On Saturday, as prep for my game last night, I spent around 3 hours or so making a digital version of my interior maps of Moonspike Tower for use on Roll20. I don’t enjoy making digital maps for VTTs so this is the first time I have done it in well over a year. Last night, we totally failed to use the maps. They were unnecessary to the session. The players took their characters in a different direction.
This event reminded me of a couple of quotations from Brian Jamison’s “Gamemastering”. Here’s the first excerpt:
In my view, making maps is one of the biggest wastes of time in gamemastering. I used to spend hours making maps the players never viewed. Now I never make maps. Ever.Jamison, Gamemastering” (2011), page 132
When I first read this, I was stunned. He goes on to mention using a few tables, online searches, and good books. Later in the book, Jamison makes a distinction between “maps” and “floorplans”, making the recommendation that generic floorplans of buildings can be helpful.
But then the other excerpt is this:
When GMs spend a lot of time making and keying maps, they tend to stick rigidly to them. This encourages gamemastering on rails instead of the spontaneous action and flexibility that roleplaying demands.Jamison, Gamemastering” (2011), page 133
This one resonated with me last night: I was sorely tempted to push the party into Moonspike Tower because I had invested time in making those damn maps! I am pleased to report that I passed my Resistance Roll and refused that urge. Perhaps the party will never return there (because they recognise that they appear to be outmatched, plus it’s a creepy place) but that is ok. Except, of course, there’s a “sunk cost” of time and effort hanging out there. Oh, well.
I am coming around to the idea that Jamison might be wiser than I initially thought. The time investment of maps – especially for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy digitally rendering them – might not be as valuable as I believed.
I enjoyed making the Northern Isles regional maps by hand. It was good to render my ideas on to the page… but I haven’t used them (yet). The map of North Point was actually quite constrictive in play in the first session – and I worry about whether I have the distances right, the correct content and layout, and whether I am getting things “right” as I describe them. I tell myself the map helps me to be consistent, but I am not convinced this is true.
I have a sense of the places I am familiar with. When I look at a map, I have to remind myself that the map is not the territory. It’s a representation of the space and the relationships between things. In reality, it’s as meaningful for me to sketch locations in relation to each other using bubbles or circles with vague labels as it is to make an accurate map. In my head, I know what’s in each part of town and it’s not terribly important exactly how many yards lie between one point and another.
So here I am, rethinking spending time making maps. I realise that I hate making maps for the VTT. I am not interested in detailed battle maps in a digital space, nor even really at the tabletop face-to-face. What I want to do is invoke a sense of place. You don’t need a map to achieve that.