As you may have noticed, I really like to use visuals in my games and aside from the 3D terrain (which is great!), I love great-looking colour maps, particularly battle maps (maps with the 1″ squares marked out.)
It’s not that I’m a big wargamer or D&D 4e aficionado. I’m not stuck to the grid, but it helps me and my players figure out distances easily. I’ve tried the theatre of the mind and even the abstracted distance game systems and they work to a point, but then misunderstandings and confusion keep creeping in. It also gives players an idea of how to use their environment in a way that a blank grid marked out showing the room doesn’t allow. It’s also a great visual for players to get a sense of where they are.
For already printed maps, I like the Paizo Flip-Mats and Map Packs and the D&D Map Tile sets (now out of print sadly), as well as many of the combat maps from D&D adventures.
Generally, I am looking for maps that fit into two categories – ones that are generic enough that I’ll be able to use them for a variety of game sessions and then ones that fit a specific setting that I would like to run in the future.
There are a handful of maps that I haven’t seen yet done to my satisfaction, but I keep hoping to see them one day, here is my wish list:
1. A Modern Passenger Jet – Something like a Boeing 787 and/or a Bombardier CRJ100 would be great for any modern game, allowing some serious action on board. Maybe even some snakes? It’s a staple of hijacker films. I realize there’s a black and white one available through Fabled Environments, but it’s black and white and the scale, although probably accurate isn’t great for games. I’ve found that about 1:43 works best for vehicles compared to minis. A little bigger would make a bigger map, but also a better play space for a game. Sometimes reality needs to be bent a little to accommodate effective game play.
2. A Mad Scientist’s Laboratory – There is this one by Encompass, which is colour and map tiles, but it’s fantasy (ruined castle above). If I’m having a mad scientist, it’ll likely be in a modern/western game and it could be under a castle (I’m good with that) or a house, but not ruins and it won’t be an alchemist’s lab. Ideally, it should be drawn heavily from the Frankenstein movies.
3. A 1930’s Carnival – There is this one by Dramascape, which I really like and own, but it’s too clean and orderly for a creepy 1930s carnival. I’m looking for the kind that evokes the setting of Something Wicked This Way Comes or the TV series Carnivale that I’d love to bring to a game (or several games!). Ideally, it would be a series of set-pieces that could be combined in different configurations including a fortune teller’s booth, a freak show, a merry-go-round, carnie wagons and anything else weird you can think of. Preferably with a Fall backdrop (leaves on the ground, crumpled papers, etc.), since the creepiest carnival always comes to town in the fall.
4. Disneyland – Okay, not specifically Disneyland, but a modern (1980s or later) amusement/theme park complete with rides, walkways, restaurants, etc. It would be a huge map, but what a great setting for a sandbox spy thriller! Maybe an overview map and close-ups of the actual attractions (it would have to include employee only hallways and rooms)? I’ll admit that this is so that I can run a twisted version of Wacko World (Dragon Magazine #79 – Google it!) using Night’s Black Agents, but you have to admit it has a certain appeal.
5. A Cruise Ship – Not some little dinky one, but a full-sized cruise ship. Again, it would be huge maps, perhaps broken down into main sections like the amusement park, but any gamer who has taken a cruise will have to admit they have wanted to run a game set on one. It’s again an ideal sandbox environment and ripe for so many modern games, I can’t even begin to list them.
6. Complete Hotel – Christian Hollnbuchner has this lobby and rooms, which are okay, but I’d love something a little more 1920s/30s and grander, fancier. For the rooms, we also need a set of smaller ones (standard rooms) with a hallway, preferably rooms on either side of the hallway ending in an elevator and stairs. Then, we need the penthouse suite with elevator and finally the basement with laundry/back exit and the rooftop. That would be a complete hotel, again allowing a wide range of activity throughout the place. Again, a bunch of separate maps added together would work well. Something out of The Shining would be awesome!
That’s all I can think of for now. My wish list is all modern since most maps created are for fantasy games, so pretty much anything I could want in a fantasy game is already covered (please stop creating tavern maps, it’s been done to death!). I’ve also seen most wild west locations covered off, same with those for my pirate games. Sci fi is another setting which has a surplus of maps. So, the modern era is one that’s really lacking and which you could break some ground in.
My best advice to map makers is to watch the best action movies in the genre you’re making maps of and take note of the places where the coolest fights go down and make maps of those places. Make your map distinctive and highly attractive, but avoid details that tie the map entirely to one scenario (like the mines in this map) or if you do, make it an overlay that can be selected as an option. If you can, work in overlays that include objects or details that could be used in a fight.
Finally, the more the map looks like something out of Autocad, the less I’m interested in it. Conversely, the more it looks like a real part of the world, the more likely I’ll go for it even if it’s not entirely right. For example, Lord Zsezse Work’s maps are all so beautiful and fantastic that I’ve reused many of them multiple times in different settings just because they’re so gorgeous.