M is for Maps

DeathStar_plansUsing vivid language to engage your audience in the theater of the mind can be an exquisite journey using the beauty of prose. However, ethereal descriptions can easily lend themselves to confusing and conflicting information when shared among your roleplaying gaming group. Mapping a scene in your roleplaying game can take an unwieldy, cumbersome narrative and provide a definitive view that is instantly grasped by all interested parties. As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words.

The two most important goals of your own maps should be to provide both spatial relationships in the scene and to open up interesting decision points for the Crew. Your map does not have to be a work of art. In fact, oftentimes a less detailed map with purposeful vagaries will prove to be more beneficial as the unknown, nebulous details can be filled in on-the-fly to align with the imaginations and expectations of the Crew.  Clarity and purpose are the driving forces here. When drawing your maps, ask yourself,

“What pieces are involved here? Where are the decision points? What parts of this environment can be used in creative ways? How does this space relate to the other regions in this Heist?”

Exploration is fun. A fundamental part of human experience is to have a spark of curiosity and a drive to explore the unknown. When possible, add in a few tricks or mysteries onto your maps, such as a substitution cipher or other puzzle. Solving these puzzles should always net the Crew a small reward, often in the form of greater knowledge or understanding about the map’s environment itself.

Map - Typical Star System

The map above is one created to represent a typical star system in the Star Wars universe. It clearly shows the spatial relationships of the celestial bodies and various astronomical phenomena (plants, comet, nebula cloud, binary star) in the area. It also offers a very simple coded message describing those phenomena in general terms. Examining this map, the Crew immediately grasp various decisions that they must make: Where to jump into? Where is our target? Are there any interesting planets? Etc. All this is done with a bare-bones, minimal effort on the part of the Galaxy Master; who aims to work smarter, not harder.

This next map shows the general arrangement between areas in the drive section of a Nebulon-B Escort Frigate. Exact size and dimensions are meaningless and unimportant; what matters are the relationships between the spaces and how they interact with each other. We see that the overall size of each deck shrinks the further down one goes. There are a few interesting connections here, Room #2 spans both Level 4 and Level 5, for example, leading one to wonder what kinds of reasons might we have in having such a vertical space. Is this a shortcut? A hiding place? And what’s with the dotted line on Level 2?

These kinds of questions whet the Crew’s appetite for exploration and insatiable curiosity. Listen to their discussions and take a cue on the actual design by what you hear your Crew talk about.

Map - Escort Frigate

Now that you have a sense of purpose behind your maps, what then shall you map? Provided below for the Edge of the Empire Alphabet is a starting list of randomized interesting rooms found during any given heist and practically begging to be explored. During this week and moving beyond even that, Triumph & Despair will be showing off a few examples of easy-to-make maps to get your imagination jump started.

  1. Bridge (Command Center)
  2. Security Command
  3. Brig/Prison
  4. Armory
  5. Medical Bay
  6. Communications
  7. Briefing Room
  8. War Room
  9. Fitness
  10. Cantina
  11. Officer Quarters
  12. Galley
  13. Storage Hold
  14. Crew Quarters
  15. Troop Barracks
  16. Security Checkpoint
  17. Turbo Elevator
  18. Power Coupling
  19. Repair & Maintenance Shop
  20. Droid Storage
  21. Turbolaser Control
  22. Flight Deck
  23. Observatory
  24. Missile Bay
  25. Ion Drive
  26. Hyperdrive
  27. Research Lab
  28. Decontamination Bay
  29. Prototype Lab
  30. Labyrinthine Corridors
  31. Grand Hall
  32. Cult Temple
  33. Arena
  34. Sealed Vault
  35. Library
  36. Chasm
  37. Service Tunnel
  38. Interstellar Communications Bay
  39. Magnetic Dynamo
  40. Throne Room
  41. Meditation Chamber
  42. Inner Sanctum

About C. Steven Ross

C. Steven Ross is the founder of Triumph & Despair. View all posts by C. Steven Ross

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