on my map. Only named boxes and location-connections.
And a whole lot of drawings of trees, mountains, rocks, towers, cottages,… depending on the setting.

All my notes go in a separate notebook where I list locations by name in the order of appearance and add their contents. Throughout the game, I come back to these room-notes and add hypotheses and what-if scenarios for objects, cross out stuff that didn’t work, underline correct ideas.

Every two or three pages I write a recap of what I accomplished and my next goals, along with a list of open puzzles or questions.

(The size, detail, and colourfulness of the map and notes is a good indicator of my level of engagement with the game.)


I mostly use for this, but it has a couple really annoying deficiencies: there’s no way to indicate a door (conventionally marked with a slash across the connection), and the “one way” arrows on connections point in nonsensical directions. Can you tell me at a glance which way this passage goes?


(The answer is you can only go north, not south.)

The offline version of Trizbort can also automap—you feed it your transcript as you’re playing. But the online version can’t.


That’d be something that’d be useful as an update for Trizbort (or a new program) “Manual Mapping Mode” that would just let you draw boxes and room connections, label them, recolor them, and move them around, and maybe include some stock icons (like “door/stop/lock/danger/skull/caution/push-pin/light bulb/happyface” with text you can enter that will appear when you hover the icon for notes that aren’t in the way. Ideally a map could be published as an HTML browser page with all the images, notes and pop-ups the player could make, or the author could make and potentially include as a feelie.


As a player, I use DIN A4 squared booklets and a set of coloured pincels in my gameplays.


I use random pieces of paper that I lose and end up never finishing the game.


I recently got hold of some A5 notepads which had hex grids. You can use them top-down like a 2D RPG map, or rule lines through their edges to make an isometric 3D space.

I drew an isometric 3D environment of a petrol garage (US: gas station) which is the main location of a WIP of mine.

I wish there was a way of having a unified grid to cater for hex RPG, isometric environments and traditional adventure maps. Unfortunately compass octagons don’t tessellate in this universe :sob:


this is the way.


I use random pieces of paper that I lose and end up never finishing the game

This is the best answer.

I’m not sure any more whether we’re talking about design of a game, or mapping while playing one.

The truth applies everywhere, and that was it.


If you stretch out the transport link from one unit to two or more, it changes, right…?

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It does, if you stretch them enough.


Something like the edit mode of Twine seems handy.

Some possible features:

  1. Quickly add/remove rooms and associate them with others using lines and arrowheads.
  2. Automatic (grid) snapping to compass directions. Don’t make the user spend time lining things up nicely. Do it for them.
  3. Name the rooms.
  4. The arrowheads indicate ability to move in a direction (or not).
  5. Click on the room to quickly display notes in a side bar. Ability to edit notes in the side bar.
  6. A way to designate game objects to remember where they are (dropped).
  7. Ability to search for and list rooms and game objects.
  8. Take notes in game objects similarly to notes in rooms.
  9. An icon in the room to know if there are notes.
  10. Maybe graphviz is worth looking at to help decide on a file format. (Human editable text would be nice).

The original question was “How do you annotate your paper maps?” Many, many years ago, Scott Adams wrote an article in SoftSide about how to draw maps. I have followed that system ever since and it’s pretty much the same as what everyone else uses. Specifically, one rectangle per room, room name inside the rectangle, rectangle shaded if it’s a dark room, objects found in the room listed adjacent to the rectangle, objects not immediately visible are in parentheses, connectors added between rooms to show valid directions, arrow heads added for one-way exits, connectors dotted (or dashed) if they’re conditional.

The content of the original question then went on to ask about writing new software. Before you start on this, make sure you take a look at the existing mapping tools. These include GUEmap, IFM, IFMapper, MUDmap and Trizbort. I think most people use Trizbort nowadays. I use the offline version (not the online version), but I use version, as I don’t like all the updates after this.

Trizbort has its quirks and it’s Windows only (as far as I know). Nevertheless, I’ve drawn hundreds of maps using Trizbort and see no need to change unless something better comes along. And it will have to be much better.


I have to make several maps over the course of a complex puzzle game, because I write questions around the margins, like “Does the maid know anything about the bloody knife in the toilet?” with an arrow pointing to the bathroom location. Then I cross them out or add follow-up questions as I go. Pretty soon, the map becomes unreadable because of these, and needs to be redrawn, which I actually love doing. I don’t know why I can’t just write all this on a separate sheet of paper, but I can’t.