There is something incredibly satisfying about a map. The way symbols and signs promise wonderful landscapes and adventures untold. I can still vividly remember a geography lesson on map reading from my first year at secondary school some 33 years ago and the thrill of understanding how the whole thing fit together to give information. How hills were drawn, what the building on the canal was, how to find the nearest pub…
To this day there are few things I find more satisfying than buying a new map, opening it and studying it for possibilities; new hikes to plan, new routes to discover.
And the RPG world is no different. There are some very clever people out there for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect regarding the superbly crafted maps they come up with. The website Cartographers’ Guild is a favourite haunt of mine when looking for mappy inspiration, and you only have to enter the terms “fantasy map” in Deviant Art to come up with some absolute masterpieces. In fact I joined the CG just to have download rights so that I can swipe maps for my own (personal) use.
One of my favourite formats, particularly for town and the like, is the cutaway. One of the best examples of this is Domigoron’s Town of Berem, which shows a delightful little seaside hill town. It’s half-way between map and sketch and gives me as a GM a real thrill and tons of ideas regarding how to implement it in an adventure.
When I’m buying scenarios or flipping through RPG magazines, it’s often the maps and the artwork that catch the eye rather than the story itself. But is it all necessary? I found myself needing to come up with a map recently for a wilderness adventure that I want to send my players on. I ended up throwing it together in 5 minutes using Google Docs. It has all the pertinent information (that the map needs), it’s clear and it’s fast. Minimalist. But it wouldn’t sell my scenario if I were to try to market it. At the end of the day, most of the maps that we see are little more than eye-candy for the GM that don’t even make it to the players, who get some poorly sketch-it-as-you-go version.
But I don’t want the mappy goodness to stop.