Using Maps during games.

edited August 2010 in Actual Play
Looking over the purty Maps thread and it got me thinking of the role maps have played in my gaming of the last five years or so. I wanted to start a thread not so much about posting purty maps (though that is cool too if it illustrates your point) but about how you use them?

Lately, they have become part of the starting the game ritual, laying the maps on the table means that it is time to start gaming. In our Waterdeep BW game, we lay out the map of the Sword Coast from the original boxed set and the map of Waterdeep from Waterdeep and the North. In the Jaws of the Six Serpents campaign, Storn lays out his home-made map of the world and his internet-nabbed map of the shit-hole city we are dealing with.

In one BW game very much inspired by George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, they were so pretty and vital that I would find myself staring at the map as we played, thinking about the consequences of actions, or the politics of a region and how the geography effected that.

In our 4e games, the maps have a much more board-gamey aspect to them during fights.

In all of the games we circle things, write in the names of little villages and make the map our own.

How do maps effect your games?

Comments

  • In my last Mouse Guard game, we used the map like a real map - to figure out where the patrol was in relation to other things, and to determine which way to go to get to the next destination.

    In a Burning Wheel campaign a couple years back, I made an awesome map, and the players used it to figure out what looked cool, like "Hey, we gotta get out of here .. since this place is a port, let's get a ship. I'm not sure what 'Zamir' is like, but it looks good to me and its down the coast...". Then I'd figure out what was in Zamir, or wherever. That campaign only lasted a few months, but it was fun using the map like that.
  • Maps do not have a big role in my games currently, but I'm intensely interested in hexcrawls for their promise in this regard. If somebody made a focused design game that was specifically about getting to draw interesting maps and then getting to play with them, I'd be there with my wallet. It would be fun to repurpose those massive D&D maps from back in the day for some game that would provide exploration, emergent richness of fiction and a quick reward cycle. In fact, I'll probably be there with my game design brain at some point.
  • Brian,

    Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised at how maps make for creative constraints and inspire really neat fantasy stuffs through the information they communicate.
  • edited August 2010
    Ooh, this whole concept is completely fascinating to me -- I have always wondered how those large-scale maps (like the old D&D boxed set maps, or the pretty ones in the other thread) actually interact with play.


    Personally, I'm just terrible at engaging with maps. I tend to look at them and go "Oh, okay, that's nice...I guess," but they don't spark anything within me or inform my play much at all. Most of our group seems to be like this, which is probably why the only maps we ever see are quickly-scribbled ones showing the layout of our immediate vicinity when we're doing a fight scene or are otherwise not on the same page about how the place our characters are looking at is laid out. Back in the high school AD&D days, we used to break out the giant map to plan out our travel route ("We'll take this road through that forest to that city, resupply, then take the river down to the ruins"), but beyond the (lame and boring) bookkeeping exercise of figuring out how many days' worth of travel that would entail, it didn't really mean anything to me.

    What kinds of games (rules, play styles, concepts, genres, whatever) are improved by maps?
  • edited August 2010
    I'm working hard on maps for my frpg Fabula nowadays, and have done for some time. I've used them a lot myself, and would like to let other players in on how they may inform and inspire good gameplay. So I'm drawing even better maps for my game, and thinking through how I use them the best. My intention is to write an instruction on how to make best use of maps in my new edition of the game.

    There are two major types of maps in my game;

    1 - The informative map
    This is a map with an attached space for listing political entities, local attractions and NPC's. Such a map is capable of supporting a whole string of game-sessions, by being precise on locations, and feeding me, the GM, with all the elements I need to spin a net of cohesive fiction around the actions of the player-characters. It will usually be placed in the center of the table, for the players to read and play with too. They are free to see connections between NPC's and entities on the map-lists, and trigger those connections through their actions.

    2 - The evocative map
    This is a map drawn to create a specific feel. It is used as a hand-out, and got incorporated elements to feed good game-play; scribblings, place-names, symbols, etc. It may be crudely drawn, or very elaborate, depending on the qualities of the opposition connected to the map. Everything about such a map is meant to be a signal on what the scenario is all about. So you may call it 'informative' on a meta-level.

    ...


    I find it a great support to have good maps to work with as a GM. My players get a lot of help from the maps, especially when it comes to using names on nations and cities in their IC-conversations.
    - Informative city-maps usually list well-known inns too (typically with the name of the inn-keeper), for player characters to seek out when they arrive in a new city. Such a detail helps things along, and makes for more effective and smoother game-play. I am never at a loss for a name for an inn, and there is usually a name to the inn-keeper (and often an inn-hand too).
    - NPC's on the lists are usually well balanced from the top of society to the bottom (both barons and beggars). They are given with title, name and one or two attributes (a skill, a preference, a contact, or something). It makes it really simple to get things going, especially in a location new to the players. I get to introduce them with little fuss on naming and such, and the players get to introduce NPC's by targeting a name on the list through their actions.
    - The design of the map gives a very good view of what kind of location we are dealing with; cities and townships are easy to recognize. Villages likewise. Countries and counties are recognized in the blink of an eye too, and gives the players good orientation on geographical features, distances and location. all of this helps the game-play along, and makes for faster, more informed and far more intense interaction.

    I've used maps so much I seldom play without them anymore. They are so easy to use, and so rich in benefits for the game.
  • edited August 2010
    Posted By: TomasHVMThe design of the map gives a very good view of what kind of location we are dealing with; cities and townships are easy to recognize. Villages likewise. Countries and counties are recognized in the blink of an eye too, and gives the players good orientation on geographical features, distances and location.
    Do you ever run into players who aren't able to visualize locations by looking at a map? (Or who just find it easier to visualize locations through other methods?) edit to add: And are there games where distances and location and geographical features just aren't important, and if so, what kind of map would be used for that game?

    I can sort of imagine what a place might look like by looking at a map, but it's not as appealing to me as a description or a picture; it feels less "real," if that makes any sense. I know a few people who just don't get maps at all and can only find their way around in real life by looking at easily-recognized landmarks and simple turn-by-turn directions.
    Posted By: TomasHVMNPC's on the lists are usually well balanced from the top of society to the bottom (both barons and beggars). They are given with title, name and one or two attributes (a skill, a preference, a contact, or something). It makes it really simple to get things going, especially in a location new to the players.
    This is a pretty cool idea! I wonder if there's an intermediate level there, where the physical map itself is replaced with a different way of describing the location (picture, description, mood-setting adjectives, etc.) with the same list of NPCs. Something akin to the way a location would be described in a script, maybe. I know I've done internet "location scouting" for games before, swiping pics from flickr or GIS or whatever and assembling folders to show "downtown Detroit" or "the jungle" or what have you as mood-setters for scenes; I could see doing one-sheets with those pics and a handy NPC list as being very useful.
  • I was thinking about a map-heavy RP-wargame with a LotR feel the other day. Players, with bonuses for roleplaying, of course, act as the leaders of their respective races and move their armies against an old-school antagonistic GM playing out the forces of darkness. Feels like the kind of game a fourteen year old might write, but awesome nevertheless.
  • edited August 2010
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteThis is a pretty cool idea! I wonder if there's an intermediate level there, where the physical map itself is replaced with a different way of describing the location (picture, description, mood-setting adjectives, etc.) ...
    Thanks! I never use my maps for the actual scenes of the game; in setting the scenes we rely on descriptions.

    So if we pick up on a NPC like "Beggar Dirty-Tom, nervous, one leg", we may place him in a scene, describing him like this: "You see a one-legged man by a big stone bridge. He is clearly nervous, but still he close in on you, with a dirty hand raised; A copper, m'lord! Spare a copper!" The point is that I get all this for free, having the name and the other central elements of the NPC at hand, on the map--list, and having a big bridge drawn in on the map proper. The scene is clearly set in the city, but we don't have to place it precisely, and we use the map as an element-feeder for the scene (and sometimes as a mood-feeder).

    My maps are not for placing the PC's on, with counters or miniatures or something, but to inspire and inform our verbal interaction. In the rare occasions where I need a situation-map, I sketch it out on the fly (I do not like them, and have un-learned using them; they hinder the flow of critical situations; far better to describe the situations verbally, focus on how the players respond, and accept the occasional confusion).
  • Maps are GM-notes-to-self, GM-notes-to-players, and creativity inspiration, all in one.
  • Posted By: Lee ShortMaps are GM-notes-to-self, GM-notes-to-players, and creativity inspiration, all in one.
    More, Lee! More, I beg...

    Please do explain each.
  • At some level I thought story-gaming meant getting away from maps, particularly the battle mats and miniatures, but when we played Lady Blackbird last week I found myself sketching them out on the backs of sheets of paper; "ok, the Owl is here, you're up on this balcony, and the Fire Ship you want to sabotage is over there." I sketched in some mooring lines connected to the Owl just for show, and when Snargle said, "I cut this mooring line as I run past," I almost said, "Oh, I didn't mean there was necessarily a rope exactly there, those were just cosmetic" when I caught myself and let him run with it.

    I like the idea of Geiger Counter map-collaboration thing, but I haven't played it. Hopefully tomorrow!

    Also in Darcy's knight quest game which he let me try an early version of, you collaboratively add to the kingdom map the landmarks you encountered that session. Awesome. Could easily be drifted to, say, In A Wicked Age.
  • edited August 2010
    We use maps as a starting point for collaboration on setting (maybe obviously) and then afterwards as a way to identify the direction of plot. Maps with open arcs or blank areas are invitations to explore -- the referee doesn't need to say or do anything to make this an appealing objective for some players. Just show a map with a conspicuously blank space. Or a little picture of a zeppelin with teeth.

    We use maps as a way to declare allegiances between NPCs and organizations, and these are things that characters will be interested in joining wrecking, or manipulating. A good map implies what changing those allegiances will do to the common citizenry, and this will create motivations and moral/ethical conflict.

    We use maps to declare boundaries, escape mechanisms, and objectives. A good map is as simple as possible yet still conveys enough detail to wonder about tactical solutions to the problem at hand without losing focus. It offers ways to attack, evade, subvert, avoid, seduce and betray an enemy. It invites change to itself as a tactic.

    We use maps to decide where to go next.

    Okay, so actual play.
    The cluster map for this Diaspora playtest created a series of hooks. First, R912 is a shithole that sits between Caradoc and Sheol, hostile superpowers. This creates space for a Stolzian "mud duchy", profiting off the necessary but illegal trade between the two powers -- each can trade legally and cheaply (it's close to both) with R912 and thus indirectly with each other even though they are at war. Hive of scum and villainy, etc. It also offers Lostengo as a gateway world -- you can't get to Arkham or Golgotha without passing through it, making it tactically interesting. Both of these (and several other derivations from this map) drove further play. Abusing the map also made new play -- the civilization at Golgotha was destroyed (by a Science-driven declaration roll!) and this had implications to everyone, as its unnaturally rich resources suddenly became unavailable. Redistributing wealth is always a good way to shake shit up.

    A randomly generated Traveller subsector, used during Spirit of the Far Future development offers instant opportunity for adventure through interpretation. Why is there a high technology world way out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by soft, low-tech, agricultural worlds? Well obviously it is some kind of empire, using the low tech worlds as resources, chewing them up without regard for their long-term interests. And Barstow -- why does such a low technology world have a decent starport? Because it's the bottleneck, en route to the alien powerhouse down south. The map invites interpretation, explanation -- stories. These demand elaboration and change through play.

    In Chimaera, a new kind of map looks familiar, but the statistics in each community demand the definition of a resource or critical NPC, and these in turn derive the relative safety of the paths between communities. As the resources change or the NPCs gain or lose power, the road safety changes, affecting the risk in moving from place to place -- and potentially saving or destroying other resources and NPCs. Playing on this map changes it, changes the danger, and affects how much and where the Enemy pays attention. The map here is a tactical space in which you plan what sort of adventure you can afford without inflicting undue danger on innocents or risking death for inadequate gain. And heroic risk to save critical elements is clearly indicated as well.

    Each of these is packed with arcana. You need to have a minimum mastery of the map in order to read its opportunities and implications, and gaining that mastery is also part of the satisfaction the map delivers. You know this when you read an atlas map filled with colour coding and icons. As you learn more about the map idiom, you learn more about the representation and more about the territory and also come to love the knowledge and use of that same iconography. It's secret knowledge. Maps are secrets that reveal things to the initiates. You get to be one.
  • Very exciting use of maps, Brad, and your maps really looks "techy", as they should in sci-fi settings.
  • For a hex crawl, Avalon Hill had a boardgame called Source of the Nile in which you explored Africa, filling in the map as you discovered parts. A fantasy version of that could be fun.

    I've read that new Chinese emperors used to send out mappers to find out what was where within their empire, and I like the idea of a game where the act of doing so pins down the reality as it's mapped, with the unknown being in flux until the imperial mappers pin it down as one thing or the other.

    I don't use maps much myself, but I do like having the Hardholder in Apocalypse World sketch out her camp to help establish it in the players' minds, and let the other players add to. "So this is our big freshwater tank, and over here is the big tank we keep all the distilled alcohol we run the hit and run squad's bikes on. And over here at the far edge is the Brainer's lair."
  • I love maps in general, so using them in games is just a given for me. They spark my imagination and creativity. Plus its great to have something to point to and say to everyone, "You are here."

    For practical applications, I almost always have a map of the region or location where the action in the game takes place. In some games it's more important than others. When I ran Godlike, I had all kinds of maps we used to show operational and tactical situations. For Mouse Guard I usually just use the map on the inside of the dust jacket.

    I make my own, hand drawn, painted, on the computer, whatever. I love maps!
  • edited August 2010
    I've always been a big map-oholic. I'm currently running a BW game via VTT with a single map from the Harn world city of Golotha as the setting. It sits as the central part of the virtual gaming table and can be zoomed right down to street level with tokens that scale accordingly. I would love to find a map like theloneamigo's where I could start at world scale and zoom right down to regional, city and then street level.
    John
  • Posted By: John AndersonI've always been a big map-oholic. I'm currently running a BW game via VTT with a single map from the Harn world city ofGolothaas the setting. It sits as the central part of the virtual gaming table and can be zoomed right down to street level with tokens that scale accordingly. I would love to find a map liketheloneamigo'swhere I could start at world scale and zoom right down to regional, city and then street level.
    John
    John - such a good idea. I'd love to find a big medieval city map that's either blank or just has place names on it to use. I hate drawing city maps but I love having them.
  • I always liked the method of drawing a dot on a blank piece of paper and saying, "you are here". Players could then ask questions and we'd write stuff in. Which way to that? What terrain am I currently in? Then, when players went somewhere, that area got written in and the area between fleshed out. This way you only knew where you'd been. If players had knowledge from before the game started, they would just put an arrow and "this way to xyz" (but it never got permanently put in place until they actually went there).
  • I once bought a board game with a fantasy Mediterranean Europe map (complete with Atlantis) to use during a pre-SotC Fate game setup where we went through the past few years of world history to allow everyone to make they phases more interesting and tied together. I could point to an area and be like, "So, Aegypt invaded Atlantis at this point ..."
  • A good map is rarely a bad thing. A bad map is often still very useful.

    RPG Maps I've gotten a lot of use out of - both Forgotten Realms maps Judd mentioned, the map of Night City from the Night City Sourcebook for Cyberpunk 2020. Interesting, I thought there would be more.

    Games that have wonderful map-related rules: Burning Empires, Black Fire, Diaspora? (so I've heard).
  • Posted By: JuddPosted By: Lee ShortMaps are GM-notes-to-self, GM-notes-to-players, and creativity inspiration, all in one.
    More, Lee! More, I beg...

    Please do explain each.

    Judd -- not ignoring you, just very busy. With DragonFlight this weekend, the weatherman says look for something mid next week.
  • Posted By: MarhaultGames that have wonderful map-related rules: Burning Empires, Black Fire, Diaspora? (so I've heard).
    Interesting! What kind of rules?
  • So, my best map stories are also related to Forgotten Realms maps. We used the maps from the boxed campaign setting (AD&D2, here) as a sort of 'what to do next' generator. Our party, consisting of a Bard and a Mage (both low level - great stuff) saw "The Pirate Isles" right next to the "Dragon Isles". Now, sure, being Forgotten Realms, I'm sure both of these places have super developed back stories in existence, but we just ran with those names and decided that there were plenty of pirates and dragons on the Pirate and Dragon Isles, respectively. So we ended up convincing the dragons to help us clear out the pirates in exchange for the loot. Fun times.

    Later on, with a few more party members and higher levels, we frequently used the Waterdeep city map to hatch schemes, purchase a home base, plan a magical fire department, and so forth. Maps are sweet.

    I just wish I could draw them better.
  • Tomas - I'm hardly an expert, but here's a little sketch.

    In Burning Empires "Firefight" rules, the Players and the GM collaboratively draw a map of the space where a battle is about to take place. Then they add in mechanical effects for significant elements of the map, stuff like cover values and bonuses to your disposition. This is all done with an eye toward the fact that they are about to fight using this map as an integral part of that battle. The best part, though, is the advice (and I wish I had a copy near to hand for a quote) that the map you're drawing up is to be a sketch, not some fancy piece of art. Scribble on it, cross stuff out, draw fire when the building gets destroyed, whatever. No reverence there, this things is functional.

    In Black Fire, you take a fantasy map showing an otherwise undefined setting, kill the God of Harmony, and then drop his corpse across the map. In my game I did a "chalk outline" sort of thing. The God's corpse isn't in our plane though, but it's aligned in this location metaphysically. Basically, the parts of the map covered by the body have begun to turn to the dark side and monsters form and travel forth from them. Great inspiration stuff, especially when combined with just grabbing some random map that doesn't have any meaning to the players yet. (It might be even better matched with a map from an existing setting, I don't know!)
  • Thanks, Jamey! Both ways of doing this is interesting, but the thing about the God of Harmony really got me thinking!

    I tend to think of maps as sources of evocative names, to feed the dialogue of the players. And I think of them as a springboard for the players understanding of the world they inhabit during the game. A good map does this, and more.
  • edited August 2010
    Posted By: jprussellSo, my best map stories are also related to Forgotten Realms maps. We used the maps from the boxed campaign setting (AD&D2, here) as a sort of 'what to do next' generator. Our party, consisting of a Bard and a Mage (both low level - great stuff) saw "The Pirate Isles" right next to the "Dragon Isles". Now, sure, being Forgotten Realms, I'm sure both of these places have super developed back stories in existence, but we just ran with those names and decided that there were plenty of pirates and dragons on the Pirate and Dragon Isles, respectively. So we ended up convincing the dragons to help us clear out the pirates in exchange for the loot. Fun times.

    Later on, with a few more party members and higher levels, we frequently used the Waterdeep city map to hatch schemes, purchase a home base, plan a magical fire department, and so forth. Maps are sweet.
    This is a great example of how maps work as creativity inspiration/creative constraint (constraint comes in when you're forced to choose an existing map location, or make up a new location that is appropriate for the map). Looking at a map, I ask myself all kinds of questions. What kind of people live in these hot tropical mountains? What kind of creatures? Why is that big city there, and not over here? Let me note that a pretty, shiny map has significantly more value here than a less polished one. It's human nature to give more of our attention to things we like, so a well done map will tend to be more in mind and thus used more often.

    As for how maps serve as GM notes-to-self: I can sketch a simple map and with a few lines and notations convey a lot of information. There's the obvious fact that it's easier to make a sketch than describe a land verbally. Stuff like this ["Narnia is south of Mordor. To the east of both of them lies Bas-Lag, which shares more border in common with Mordor than Narnia."] gets verbose fast. But there are other advantages, other things I can convey concisely in note form. For example, if there's a mountain range between the elven forest and the plainsmen, I know that the mountains keep the two sides from conflicting as often as they would otherwise. This is all dependent on the way I personally will interpret the map, but with just a few notes about points of interest, inhabitants, and the relationships between them, the map quickly becomes a relationship map about the important entities in the game world.

    Maps as GM notes-to-players convey setting information (this is the Dwarven city of Korin's Crag, over here is the capital and port city of Pearl), but they do it in an engaging manner. And they do it in a way that sparks dialog, not in a clinical information dump kind of way. For sandboxy games, they also act as crucial GM-to-player flags -- "see this stuff here on the map? I think it's all cool stuff! What do *you* like?"

    I just wish I could draw them better.
    If you have the time and inclination to learn, someone with no artistic talent like myself can turn out pretty nice maps with mapping software. I use Campaign Cartographer 3; there are plenty of options.

    There are also TONS of free maps available on the web. Check out the forums at cartographersguild.com, and the archives at profantasy.com (these require the free CC3 viewer).
  • Posted By: Lee Short
    This is a great example of how maps work as creativity inspiration/creative constraint (constraint comes in when you're forced to choose an existing map location, or make up a new location that is appropriate for the map). Looking at a map, I ask myself all kinds of questions. What kind of people live in these hot tropical mountains? What kind of creatures? Why is that big city there, and not over here? Let me note that a pretty, shiny map has significantly more value here than a less polished one. It's human nature to give more of our attention to things we like, so a well done map will tend to be more in mind and thus used more often.
    Exactly! There's a really good series of articles on map and culture-focused world building on Giant in the Playground Games (home of the "Order of the Stick" web comic), and I know that I've definitely evaluated maps in that way, I just can't remember whether or not it resulted in actual play as much as I'd like over the years :) And yeah, pretty maps with loads of detail are good for 'spurring the imagination' in the "I wonder what this is?" way, but on the other hand, maps with lots of open space are also pretty great for the "I wonder what's out there?" form of prodding. But even big open maps can be well done, I suppose.
    Posted By: Lee ShortIf you have the time and inclination to learn, someone with no artistic talent like myself can turn out pretty nice maps with mapping software. I use Campaign Cartographer 3; there are plenty of options.

    There are also TONS of free maps available on the web. Check out the forums at cartographersguild.com, and the archives at profantasy.com (these require the free CC3 viewer).
    I'll have to check those out. Are they available for Mac? I seem to remember getting pretty excited about an RPG mapping program until I found out I couldn't use it on my shiny hippie mac.

    And the problem is that I *am* artistically inclined, I'm just not very artistically accomplished, so I want to draw maps by hand, but I suck at it.
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