You know what I really love about Roleplaying games in general and pre-published adventures specifically? Maps! I really like a well-drawn map of a fantastical location. There’s something about a map that makes a place a tangible, real location instead of just some place in the mind of the game-master.
Other pieces of artwork can have the same effect but maps are special to me. You see, a map provides the thing I value most in roleplaying games: Consistency. You can look at a map and compare with the location the PCs are at and know that if you go left, then right at the fountain, you’re going to end up in the room where you fought the bugbears.
However, a lot of people seem to have issues using maps well in their games. Speaking with a friend about this topic, I noticed a few things that almost everyone can easily incorporate into their games to enhance the experience. I’ve also got a few tips and tricks to get you started using maps.
Batman has the Batcave.
Superman has his fortress of solitude.
Deadpool has his appartment.
Wolverine has the X-men Mansion, despite roaming about and being a loner.
Robin hood has a glade in Sherwood forest.
Smaug ‘had’ Erebor. (Spoilers…)
Spawn has his alleyways.
Neo had that small ship in the first Matrix movie.
SG1 has the Cheyenne mountain complex.
The list goes on.
Regardless of your players wanting it or not (or even realize it), they will likely end up with a base of operations. A place to rest their heads and call home. To sell their loot and buy their gear. Where they can gather information for their next mission, and store their hard earned currency etc. If only temporarily, before moving on to the next.
This could be anything from your typical inn or tavern, a district or even an entire city. A flying airship, an airplane or a star ship. A mansion, a castle, the local YMCA or their employers Volcanic Lair. (See Evil villain, fire lord or Red Dragon)
Hell, it could even be the RV from Breaking Bad.
As a GM, you will find that no matter how much you tend to prepare and how well you manage to recollect every rehearsed dialogue and hints for your players to react to, there will be points in your game where you find yourself ill prepared for a situation. Why? Easy.
Because there are players involved in your perfectly crafted world.
(And honestly, over-prepping only leads to headaches and railroading, avoid it!)
Players tend to walk off the carefully placed path you’ve set out for them. They will miss hints and obvious (to yourself, perhaps) elements of your story in order to progress.
In which case, they will start to think outside the box and ‘mill around’, trying to find things to either progress the story, or line their own filthy, near bottomless pockets. (Bag of holding anyone?)
Hence, there will always be moments where you must improvise.
As I mentioned in my previous post on mega-dungeons, it’s vitally important to have the dungeon seem like a living space that the adventurers. Monsters need lairs, locations where they hang out, places even they avoid and so on.
Similarly, the PCs also need a lair; a location to hang out, sell their treasure, purchase new gear, get healed from the horrific injuries sustained within the dungeon and so on.
In video games these sorts of location are commonly referred to as hub location, because they function as a central location that the players can return to periodically. These are places like Dark Souls’ Firelink Shrine, Mass Effect’s Normandy (and the Citadel to a lesser extent) or the eponymous keep in the classic adventure ‘Keep on the Borderlands’.
The key to a good hub location is making it feel safe, making it feel welcoming and making it feel useful. I’ll be going over some of the things I’ve figured out and providing you with a few tips and tricks here to make your own hubs feel alive.