Paizo continues to get my money, despite all my efforts to resist them.
And they deserve it, because they put out some great stuff.
In part 2 of this topic, I mentioned the value of pictures to communicate an impression and image of a Non-Player Character to your players. Naturally, the same holds true when dealing with description.
You can be an amazing wordsmith, and you can have an impeccable delivery, but my experience is that your players hear “words words words wall of text still more words CASTLE with words words blah blah Baron von Guy-we’re-gonna-kill okay enough already let’s move on.”
Description problems get compounded when combat ensues.
“I fire my Thundertusk Boar-Strike at the goblin.”
“You can’t see the goblin. He’s out of line of sight because he’s in the hall around the corner.”
“You failed to mention that, DM.”
“I mentioned it while you were checking Facebook and laughing at a LOLcat.”
And this is why many games use maps. Good use of a map of some kind will get everyone seeing roughly the same thing in the portions of the game where that matters. It quickly answers questions like “Can I target that guy?” and the natural follow-up, “Can I hit that guy with an arrow/a fireball/the wild dog I’m holding by the throat?”
Because that happens more than I would have guessed.
(Maybe I should choose my players differently.)
Different games use different combat systems, of course. Different groups of players are going to employ combat rules in their own unique ways. So some folks may not even need a map. I’ve heard arguments that in some games, combat — at least the storytelling aspect of it — is enhanced by not having a map.
But I don’t have supreme confidence in my descriptive storytelling or in the attention span of players. And as much as possible, I want them to see the world as I see it in my head.
An easy method that requires very little artistic talent is the plain hexagonal or square grid roll-up playmat. Get wet-erase markers, draw lines for walls and add a few simple features, BAM! Instant dungeon.
But for some of us, this might not cut it.
So there’s the option of tiles. Wizards of the Coast has put out a whole mess of these sets, with punch-out cardboard map pieces you can mix and match to create any number of settings. They’re generally pretty easy on the eyes, but can be painful to the wallet if you want a good variety.
And my experience has been that I spend more time in preparation looking through a bag or drawer of tile pieces trying to find parts that are “just right,” and then I spend too long during the gaming session trying to recreate the map that I made before.
I don’t want to put together a puzzle in front of my friends, and they don’t want to watch me. They want to own monsters with nat 20s.
I need something faster.
Eevil Paizo strikes again.
How about maps I can just lay down and run with? (To be fair, Wizards also puts out similar products, and I’m sure there are smaller companies doing it too.)
Need urban combat in a city? Who wants to draw every individual building? And if you’re rushing, be honest: all your buildings will end up as little featureless squares. So why not unfold one of these City Streets flip-mats?
Maybe you need more detail. Maybe you’ve got your players clearing out an enemy force by going building-to-building. You can pick up the Shops Map Pack and have interior maps for every building on that flip-mat, including upstairs and downstairs in most cases. Now you have the element of surprise, too. The players only see into buildings as they get inside them–you lay down the individual building map as needed. So you get something like this:
Of course, this plan costs a pretty penny. Or about 2,500 of them. Plus tax. Plus getting to your local game store and hoping they have it, or getting it through the store in the links above… which probably means shipping and handling, too.
If you want to spend the money but don’t have a conveniently located game store–you can get Paizo’s eevil map subscription plan, which gets you each new map and pack as they come out (charged to your credit card at the time, of course). The advantage is that you also get access to a free .pdf of the map or map-pack, in case you want to print your own.
Printing your own… hey, there’s an option! Maybe I don’t want $25 a month going to random map packs I may or may not actually use. What’s stopping me from printing off a map for cheap?
In fact, using that limited artistic talent again, you can print off sheets of 1×1 grid, and then draw whatever you want on them. Like I said, I spend time looking for the “just right” tiles or maps, time I could be spending on any number of other things.
Quality suffers a bit, of course. It’s not shaded and colorful and pretty. But a quick-drawn map on a sheet of paper or two serves the intended purpose, providing a graphic representation of where all players are in combat, so that your players can develop and execute strategies to kill things and take their stuff.
It all depends on the needs of your group and the needs of your budget.
Heck, if tiles and measuring range and all of that are unnecessary in your system or your group’s playstyle, just sketch out the setting like a football play.
The pic isn’t great, but you can jot down names of PCs and monsters on the page, plus add a little bit of setting detail.
(This is meant to show a couple trees for cover and a line for the trail through the scene).
I threw in lines to show movement and red lines to show ranged attacks, with red circles for the blast radius of spells.
Is this high-quality? No.
Does it work? Possibly.
Does it cost money? About two bucks for paper and a pen. If you’re doing any traditional tabletop RPG, you probably have plenty of both right at your fingertips.
As always, find out what works for your group and what saves you the most time and money, then run with it and have a blast.
For the sake of brevity (relatively speaking), I’m not even going to get into stuff like 3D terrain pieces or the crazy craftsmanship (warning: language) that can go into setting up a particular encounter. That Penny Arcade link just shows some pictures of the ridiculous extent they went to in creating a setting for one session. If you can find the articles where they explain the game mechanics of those settings, it is mind-blowing.
Anyway, you can do that. You can literally create worlds for your players to explore.
And you probably ought to, if you are able. But for most of us, that just doesn’t happen, because life.
Speaking of relevant things that distract from life…
I’ll just leave this roll20 link here. Welcome to the future.