Saturday, January 15, 2011

Maps and the necessity (or lack thereof) for them

So have you mapped your world? Have you mapped your major cities? Parts of me want to scream, “YOU HAVE TO MAP!” But other parts of me keep thinking - but if I fill in all the spaces, then I can’t continue to be inventive. After all, once the space is all filled in, then I have to send the PCs somewhere else.
I love maps in fantasy fiction. My best set of Lord of the Rings has fold out maps attached to the back covers, so you can read the book and follow along on the maps. (Oh come on, I can’t be the only one with multiple sets. You don’t loan your hardcover boxed set to friends do you?) As a GM I have felt that I needed to lay out the skeletal structure of the world: continents, mountain ranges, major rivers, major cities. As long as these were fairly sparse, there was always a ton of space between them that I could fill with details later on. In fact, there were times when I’d look at what I had done and thought - what the heck was that all about? and then I’d have to come up with a reasonable answer that didn’t tear the political structure of that part of the world apart. Usually - that worked pretty good.
My real problem is with the cities. Rhum was mapped out down to the 10’ squares. Then I needed it to be bigger, so I changed the dimensions and mapped it out to 20’ squares. Then I needed it bigger again. Now, all the tax districts are mapped; most of the main neighborhoods are fleshed out in some way, but huge parts of the city are completely undrawn. The result? I haven’t run an urban adventure in Rhum since.
Forsbury is even worse. The map looks like a badly drawn circle with numbers indicating where the major landmarks are. Yep, only the major landmarks. Now I can BS whatever I need, but I know my consistency is 0. Six months ago, there was a tavern across the street from someone’s house, and this month there could be a laundry. As long as the players are as forgetful as I am, this works, but their multiple brains always seem to remember what I forgot, and then the whole illusion is shot. I hate that!
The obvious advice is to write down the nonsense that comes out of my mouth so I can remember it for the next time, but that never works. I can’t stop in mid-BS to jot down notes, and the unimportant parts have fled my brain by the time the session is over (typically because I’m pretty much going to sleep right after the game).
So I remain torn. On the one hand - stability, continuity, the illusion of a real world. On the other - infinite possibilities, though most of them are ill conceived because you had to make them up on the spot. I know there’s a happy medium, I just don’t know if I’ve figured it out yet.


  1. "Now I can BS whatever I need, but I know my consistency is 0. Six months ago, there was a tavern across the street from someone’s house, and this month there could be a laundry."

    Ah sir, allow me to expand upon your available store of dramaticisms...

    Players: "Hey, back in July you said that the Winking Virgin tavern as there? What's Sally's Washing doing there?"

    GM: "Do real cities remain unchanged forever? Clearly, while you and your band of misfits were trudging through the Symbian jungles to the south, the Winking Virgin either moved or closed and Sally's opened up in the vacant location. Did you expect the world to hold still like a painting while all of you advanced and changed over time? Bathe in the glory of my god-like omnipresence as I breath true life into every aspect of my world!" (ok, so maybe you can leave off a bit from the end there...)


    GM: "Whoops! You're right, I should have said that Sally's was next to the Winking Virgin."

    What continuity error? :-) Seriously though, you're the GM, the controller of the whole world. You innately have far more tricks at your disposal than any group of players. Who knows, perhaps the "mystery of the vanishing tavern" will be a cool subplot for 2-3 sessions? ;-)

    As for not wanting to stop play to take notes, I agree. However, there are notes and there are notes... I keep a notepad by my hand as I GM, on it I scribble misc things that come up in play, some of which are throwaway things like "thug, 56 HP, atk 4, weap 1d6+2", and others are destined to be added to my setting reference after the session such as "Winking Virgin Tavern, across street from PCs house, bartender, elderly woman, Sally". A single phrase or sentence isn't a big interruption in play, and it's enough so you can expand it afterwards with more detail for reference in a future session.

  2. An unfortunate exmple of my note taking - learn from my mistakes!: Bene 8/8 8/8
    Now I know Bene = Benelit, an NPC, but "8/8 8/8"? No clue