Wednesday, April 15, 2009

DM's Corner: Drawing on Maps

I thought I'd share a little tidbit that I've found helpful, mostly by accident and laziness.
When I've designed my own adventures or encounters, I often just draw out a nice map, using colored pens. The map details are in one or two colors and then I have writing in another color, right on the map, that describes what is in each area, including sometimes stats and treasure. I did this because it was quick and easy and I also sort of liked how it looked.

One of the more interesting maps I made was actually based on the great pyramids in Egypt. I ran that one several times. I ought to scan that map and show it here, just for kicks.

What I noted when running that adventure (and others where I had done the same sort of thing) was just how easy it was to keep track of everything. Essentially it was all on one sheet of paper. The map. The descriptions. The encounters and their locations. It made it easy to plan ahead, to see if creatures in other areas heard an alarm, and so forth. I also did not have to spend time flipping pages back and forth to see what was in a room, or switch back to yet another page for a map (though that can be avoided if you copy the map and keep it separate - more on that later). It made it so easy to run, I had more fun running.

And really, the only secret was - have everything on the map, so you don't need to look anywhere else and can see the whole "world" (local as it were) at a glance. Now, you can't do this as easily with a published adventure. They have richly detailed descriptions that you can't juts put on the map. And that can be a good thing, too. I was free to make up what I needed for my own maps - you can't do that in an adventure - you need to know the storyline and keep in it or else you lose a lot of the value of having a pre-made module.

But you can get the next best thing. I now make color copies of all of the maps in a published adventure. I then write on the maps the locations and descriptions of the denizens and of traps and such, so I have a nice, global view. On top of that, I read and re-read the text so I am familiar with it. Then I can run things almost as smoothly as when I made the maps (and adventure) myself. It makes things so much easier. So that's my little tip of the day.
[Maps above, drawings from my youth - it is amazing how someone with no drawing skill can make something look good by copying from the historical record and using a ruler and a blue and red pen.]

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