It’s a common question, maybe the most common towards the end of any adventure after “Is Tuesday still good for everyone?” While the latter is an ongoing source of annoyance for any DM, the former can be a source of serious stress. They’re all looking to you for the next big adventure. Hoping you have some new dnd maps.
Staring at you. From across the table. Waiting.
They say you can’t go home again, but unlike life in TTRPGs, you can go back home as often as you like. Of course, sometimes that way lies madness, leaking in through the eldritch horrors they unleashed during their last visit, but other times that way lies grand adventures and piles of loot.
Does one of the characters have a dark secret to hide?
Does one of the characters have a life debt to repay?
Is there unfinished business somewhere the characters have previously visited?
The world keeps going
The world the characters inhabit shouldn’t be a static environment.
The taverns need restocking. The henchmen get replaced. The monsters even have baby monsters who might want revenge. The NPCs go on about their lives. The dungeons the characters cleared have been taken over, whether by replacement monsters or NPCs or some new villain you’re looking to introduce.
That means the door is wide open to reuse content from previous adventures. DND Maps are the obvious starting point, but there is so much more depth to plumb that you can easily take your characters through at least the first ten levels without leaving the area in the Starter and Essentials sets from Neverwinter to Phandelver and out to Conyberry.
Here Be Dragons
In D&D, this can be quite literal, but in cartography, it generally means, “Not quite sure what’s out there, don’t go wandering off alone.”
DND maps are likely the most frequently reused or repurposed pieces of content in all of gaming; whether it’s because players revisit the same locations, or because the characters headed off in a direction the DM wasn’t prepared for, and “Voila!” An old map gets twisted around so the party is coming in a back way and having new encounters.
If the map can be flipped, all the better. That big throne room is now an empty cavern so they donâ€™t notice. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Flood a room or three. Turn a door into a wall and delete a few rooms. Stumble across an underground lake that has a ship in it.
Many common buildings such as taverns, chapels, roadhouses, towers, small fortifications, and so on are likely built from a small and common store of knowledge, such as the local carpentry or masonry schools. Because of this they likely all resemble one another in any given region. This lets you reuse the maps of these places for regular or common locations. The time you save not remaking these places is time you can invest in making more important places stand out with their interesting features.
The Map is Not the Territory
If you have a little more time, but not enough to build your own dnd maps from scratch, you can repurpose maps from other places. There’s no reason to limit yourself to “official” maps, or even fantasy ones. Shopping mall maps, especially the bigger multi-level ones, are great for turning into dungeons. Artsy tourism maps of small towns can be turned into the local village.
When we’re playing Starfinder, we regularly use the map tiles from other sci-fi games like Endure the Stars or Space Hulk. If you want to, you can invest a bit in building up a store of maps and tiles that you can reuse over and over. One downside to this approach is that your regular players can get used to seeing specific tiles and metagame their characters’ responses, even if they don’t mean to. This may mean a little more work for you on the details.
There are more than a few mapmakers online who offer free and paid versions of their works, so you can always pick up a few of those maps to get you going. Just remember that repurposing other people’s free work for personal use is usually fine, but if you’re going to go professional with work you got from someone else (like streaming it), you should know where you stand and likely have some sort of arrangement in place. Plenty of map artists have it right on their websites what you need to do to use their works commercially.
Establishing a storyline with NPCs
It isn’t just maps that are easy to revisit and reuse.
In fiction writing, there is the “lamp test,” where, essentially, you test how important the character is by replacing them with a lamp. If the scene isn’t impacted, then the character doesn’t really need to be there. You can just stick a note on a lamp and be done with it.
When you’re placing NPCs, make sure to give them a little more usefulness than a lamp. Keep track of what happens to them so that when the characters revisit the tavern, smithy, guard post, stable, and so on, they have someone who remembers them and interacts.
Just like most people like to be recognized, many players like their characters to be remembered. If the local gossip includes some version of what happened on their recent adventures, then that turns the lamp in the stables into a stable boy who might do a favor for a heroic adventurer. It makes the chambermaid a source of information beyond a simple Persuasion roll.
If theyâ€™re trying to finagle their way past a guard post, then it might be helpful to be on good terms with the guards, rather than just relying on the bard to seduce them. It might also be harmful if the current guards are jealous of the relationship the characters have with the ones on the night shift and decide to make life a little more difficult. Same guard post, different outcomes.
Likewise, the sheriff doesnâ€™t have to just be “The Sheriff.” They can be a retired adventurer in one town and the third son of a minor noble in the next. The job of sheriff requires a common set of skills and abilities. So their stats are likely to be similar enough across the realm that no one will notice how close they are. Change the name and background and skip the effort of creating everyone from scratch.
That way if you need one to really stand out in a given adventure you can alter one or two aspects and suddenly they are memorable for their archery, or their stature, or perhaps you use the profile of a cleric for a particularly pious servant of the local church in their role as a secular guardian as well. Maybe itâ€™s enough that the stats are all the same, but the sheriff stands out because sheâ€™s a half-orc druid?
If you squint hard enough it kind of looks like aâ€¦
Reskinning monsters is a time-tested way of getting more mileage out of what you have. Instead of inventing completely new monsters, you can always take an existing monster description or stat block and tweak it. Instead of breathing fire, maybe this one breathes ice. Perhaps these creatures are an amphibious offshoot?
Sometimes just changing the physical description is enough. How many characters would pause and consider different tactics if the goblins charging at them were bright red?
When “everyone just knows” how certain monsters behave, sometimes it can be worth it to throw in one with a different motivation, especially if you want a long-running opponent.
Putting it all together
By now you likely have at least a few maps , more than a handful of NPCs, and some reskinned monsters from your previous exploits.
Combine them and you can reuse dnd maps with renamed NPCs to create a dungeon or adventure on the fly.
If you have the time and want to prepare, you can always build your own versions of the DMG random tables to help keep the variety up. Otherwise, just use them on the existing tables, or put them in where you want them.
The whole point of looking at the existing tools differently is to give you as the DM more options without overwhelming you with dozens and dozens of choices.
Let the dice gods decideâ€¦
Over time, the number of materials youâ€™ll have that you can reuse and repurpose will only grow. Youâ€™ll have more maps and npcs to mix and match, and youâ€™ll find things you hadnâ€™t considered using fit into places that didnâ€™t exist when you started.
At the end of the day, unless you tell them none of your players are going to know if you prepared something weeks or months in advance, or if you rolled it up on the spot and ran with whatever came up. If you have a bunch of tools you can repurpose, like dnd maps, then youâ€™re already set up to drop in some new content and keep the adventure going.