Star Wars Wednesday - Using Maps

Maps are great tools for RPGs, both in play and as sources of inspiration. Following on from last week's Maps of Mastery Stats post, here are a few ways to use those maps in RPGs. As it happens, Fantasy Flight Games posted a new preview of Star Wars Age of Rebellion Strongholds of Resistance, highlighting Rebel bases in the book. I had a great time with that section.

Deck plans and bases are among the more common map types in Star Wars games, so both make good starting points for map based adventures or encounters. Maps can be great sources of inspiration.

I'm going to quickly cover two ways to use maps in games. One is for impromptu adventures/encounters. The other talks about using maps in planning ahead. 

For the time-challenged game master, or one taken by surprise by the party's actions, using a map at the table gives everyone at the table an instant understanding of the setting at hand. The PCs can use and react to elements on the map, saving the GM from having to invent everything they see on the spot. As the PCs interact with elements visible on the map, the GM can respond to their ideas as well as providing some of his own. Tactical scale maps like those from Maps of Mastery or the Beginner Box sets are often the best for this, as there is sufficient detail for the players to see and formulate their own ideas.

If the GM is using tokens or minis, the PCs can quickly indicate their location and instantly understand where everyone is. To make best use of the map, the encounter/adventure should encourage the PCs to move around a lot, and place importance on where they are at any given time. Obviously, this is true for combat scenarios, but also for skill checks using equipment on the map, or stealthily sneaking up on an opponent. 

I recently ran an introductory Star Wars game using Mass Transit IV, Offworld Docking Port. It was very straightforward, with smuggler-style PCs defending their ship from an irate customer-turned enemy. The attackers tried multiple entry points, while one of them disabled the ship's engines from the outside. This forced the PCs to run around inside their ship from hatch to hatch to keep the attackers out, while one PC engaged in a computer control battle with one of the attackers trying to slice the system from the outside. The outdoor attacker eventually forced the PCs to venture out to defend themselves, and not just hide aboard ship. 

On the D&D side of things, I've used the Maps of Mastery Mountain Tombs for a couple of introductory D&D 5e sessions - with brand new players. The map is colorful and evocative, which is great for everyone, but particularly newcomers to the game. It gave them something to interact with and better understand how their actions translated into game play. I've found that maps are great for inspiring fateful actions or the results of mishaps, whether rolling a 1 or a Despair. Characters run into things, fall from great heights, get dunked in  water, have fire crash down on them, and so on. 

Maps are great for inspiring longer adventures, and can be used for an entire game session or adventure. With some planning, the GM has time to figure out new ways to surprise the players with some of the map elements. This is particularly true for planning what happens when they interact with a device. If the PCs have their own base of operations - such as a starship or a Rebel Base, those maps become useful as recurring locations. The characters gain more advantages if they are familiar with the location, and they'll use them whenever given the opportunity (or come up with their own). Base-sized maps are usually too small for tactical encounters using tokens or minis, but those can be created on the fly and used separately as needed. 

Maps can also be limiting, which is both good or bad depending on the circumstances. Action tends to be restricted to the map, instead of ranging farther afield during an encounter. This is perfectly fine if the location is intended to be limited, such as the inside of a starship. In other cases, the GM should be ready for what happens if some of the PCs go off the map during the game. 

For an example of an adventure planned around a single map, see my old Saga Edition adventure, 3,720 to 1. It was built around using the Exodus-class Heavy Courier as the centerpiece, but any large ship will work. In this case, the ship was big enough for the PCs to move about without tipping everyone off, but small enough that they had to be stealthy about it. 

As I'm planning my Midwest GameFest events, I'm heavily considering a new map-centric adventure again. After all I wrote all those stats last week, so I'd better use a few...