Sunday, March 25, 2018

Some Thoughts On Player Mapping in RPGs

Some thoughts and observations related to this post by James Raggi, in which he poses the question, "It's not common to make the players make their own map anymore?"

Many points were brought up in the comments. I will tackle a few in this post.

Player Mapping, undoubtedly, was born out of the original D&D modality which was a miniatures game that focused on combat counters being moved around on a table, with ranges carefully measured, and was highly technical. So for that crowd mapping the dungeon as they went made sense. It fit perfectly well with their previous modality of technical combat, accuracy and careful consideration. However, at the same time Arneson was creating a different sort of game, and one that was focused on story rather than tactics. So there was a divergence right at the beginning. Gygax was focused on the Wargamming aspect, and Arneson was focused on the story aspect. Thus, at the down of the hobby there was a schism that has lead eventually to this spot. Some people do not like the tactical game, but love the story game... and vice versa. So for tactical players and GMs mapping makes sense, and is part of the fun of the thing. But for story gamers, not so much.

Philipp Neitzel comments, "If a player says they Take notes of which way they are going or they map the Environment, i usually believe them. If it becomes important we can always roll for it."

I like the idea that for the less-tactical games when they say "We map", you take their word for it, and roll to see if the map was accurate enough at key junctures. If they fail the roll then they head the wrong way, and as you're describing it they will begin to figure out that something is wrong. "Where's the stairs up to Level 392??" "Well, you're not sure. What you see ahead is a T split corridor going left and right. What do you do?" "Damn, we must have screwed the map up!?"

Of course that only works for tabletop games and would not at all work on a VTT.

Also, it illustrates why the players might want to take mapping into their own hands anyway. I'd rather map myself, and not leave our escape route to a die roll, personally. I think I trust my mapping skills more than I trust the dice to stay on my side. So while it might be waaaaay easier to tell the GM "Yeah, we map as we go"... I don't think I'd take that option.

All in all, for myself, I notice I have two desires that are in competition when it comes to the question of player mapping. And their juxtaposition suggests quite a bit about the dynamics of the question, imo. On the one hand, as a player, I prefer not to map. For one thing it's tedious. For another, it's error prone, and the results of poorly drawn maps, depending on the world, can be, at times, a serious problem. That said, most of the time, it hasn't been, and errors on maps in terms of lengths of corridors and sizes of rooms have not played a significant role in mishaps. So the question of how important it is for player maps to be accurate comes up, and in my experience it's not important at all. In fact, I think we could probably get a way with very rough maps and still have the information we need to enter the dungeon, and find our way out again.  For example, this player sketch map would probably suffice for it's purpose in the game, if that purpose can be defined as "keeping track of the layout of the dungeon so we can get in and out without getting lost".

On the other hand, if the purpose is "to govern the rules of tactical combat" in addition to the above, then the sketch map may or may not suffice.  For example, corridor lengths and the placement of open doorways may play a significant role in the outcome of a technically detailed combat encounter.  In that case a sketch map may not quite do.  And if the GM has a more detailed map, and the player's sketch map is flawed, that could make the difference between life and death of characters in some cases. 

In the end the answer is ... It Depends.   What kind of game are you playing?  Is it a story game where technical combat is breezed over because no one is very much into wargamming in the group, and such combats are seen as tedious and time-wasting?  Then, voila... player maps have no particular purpose.  But if you're playing the wargame style of RPG, then they very well may... but even then, perhaps not.  Again, it depends on the level of detail the GM is enforcing at the table.

In the end, and as always, with a game that has so many variations and levels of potential detail, it's really kind of ridiculous to try to assert that one way or the other is "best".  And as usual, and always... what is "best" is what you enjoy.

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