Over a year ago I wrote about my sandbox game. The current map is even bigger than it was back then (download PDF). I thought about the maps I make for my players when Stuart Robertson asked on Twitter:
@RobertsonGames: What are the best DIY props or game accessories you’ve made for an RPG? @kensanata: Maps. Perfectly balanced regarding time required, beauty, and utility at the table. @RobertsonGames: But the players usually don’t see the maps – unless it’s a battlemat. @kensanata: Oh, my maps are made to be written upon: essentially black and white line art with enough whitespace.
So, talking about maps as props. No battlemaps, no dungeon levels. Nothing that gets drawn at the table. I’m talking stuff I prepared ahead of time and bring to the table for my players.
Often these are regional maps – maps that make players say “let’s go there!” The following example I’ve used for a campaign start in 2006:
The utility at the table is what I care about the most. I don’t like maps that are perfect pieces of art. Players cannot make them their own. They can’t scribble on them. In this example, the players are living in Grezneck, a goblin city I took from Rappan Athuk:
Even if I invest more time on a map, I will always keep a lot of empty space on it for players to add more stuff. And they will. The example below is a map I gave my players as treasure in one of the first encounters of Empire of the Ghouls:
In this example, the players were playing through The Conquest of Bloodsworn Vale and I gave them a map of the area after the first session. Players didn’t add too much stuff, but I did. As time passed more features got added, resources were found, encounters were marked, lairs looted – I kept adding to the map.
In addition to that, maps can work as treasure, providing background information for the players that like this kind of thing, and maps can work as adventure hooks. In this example, one of my players is a shadow elf looking for her ancestral home. There’s something about lizard men, underground cities, the Caves of Thracia and so on. And she got the following as a reward from a local sage and archaeologist: