Archive for April 22nd, 2010


Cartography to Conjure By pt. 2: Beneath the Chateau

As a follow-up to Eric’s post about the beauty of player maps, I present some maps by myself (grotty pencil) and Maldoor (beautiful GIMP):

The first level beneath the Chateau d'Amberville

One level further down, connected by the curving stairs in the SW of the L1 map

An outbuilding of the main Chateau, suspected but never proven to connect with its dungeon

The map of the aboveground castle in Eric’s previous post was my hand-drawn copy of Eric’s GM map. Here, I started with a player map hand-drawn during a session I wasn’t able to attend, copied it over into my own sheet of graph paper, added notes about what was encountered in that session, and then drew in new rooms and comments as we explored.

The room on Level 2 had a three-dimensional geometry which proved difficult for us to understand and especially for me to map:

ERIC: Let me see what you’ve got there. (Shakes head) Do you just want me to draw it in for you?

ME: Yes, please.

ERIC: (erasing) How did you get it over here?

ME: I think I confused east and west.

ERIC: You’re not a very good mapper.

ME: That’s true, I just like drawing them.

Although it’s frustrating when my maps are inaccurate due to my miserable spatial sense (which frequently includes an  inability to tell left from right), I think map-making has several benefits:

  1. The act of making the map causes you to think about how things connect. For example, when we retreated from the termites, I was able to run to the east and be confident I could link up with those fleeing to the south even without consulting my map (as my PC would be too busy to do), because having just drawn those rooms made their layout clear in my mind.
  2. Likewise, it leads you to think about what might lie beyond the edges of the map. Sketching out the double-wide corridors led us to theorize these were main hallways and more likely to take us somewhere interesting than the narrower ones we thought were originally built for servants to use.
  3. Unlike swinging a sword, making a map is an action you can perform in real life just as your character is doing in the fiction. This creates a satisfying sense of the difficulties involved in map-making, and causes you to value maps all the more. For example, copying out the previous player map made me appreciate the effort involved in making sure that the hard-won knowledge of the dungeon layout doesn’t perish when one cartographer falls into a pool of acid along with the sole copy of the map. And when my previous PC mapped some of the watchtower dungeon, he didn’t own any parchment and I didn’t have graph paper, so I had him carve lines and notches in his shield and tried to draw what that would look like on my character sheet. The result was versimilitudinous and surprisingly useful for navigation, but much less nice looking than Maldoor’s.  Our experiments with mapping structures in NYC in real time also suggest that even with parchment in hand, our PCs are doing a similar thing – jotting down paces counted and directions taken or not, and only compiling this into a drawn-out map readable by others.

as it was in Grand Motholam

A partial list of game design consequences which arise from Vancian casting:

  1. Refers to Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, never a bad thing.
  2. Introduces a pacing mechanic: oops, time to retreat I’m out of juice.
  3. Introduces suspense: did I pick the right spells?
  4. Allows new ways to measure skillful play based on how well you manage the gamble of spell selection.
  5. Rewards gathering information to make wise spell choices.
  6. Encourages repeated delves to improve casters’ efficiency.
  7. Creates a market for more reliable classes, and thus an adventuring party, to hedge against bad spell selection.
  8. Implies a very mundane (board-gamey?) aesthetic: magic is a commodity like torches, food, and arrows.

Naturally other magic systems might be better at these same goals, or achieve different goals entirely.  But the existing system is pretty far-reaching in its effect on the game.

Past Adventures of the Mule

April 2010

RPG Bloggers Network

RPG Bloggers Network

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog & get email notification of updates.

Join 1,054 other followers