Skipheath Fort, and nice things about lazy maps

Skipheath fort and vicinityI made this for a D&D-by-Skype campaign I am running with my friend Matt Benoit. It’s supposed to be about 3 miles on a side, with the buildings not to scale (Leviathan Ruin, on the other hand, IS to scale). I made it using Zak Smith’s method of grabbing interesting-looking images and just dropping game stuff on them as needed (see here and here for examples, go here for a how-to, and for more picture-based adventure generation, see this and this). Most of the names are from the popular random generators page at Abulafia.

Why do maps this way, instead of just drawing them? I can think of at least four reasons, which I list here in order from least important to most:

1. It’s faster this way. I call this “lazy maps” because the generation process is so simple, but actually I think they more useful than anything I could have drawn myself. If that doesn’t make any sense, just read on.

2. That satellite-photo-based map up there looks about a zillion times better than anything I could draw. It lends versimilitude to the campaign. That’s fairly trivial, though–when we ran this, I ended up using several sub-maps that I drew by hand as the session went on. I didn’t have those prepped in advance because:

3. Something like this allows for emergent play, because it includes all kinds of details that I would not have thought of. When I started making this map, all I knew was that there would be a road that came to an end, a fort near the end of the road, a village, and someplace creepy nearby. All of the other labelled features on the map grew out of the map-making process. When we actually played, not all of the labelled features turned out to be important (not important yet, anyway), and several other unlabelled features ended up being critical, because players go where you don’t expect (assuming you’re doing a good job of GMing and not just railroading them where you or some dumb module writer decided they ought to go).

4. Most importantly, and a refinement or concentration of the previous idea: when you give players lots of gritty details like that map contains, you give them ways to use the gameworld against itself. A world of detail is a world of choice. Players don’t just go places you didn’t expect, they do things no-one could have predicted with the things they find there. In last night’s game, we trailed a bad guy into a forest. Not because I had planned in advance that he would go there or that the forest would even be there, but because the map suggested it during play (the previous point). Night fell while we were in the woods, and Matt’s character proposed gathering dry leaves and sticks around the campsite to make a low-tech alarm for our sentries. That kind of desperate ingenuity using the gritty details of the gameworld to do suprising things is, for me, a lot of the draw of playing roleplaying games in the first place.

So, yeah, lazy maps. I will be posting them from time to time. And I still need to do a post on where the Hoth map  came from. Stay tuned.

This entry was posted in D&D, homebrew, maps, roleplaying. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Skipheath Fort, and nice things about lazy maps

  1. Pingback: GMing with a tablet | Echo Station 5-7

  2. Nils says:

    Forgive me if i oversee something. But you never told us where the Hoth map came from 😉 Personally, i think these map is absolutly awesome and i’m very interested how you do this because for me, maps (and pictures generally) are very important to support a roleplay session and the understanding how a scenery looks and give players a feeling for the characters surrounding area.

  3. Matt Wedel says:

    Erp, yeah, I never did do the ‘reveal’ post. I’ll do it soon–promise.

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