Getting Mappy!

Today I’m going to give you some quick insights into map making, so you can make your location and encounter maps even more awesome.

 

Planning

Good planning is the key. Draw out a rough map of what you want in pencil, so that you can change it as you go. You’ll usually find that as you draw the map out certain things become apparent, such as a door which needs to be moved for better access or a room that is just too small for its use. Once you have the basic design, redraw the map on grid paper using an appropriate scale, you’ll find it’s helpful to refer to your rough map to get everything to fit nicely. Flesh out your map with details and make note on what you’re creating, such as who were the origional inhabitants of the place and how special features operate. Knowing what each room is used for will help you add details that make the room more alive.

Bringing it to the Table

There are a number of ways you can bring your map to the table. You might use a dry-erase board or you might want to use map tiles or draw out your map on grid paper if you want to use it as a battle map. If you’re going to use the map as a handout, a good idea is to make a GM only copy with notes and secret doors marked on it, and another players copy that only shows what the PC’s would see.

Reuse ‘Em

Seriously, as a GM you’ll be creating loads of content, and you should re-use everything, even if it’s just keeping notes on what works and what doesn’t work so you can recreate something later. As a writer of role-playing content I’ve seen the benefit of re-using something to get a better something and the time saving can be huge.

Remember that nothing exists in a void (unless you’re designing a room in a void), and there should be reasons for everything. Details like furniture, tools and even waste add meaning and make a map more real.

Do you have any map tips? Share them with us by leaving a comment below.

Dungeons and Dragons Map Tiled Reviewed

The first game I ever GMed was Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, or Warhammer FRP, and a delightful little mission called the Oldenhaller Campaign. Most of the “Dungeon” we explored in our minds, with maybe a basic sketch on some scrap paper to help us imagine the scene. The final scene however, was lovingly mapped out by me in pencil to scale on a large sheet of paper, with a grid to help with moving and ranged combat. Today there are more scale maps for miniatures than you can shake a D100 at, and I thought I’d take a moment to review Wizards of the Coasts own map line of Dungeon Tiles.

To date I’ve bought five of the sets. “The Wilderness” master set, which includes numerous wilderness scenes including ruined towers, huts and tents. “Desert of Athas”, the desert themed set, includes a number of 3D elements such as a stair case, stall and wagon. “Caves of Carnage”, is of course set in a cave, but could just as easily map out parts of a sewer system. “Caverns of Icewind Dale”, possibly my favorite set, includes ice, snow and water tiles for both cave and outdoor scenes. “The Witchlight Fens” include swamplike terrain and would probably be useful in any Jungle setting.

Appearance

Ooh, so pretty. The tiles are well illustrated and detailed, and I have yet to see anything better out there. My only gripe is that some of the tiles don’t match up, such as water tiles from the different sets don’t seem to have a uniform colour, which is a pity since every set has a number of water tiles and these would be good points to connect the different sets.

Scaleability

Right off the bat I think you should consider buying a number of sets or duplicate sets, since you’ll get more use out of them that way. Out of the average set you’ll get two small maps or one medium sized map, which I think is pretty good. If a set includes 3D elements then the size of the map will decrease drastically. Still, you can combine the tiles with poster maps like those for Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures or in the Red Box to make those maps much larger and more interesting. The Master Sets have more tiles and are probably the best place to start your collection.

Since most of the tiles are double sided (only the 3D elements are not always), you have many options to build from. If you’re not a perfectionist you’ll be able to extend the maps even further, otherwise some tiles only match up to certain others. Most sets seem to have at least a few tiles that would integrate with another terrain type, such as the wilderness set, but as I said these don’t always have the same colours to fit seamlessly together.

Usefulness

You can use the tiles in any role-playing game or wargame of the same scale, with or without the grid. I’d like to try them with Warhammer or Doom: The Boardgame, or similar games.

For D&D or Parthfinder I’d say they are worth the purchase. They’ve inspired me with some great encounter ideas that I’ve recorded for later.

A nice surprise is the number of useful items, particularly modes of transport, you’ll get. With my five sets combined I have five boats, a cart and two horses. The five boats come in handy when you realize just how much water there is on these tiles, even the desert set.

Packaging

Repacking the tiles in the frames is a big hassle, but the Master Set comes in a box that you can even use as terrain, and has enough space for two more packs along with the contents you get when you buy the set.

Durability

The tiles are made of cardstock, so they won’t survive water or bending too well. But with proper care you should get years of use out of them. The 3D tiles are less durable and tend to rip the surface when you slide them into each other.

Value for Money

Probably the best buy in terms of maps is a dry erase map, but these tiles are very pretty and inexpensive and give you additional options for the games table, which to me is a win. I’ll probably get at least one more set of Master Tiles to round off my collection, which I think says something.

If you found this review helpful leave a comment below, or just let us know what maps you use and any neat tricks you have up your sleeve.

In Japan Baby!

Inspired in Japan

My wife and I have been in Japan now for a little over two months, and I’ve used my free time to research role-playing and hobby games here in the Land of the Rising sun. In the upcoming months I’ll be sharing some of my findings and thoughts on the hobby gaming industry in Japan, reviewing games and bringing you inspiring thoughts you can bring to the games table. So join me, as I get inspired in Japan.

Make sure you follow me on twitter: RisingPhoenixGM.

Icon 2011 – A Brief Glimps

Already almost a week in the past, Icon 2011 was loads of fun. I only managed the Friday, but there were plenty of familiar faces and I got to try my hand at convention level Magic The Gathering for the first time.

 

Magic

I’ve played Magic on and off since high school, and I was a little worried that I’d be up against serious players that were years younger than me, but those expectations were thankfully shattered. We played booster draft and although I only won two rounds, everyone I played was super friendly and each game a load of fun. I’d guess that most of the guys (and they were all guys) were between the ages of 20 and 35 or so, and more than patient when it came to questions about the rules. If I learnt anything playing at Icon it was that you just need to go and play, don’t make assumptions about other players, rather go and have fun.

 

Role-Playing

Positive feedback on my module, Storm of Souls, which ran in the morning. I didn’t watch any of the role-playing or get involved beyond writing my module, but judging by the number of people around on a Friday I’d say that role-playing games are a great reason to take leave, or that role-players are generally unemployed.

I managed to score some of the controversial D&D Fortune Cards (3 boosters in total of Shadow Over Nentir Vale) and must say I don’t think they are as bad as everyone feared. Firstly, you only need one booster to use them in your game, so 6 boosters will cover a party of 6 players. You can then build a deck with as little as 10 cards (there are 8 in a booster), allowing you to customise your deck to suit your characters fighting style and strengths. I haven’t played with the cards yet, but the advantage to the player is pretty small, considering that you only ever have one card in your hand at a time per turn. To me the main advantage (to the GM as well) is that players will probably tighten up their tactics to maximize the effects of the cards, which means faster combats. My main criticism is that only the rare cards have proper illustrations on them, which I think is sad coming from a company that produces games like Magic the Gathering. Secondly, I picked up 3 swaps in my boosters, which will make me less likely to buy these cards again, unless I find someone who’s willing to trade or the cards see a lot of use at the table. Still, I’m excited about seeing my deck work at the table, and I’ll let you know when I give it a test run.

 

Comics

I went to my first ever Icon looking for Spider-Man comics, and won a door sized Mary Jane poster because of it. I was also introduced to Warhammer 40,000, which led to role-playing games, so comics for me will always be where it all began. Comic books are still well represented at Icon, and if I had had more time and money I would have filled out my X-Force collection, or my Amazing Spider-Man collection, or my… well, you get the picture.

 

Warhammer and Warhammer 40K

I got a lift to the Con from a friend who was just bitten by the Warhammer bug, but unfortunately there was no action on Friday except for a demo game of Warmachine, which seems to be hugely popular. I must say though that, after spending a week packing up my home, Warhammer is one of the most difficult hobbies to cart around. It’s almost like being the logistics guy for your own horde of Orks (in my case), and is likely to end up with more than a handful of carefully painted miniatures hitting hard floor at one time or another and a huge load of stress, so I don’t blame them for not showing up on the Friday.

 

LARP

Big things are happening in the LARP world, and I’ll leave that for another post, save to say that you need to give it a try. The LARPers are great people and LARPing in South Africa is growing stronger all the time.

 

If you were at ICON 2011 let me know what you got up to, leave a comment and share your experience.

Magic – World Mechanics and Story Device

This week saw the premier of the final Harry Potter movie and the launch party for Magic the Gatherings 12th edition. It’s almost like magic is everywhere, and really, it is at the very core of the fantasy genre. Magic is an integral part of fantasy and fantasy gaming, from magical creatures to spells and worlds formed by raw magical energy. In this article I’ll look at magic in terms of world mechanics and as a story device.

 

Defining Magic

I could look specifically at magic in this article, but then write a similar article on mutation and super powers that wouldn’t add anything new. Rather, let’s group magic, super powers, psionics, amazing technology and everything else that is “abnormal” and call them “world mechanics”. I’m using broad strokes here, but let me explain. Mouse Guard is a game (and comic) with little magic. Mice can talk, but they possess no powers as such or magical artefacts. Mouse Guard’s “world mechanics” are interesting because we can play as mice in a world terrifying to mice. Dungeons and Dragons, on the other hand, lets us use magic to fight magical creatures, and we can become powerful beings that can take on terrifying dragons through the levelling up mechanic. If you think about it, levelling is a type of magic, you would never gain such abilities in real life even with dedicated training. Thus the world mechanics for D&D represent a world that is full of magic. So, I’m going to use “world mechanics” and “magic” interchangeably in this article.

 

Magic has Boundaries

Magic needs to have boundaries, without these boundaries players will feel cheated and confused. Can my wizard become invisible if he casts an invisibility spell? Boundaries (rules) set this out for you. The boundaries then, like I said above, define the world at the same time. Frodo’s ring had power to corrupt, so we understand that in The Lord of the Rings magical items may have a risk involved when they are used.

 

Magic breaks Boundaries

Firstly, as a story element, magic breaks boundaries. Magic lets your characters and NPC’s do things that they would not normally be able to do in the real world. Flight, as an obvious example, is only possible through magic. Because of this, you need to think outside of reality and be creative when designing your sessions and include encounters and NPC’s that bring the reality of the game world into focus and let the players experience that world. It’s no good running a fantasy game where everything is normal by everyday terms, and I’d argue that a normal day even in terms of your fantasy world would be too boring for your players, but there needs to be an obvious difference between the two worlds. A note of caution though, sometimes subtlety really pays of with regards to the differences in your fantasy world and our own, you do want it to all be believable in some way.

Furthermore, magic gives you a reason to break the mould with you game, within reason. In a recent game I introduced a series of earth-nodes that needed to be used in sequence, and did not let players move as they wished between the nodes. I explained this difference as a consequence of the spell plague, which the players were happy with and I could then stagger encounters out between the different nodes. Because magic and the mechanics of your game world represent the weird and wonderful, take inspiration from the setting and let your creativity flow.

 

Magic is often Limited

Magic has its limits, which is important to remember. If any world mechanic is limitless, it becomes worthless in a way. If everyone can fly, you will need ways to cut that ability at some point and you need to work out the repercussions of giving everyone such an ability. In my opinion, magic becomes more interesting if there is less of it. In the Lord of the Rings, there are only a handful of magical users, which makes characters like Gandalf and Saruman stand out amongst the rest, magic is thus strange and valuable.

Potter Fans at the Premier
Potter Fans at the Premier

At the end of the day magic represents a great device for telling the stories we love, that’s why so many people fell in love with the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings and so many other fantasy stories. Use magic well and your games will be that much more interesting and captivating.

 

If you watched the last Harry Potter, or played MtG during the release party or have any other thoughts about magic, leave a comment. Let’s talk geek 🙂

Take the Survey

If we had goblin spies, we’d send them out to go gather some juicy intel for us. But, as a completely Lawful Good company, we don’t deal with goblins, that’s just not on. Instead, we use our web wiles to find out what you, the reader, are interested in. Please take a moment to complete our survey here. An information we get ultimately helps us develop a better product, which in the end benefits you and the hobby in general. Specifically, if you’ve played one of my modules, The LHC, The Lair of Veo Oqum Ucendi, It Takes One To Gnoll One or Storm of Souls, let us know what you thought by sending us a message from our contact page.

 

Run For Japan – Fun Run Event

In aid of raising funds for those affected by the tsunami and quake in Japan this year, Pray For Japan From South Africa is hosting a fun run at the Pretoria Botanical Gardens. It’s this weekend, and a great chance for all you otaku to make a difference. You can download the file here.

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