Dungeons & Dragons Online

Make simple, useful maps that your players can use all the time.

Content of the article: "Make simple, useful maps that your players can use all the time."

bottom line, up front: Think about simplifying your world map so that players can use them in your regular sessions.

It's common in RPG mapmaking to use a pseudo-medieval style because it's pretty, and because it's part of a tradition going back to Tolkien's maps of Middle-Earth. While the results are often extremely pretty, this approach dramatically cuts down on a map's utility to the players and is a huge missed opportunity for GMs to tell the players about how the world really works.

Let's talk about utility first. In 2020, players' eyes just aren't used to looking at medieval- and medieval-styled maps that look like they were drawn on parchment, and so it requires a lot of effort to adjust your eyes to look at it. If you ask your average New Yorker to find Broadway on Google Maps, or on a Wikipedia map, they'll be able to do it in a couple seconds. But if you ask them to do it on a map that uses the visual language of 300 years ago, it'll take a few minutes for that New Yorker to orient himself.

That brings me to my second point: a well-drawn, stripped-down map can be used to tell a lot of the story. For example, in the campaign I'm currently running, the kingdom is in the middle of a civil war. (The map of the campaign is here, if you want to look at it.) In the most heavily contested areas, there are destroyed castles and villages all over the place, and the rebel army (in red) has been driven into the interior of the country, with only one small port in a swamp still connecting it to the outside world. It's one thing for a GM to tell a party that they're going to help take over a tiny port which is critical to the war effort – it's quite another to show them visually why that tiny port matters.

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This matters, because it makes it easier for you to gives the players a reason to invest into the world you've created. As a GM, you've put a ton of effort into creating complex, living worlds. But it's practically a cliche at this point that players are going to ignore the copious in-universe lore, because it often has little bearing on what happens in-game. A good map is one way to counteract this apathy. But to do this, the map has to be stripped down to its essential elements.

A standard fantasy map like this is pretty, but it has so much detail that there's just too much for players to take in – so much so that the players aren't going to use it. But if you use something simpler, like the maps the U.S. Army has made to teach cadets about historical battles – you provide enough context that they players can look at the map and understand the situation without being confused by the mapmaker's desire to show off something pretty and useless.

Finally, as a practical matter, if you have simpler maps, it's easier for the GM to keep the map updated if you want to run multiple campaigns in the same universe. A straightforward base map allows me to adapt it as necessary for the needs of the campaign.

Source: reddit.com

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