Thursday, June 3, 2021

My Mapping Journey: Or, How to Moderately Screw It Up

(Still around! Not gone! Lots of running, and even some playing, just not much writing!)

I've been keeping abreast of the Angry GM's Open World posts, the latest of which takes a strong stance on prep time vs play time, namely that for each period of play, one should generally spend less than half that time prepping. That includes maps, which should be crude and utilitarian unless they're player-facing aids, and especially battlemaps, which you mostly don't need.

Which got me thinking about my own journey through mapping in games. 

The vast majority of time I've spent playing and running games has been in the last year and change, ie in the pandemic, and that means online play. In that time, I've used a different approach with nearly every campaign. In Castle Xyntillan, I had the players draw their own map with Mipui, with more than a little help from me to make to accurate to the original book.

Later when I got involved in some other campaigns, I started using Roll20. 

In my Icewind Dale campaign I've been using the official digital book, with most necessary maps already included. Those which aren't (some quite bafflingly absent) I stole from the subreddit. In my current Legend of the 5 Rings game, I'm mostly displaying a poster map of the Empire, and switching to a dojo battlemap which I draw on to represent various environments (it's all the dojo of life, you see). 

As a result, I spend almost no time mapping, and in the L5R game in particular I use theater of the mind almost exclusively. 

I bring all this up to contrast what not to do with mapping in Roll20, or any other VTT software. 

The first time I used Roll20, I was hooked into GMing on a 5e West Marches server, and told to make a quick intro adventure to get new players a first session.

Given very few constraints, I decided that I wanted to adapt a module instead of making up my own dungeon on the fly. I selected Raggi's Tower of the Stargazer, which I adore both on it's own merits and as a metal reference. 

Where was your star?
Was it far? Was it far? 

Given that I already had the module and its map, I figured this would be quick and easy, just need to replicate what's in front of me in digital form.

Pop quiz, hotshot. You're adapting a map into a VTT, you refuse to employ quality (that is, paid) assets, and you've literally never done this before. Do you;

A) Use simple shapes and outlines to show the basics of the space and leave the rest to description?

B) Screenshot the preexisting, beautifully detailed maps and size them properly in the VTT?

C) Do your damnedest to replicate every single piece of furniture, spending the better part of days just trying to find the right asset and routinely screwing up all the layers because you still have no idea how the system works. 

You can guess what I picked. The first two options didn't even occur to me, though looking back almost a year later they're both painfully obvious. 

I wound up running a single session of the Tower with a slapdash 5e retrofit, and afterwards spent my time on that server processing character submissions. 


I am perfectly content with my theater of the mind and pirated screenshots, thank you very much. 

All you boys, girls and sentient AI looking to get into online GMing, follow the Angry GM's advice here. If your prep time is taking anywhere near the expected amount of play time, let alone for a sub-component like mapping, something's wrong in your approach. 

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to comment below and follow the blog! Until next time, have an excellent week, and I hope to see you all here soon.

1 comment:

  1. Email the maps to your players so they can visualize things. You can even email when they enter a room, it doesn't have to be ahead of time. No need to use new tools when the old ones work just as well.