Tuesday, December 16, 2014

RPG Superstar: Mapping the Way to Victory

By now, you've submitted your item if you're participating in RPG Superstar, which means it's time to start thinking about the next challenge.

Unfortunately, the map round is ironically a little bit of unknown territory. Previous Superstar rounds have certainly involved making maps, but they've always been part of a larger challenge, the penultimate round that also typically required designers to create a location and an encounter. My guess is this round will end up requiring a map and Golarion location, since the latter will also allow contestants to show off their knowledge of the setting as well as creativity and writing ability, but I'm going for focus for the moment on just the map part.

Mikko plans to give some general map-making advice soon (and I recommend looking back at his post about his Round 4 entry in 2014), but there are lessons to be learned too from previous years. Just as you don't want to repeat a magic item in Round 1, it's important to know what past contestants have mapped out so you don't do repeat them.

Here are a half-dozen of my favorite maps from over the years of the contest. I'm trying to focus very specifically on the map itself, so my choices don't necessarily include other aspects of that round's submissions (otherwise Tim Phillips' Eightfinger's Tomb would certainly be included here). I'll go back and look at other aspects of the encounter rounds as we get closer to this year's Round 4.

* Let's start off with Hecataeus: Sanctum of the Colossus, which is one of my all-time favorites; I think at one point I even stole it for a homebrew adventure I was running.

I love that this map includes both a building and a natural cavern, letting creator Eric Bailey showcase his skill in both aspects. The mansion itself has lots of rooms, but avoids falling into the trap of having them all be squares. The building has nooks and crannies and isn't a simple rectangle. Then the cavern is enormous, which could make for a dynamic fight; too often fights are static, with one or maybe two move actions required and then the combatants standing there fighting toe to toe. This cavern allows for an enemy to try to keep its distance, and bring in some ranged combat into play (a bow has a range for a reason).

Visually, it's easy on the eye, with simple color delineating what's where and a really nice looking colossus.

* On the other end of the easy-on-the-eye spectrum is Sam Zeitlin's The Black Mirror, which to be honest kind of hurts my eyes (sorry, Sam). In addition to being on the black background, there's the technical problem of the missing grid.

That said, I really like that it's again a dynamic encounter area. The idea with Superstar is to stand out, and there are only so many building types you can map out. Sure, there will always be buildings and if you can do a good one — such as in my previous example — that's a good skill, but having a fight on two giant corpses has some appeal. Which means the map does too.

Like Hecataeus: Sanctum of the Colossus, this map makes me want to have an adventure here.

* Russell Vaneekhoven's Hungry Mountain Dragon is one of my favorite of the hand-drawn maps. Artistic merit isn't supposed to matter in the map round, but I think it's normal for people to be swayed by the more artistic maps. That said, The Hungry Mountain Dragon is proof that you can do a nice job by hand.

To me, this map is all about the dragon air ship, which in itself is actually a pretty basic map. It's the little details, though — even though they aren't going to really come into play — that make me like this. The horns (one of them broken) and even the wings, which look articulated. It makes me want to play there.

For a similar effect, look at Mikko's House of theSerpent's Hand: The artistry on the hand itself makes the map that much more appealing. Chris Wasko's  Astugr Lighthouse is the same, with the profile of the lighthouse a really nice piece of artwork.

* Andrew Marlowe's Pentraeth House is another example, in my opinion, of a basic building — a noble's manor— done really well. Again, the building and rooms aren't basic rectangles. There's room for a fight, including vertical space that could make combat more dynamic. Adventurers are often breaking into homes, so showing you can draw a good one is a skill worth having.

* And finally, Steve Miller's Brike Isle. Most of the maps in this contest have been of buildings, but he manages to pull off an outdoor map thanks to the use of contour lines. Without them, this would be a pretty static location, but that small inclusion makes the whole area far more dynamic.


So, look through the few dozen maps on the Superstar forum. Which is your favorite? Why? Do you prefer the hand-drawn maps or computer ones?

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