Gamehackery: Technology and Winging It: Encounter Maps (part 2 of 4)
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    Gamehackery: Technology and Winging It: Encounter Maps (part 2 of 4)

    I've been playing long enough to remember playing before we used minis at all. I remember the advent of minis and when our group first started using a battlemat. I remember the first poster maps. I giggled with excitement when I saw map tiles at GenCon for the first time.

    Now I have a storage bin full of tiles (too many to use quickly), an exhaustive collection of poster maps (ditto), and a handful of other analog mapping solutions.

    And yet, most of the home games I run today use electronic maps - we used a projector for years, now we have a TV flat on the table.

    There is clearly a steady progression – from theater of the mind to maptools and PDF maps – in the amount of preparation required to get a map ready to play. And there are plenty of rewards for putting in the effort to have that prepared, computer delivered map (or maybe it's a 3-d Terrain map, with Malfeaux Terraclips or Dwarven Forge dungeon forms or something else). Even the analog solutions like Malifeaux's 3d cityscapes take more and more time to prepare before game day – and, unlike a computer driven map, those take a lot more time to clean up and put away.

    The bottom line when it comes to a quick, ad-libbed map is to Get Play Started Again. If you can't get the new encounter ready in the time it takes one of your PCs to go to the bathroom, you're doing it wrong.

    1 - Know Your Tools

    You're going to be trying to move fast; don't try it with tools you don't know how to use.

    You're far better off biting your bottom lip with shame and rolling out that battle mat than you are fiddling around with tools you're not familiar with while your players rerun fart jokes.

    You can't move fast AND learn tools, so don't bother. Learn the tools on your own time.

    2 - A Simple Sketch is good enough.

    If you were drawing the map out on a battlemat you'd do it in broad outlines only – walls here, door here, a scribble for a fire pit and so on.

    Your mapping software and tools have the ability to do a lot more, but that doesn't mean that you MUST include all of that detail. When you're moving fast, fall back on the broad outlines and call it good. Also consider using spare minis or other props to indicate some of the area features -- maybe the fire pit is a red poker chip.

    Most of the programs that you might be using to make maps for your game provide a library of tokens, objects, and tiles that you can use to create your map. They're awesome when you have world enough and time to create your map.

    However, a library of prepared images and objects is a sinkhole when you are trying to create quickly. It's not worth it -- even for that one image that would be perfect for this scene, the one you think you can just go over and find real fast -- don't. Draw a dot or a scribble or something, and keep moving.

    By the same token, don't get too hung up on precise dimensions. If you're trying to recreate something from a print map -- like in a published adventure -- get the basic outlines in without trying to make it perfect. In two weeks no one will remember if the room was 30 or 35 feet wide, but they will remember how sore their asses were while they sat there watching you count one-inch boxes.

    3 - Some Tools are Better than Others - Be ready to switch

    So, I've got Dunjinni. I've got Photoshop. I've got Maptools. I've got Campaign Cartographer. And when it comes to making maps, they're awesome.
    But the flexibility and complexity that makes those tools so useful for building complex, realistic maps, make them less useful as a quick-and-dirty map-sketching tool.

    Actually, for my money, the best tools for quickly sketching out a map when you need one fast are on the iPad.

    (there are others -- these are the ones I own)

    The iPad interface that lends itself to quickly finger-painting your map. If you're using a projector or TV screen to play on, and you have an iPad (along with an available adapter to connect the iPad to the projector or TV), one of these could become indispensable for creating quick maps – in a fraction of the time it would take to sketch the same map by hand.

    Of the three, I prefer like BattleMapp for prepared maps but Dungeon Mapp is better for really fast maps because of the way it allows you to drag and fill an area (rather than having to drag your finger through each space, as you do with BattleMapp).

    (Oh, and hey, look, I cheated and used an image (the tree). So shoot me. Do what I say, not what I do.)

    Using Dungeon Mapp I created this quick and dirty map in less than 60 seconds – it took me longer to remember how to take a screen shot and email it to myself than it did to actually create the map. It's not perfect, I would love to spend more time detailing it, but in the end this is good enough for an ad-libbed scene. And at just 60 seconds, the map is done in plenty of time (unless your player who went to the bathroom isn't in the habit of washing his hands. Really, people, wash your hands, if for no other reason than to give your DM a few precious seconds to finish his ad-libbed map).

    So, if you've been running the encounters in one tool, and your players throw you a curveball, a few seconds switching from one program to another (or even from one device to another) is worth it if you're better able to quickly sketch out an encounter area in the other tool.

    If You Don't Have An iPad

    My experience with android-based tablets is a lot more limited, so I hope those of you with more experience there will chime in on this thread and make suggestions. I'm also not aware of any Android-based tablets that would allow them to connect to an external monitor or projector. (I'd love to hear about options you're using, so post your comments below)

    So, I'm betting that those of you without iPads are on a Mac or PC notebook or desktop, trying to build maps there. I find it much more difficult to do that sort of quick sketch when I'm working through the interface of the mouse -- the mouse interface does some things much better than touch, but this isn't one of them. Do your best. paint in broad strokes, skip any prepared images, sketch it out fast and get your players playing again.

    That's what matters most. If your players are rolling dice and facing the next challenge, they'll forgive you for not having the right texture on your tundra tiles, I promise.

    If they run out of fart jokes before your map is ready, your game is done.

    The Bottom Line

    Get things moving again. Make sure you're using a tool you're comfortable with, and just get the basic outlines down for your players. They don't need perfection; they need to be playing.

    Next Time: Gadgets and Ad Lib Opponents

    (Even server downtime can't keep my Technology column down! Here we go!)
    This is part 2 of a series -- here's a link to part 1:

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    Last edited by Morrus; Wednesday, 24th October, 2012 at 05:19 AM.

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