For the first half of the caving adventure, I didn't bother with a map. I simply drew cards to highlight the random nature of the tunnels they were taking. The second session revolved around an old Lancea Sanctum underground temple, however, and was quite a closed and simply environment of around twenty rooms. During that session, I had drawn up simple floorplans on grid paper sized for their miniatures and I laid them out when they reached a new area - covering up the rooms they couldn't see through and uncovering the ones they could.
Was it successful?
I'd say so. It helped them think strategically, which was vital as the enemies were more powerful than they were, and it encouraged a focus on the environment. They looked at cover and flashbangs and how many people they could fit down the corridor but they didn't spend an overly long amount of time on these issues. They didn't really need to. A lot of the answers to their questions was staring them in the face. Especially since the corridors, like most real life corridors, were only five feet wide which doesn't give a lot of space to manuevre.
It cut back on immersion-breaking questions like: "How many doors? Which ones have we searched? Where do we go now?" They could see doorways they hadn't tried. They knew which corridor they had yet to turn down. I could focus on atmospheric descriptions and leave the nitty gritties to the visual. The miniatures also helped because we could figure out, and have a visual cue, for where everyone was standing and in what order.
I mean, it still wasn't a miniatures game. We used the maps more as a tool for our game than fashioned our game around the map. When the combat got truly engaged, we could ignore the map and miniatures and come back to it when it became useful again. But it did help people figure out where they were and where the enemy was standing. It helped them gauge how long they had.
And thus it worked.
I would whole-heartedly recommend a simple floorplan + miniatures when you want your players to think strategically about a situation while still cutting down the spatial questions. It's not so good if you want to emphasise chaos, confusion, and claustrophobia, on the other hand. Especially if you want the environments to seem strange and unfamiliar.
In an earlier game, I created a 3D area complete with paper tree miniatures, cardboard box walls for warehouses, little crates, a few machines, internal walls, and other bits and bobs. Until they entered the building, it would have a cover over it. Once they'd entered it, I'd lift up a room roof top tile. I wish I'd taken a picture because it was actually a lot less effort to make than it sounds. Anyway, it actually made a brilliant pacing tool. When I lifted the tile and they saw the tent sitting there, surrounding by little blood spatter papers, they grimaced. When they'd explored everywhere in the 3D model and were in the final yard, poking around in the straw, they knew it was coming.
Again, I didn't over-rely on the map. For example, while I dumped a series of rat miniatures on them when the Devil that has the 'inspires hatred in animals' flaw headed in, I never put in a miniature for the gunman on the roof. When I described the locations, I generally made eye contact and drew it in their minds rather than pointing to everything in the map. When they hunted for clues, we moved away from the miniatures and toward verbal descriptions.
But, oh, does it worry people when you make them tell you who is entering the room first and just where they're going... It makes them pay attention to every clue in their environment.
So do tactical battle maps, and 3D maps, help? Yes.
Should you rely on them? Well, if every one of your games are like those two sessions, than sure. But generally, I wouldn't bother. They make for a great garnish but I'm sure they'd get old quick. I've only used a grid map once and a 3D design once as well. Twice out of forteen games ain't bad but it does show that while I'll use them again, they aren't the be all and end all of the game. I get the feeling that if I used them much more regularly and they'd become a crutch for vivid descriptions and a focus on our own imaginations.
And we wouldn't want that in a horror game, would we?
See the rest of the articles in this series over here!