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If so, how do they do approach map making without slowing down the game.

If not, and if you wish they did, what are ways to encourage players to do so?

Also, what are good ways to make maps without graph paper?

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10 Answers 10

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I give them an outline of the coastline and they fill in the landmass with their notes. If I was doing an exploration of the new world style game then I would just give them an updated coastline map showing only what they explored each session.

Remember there is realism, and there is gamable. The blank coastline map without a grid (maybe a scale) seems to strike the right balance in my experience. There is just enough to get the player thinking "What fills that peninsula" or "what next to that lake?" And that what you want. The player making a reasonable decision as to what direction to take.

Finally if this is a map of a civilized land then you may want to add some "big" features like mountain ranges, rivers, large forest, and largest cities. The player still need to fill in the gaps between.

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I think I may try the landmass outline approach with landmarks. Maybe a puzzle piece like outline, that may work well. I tend to have really dense maps, probably because I nearly always run campaigns using islands as the setting. – Michael Makali'i Fernandez Aug 20 '10 at 6:42
Also, do you let the players know exactly where they are on the map? Or do you just let them guess at it based on the description? My first instinct would be to let the player characters figure it out, but give them the choice of making a wisdom based skill check(rolled in the open, but with the DC unknown to them) of some sort to get an answer from me, which may be the wrong answer of they completely botch the check – Michael Makali'i Fernandez Aug 20 '10 at 6:45
I just put a pin on the map. However they may have to search locally (and get lost locally) to find a particular locale like the lost temple, skull rock, etc. Again one of those realism vs gamable things. If you are calm and take your time you will find your way through the wilderness. Now trying to hit a particular spot RIGHT NOW!, injury, lack of food, and a dozen other factor may turn this into a very difficulty task. But the added work is not warranted, IMO, for an average party. – RS Conley Aug 20 '10 at 12:45

Yes. Oddysey often handles that in my games.

Indoors, it's graph paper. I usually keep the rooms simple to make it easier on them, and so we don't spend a lot of time going back and forth about where things are. This means fairly regular rooms with doors in the middle of the wall.

Outdoors, the maps are pretty vague, often resembling flowcharts more than what we'd usually call a map. But we rarely need more.

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I like the flowchart idea. Do you have any general examples? – Michael Makali'i Fernandez Aug 20 '10 at 6:34
The flowchart I think refers to drawing specific areas connected by directional lines, like you make when you are mapping a text adventure game (go north, etc). – Modern Hacker Aug 20 '10 at 7:13
Awesome example MH! I've heard of Zork but have never played it before, that's a great looking map, and really close to what I've been looking to achieve. I do something similar, but this looks miles better than my results. – Michael Makali'i Fernandez Aug 20 '10 at 7:33
Yep, that's pretty much the idea. Usually, this is pretty linear; if the players stay on the road between Krybol and Pitsh, they'll pass the gate to Fairey on the first day, the log-bridge on the second, and arrive at Pitsh on the third. The rest is details that can be generated on the spot if necessary. – Trollsmyth Aug 20 '10 at 22:37

No, because in some games it is not appropriate for the players to make a map. For example, if you are playing in a modern day setting then you will find that the players will complain their characters can't use google maps. In my Sci Fi game, the known universe has been mapped out and when they arrive at a planet they have not been to before, they use space craft sensors to scan it.

If I were to play a fantasy campaign, I would consider it.

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Makes sense. I played in a world of darkness game where my character had a netbook, and I used my personal netbook as a prop so that we could look up maps of our surroundings in-game. It really added to the whole experience as we felt as though we were exploring a huge city even though we've never been there. – Michael Makali'i Fernandez Aug 20 '10 at 9:04
Using a netbook as a prop is a brilliant idea. My worries about using computers as props is that it is difficult to keep the focus of the campaign tight as they might end up with information that is completely irrelevant and that roleplaying for my group is about interaction around a table in a short time frame and I don't want them to spend time googling stuff! – Rob Lang Aug 20 '10 at 9:08
The thing that kept us on track was we usually had a limited amount of time to do research on the netbook. We were usually on the run for one reason or another, and finding internet access in the first place was often an adventure in itself. – Michael Makali'i Fernandez Aug 20 '10 at 9:32
That's a very good way of using a Netbook - a time limit and a goal. – Rob Lang Aug 20 '10 at 12:56
Just finished a Con X campaign and we made extensive use of Google maps. We did wonder if anyone did feel a chill go up their spine when their house was picked as the scene of a horrific murder. – Colonel Sponsz Aug 20 '10 at 13:04

When I play, I love to do the mapping. When I run a game, my players often don't. So I draw them a tiny, squiggly copy including mapping mistakes the way I would draw it as a player. If they complain, they can always draw one themselves. I enjoy the mapping because it emphasizes the exploration aspect.

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How do you determine when to make map mistakes? Is this accidental, or a conscious decision? – Michael Makali'i Fernandez Aug 20 '10 at 9:05
I do this for in-games maps that players can buy. I borrowed the concept from Harn where they call these maps poetic maps. – RS Conley Aug 20 '10 at 12:48
Errors just creep in as I copy stuff carelessly. Don't count squares, don't count hexes, don't try to get all the proportions and angles right and you'll get a map full of mistakes. Works every time! :) – Alex Schröder Aug 26 '10 at 21:10

In the case of dungeons, since the ref already has a map, it seems a shame that the players should have to redraw it. I thought of laminating a player's version of the map (unmarked secret doors and traps), and covering it with black marker. Then they could erase a bit at a time as they explore the dungeon. I'm curious if anyone has tried this.

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I think the mystery of exploration would be lost if you give the players a copy of the actual map. Although it would be a cool prop if they somehow obtained one in game! Maybe the original architectural plans for a legendary ruined temple may reveal the overall layout, but the current state would be of course ruinous and part of mystery would be in the suspense of what lurks in the darkness ahead? – Michael Makali'i Fernandez Aug 20 '10 at 7:27
The idea is the player can't see whole map; the map starts out completely hidden and they only see the parts they've visited. Imagine this is like a scratch lottery ticket; initially only the dungeon entrance is visible. Depending whether they go north, south, or east, scratch off that part of the map and see what's there. Could be really good for solo play too. You can make your own scratch-off cards with stickers or metallic paint. – Modern Hacker Aug 20 '10 at 7:40
Oh now I see. That would be pretty damn neat, but if I remember right a bit messy. I'm curious enough to actually try this. metallic paint and soap, hm... I bet regular black paint would work too eh? The biggest problem I foresee is figuring out the boundaries of where to scratch? It'd be easy to get carried away and end up scratching way beyond the party's line of sight. Wait a second, if you had a template representing the characters line of sight(or lighting range), that'd work out really well, black painted mdf maybe? – Michael Makali'i Fernandez Aug 20 '10 at 8:09
+1 for maps found in the game. – Marcus Downing Aug 20 '10 at 9:16

yes to both.

Outdoors, especially. I make sure it is pretty easy to get lost in the outback, and that experience trickled down to all my live groups. Even with paths, trails, and roads, there were many people who lost their way in our history. Guides and scouts weren't cheap, but they beat being lost. My PCs generally use a notebook program to draw as they go, but update their larger map.
You need to create a reason for them to map if you want them to.

Underground, as well, once they find a need to map, they will. a good GM will make this important for the players, especially in adventures where the "world in Motion' ideal is utilized, so that things may change, such as inhabitants, or even physical features.

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Back in the old days yes we did. Usually the person playing the mage mapped out the dungeon. And yes it slowed things down a lot.

In latter days of me the DM drawing maps on a wipe free mat, then if there's been a reason to double back, I may just draw what they see again, it's up to them to remember I guess. Getting lost hasn't cropped up for a while.

Perhaps I should take things back to the old days for a bit :)

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For dungeon exploration I've recently started laying out dungeon tiles as they go, removing old tiles and recentering as necessary. This gives them an easy way to map as well as a clear sense of their immediate surroundings, but keeps the sense that the dungeon as a whole is rather big and hard to keep in your head all at once.

I also like the idea that the player's map represents an actual in-game item. The characters probably need a map, not just the players.

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In one campaign we had a character that had a pretty good cartography skill and the player maintained a fairly detailed map of the local area. It soon became the de-facto map for the campaign with the GM using it too.

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In real life people just remember where they went most of the time (except really weird&long caves or dungeons, but I assume realism here - so no dungeon crawling). In the imaginary world the characters, not players, are seeing the environment and saving it for recognition later. My players just say where they want to go. I show them all that the character knows, I draw the map pieces when they can't get by on pure imagination and my words. I tell them what they see on their way.

We also assume that characters have better memory than players for that kind of stuff - eg. You probably remember Your country's geography better than You would remember some map of a place You've never seen. Characters remember geography of their world. It's too much to expect players to learn all the maps by heart.

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I guess I find the joy mapping and mistakes bring outweigh the realism aspect. The game doesn't simulate reality too well, but it's fun (for me). Maybe i should make the decision part of the next campaign setup... – Alex Schröder Aug 26 '10 at 21:16

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