Old things: Mapper & Caller

Before I start, I wanted to say thanks to a couple of people and blogs that I’ve read to collect this, quite likely redundant, information.

Thanks to the wonderful people at TSR for the game and for putting a lot of the things I was searching for on paper. I have literally used their Q&As, interviews, and published materials in my research, so this is not just a generic Thank you, but also a practical one. These people include and may not be limited to:

  • Gary Gygax (July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008)
  • David Arneson (October 1, 1947 – April 7, 2009)
  • John Eric Holmes (February 16, 1930 – March 20, 2010)
  • Aaron Dale Allston (December 8, 1960 – February 27, 2014)
  • Frank Mentzer

Beyond them, the people, forums, and blogs that have been useful to me:

  • Merric’s Musings (www.merricb.com)
  • DM David (www.dmdavid.com)
  • En World (www.enworld.org) forums
  • Dragonsfoot Forums (www.dragonsfoot.org)
  • Stack Exchange (rpg.stackexchange.com)
  • RPG.NET (forum.rpg.net)
  • Troll Lord Games forum (www.trolllord.com)
  • The Angry GM (theangrygm.com)

Thanks to all of them for doing the lion’s share of my work! On to business then…


This has been a thoroughly explored subject in a multitude of forums and blog posts, but I will also dive into it – mainly for my own sake. The ‘mapper’ and the ‘caller’ concept has always been a fascination of mine. I guess mainly because I do not use them, and I did not understand them. I started playing in the second half of the 1990s using Star Wars D6, AD&D 2nd Edition, and a Hungarian RPG (M.A.G.U.S.) and was never instructed to the old ways. I must admit that I never even really tried diving in too deep, as I was ignorant, too.

Later I played D&D 3E and 3.5E and then I was absent from the RPG scene for maybe a decade and rejoined shortly after the booming start of D&D 5E. This did not help either, as the old ways of exploration were missing from the 5th edition – if not completely, then at least radically changed. (Now, I know there is an ‘Exploration’ section under ‘Chapter 8: Running the Game’ in the 5th Edition DMG – however that is not the same exploration that I am looking for when I think of ‘exploration’.) There was of course no mapper or caller, no reaction rolls, no random encounters or wandering monster tables or rules for these; no rules incorporated for timekeeping based on turns vs. rounds. Anyway – you probably know all this. They had/ have a different approach.

Before anyone flips – I do not hold a grudge against the 5th Edition of the game. It is just so very different and has a totally different focus as well; so much so that it might be a different game altogether. In my defense, Gary Gygax said something similar about the 3E already in an ENWORLD Q&A:

‘1. There is no relationship between 3E and original D&D, or OAD&D for that matter. Different games, style, and spirit.’

I guess you can call it evolution or maybe tailoring the product to the new demands of the 21st-century technologies and molding it to suit the needs of the new generation or the new customers (the new market). It has adapted. Anyway – as always, there are traditionalists and conservatives, and there are the ones always trying to invent, change and develop things. Whichever you fancy is up to you. I am inclined to be a bit more conservative. The below discussion and the mentioned ‘mapper’ and ‘caller’ are discussed in reference to old-school, D&D-style roleplaying games.

My goal with this is to cautiously explore (see what I did there?) what these old-school game mechanics are, how they are used and along the way hopefully also explain them to you if you should not already be aware of them.

What is a Mapper and a Caller?

After reading the above four paragraphs, I think it would be high time to define these two things. I will do my very best to do just that. There are a couple of minor things we need to clarify first. One is the question of time and the other is of movement.

Back in the days, game time was divided into rounds and turns (well, sometimes to segments too, and of course days, months whatever, too, but that is not important here). Rounds were there to measure the time during an encounter (combat), while turns were there to measure the time for exploration. 1 turn was equal to 10 rounds. E.g., in AD&D 1 round was 1 minute, while 1 turn was 10 minutes (10 rounds).

A 12” movement rate meant that the character could move 120 ft/turn during exploration. This is slow… but it also means they were trying to be quiet, and cautious, and they were also “mapping” the dungeon while moving.

Here are some great references to this above statement:

‘Movement And Searching: You must make some arbitrary decisions regarding the time expended in activities which are not strictly movement. Travelling along a corridor and mapping its length takes 1 turn per 90’, assuming a base move of 9”.’

– AD&D DMG, Gary Gygax

“Movement in the Dungeon: The movement distance in the dungeon is 1” to 10’ over a turn of 10 minutes duration while exploration and mapping are in progress.”

– AD&D PHB, Gary Gygax

“A. Move: Up to full move rate per turn for cautious movement (including mapping)”

– OSRIC, Stuart Marshall

“Turns: Slightly less intense situations- such as carefully exploring a dangerous set of catacombs, sneaking up on an enemy encampment, or trying to escape a pursuing army that is a mile or more behind- arc usually measured in turns, each of which represents 10 minutes of gametime…[]…”Move: 120′ (40′)” gives the character’s rates of movement. The first number, usually 120′, is the number of feet the character moves per turn in a very cautious walking pace indoors…”

– Rules Cyclopedia, Aaron Allston

So… these two words, are roles claimed (or bestowed upon) a player.

  1. A mapper is a player who creates (draws) a map of the dungeon based on the description provided by the dungeon master.
  2. The caller is the player who relays the actions of all the characters to the dungeon master. He is acting as a central focal point for communication, a hub between the party and the DM.

Checking the early OD&D, I already found mention of a character mapping the dungeon, but the first time I actually come across a detailed description of these roles during my search, was in the so-called ‘Holmes Basic‘, published in 1977 (Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, 1977 – Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Edited by Eric Holmes):

‘One player should map the dungeon from the Dungeon Master’s descriptions as the game progresses. This is easiest done if he uses a piece of graph paper marked North, East, South, West with the entrance to the dungeon level drawn in near the center. One of the players should keep a “Chronicle” of the monsters killed, treasure obtained, etc. Another should act as “caller” and announce to the Dungeon Master what action the group is taking. Both mapper and caller must be in the front rank of the party. If the adventurers have a leader, the caller would logically be that player.’

– D&D Basic (Holmes Basic), Eric Holmes

If you think about these, especially if these are as new or alien concepts to you as they were for me back in the days, I am sure the above roles raise a myriad of questions in your head. That’s fair – I will try to elaborate.

I must also add that sometimes there were other, roles introduced as well as I have found, like the quartermaster, who kept an accurate record of the party’s equipment, or the chronicler (as in the above quote from the Holmes Basic). I am not going to bother with these, as I think they are rather self-explanatory.

The Caller

Let’s go with the role that will be quicker. The Caller is not always the leader of the party, but it could have been. I found no suggestion against or for that. It is important to know that this is a turn-based or wilderness exploration-based role, so it is needed during exploration, OUTSIDE of an encounter. During combat, everyone speaks for themselves.

Why is this needed? Say there are 6 people in the party. They are advancing down a dungeon. There’s a dwarf, a thief, a magic user, a cleric, an elf, and a half-ling. Time is very precious in old-school games. The group can move 90 ft/ 10 minutes in here in our example; so that is 90 ft/ turn. There is however a ‘wandering monsters’ check made by the DM in every 3rd turn; torches will burn out, lanterns will need to be refilled, and light spells will expire as time progresses… All of this is seasoned with the fact that some or maybe all the characters will be interested in something else and may want to do different things – explore different aspects of the dungeon. Maybe the dwarf wants to know if the floor is slanting or not. Maybe the thief wants to search for traps at a statue, while the elf is looking for secret doors. The half-ling ignites a new torch, while the others keep watch or try to guess what the potion, they found in the hand of the dead orc does…

Some of these things take time and a lot of these are happening in parallel. The caller is here to relay all these actions to the DM and make sense of the cacophony. The interaction between the DM and the caller is there to make sure nothing is lost, and all actions are considered and then properly adjudicated.

The caller could also be the one whom the DM asks whether the party wants to go left, right, or straight at a junction; go up or down stairs. He is the voice of the characters and players.

As there may be a lot of meta talk, out-of-game between players, the caller is the one who could translate the player discussions into in-game actions if needed. Note that there is nothing barring anyone from having multiple roles simultaneously.

The most accurate official description of the caller I found in Frank Mentzer’s version of the basic set from 1983:

‘The caller is a player who announces to the Dungeon Master what the group of characters (the Party) is doing. The Caller must check with every player to find out what all the characters are doing, and then tell the DM (quickly and accurately) what they plan to do. The Caller does not tell the others what to do; the Caller merely reports what is going on.

The Caller’s first job is to find out the “party order” – the way the characters are lined up or grouped during normal travel. The Caller should also report the movements of the group, such as “We’ll go northeast through the woods,” or “We’ll turn right at the next corridor.”

Battles are always more complicated, and the DM should then take the time to check with each player, instead of handling it all through the Caller.

You may have games without Callers, if the Dungeon Master is willing to ask each player what each character is doing, and make notes to remember the actions. But it’s usually easier and more organized if one player acts as Caller.’

– D&D Basic, Frank Mentzer

The Mapper

This is more the center of the post and something I was curious about. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of someone mapping by hand during the play. What’s the benefit? How would this go? Why would you do this? I could not understand, and I did not see how this would play out in real life.

I will reach back to Frank Mentzer’s Basic Set for a description of the Mapper:

‘Although each person will be playing the role of a character, the players should also handle the jobs of “Mapping” and “Calling.” Any of the players can be the “Mapper” or “Caller,” whatever their characters may be.

The mapper is the player who draws a map of the dungeon as it’s explored. One or more of the characters should be making maps, but one of the players must make the actual game map. The map should be kept out on the table for all to see and refer to. Pencil should always be used in making the map, in case of errors and tricky passages.

Mapping is an important part of imagining where your characters are. Sooner or later, all players should learn to make maps. If you play often, take turns at mapping; it is an important and useful skill to learn.’

– D&D Basic, Frank Mentzer

It does seem like Frank (or the TSR of the time) believed that mappers are pretty much a mandatory role and part of the game based on the above.

Another thing occurred to me. Unfortunately, I have not played too many Fighting Fantasy books, but I remember playing one of them and trying to keep track of the dungeon. I opened Warlock of Firetop Mountain and indeed, I found it useful to sketch the dungeon while playing. After doing some google search, I found that others have been doing this too; and not just this! It might not be a surprise, but people have done the same with Eye of the Beholder, too, which was a classic MS-DOS game for PC, published in 1991. So this may not be so ingrained into D&D only, I guess, right?

Now, we may know now what a mapper is – but just how exactly did this work in action? But how accurate were these maps? Did (do) they need to be accurate? Other questions include things like – is the map an in-game item or not, and this further begs the question of whether the CHARACTER was also mapping or just the PLAYER? Is this an in-game or meta role?

First, the easier one. Forum posts on Enworld would at least suggest that the map was an in-game item as well as a real one. The same is proposed by the OSRIC handbook when discussing how to play for the first time in Chapter III:

‘The players’ map represents an actual in-game object. If the players at the table are making a map, then a character must also be making one.’

Just think about this… what does this mean? Again, OSRIC comes to your aid and tells you:

  • The party must have light.
  • The party must have mapping supplies (paper, parchment, vellum, whatever, and something to mark those with – ink, quill, coal, plus also something to use for measuring).
  • The party must move slowly – but this is already pre-calculated in the dungeon movement per turn.
  • But also, most importantly:

‘…if something happens to the map in-game, it happens to the players’ map as well! If the mapping character dies and his or her body is left behind, if the characters are captured and stripped of their equipment, or if a jet of acid or a green slime destroys the map, the GM should confiscate it.’

On the forums, Gary Gygax (forum name ‘Col_Pladoh) states, that it was the mapper player, who kept the map and if he did not show next time, then the group had no map at all – meaning that he played this the other way around as well. So, if the character ‘lost’ the map, there was no map for the party, but also, if the mapper player didn’t show, the same thing happened.

Now down to accuracy and how this played out in-game. The GM gave some short, precise descriptions of the rooms, corridors, and dungeon environment and the mapper tried to put that to paper. Sometimes they were doing something that they called a ‘trailing map‘, which was only lines for corridors and boxes for rooms with approximate distances. This was good for exploration and escaping from the dungeon – and perhaps noting what is and what isn’t explored; what rooms were left behind, what doors remained un-opened, etc. This did not need to be very accurate, nor did this take a lot of time to create.

Sorry… this is Hungarian 🙂

The other version, as suggested, was mainly useful in very complex, multilevel dungeons, and labyrinths, where an accurate map could reveal even secret doors if done properly.

I know what you are thinking, and a lot of other people think that too… that all of this can turn a gaming session into a discussion, a back-and-forth between the mapper and the GM. I think it does happen and it is a valid concern. Also, I am sure some GMs are better at relaying the needed information in a form that is concise and useful at the same time. Also, there are players who are (will be) better at mapping and some, who are worse.

As I was searching the web, I found that some even enjoy mapping and feel a sense of accomplishment when they do it and can be helpful to the party or can find hidden secrets.

‘This can make the mapper feel very accomplished and give a real feeling of satisfaction’

– as Merric puts it (Merric’s Musings). Of course, for that, you’d need a bit more detailed version of a map. The below is the same dungeon as above, but this time, it’s an ‘accurate’ map and not a ‘trailing map’.

Again… sorry, Hungarian. Deal with it lads! 🙂

DM David makes an interesting revelation in his post ‘The Dungeon Mapper: From Half of D&D to a Forgotten Role‘. He believes that the strange ‘fluff’ of the old-school dwarven race, where they can notice stonework, slanting, new construction, and shifting walls are all there to help out the character with mapping. This makes perfect sense.

It is suggested that the players and GM should agree on how the measurement and distances would be relayed and to some, the 10ft square was an attractive choice. So, the GM would provide descriptions using the 10ft-square as his base, which does make this a bit more manageable. Then if there is a very tricky room with a lot of angles that would be too difficult to describe, it is recommended that the GM should help out with a pencil sketch – but otherwise, that’s it. OSRIC book states that the GM should not correct the player map unless there is some serious error in it.

Why map?

Well, if you are playing an old version of D&D or some OSR game like OSRIC, as they are written (by the book), then the answer is – because you must. THEM’S THE RULES!! RULES AS WRITTEN!

Also – in AD&D for example, you could actually move five times (5x) faster in areas that you have explored and ‘mapped’. Did you know?

On a more serious note, I think for most people who joined later this game, the answer is that it may be something you like. Try it and see. You may actually be good at it! There is a sense of achievement and also some excitement in players huddling over a map that one of them made, trying to figure out what to do, where to go, or whether there is some hidden secret that they can spot. Some D&D veterans swear that this adds to the excitement of exploration. What do you guys have to lose, honestly, if you try it? Once it was an essential part of the game and a lot of people have done it. A lot of people still do it to this they. There has to be something in it.

I am also talking to myself here, as I mentioned; doing all of this mainly for my own benefit. Still trying to understand what these things ‘bring to the table’. I think that mapping might just add to the mystery. It might be one of the things, like the Dungeon Master’s Screen, that hides the world with the numbers and rules on the GM side, while the players get to explore and discover everything themselves.

Another smaller reason is the in-game item itself. Sure, as soon as this precious map becomes a real in-game item, it is subject to the game rules. It may need to take an item saving throw if you fail yours when an enemy throws a fireball your way. It may be drenched if you jump into the stream. It may be stolen… in these cases, the GM will confiscate your real-life version! Be prepared for that: keep a copy. A real and in-game copy too. Or have someone else map too.

So, where is the benefit in this? Well, my recommendation would be – if the map is of that quality, sell it and make money! Sell it in-game, I mean (duh!). Doesn’t that sound sweet? You (player and character) make a map – you spend time with it, you make it nice, neat, and useful and you can also make very much-needed gold using your skills. Might as well try it. Maps are valuable things. Sure you’ve plundered the dungeon, but in a few months or years, some other monsters will find it, populate it and start filling it up with treasure – trust me, I am a DM, it happens! That map is going to be worth money.


So, all these things that you’ve read about have pretty much vanished. There are no callers and no mappers anymore. The new version of the game doesn’t even mention them. Very early on, some people found mapping to be useless and time-consuming, so that pillar of exploration started to erode already only a few years after the game was introduced.

I think nowadays how most people play is the GM drawing or revealing the map for the players as they explore the areas. I’ve done that too so far. Especially in the era of Fantasy Grounds, Roll20, or other VTTs – this is easy. It speeds up the game. Not needing to track turns or dally with wondering monsters also speeds up the game. Not needing to wait 1 day for 1 hp healing also speeds up the game… rolling initiative once at the start of the combat, which would (you guessed it) speed up the game. Everything for speeding up the game.

I am absolutely not convinced that I helped anyone with this, but I sort of feel like I managed to put my thoughts down and it helped me to think. Maybe I should just journal instead, right?

4 thoughts on “Old things: Mapper & Caller

  1. It’s interesting to read the perspectives from a newer D&D player. I played from 1979 to the around 1989. I was 12ish when I started. The Dungeon Master introduced the game to us kids at the Boys and Girls Club. We played every Friday night. That’s my history.

    Specifically to mappers and callers. After a few games, I took on the role of mapper because no one else wanted to do it. I loved it. I’ve always loved to sketch, so this was perfect for me. If I missed a game (which I rarely did), I gave the map to my brother or friend, who were also playing. In that sense, it was an out-of-the-game map. I had to be deathly sick to miss a game. Here’s how I made the maps.

    The DM provided the basic description of the dungeon. “There’s a passageway 50 feet long. Halfway down, there’s a door on the east side.” He continued with the storytelling, and I drew a rough map on graph paper. After the game, I went home and drew a more accurate map. If we were in the same dungeon for more than one game, I had the accurate map for reference and the crude one to add to while playing. After the game, I added to the accurate map.

    Mapping helped us escape dungeons, escape them faster and avoid places that gave us trouble. I also mapped the terrain, going from one town to the next and sections of the town we travelled. I still have many of the maps.

    As for the caller, we never called it that. The majority of the time, everyone individually told the DM what they were doing. In certain situations, someone would speak for the group. Sometimes I did, sometimes others did. There was often never one caller. Sometimes they changed within games or between games. If we were asked something: Are you going east or west? The players would discuss it and we’d agree, and someone would tell the DM.

    Individuals kept track of their own equipment. We all knew what the other had by memory or by looking at their character sheet.

    As for the rules for Dungeons and Dragons, they were more like guidelines.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much for sharing, Diane – I appreciate it. It is great to hear a first-hand experience. How you describe mapping is how I would have imagined (or hoped) it worked.

      You just became my first, living, interactive source into how this worked in real life. All other things I found were from blogs, forums and books.

      I am afraid, even if I was 20 years older, there is a very good chance I could not have started playing RPGs before the 1990s, as they simply did not exist here. There were a few booklets, circulating in samizdat form, that were twisted variations of some AD&D, but that’s it.

      I am trying to make up for the lost time partially by diving into the history of this game, that I enjoy very much.


      1. My recollection is similar to Diane’s above. I was familiar with the concept of a Caller but I never saw it in practice. Even at Gen Con in 1983 & 1984, I don’t remember seeing a caller (though I do recall reading about them in various rules tomes).

        I do recall mapping much in the same fashion that Diane describes.


      2. Sorry for the late reply and thank you for the comment. I do get similar answers from a lot of people – Mapping/mapper was used (sometimes more than one mapper – people doing this on their own); caller not so much.


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