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Author Topic: Maps: Necessary or Superfluous?  (Read 3268 times)
M. J. Young
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« on: March 06, 2003, 10:23:02 PM »

In the http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=5467">Real Color thread,
Quote from: Sylus Thane
(if you design a game, especially fantasy, make sure you include a good easily copied map)

I've done a lot of fantasy settings, and rarely if ever included a map; but I never felt as if I needed one if it wasn't there. My work has gotten good and bad reviews, but I don't remember anyone saying in a review that it needed to have a map.

NagaWorld has got to be a fantasy setting. Its primary function is to be so unlike anything in this universe that a character would be forced to recognize that he's not in Kansas anymore. It has distinct landmarks. It does not have a map. Rather, we describe in the text the geographical relationships between the major locations, the flavor of each area, and the major features of which the referee should be aware.  If it's fifty miles from Michael's Foxhole to the Glass City, and the only thing you'll see on the way that isn't the creatures (who obviously move) is a pair of wheel ruts that run half the distance and end, do you really need a map to show you all that flat space?

Bah Ke'gehn has even less "geographic detail".  It has a very simple concept: this place looks like everything you expect hell to be, complete with endless flat plane of fire, wandering groups of demon-like creatures, and dark obsidian stone pillars spaced seemingly at random; but the reality and the appearance are completely at odds with each other. We are told in the text that "somewhere" there is a colony of humans living in a carved cave in the base of one of the pillars, a sort of college for a group of the native creatures who don't accept the status quo, and a lone rebel who would be a particular sort of problem for the player characters if they got involved with him. Where these things are doesn't matter. What matters is whether the players are going to get involved with them.

The Dancing Princess is the telling of a fairy tale. There are two "worlds" in it, the medieval kingdom in which the king wants someone to find out what's happening to his daughters and the realm of the demons who are charming them in an effort to win their hearts and take over the kingdom by right of marriage. There are a few descriptions of where things are, how they relate--but there's not enough variety to matter. Besides, one of the principles of running it is expressed early in the game, when the referee is told to ask the player which way his character is headed, and then decide that that's the direction to the city.

I was wondering as I wrote this whether I was really weird or something; but then I remembered that there was a big flap a couple years back when Seth Ben-Ezra mentioned that Legends of Alyria wasn't going to have a map. At that time I wrote something on the official Alyria forum to the effect that it didn't need a map because the game wasn't about where things were about about what they were and how they related to each other, so the referee would just put them where they needed to be to make the story work. If in this story it works best for the Ark to be five day's journey from the Citadel, that's how far it is; if in the next story it works best if one is on the hill a mile above the other, that's where it is.

These all sound like fantasy settings to me. Granted, only The Dancing Princess is at all "traditional" in its fantasy (and that's an extremely limited world). Am I crazy to think that maps aren't necessary for interesting fantasy worlds?

--M. J. Young
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contracycle
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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2003, 01:12:08 AM »

I would agree with the position that they are not NECESSARY, but I like 'em anyway ands always enjoy a good map.  If only for colour.
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James Holloway
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« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2003, 06:10:38 AM »

Like all props, the use of maps depends on the effect you want to achieve. Some people don't feel that they need 'em to achieve whatever effect; I don't think they're necessary for play. I use them in some games and not others.

But Sylus's remark was about the inclusion of maps in games, specifically fantasy games. Maps in fantasy fiction have a long and venerable tradition. Many modern fantasy novels have maps, and of course the Hobbit and LotR have famous maps. So if enough players of fantasy games like and want maps that they'll be ticked if they don't get them, then maybe it is necessary -- or at least a Very Good Idea -- to include maps in published games.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2003, 08:52:18 AM »

I have noted that many, many roleplayers "need" certain items. They don't really need them, but they want them anyway. It's kind of like your friend who must have a box of popcorn and some swedish fish to watch a movie. You know who I'm talking about. It may even be you. The popcorn and the fish are neither here nor there when it comes to actually enjoying the movie. If they're going to see Lord of the Rings or Dungeons & Dragons their enjoyment of the movie will depend of which movie they are seeing more than whether or not they have their snacks or not. But it's not quite like that. No matter how quirky this guy is, I am certain that he completely understands that the quality of the movie is not hinged on the presence of the snacks although he may say it's "not the same." Many roleplayers, on the other hand, don't seem to understand this. In certain cases, anyway. I think this stems directly from a certain amount of "we have no idea what we are doing or how to do it" that is part of the culture of roleplaying. In the case of maps, for example, the players are attempting to emulate the fantasy genre, so they look at Conan, Lord of the Rings, Elric, Xanth, etc.* Many of these novels and series have maps. Therefore, their fantasy game must have a map.

I'm not saying that an RPG will never need a map. Just that many roleplayers tend to believe that they do need one, even when this is not the case. Like know how much damage a weapon does or how many hit points a character has in an RPG based on the Oz books.



* Note that they are trying to emulate all fantasy, not any particular sub-genre (high, heroic, low, etc) This is what has led to the creation of D&D fantasy.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2003, 08:59:36 AM »

Maps rock!

Neccessary? No.

Did I mention that maps rock!

Mike "off to find a box of Snowcaps" Holmes
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2003, 09:43:21 AM »

There's a world of difference (so to speak) between a map that exists prior to play and one created through play. Can't most players who "need" maps -- as well as GMs who need geographical flexibility -- be satisfied with the latter kind?

And I sympathize with Mike's complaint that maps rock. This rocking can cause all the little unit counters to slide around, which is very annoying. Most of the time, a steam iron can be used to correct the warpage.

- Walt
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Sylus Thane
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« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2003, 10:08:38 AM »

Wow! I spawned a thread! Cool!

Personally I just brought up maps as props, but in a way I do feel that they can be very necessary, but aren't required. But to answer the esteemed Mr. Freitag.

Quote
There's a world of difference (so to speak) between a map that exists prior to play and one created through play. Can't most players who "need" maps -- as well as GMs who need geographical flexibility -- be satisfied with the latter kind?


Personnally I think you get the best results when combining the two options. The ready made map for the GM to use as a reference and then the group map made by the players based off the info from the GM. In this way the GM can drift things around a little to fit the way he needs things to, such as distances between things, as was exampled above. Or follow the map to the letter with important player info added in. As I mentioned in the Real Color thread this is why I use two copies of the original so that I have one for me to mark super secret sneaky stuff on and one for players to mark their progress and important events.

Overall I do agree with everyone that makes can be a necessary prop depending on the players involved, but I also feel that maps in general do not get the attention they deserve as a prop that can provide great visuals for a game and players alike.

Sylus

RPGM.A.P. (RPG Map Advocacy President)
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2003, 11:03:24 AM »

Yeah, Sylus has some good points there.

Map pre-play, map during-play... either has different effects. The pre-play thing is cool for some Sim Immersionist types. The during play thing will appeal to some who like to create.

Pick an option to suit your mood.

Mike
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clehrich
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« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2003, 12:09:41 PM »

I love maps, but I do think they're often underused in RPGs.  Apart from the classic dungeon-crawl map-as-you-go routine, maps are generally used passively: where's that thing?  oh, it's over there, ok.

When I've run my freaked-out Jack the Ripper occult game (now revised as http://www.auroragames.com" target="blank">Shadows in the Fog), I made a lot of use of late Victorian maps, particularly Booth's Map of London Poverty.  There are two points I'd make here, that seem to me relevant for other RPGs.

1. Most fantasy-type maps simply lay out geography, with some stylistic tweaks to make them fit the genre (sci-fi maps look "futuristic," while fantasy maps look drawn on parchment, etc.).  They do not provide much in the way of additional data, such as economic information.  If you had a map of Lankhmar, for example, that showed land values or incomes or something like, you'd see immediately which neighborhoods and regions were the tough, poor ones, and which the rich, fancy ones.  And you'd also see the way these are jammed hugger-mugger against one another, which would immediately help you imagine Lankhmar.  All you have to do is decide on some gradeable factor, such as economic value or whatever, and then lightly shade areas of the map in an appropriate color scheme.  This also makes your map colorful, incidentally.  To see a nifty example of this, check out Booth's maps http://booth.lse.ac.uk/" target="blank">right here.

2. Maps can be used actively if location has meaning.  What I mean is, to the extent that location is merely distance from other locations, it has no meaning of its own.  But to the extent that the locals consider location to have some other form of meaning, a map can represent something more than "just" a map.  In my Jack the Ripper campaign, I mounted the maps on a big corkboard, and put in push-pins for everything.  I then made sure that everything fit a kind of predetermined geography, such that when the PCs discovered the "key" locations, it suddenly became clear that each such key was for some reason the very heart of the weirdness and violence.  Furthermore, all these many objects lined up to form an Eye of Horus in London's East End.  So in that campaign, active map-use actually turned out to generate essential information in a cool, occult sort of way.  Incidentally, there is a rather hard to see copy of this on John Kim's RPG page, http://www.darkshire.org/~jhkim/rpg/ripper/hawksmoor/londonmap.html" target="blank">here.

My point is just that if you're going to use maps, and especially if the group likes such props, you can really capitalize on them by making them mean something more than people usually expect.
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Chris Lehrich
Airshipjones
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« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2003, 03:23:16 PM »

I had a very detailed map of a continent which had a great deal of importance in a campaign.  Looking at it or talking about it caused the character to develop a splitting headache.  The reason is that dark forces were trying to split the continent in two.  The map was old enough that it showed things significantly different than they were at the time of the campaign.  A useful clue, an important item in a stuggle accross at least three dimensions, with divine powers indirectly jockeying for influence.  And the map was the only direct information anyone had of what was going on.  The characters took the longest time to figure it out.  They made jokes about the effect (the headaches), even baiting new characters into saying/doing things they knew would induce the curse of the map.  It was humorous and grim at the same time.  And it gave the map a significance beyond just names and places on paper.
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simon_hibbs
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« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2003, 07:56:39 AM »

I agree maps are generaly optional, but whether or not they are usefull or near vital depends on what the PCs are trying to do. If they are involved in a tactical or strategic conflict involving multiple locations, then maps of some kind are indispensible.

If your thesis is that ti's possible to create roleplaying situations that don't need maps, then I think that's a non-controversial. If you're saying that maps are never very usefull, I think that's a very tough argument to make.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
M. J. Young
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« Reply #11 on: March 10, 2003, 03:30:00 PM »

In response to Simon Hibbs:

I agree that the more critical the physical relationships between objects and areas are to the play of the game the more useful a map becomes until it nears essential (nears essential--I know people who play chess in their head, so I can imagine a group playing tactical warfare games entirely by description and memory with a few notes that don't include maps).

I merely claim that not all games involve such information at that level of import. The cited post had suggested that all fantasy worlds should include a good and easily copied map. I suggested that maps are not essential to all such worlds, and gave examples of worlds in which they were not.

Perhaps the question is whether a published game world can be without a map, particularly if it's a fantasy world (i.e., not an alternate earth). I still say it can.

--M. J. Young
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