I suck at drawing maps. No really, I know if you’ll have seen my stunningly good maps in the Death at a Funeral adventure, you’ll have had a hard time believing me, but it’s true. I have toyed with the idea of taking photographs of all the hastily scrawled maps I have drawn for my current Cyberpunk game and putting them on the blog, just as a “this is not how you do it” style feature. They tend to be quick and dirty, with the absolute bare minimum of detail. This is not just down to how shockingly inept I am, but also part of how I prefer to run games.
When I describe a room, I like to keep it vague, with only plot important stuff laid out in detail, the rest of it coming under the heading “generic set dressing”. I do this because I like the idea of player inventiveness populating a room with stuff. A recent example from said CP2020 game; there’s a fight in a military surplus store. This isn’t just random, one of the group’s most useful contacts runs the place, and the bad guys have been staking it our for days, just waiting to try and take the good guys down. As the action is getting ready to kick off, I jot down basic dimensions of the room, where the counter is, where the exits are, and where each person is stood. Other than that, I just let the characters know that if they need something to be there – and it would reasonably be inside a MilSup store – then they were OK to assume it would be there. So I had people taking cover inside clothes racks, pulling on gas masks to mitigate the effects of tear gas canisters, and grabbing survival knives to throw.
I never needed to draw on that they were there, and if I had drawn on other stuff that wasn’t, it might have limited their creativity. You might now be wondering what my new toy is, and what it has to do with drawing shoddy as hell maps. Well, when I usually draw them, they end up in a notebook or on scraps of paper. I almost always write in pen – not pencil – so they have lines and arrows all over them as people move around the combat area and the bad guys inevitably bite the big one. I have played around in the past with having a dry wipe battle map, the kind that you can find here. The one I own comes in at around fifteen pound sterling, but as I bought mine in a hobby shop rather than online direct from source, it was actually just shy of seventeen quid. And even rolled up, as the smallest of the mats available, I had to stop taking it everywhere. I didn’t use it each session, and it was just a pain to carry round. For an idea of size, I have employed one of my cats for the following picture.
As you can see, it’s quite a long bit of kit, and even using my large canvas rucksack means I have a fair bit sticking out of the top. You may also notice – if you can tear your eyes away from the adorable cat picture – that there’s a small black object in the frame. This is my new toy. A fold away battle mat, that is small enough to fit in my shirt pocket, along with my pen. Like its bigger cousin, it is reversible – one side clear, the other with three different printed grid patters – and wipe clean. Unlike the Chessex fellow though, it comes with its own dry erase marker and the bag is both stylish and functional, as it can be used to wipe the board clean. Although we had no combat last session, we did have people drawing penises on faces and passing notes to the GM, and the Noteboard was great for this too. It folds down to hand sized meaning it can be passed around easily, and because it can just be wiped clean, there’s no risk of sensitive notes falling into the wrong hands.
Best of all for someone who doesn’t make a whole ton of money right now is the price. Chessex shipping is far from cheap, and it shouldn’t be when you consider the ruddy size of the thing, so add 7 bucks for US shipping, and god alone knows how much to get one direct to us here in Blighty. Noteboard though? Including UK shipping, comes in at less than £12. Even US pricing is crazy cheap.
Before we finish though, and I once again tell you just how bloody useful the thing was, lets take a look at it unfurled shall we. I did try once more to get Chewie involved, but he had other concerns. Mostly they seemed to involve licking bits of himself, but he seemed happy and I didn’t want to intrude. The Noteboard is at the bottom of the image, with the rolled out battle mat beneath, and should give you a good idea about why the Noteboard has now thoroughly replaced the battle mat for all my role playing needs.