While gamers love traditional, dungeon-type maps, they are certainly not the only possible graphics options. Background images, area maps, and player handouts can enhance any gaming experience. Online virtual tabletops (VTT’s) make including these types of images easier than ever. And they won’t eat up a dime of printer ink. If you are not an online GM, you can still present these types of images to your players through a laptop screen or tablet. Here are some thoughts on each type of image and how they enhance play.
Remember Colorforms? A box of Colorforms gave you a background, clingy plastic people, props, and the opportunity to tell your own story (that last part sound familiar?) Background images in your game can do the same thing. You might use a long shot background image (say of a volcano or an island) to set the scene or the mood. Leave it up on the screen for roleplaying or other non-tactical encounters.
Close up images such as the dragon tomb entrance shown can be used for combat situations. They let players to see things a little closer to how we interact with the world every day. However, a GM will have to estimate distances, if that is needed for your game.
Area maps can be uploaded to a VTT and then expanded to whatever size you need. It offers a few advantages. Players can wander wherever they choose or the story leads them. This increases player choice (always a good thing). It can also serve as a combat map, if you blow up the map large enough. For example, it took me an hour or so to create the map shown below, and we got about 3-4 hours of play on it. Keep the area the map covers to a manageable level, though. If you try to cover an entire kingdom, you won’t be able to use it as a playmat.
Obviously these kind of maps are more suited to narrative style combat rather than gridded combat. However, you can easily include another map for any particular encounter. For example, you might want to create a small dungeon map if players wish to explore the hill on the right side of the map. It is only generally indicated.
Some VTT’s offer a spot to load player handouts. The GM may even be able to take control of the screen, and show these to the players at a particular moment. They will also be available to players at all times (even between sessions) for general reference. Here are some thoughts on things to include in that section.
- Area maps – Even if you are using an area map as your background, it may help players see the “big picture” if they can access the entire map at any time.
- Continental or world maps – These would be great to remind players where they have been in your world.
- Scrolls, letters, or transmissions – I played in a game where they GM read a long riddle-poem to us. It would have been nice to have that available as we searched for clues to its meaning. If desired, a GM can even make it look like old paper using a graphics program.
- House rules or important meta-game information – While not an image, we keep a chart of “Sessions to level up” in our handouts to remind everyone of where we are.
- Images of important NPC’s – Imagine a recurring villain’s image just sitting on the side of the screen, taunting players at each session. Also, imagine how satisfied they will feel the night that they finally defeat the villain and you remove his portrait.
What are your thoughts on non-traditional maps? What other kind of images might work as psuedo-maps? Share your thoughts below.