Haus Bloodroyal: Building an assassination encounter
This map depicts the “Haus Bloodroyal”—a compound-like manor house where a key character in my game resides. For more than two years, the party viewed this space as a place to take counsel with a trusted ally in their struggle, not knowing that ally would plot to betray and kill them down the line.
As anyone who makes battle maps can agree, the layout of your map reflects a lot about the situation—and you must, by necessity, build a map assuming it’ll stage a combat. Your desire to keep a map interesting—to provide lots of cover, space, levels, and interactive objects—is partnered with what the in-world situation calls for. My challenge as a DM was to design a run-of-the-mill dining hall, and then to think about how someone would turn that non-combat-oriented space into a trap: guards at the doors; a tapestry over the windows; plenty of hallways to lead people down. Difficulty needed to work alongside realism; it wouldn’t be fair to create a space purely intended for combat. More so than any other map I’ve made I had to think about the in-world strategy of this map. As with any in-world plan, it didn't be flawless and will never be airtight; after all, the players should have opportunities to notice something amiss and to not let the trap close around them completely (which they did, in the end). This is a map that challenged me to think like one of my villains, and how they would use their resources and their own strategies against the player characters, as much through the literal topography of the space as anything else.
It’s also the only map from my campaign on which a player character has died. I don’t really have any pseudointellectual takes which can effectively describe how that makes me feel.