17 July 2018

Mapping Problems

I haven't been working on any maps recently because I wanted to put it aside temporarily to give myself time to think. In general most RPG maps are lacking in actual usefulness. I'm not just talking about wilderness or hex maps, but also dungeon and cave maps. The big issue with most maps published for RPGs, I guess this includes fan-made maps too, is that the DM has to constantly flip between the actual map and the descriptions of what is on the map. There are almost no maps that can just be referenced during the game without looking in a module for more detail once a group reaches a certain location. Every other type of map(navigational, Choropleth, dot density, political, etc)  doesn't have this problem; Each map serves a purpose and everything you to know is on the map(or at least the same poster).  I don't mean to say that those detailed descriptions shouldn't exist, but rather that the map should have some way of symbolizing that detail to remind the DM what they previously read in the module.

So how to make a map for an RPG with optimized usefulness for the DM?

I'm not really sure. If you can't tell by the subject of my senior thesis, I think a huge part of it is the interactivity made available by modern web maps. Yet that's not the end all, be all to the perfect rpg map. This really just allows easier access to the data, it doesn't resolve the underlying issue: PRESENTATION. How to present that data in a visual form so the map reader instantly knows what they are looking at and doesn't have to go hunting for the exact details of that location?

One element I am dedicated to is the Hex grid. It is extremely useful for quickly measuring distance. Though the hexes don't have to be filled with a symbol like in most of the maps for Mystara; there can just be an overlying grid to show scale and distance. For every other useful thing a DM might want from a map, I'm just not sure what's best. I have some ideas, but some of those depend on a hex map, and some depend on not having hexes, so yeah . . .


  1. From the Google+ group Map-Making in Games

    Lance Duncan:
    Some thoughts on improving maps used in RPGs

    Michael Prescott:
    Apparently a number of products have started using the 'one spread' format. Stonehell being one, IIRC.

    Troy Ellis:
    You should take a look at Monte Cook Games' Instant Adventures format. I think it handles this really well. montecookgames.com/So-Can-You-REALLY-run-an-RPG-with-just-a-Few-Minutes-of-Prep/

    Goblins Henchman:
    This is an idea I came up with, using spreadsheets to make super compact adventure modules:

    Goblins Henchman:
    It can do hexcrawls too:

    Lance Duncan:
    +Troy Ellis those products have exactly the problem I'm talking about. There are text blurbs describing the location witharrows pointing to the location on a very basic outline map, this is no different than your standard numbered key dungeon maps. The info in those text blurbs should be somehow represented on the map. I'm not looking for "instant adventures" or one page
    dungeons, but some method to convey the textual info graphically.

    David South:
    +Lance Duncan actually regarding the comment of +Troy Ellis , Weird Discoveries actually does a great job of having the information visually on the map without having to flip through things or look at a listing. It is a great example of overcoming the problems you bring up. They are quick, fun, involved adventures that are designed to be run with 10 minutes of prep.

    Lance Duncan:
    +David South Yes, you don't have to flip back and forth between different pages, but the information is still contained in a block of text. A map represents information through graphical representation, meaning the information contained in the text should be represented on the map in some way.

    Lance Duncan:
    +Goblins Henchman I watched your videos, and what you do with the modules/maps is pretty awesome and simple. It blends into my thesis that interactive maps are more useful for games in general, yet just because a map is interactive doesn't mean it presents the information well. As I keep repeating, graphical representation is the defining feature of any map. If the map can't convey the information in a graphical format, maybe a map is not the most useful medium of presentation. I do think the map is best way to present many elements of a game, I'm just looking for a better and more consistent way to represent game information on a map

  2. Troy Ellis:
    You should take a look at Monte Cook Games' Instant Adventures format. I think it handles this really well. https://www.montecookgames.com/so-can-you-really-run-an-rpg-with-just-a-few-minutes-of-prep/

    Shelby Maddox:
    It is good to consider what the purpose of the map is, just as you would do for a "real world" data viz. A lot of RPG maps I see, particularly overland, could be replaced with a simple node/edge network, because that's the only important part of it. Battlemaps are a bit different because the physical layout becomes more relevant. It's a really good question to ask, I think.

    Lance Duncan:
    +Shelby Maddox This is exactly my point. Every map has a purpose. A street map is a navigational aid and shows streets only, there are other ways to map a city, but a street map is the most efficient for navigating in that city. I don't really use battlemaps in my games, but the ones I see put out by Paizo and such would be nearly worthless to me; they are pretty pictures with a square grid. Great job at making a map guys!(sarcastically) And as you said node maps are often more useful for the information that is presented. No need to use a map if the spatial coordinates of the locales don't matter.

    So what is the purpose of a map in an RPG? and how do we tailor our maps to that purpose?