As I’ve been working through the backlog of Gamerstable podcasts, a recent episode on maps in gaming really got me thinking of their importance and impact on me. While I am definitely no cartographer, I think that, when given enough time, motivation, and printer ink, I can churn out some decent gaming maps. Not only do I try to make the maps aesthetically appealing, I definitely make a concentrated effort to provide a utilitarian tool for my players as well.
Now, when it comes to creating maps for my games, I tend to keep it a little old-school. While there have been a host of software aides released in my time as a gamer, the most well-known being ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer, I have neither opened up my wallet to purchase any programs, nor have I dedicated the time necessary to learn enough about Photoshop to produce a quality product. What I do have is a good imagination, some background in prop construction, and the good old internet! While I keep the small-scale stuff to graph paper and rulers, when it comes to capturing the feel of a setting or a larger locale, I like to flex my imaginative muscle.
While the early days of Monkey in the Cage’s gaming saw a host of AD&D 2nd Edition box sets grace our collective shelves, there were also a number of great maps produced along with them. The constant wear and tear of weekly use around the gaming table inspired me into my first creative mapping venture. We had a very short-lived gaming room in a decent sized shed behind Karen and Ramses’ first place, so I ponied up about $60 and a trip to Kinko’s to print out the largest sized map of Toril that I could. The end result was a huge 4′ x 6′ poster of the above map. Unfortunately, shortly after printing it, we lost use of our “gaming room,” and after 7 separate moves in a 10 year period, with stays in a storage unit as well, the giant poster map was finally laid to rest in the recycling can. However, by the time Eberron, was released, printable maps and a need for durability kicked my creativity into gear.
Shortly after Keith Baker’s Eberron was released by Wizards of the Coast in 2004, the Wizard’s website released six printable maps of the campaign world of Khorvaire. I printed the maps out, but six sheets of paper with white margins staring at me just didn’t feel right. So, drawing on my love of making treasure maps when I was a kid, I went to the local grocery store and stocked up on my version of “cartography supplies” – brown paper bags, glue sticks, matches, and a whole lot of packing tape. The process I used to create the Khorvaire Map was as follows:
- Cut away the margins on the printed map sheets and cut down the brown paper bags to use the broad, flat front and back panels.
- Using only the non-seamed panels, glue together enough along their edges to a size appropriate to the printed map panels. (I like to double up to give the map more thickness.)
- Line up the printed sheets and glue them brown paper backer. This is the tricky part, because images don’t always line up.
- Using the packing tape, lay strips along both the front and back of the map, keeping overlap to an absolute minimum, but ensuring that the entire map is covered.
- Trim off all excess tape along the edge of the map, then use matches or a lighter to CAREFULLY burn/melt the edges of the map (if desired).
- Finally, roll, fold, crinkle, and warp the map as much as possible to give it an aged appearance.
The other map I made using these techniques was for my steampunk Society of Odin game. Creating a map of Central London, from a period specific scan, proved far more challenging than the Khorvaire map, as the number of images jumped from 6 to 80, courtesy of MAPCO. I painstakingly printed, labelled, cut, and aligned all the pieces and ended with a behemoth about 75% larger than my first attempt, but I have been more than happy with the level of detail it provides.
Both maps ended up being both durable, dry-erase marker friendly, and waterproof. I’ve also found that laying the map out on the gaming table during the game help to keep the players engaged during the roleplaying, as there is a constant visual reminder of the campaign world. In the future, I’m hoping I can find enough time between sessions to create quality maps for the smaller stuff, but if I can’t, I’ll always have my pencils and graph paper!