Thursday, July 3, 2014


Not all maps need to be beautiful.
Floorplans are quite useful for those of us who can't visualise a floorplan based off of a verbal description or, at least, whose visualisations are quite mutable and easy disconnects from other people's.  While many games can survive without them, there can be problems if one person is heavily visual and quickly cobbles together an image in their mind only to have it change, shift and slide with the GM's whims.  While not always an issue, it does undo all of the GM's good work and can cause issues, complaints and arguments in a tactical situation (such as a fight).

So what do you do?

Well, remember that the map doesn't need to be an ornate and beautiful work of art made using the Sims 3, architectural floorplan program or even an RPG focused map maker.  It can be a hasty scrawl on the back of the envelope.  You can pre-make it or wing it, and not every detail needs to be placed (or labelled).  You certainly don't need a grid unless it helps you draw or your game system cares quite a bit on 5ft squares (though even there some groups quite readily guesstimate positioning without a map).

You also don't need to use miniatures if you have a floorplan.  So long as everyone is on the same page and knows how the place sits, recalling people's positions is normally very easy especially as most games don't really care whether a person is within 12 feet of another!

Also, players, be aware that your GM may not be made of money so if you want schmexy floorplans and you know that your GM may adore making them should they have the option, you could always offer to purchase them a mapmaking program (funds permitting). 

This isn't to say that you are required to do so, or that your GM even wants to make maps, but should you and they be agreeable to the idea, it can be a nice thing for your GM to get a treat even if that treat is so that they can make the play experience better for you!


  1. Google maps work great for most games set on Terra Incognita (most of Earth is unknown to me) both for modern and old era games. Source material / photos are good for flavour and has a neat set of image edit functions.
    Not good but neat.

    I guess I need some visuals to complete my rambling incoherent descriptions.


  2. I think it depends on the style you're going for as well. I know that with some highly emotive games, suddenly working out high level tactics on maps would only detracted from the feel being presented.
    Also, scale can be an issue. Mud maps are fine, but scale still needs to be consistent (generally) which means if your working over a vast area this can get either tricky, or just unruly in no time (i.e. A team moving ahead while a member/members hang back to provide cover and suddenly you're trying to map distances hundreds of feet/meters long.)

    On the other hand, maps can be an amazing tool in the right setting, and help build the world your PC's are in. If using highly detailed maps, whether hand drawn (oh god the hours and hand cramps involved) or mapping programs (still hours, but much less cramping) having specific objects displayed for all to see, and knowing exactly where everyone is from point to point can be exhilarating in it's own way and help remove the "wait, where?" moments.

    I've recently been running two pathfinders games, one with fully detailed maps made by myself to (roughly) one inch scale [Dungeon crawls are awesome btw. More people should run them], and a second pre-built campaign also with full maps but that are printed so tiny they're only much good as a reference.
    So far, these have both worked well I think.
    The dungeon crawl needs the higher amount of map detail, it helps pull it back to the Diablo-esque feel that I'm going for, and makes negotiating traps and heavy combat much easier for myself and [I hope] my players. At least at this point they've yet to complain.
    The pre-made campaign has a much more casual feel, being played with several friends that are all learning the system and that all have families which are also present on the night. The game's taken much less critically due to constant child interruption (who will occasionally be responded to in character, which adds fun to the night and confuses the hell out of the kids) which also means that descriptive combats flow easier than set tactical positioning and can be adjusted more easily should things go wrong (Seriously?! How'd you even get that in your hair? *player #3 walks off to grapple and clean child*).

    So yeah, maps have their place and it's a great place to have, but my belief is to make sure they're truly adding to the experience. Not just existing because "they should".

    I think I've rambled enough - Frank

    1. Certainly agree with you. Maps, at least maps presented to the players, are a design tool that may or may not help / hinder the experience. Of course if the GM needs a map for themselves behind the GM screen every time then there's no harm in that.

    2. I was looking at it from a purely player driven perspective, the tiny maps in the pre-gen I complained about are in my opinion almost certainly there for the GM more than the players, for which tehy serve their purpose quite well. It can make it much easier to describe a space if you do in fact know how that space is shaped and laid out, even if it's just with a quick 'mud' map.

    3. Pretty much, yeah. I probably should keep more mud maps on hand than I do rather relying on my players to be equally spatially blind.

  3. For those of you wishing to do some of your own mapping, I found a brilliant list of free and not-so-free mapping software here:

    I'm personally looking at Dundjinni myself, if anyone reading this has had any experience with mapping software (be it dungeon/city mapping or world mapping) let me know your opinion on how it went and the tool you used.

    (yup, totally hijacking your blog post Shannon)

  4. I've used Dungeon Painter, and I think it went well. It was easy to use and very versatile. Here is a map I made with it for a science fiction setting (Styx Base in The Ninth Planet):