Sunday, November 23, 2014

How I prepare Maps for The Game (let's call it a Brain-Crawl ...)

Busy weekend, I know. Got the time and energy to get some things written. Maybe it's not very clever to post this stuff so fast, but I never gave up hope that I'll be able to do something on work days ...

With all that recent talk about Hex-Crawls and Point-Crawls, I wanted to share a third variant (a hybrid, maybe) I use in my games: the Brain-Crawl (because maps are in the head, you know). I'm not really calling it that, but it was the first thing to come to mind ... Anyway ... Let me illustrate. I couldn't draw a nice picture to save my life*, so drawing beautiful maps to wow my players was never an option. I'd mostly try and get away with describing things and use maps done by others.

This changed when I started to blog, though. All that jazz about DIY made me think about ways to, well, circumvent my shortcomings and find a useful solution without the need to draw something. I tried to go the hex-crawl route, but for me it's lacking lots of information I'd like to have on a map. It's just not for me anymore (I have an idea where I use hex-fields to generate random regions, but that's for another day ...).

What I've done now (and used already) is still a work in progress, as there are several things I want to add in the future. Anyway, it worked just fine the way it is. Here we go:

I know it ain't pretty, but it is functional and easy to randomize (I used Inkscape for this map)
The color of the frames indicate the alignment (as I see it, anyway) of a certain area (white being the exception, it's just the frame for a landmark). I don't care that much for distances on maps, as you might have noticed. The concept of distances on maps is, in my opinion, ludicrous, as the distance between two points will never be the distance traveled between those points. So I decided to go without them.

Instead I use several landmarks to give the players orientation and  just estimate how big and where the areas are, using the given proportions and position to each other (the only more or less fixed distance I got is the one between settlement A and B, which is roughly an hour travel under normal circumstances). Add weather, altitudes, mode of travelling and type of terrain and the result could be something like: Travel through the Merkwoods north of town (Settlement with A in the center), facing the highest peak of mount Knell (high landmark with the V) until you reach the Sea of Stones (local landmark I). Now you turn north until the forest get really dense. Beware of the fairies there (x3), I've heard they are at no good terms with the barons woodcutters (border between two terrain types) ... And so on.

With the alignments I know how hostile/civilized an area or road is to travel. There is enough room on the sheet to implement small Random Encounter Tables in them (like I did in the lower right) and one thing I want to add are sanctuaries. The rest is more random tables (like several reaction tables ...), a reference sheet with names, the locations marked on the map and this sheet I made about the status of an encounter.

Just a beginning

This is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot more is possible (still thinking about using ability scores to give those areas some character and a big question is how to make this a dynamic and random environment, stuff like that). And I still need to connect this with some of the other ideas I already wrote about (that whole Noircana brainstorm that's still hunting me in my dreams). For now I hope this could give you some ideas how I use maps in my games. If it's any useful is for you to decide.

Next up is a little something I'm working on to create complex random cavern systems on the fly using cards. For the Goblin-Tribe Simulator and whoever dares to use such a thing (but next weekend, earlier is highly unlikely).

* Funny story right there: In school, when we learned reading and writing, I had showed tendencies to be left-handed, but the teacher at the time forbid it because (I kid you not!) she wanted a unified look when her pupils where writing, which was, of course, all right handed. And I never quite got the hang of that ...


  1. I am always looking for ways to make maps more information rich and perhaps a bit more abstract. and this is a very good way of doing that.Anything to put the information I need to run the game at my fingertips, aesthetics be damned. (thought truth be told I like the look of your map as well.)

    My first thought was "Inkscape does Transparencies" and now I am thinking about what use that could be within your "brain-crawl" concept.

    1. Thanks :) I still believe it doesn't look like much ... But anyway, it worked like a charm in that it was totally enough to give me enough flavor-text to help the players getting some orientation where they are and what is around them. And drawing their map, I might add (I should totally post a picture of the result ... if I can find it).

      I really like Inkscape and use it most of the time if I need something like this done (and use scribus, if it's too text-heavy, but they work well hand in hand). And sure, there's lots of room to add more stuff (usually I'd add names to the areas, like the Merkwoods in the example above ...).

      What would you add (and what did you have in mind with using transparencies)?


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