D&D maps can be such a mess. As evidence, take a look at the mess of a map below:
Again, what a mess of a map. I mean, as soon as you enter you are met with a secret room. Or you may enter an entirely different part of the dungeon! Nothing at all looks natural here and modern D&D players want authenticity!
And what’s with all those boring rectangles? I’ve talked before about the changing trends in D&D maps, so I can state with confidence that the rectangl(y) stretch like A4-A7 should get this map maker fired! Besides, everything is boring, as there isn’t a lick of decor in the place. I buy WizKids minis, I want to place my dungeon dressing!
Well, plot twist. I’ve been withholding the truth from you: the above is a 100% real map from history.
Specifically, this 100% historical map is of the Mastaba of Mereruka, one of Egypt’s most powerful officials some 4,000 years ago. So, let’s learn more from the archaeologists of The Sakkarah Expedition who published their work in 1938 via the University of Chicago.
Mereruka: History’s Worst D&D Map
Mereruka wasn’t a pharaoh in ancient Egypt, although he was an important government official. If you grew up going to Sunday School, then you may recall the Biblical story of Joseph, who became an administrator (vizier) over important facets of Egyptian life, such as grain storage.
That vizier role is the exact role that Mereruka occupied, making him the most important figure in Egypt directly after the Pharaoh. Being such an important state noblemen meant that Mereruka had vast wealth and power. Wealth and power in Egypt meant that you were entombed.
A ‘mastaba’ was a type of Egyptian tomb. Contructed out of bricks created from mud taken from the Nile River, a mastaba was rectangular with a flat roof and inward sloping sides. Although pharaohs began to be buried in pyramids, mastabas were common during Egypt’s Early Dynastic Period and Old Kingdom for the burial of non-royals.
As far as mastabas go, Mereruka’s was a doozy. It is so remarkable that a group of archaeologists called the The Sakkarah Expedition began excavating it in 1938. The Sakkarah Expedition found that the mastaba of Mereruka is among the largest and most elaborate of all the non-royal tombs with 33 rooms or chambers in total.
The 33 chambers are a series of chapels, corridors, and storerooms, and the painted reliefs on the walls of Mereruka’s mastaba form an unrivaled area of decorated wall surface that depicts life and activity in the Pyramid Age.
It was tailor-made to be a D&D dungeon in other words. Chambers A 1-21 is the tomb dedicated to the vizier Mereruka, chambers B 1-6 is the tomb if his wife Sesheshet Wa’tetkhethor, and chambers C 1-5 is the tomb of his son Meriteti.
Rooms A 1,3,4,6, and 8-13 were decorated with the incredible murals. A8 contains a secret door that is hidden behind a statue of Mereruka. Check for traps and roll a perception check to see if that statue begins to animate.
Sesheshet Wa’tetkhethor’s portion of the mastaba is entered through A1. B6 contains a shaft that leads to the burial chamber itself, while the chapel in B5 contains yet another false door.
Some of the most interesting scenes are depicted in the B chambers. Sesheshet watches servants attend to the breeding of cattle in one, another depicts fisherman hauling in a large catch, a third shows a hippo maul a crocodile. I don’t know about you, but I’m a little nervous that third one will animate.
The C chambers have another secret door as well as another rad mural. This one shows Sesheshet Wa’tetkhethor, accompanied by Meriteti, being carried in a lion-decorated palanquin (platform with poles) by female servants and accompanied by attendants, three dogs, and a monkey.
Boxed text from a D&D adventure has never been that evocative. Mereruka’s mastaba is a reminder that truth is often stranger than fiction. So why do we feel the need to get so creative with our D&D storylines when the best inspiration has always been found in history books?