No this isn't a Dan Brown book review, I'm thinking about dungeon mapping symbols. Following on from my post about maps on Saturday I started to think about what a typical dungeon map needs in order to succeed - and by succeed I mean convey its information in a clear and readable way. The answer is an old one, dating to the first ever maps: symbols and a key to understand them.
Map symbols reduce a complex piece of information to a single and instantly understood marker on a sheet of paper or parchment. The classic symbol for a church on most maps is a small circle or square surmounted by a cross. The symbol is universal in its simplicity and economical in its size and is therefore ideal for use on a map that may contain lots of information. This was recognised very early on in D&D and I recently re-discovered an excellent example from the D&D Red Box set (the 1983 edition).I haven't seen this key to map symbols in years yet amazingly I still use many of the visual short cuts listed here. More interestingly were those that I had forgotten such as the Rotating Door and the One Way Secret Door. For an old D&D player like me seeing this key brought back a lot of good memories of simple maps and great adventures. But it also got me excited about map making again.