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Posted By Phil Vecchione On May 16, 2011 @ 4:00 am In GMing Advice | 14 Comments
In my continuing Kwai Chang Caine-like quest to find Prep-Lite mastery, I stumbled upon another place in my session prep, that was consuming a lot of my time, and begged for some prep-lite love. This time, my prep-lite scalpel made an incision into one of the cornerstone elements of our hobby…the Map. When I was done, I had once again removed precious time from my session prep without sacrificing the important parts. So grab your walkin’ stick grasshopper, and let us journey once again on our quest to Prep-Light nirvana.
For those that have not been following along for the past few months, Prep-Lite is my current philosophy and techniques to reduce my time to prep a session, without crossing the border into total improvisation. You can follow that journey in the following articles: Prep-Lite Manifesto, Wireframes and Skins, Wireframe How To.
My entry into this Hobby was through Basic D&D and B2: Keep on The Borderlands, and I can still remember looking at the blue and white map on the inside cover with wide-eyed wonder. I have always enjoyed maps, though I have never been great at making my own. With the birth of PDF publishing, buying maps became a reality, and I spent some bucks on collecting maps to pull into games..
For some types of games, especially the Dungeon Crawl where the dungeon is a character of its own, the map is an essential component of the game. What I am going to talk about for the rest of the article, does not apply to games like that. .
For the rest of the games out there, maps are a nice-to-have visual aid for either the GM alone (to describe to the players), or to put out on the table between the GM and players. For the GM, the map gives you the spacial details for a location: the tomb, the altar, even the broom closet.
If you are making maps, then either you are creating your maps by hand or using software. The creation of maps can be time consuming, as you have to layout the location, and account for all the space, doors, windows, etc. For a small location like a convenience store, this may only take 10 minutes, but for a 100 room palace this can amount to considerable work.
If you are finding/purchasing maps online, then you are still spending time shopping for maps, and then reviewing them, and then spending time customizing them to your needs. That can be as time consuming as making your own maps.
In either case you are using some of your prep-time for mapping.
Looking at Maps with the Prep-Lite philosophy, some things become apparent. Maps can be decomposed to a few essential elements:
Now in all things Prep-Lite, we look for how we can keep the important elements and reduce or remove the rest. So we can break down a map into two parts…
The important parts of the map are the Interesting locations and their spacial relationships. To create the prep-lite map, start with the locations, treat each location as its own set piece. List out the important locations with single word or short phrase descriptions.
For a recent game of Corporation, I put this into use. The Agents were responsible for breaking a person out of an high-tech, underground detox clinic. In my prep I had identified 6 interesting areas for the site:
Next, apply the spacial relationships between each of the locations. Don’t force the locations to line up nicely to one another, or even to conform to a shape, but rather show how each location relates to another. This will show which areas can be reached directly and which require the players to travel through another location.
Going back to the Corporation map, the spacial relationship is shown below. Thus, from the reception area, the Agents would have to travel through the Medical Bay to reach any of the other rooms.
You now have a simple map which shows the relationships between the important areas. In your notes, try to keep your description of each room brief. Here are a few tips for what you might want to note:
Leave out the minor details about the room from your notes, allow this to be something you will ad lib during the session. Also, do not worry about exactly how the rooms are connected, that is something else that can be ad libbed as well: full of turns, with interior doors, wide, narrow, etc.
All that is left then are the Uninteresting locations. Now these locations, while uninteresting are not useless. They are present, they just do not need to be represented on the map in advance. In most cases these rooms will not be a factor in your game, but when you do need one consider them Schrödinger’s rooms; they can appear when defined. There are two situations where these rooms may come up:
The first way an unimportant room comes into play, is when the players ask if it exists. Once the player asks about a room you can decide if the room exists. I use two rules when deciding on the existence of the room:
Back to my Corporation example, as the players formulated their plan they asked me if there was a meeting room in the facility, because they wanted to meet their target in person before they considered breaking him out. There is not one on my map, but it sounded reasonable, so I added it to the map, right then.
In this case the players have opened a random door and entered the room. Perhaps they are being chased and are looking for a place to hide, or they are searching for something room by room. In this case you will need to come up with the contents of the room. You can take a few approaches:
Not every game needs a detailed map, in many cases just knowing how to get from one scene to the next is all you need. For those cases, employing the Prep-Lite mapping can speed up your session prep, and free up your valuable time.
Do you use full maps for your games, when they might not be needed? Have you ever tried to simplify your maps? What techniques have worked for you?
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