Less Map, More Play

 Posted by on October 3, 2016  Filed as: Better Gameplay?  Add comments  Topic(s):
Oct 032016

huge-mapMapping out your campaign world and key locations can be a hassle, and that battle map that took hours to plot out might never get revisited.  Simpler maps work fine, are fast to make and get the creativity and improvisation juices flowing.  I’ll show you a few simple methods that will get you going in no time…

The Silver Bullet

Often, a few bullet points are all you need.  Let’s build a sample encounter filled with korreds from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 2.  These grumpy kilt wearing fey can entangle their foes with their voluminous beards, and like long walks in rocky forest glades.  A small settlement might look something like this:

  • Forest with rocky ground
  • Stone circle
  • 1 large burrow
  • 1 small burrow
  • Freshwater spring

Let’s add in some detail and note important mechanics, then we’ll be ready to play:

  • Forest with rocky ground (difficult terrain; trees make ranged combat difficult: –2 to hit)
  • Stone circle (1 satyr and 3 korreds; powerful spells: increase DC of spells by +2; 50 foot diameter)
  • 1 large burrow (+1 short sword hidden under sleeping mat)
  • 1 small burrow (1 sleeping korred)
  • Freshwater spring (1 korred sentry)

This is all we need, but also helps us identify anything we might want a battle map for.  In this case, we can see that the stone circle is important, so, depending on your play style, you might decide to haul out some tiles or the sketch paper.

The one thing with bullet points is that we don’t know where the burrows are in relation to the spring or the stone circle, and this could be important if the PCs are sneaking onto the korred’s turf to find that rumored magical sword.

Mind the Maps

A mind map is a bunch of nodes — our bullet points — connected with lines.  Simple, really.  Here’s how it looks when we draw out our korred camp:


Notice the lines connecting the stone circle and the burrows.  Now we know that the PCs must visit the stone circle before they can get into either burrow.  There’s also an arrow from the large burrow to the small one — a one way tunnel.

We’ve also added more detail, with the PC’s camp and the korred village both nested within the forest.  You could use this technique to easily map out your campaign world — The Shire, Mordor and the Prancing Pony are all “circles” within Middle Earth, for example.

As the Cards Fall

Index cards are another useful way to map out an area.  They work well with miniatures and the re-usability is an aspect I really love.

Write up each of your bullet points on separate index cards, adding in only the detail you want players to know.  During play, lay out cards in front of the players as they discover each new area, laying them down to show the location’s relative position to other areas.  BOOM — a perfectly serviceable map.  Miniatures on cards are a handy way to remember who is where.

With index cards, more is happening in the mind — players are less focused on the details of a complicated map — and they still have something tangible to guide their actions.

How about you?  How does your group run things?  Leave a comment and let us know.

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Rodney Sloan

Rodney Sloan has been writing adventures for the South African convention scene since 2009, for such systems as Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, 4th Edition and Pathfinder. He gained notoriety for creating Dr Frank and his flesh golum, Stein, who took an entire army of LARPers to put down. By day he enjoys rock star status as a teacher of English in several Japanese high schools. You can read more on his blog over at Rising Phoenix Games.

  2 Responses to “Less Map, More Play”

  1. I’m a fan of the mind map. We’ve been using it (or a version similar) for the better part of a year and it has been going great

  2. Here’s a great example of what I talked about in this article:
    (Check out the video at the bottom of the page.)

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