Errata And Clarifications For Surviving The Dark and Terrible Nights Of A Very Cold Winter

So the absolute babes over at Once Upon A Game ran Do Not Let Us Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter while I was out of town. They streamed it and you can watch it here, or here in parts on the youtubes. The stand out moment for me is when Eric’s adventurer loses a villager, an elderly grandmother, and describes hiding her body from the grand babies. Pretty quickly they learn how to tactically starve villagers to stretch the food. The actual play is great, each of the players Umbra, Brad, Eric, and GoldenWH do a great job of role playing out the situation; there are some good laughs and some sad shit. They hunt goblins for fuel and I loved every minute of it. But, I realize now I need to issue some errata and clarifications. I’ve added an errata sheet to the DRTPG and ITCH product pages, and I am going to write a paragraph about blind playtesting here, but the errata can be found in the third act of this post and downloaded here.

Blind Playtesting is important. When I released Cold Winter it had been thoroughly tested; the math was solid, the gameplay fun, and ready to go. But I fucked up and didn’t do any blind playtests and the people who read the rulebook before I published it were almost all playtesters, they had played the misery simulator before they read it so it all made sense. I realize now, that I should have had a few non-playtesters read through it and I should have also had people run it other than myself. After watching the stream I noticed there were a few things I could have explained better that make the game a little more clear. It is not enough to warrant a second edition or going through the nightmare of proofing a new thing hardback, because the list is small. Now I blind playtest as often as I can, with the sequel to Cold Winter being the best example: the dice game in it has been playtested something like 150 times by 20 or more people. 

So here we fix the problems:

Errata And Clarifications For Surviving The Dark and Terrible Nights Of A Very Cold Winter:

Page 16, Paragraph one, a new first sentence: “When food becomes scarce, domesticated animals can be slaughtered for two extra units of food.” (This is mentioned several times throughout the rules but it should have been put here too)

Page 16, Paragraph three, add this to the end: “Because step one is skipped on the first turn, the temperature at the start of turn two is 1.” (Umbra from Once Upon A Game asked about this, and here is the official answer)

Page 17, Paragraph one, add this to the end: “The temperature cannot go above three, regardless of occurrence rolls.” (Another thing I thought was obvious because of the handouts, but it was stupid of me to assume)

Page 23, Consolidation Interlude gets a rewrite: “At any point during any turn the players may invoke a consolidation of buildings. Consolidating Buildings is a move that allows two adventurers to combine their villagers into a single building to save on fuel. The total number of villagers in a single building cannot exceed five, and an extra unit of food must be spent for each villager making the move. Villagers who welcome the new arrivals into their home do not need extra food, but the villagers who move will spend a great amount of energy to move furniture and heirlooms through the snow; refusing to move with empty bellies. Be sure to subtract all required units of food from the storeroom afterwards.

For Example: If one building has three villagers and another building has two villagers, the adventurers can spend two extra food units to move the two villagers into the building with three.”

Something else to note that I will not issue a fix or clarification on. It seems that people are using the key on the player hand outs as a means to track the health of their adventurers. I guess this is another fuck up of my own; assuming the adventurers would not count themselves as needing food and shit. Welp, I was wrong, and I don’t feel the need to change it. If you play the game that way, fuck yeah but sorry if your adventurer dies. If you’re playing it the way I meant to write it then that’s cool too, just make sure you hide the bodies before moving on.

Also: The next book in the series is coming soon and the name is longer and it’s themes are autumn, farming, and magic. 

This will likely be the last time I post anything other than fun times about Cold Winter. It’s time to move on to the next thing.

How To Become A Godzillionaire On DriveThruRPG If Your Name Doesn’t Rhyme With Yon Blick, Clobbert Malwb, Smaniel Locks, or Blizzard of the Toast

After going through just about every tribulation possible while selling stuff over on DTRPG, I have concocted the perfect plan of attack for getting the most out of selling stuff on the platform. Not to say that I would do this, but there is definitely a way to create a sales loop there. If you watch the market at all then you might’ve seen Zweihander, specifically, just running amok and kicking ass; and after talking to Daniel Fox about his means-and-ways I think I’ve figured out the way to nail it. In steps 1 through 6 there are embedded links to take you to specific parts of the publisher dashboard. If you’re not logged in then they won’t work, and if you are not a publisher (yet!) then they will double not work.

TL;DR: Make the best thing, earn that PPP, and put it’s ass to work.

Step 01

Make a really good fucking thing. This is the hardest and most important step; if your thing sucks the rest of this plan won’t work. Do a good job. Put love into your thing, playtest your thing, make it as good a thing as it could possibly be. Don’t cut corners, make your thing cohesive and tight. Keep your design goals tight, and make sure it looks spectacular. Don’t hire two handfuls of different artists unless you hire artists who can all work in the same exact style. Etc Etc. This post isn’t about how to make a good product, it is how to sell a good product on DTRPG, so just assume that from here on out we’re talking about a work of genius, or as close to it as you can make it.

Step 02a

Kickstart it. Those great artists aren’t cheap and your time isn’t free. Kickstart that fucker into oblivion. If your product is good (bonus points for having an established name and community involvement) then the backers will follow. Kickstarter is a good hype machine all by itself because there are so many outlets and aggregates looking for the good stuff instead of waiting for the good stuff to come to them. Kickstarting is exciting, and generally people know that when they’re backing a project they’re helping it get made and getting a little something in return. That’s not to say you don’t have to put in any work marketing your Kickstarter, you definitely need to do that.

Step 02b

Don’t fuck your Kickstarter up.

Updated And Interluded

When I first wrote this article, I didn’t occur to me that you need to be a verified publisher on DTRPG to use some of the promotional tools. I’d like to give a shoutout to Ben Milton over at Questing Beast who figured this out, when he went to use his PPP to set up a featured message and couldn’t because he is not verified. To become a verified publisher on DTRPG you need to have at least 2 products and I want to say there a minimum of a month’s time selling on the site too, but I am not sure. That potentially can make this whole article useless to a lot of the people who might need it most. Sorry y’all. – cecil.

Step 03

Fulfill your Kickstarter through DriveThruRPG. Not only Fulfill it through Kickstarter, try to find a way to earn PPP (covered in a bit) while also getting your thing out. Kickstarters that fulfill through DTRPG generally send out at-cost coupons for POD products and complimentary copies of PDFs and these do not earn PPP or sales rankings. You can tack stretch goals on to your campaign that result in the backer dropping a few extra bucks on DTRPG later on, or even have some supplemental material ready for when your book is finished and ready to go that your backers would be interested in. PPP is what you need to grease the wheels of the DTRPG in-house promotion machinations, and you only get PPP when you make a sale. If you Kickstart your heartbreaker and it’s popular and 30 jillion people back it, and you send all 30 jillion of them free PDFs through DTRPG you’re not going to earn a single PPP and none of those people’s purchase will count towards you hitting a top seller list or a sales medal. I am not  going to cover the different ways you can try to get PPP while also fulfilling your game through DTRPG, but I will say this: I do not in any way condone lying to backers or customers. If they are going to have a tacked on cost to their Kickstarter pledge then you make damn sure they know it before they pledge.

Some people might think it sucks butts, or not know it’s going on, but Kickstarting POD books is pretty common. I recently illustrated some maps for the upcoming Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Adventures and that’s being fulfilled through DTRPG via print-on-demand. I think this is fairly viable, but I do think that if you can, you definitely should hire a good print shop to roll the book out all-fancy-like. If you run out of physical copies, POD is a good backup. But if you have qualms with Kickstarting a print on demand book, then this article is only half for you. Do I have plans to Kickstart a print on demand book? Nope, but I won’t shit on it. I think we live in the golden age of DIY RPG publishing and I think that it’s a good time to explore all opportunities to get that Werewolf Clowns versus Vampire Elephants RPG you’ve been cooking up since 8th grade into hungry hands. So yeah; don’t ignore the fact that sometimes you just need the money for the art and you can save yourself a headache by going POD.

Step 04

All Hail The PPP. At this point you’ve made your masterpiece, Kickstarted it so well that great great great grandad himself came back to life to smooch your forehead, and you’re ready to play the marketing game. So PPP, or publisher promotion points are earned through sales on DTRPG. The DTRPG publisher knowledge base doesn’t mention if you earn them on net sales or gross sales, but the answer is you earn them on gross sales. For every $10 you sell you get 1 PPP, plus a bonus of 10 PPP if you’re not exclusive or a bonus of 20 PPP if you are. You do not get PPP for selling anything at a 100% discount, and according to DTRPG an at-cost coupon counts as a 100% discount. The reason you want to find a way to generate PPP alongside your Kickstarter is because that is going to be the largest concentrated customer base you will have access to at a single time, thus the largest opportunity to get a lot of PPP at once. (Seriously run your kickstarter like normal, and then after everyone’s gotten their book and rewards are fulfilled, email your backers a link to some other cool shit you made. Tell them straight up.)

So let’s first assume you have a non-exclusive agreement with DTRPG, and then let’s assume your game gets 1,500 backers who all get a coupon to nab a supplemental PDF for 2 bucks instead of the retail 10 bucks for non-backers. Assuming all of your backers use the coupon (they won’t) and use the coupons all in a single month (they won’t do that either) to get the PDF then you’ve just earned 310 PPP. Add that to the PPP you’ll earn from folks who didn’t back your KS (who will be less plentiful but earn more PPP per person) and you’ve got enough PPP to start the machine to promote the main book the whole Kickstarter was for to begin with.

Originally, right here there was a long section about being upfront and honest with your backers about tacked on costs and add-ons and shit like that. Now it’s two sentences. For a look into why this changed click here.

Step 05a

Start the cycle of promoting and selling the PDF. There are lots of ways to spend your PPP; you can submit your product as a deal of the day, you can use them to get your thing as a featured product on both the front page of DTRPG or the category pages. You can even spend them to circulate an old school banner ad around the site. Fuck the banner, in my opinion. But the spotlight and the DotD are key. Another thing you can do is email people who haven’t bought your book yet by spending PPP (see tips and tricks below). The PPP cost of these things fluctuates with how many publishers are spending their PPP on them. For example, when we launched the Hex Kit Kickstarter we had a pledge level that was cheaper if you already owned Fantasyland on DTRPG. So I submitted Fantasyland for the DotD and spent 145 PPP on it, thinking it might entice more backers. Fantasyland never became the DotD because we launched the KS earlier than expected and I pulled it from the queue and lost those PPP. Six Weeks ago yesterday, I submitted Cold Winter as the DotD and it cost me 305. Today’s cost is 321.

The PPP cost of the spotlight features works the same way; last week I spent 28 PPP to get a featured spot in the category pages and today the same number of impressions (people who see your spotlight, not clicks) costs 30 PPP. Another thing to note, is that the DotD queue process kind of sucks. Six weeks ago I submitted Cold Winter and it has still not been the daily deal as of this writing. Zweihander has been the DotD three times in that six week period. DTPRG’s publisher support team says the queue is completely random, that when you submit your product it goes into the queue and waits to be plucked. DTRPG if you could change this to reflect the date the product went in then I’d really appreciate it.

Get that beautiful baby into the DotD queue as fast as possible though, and then put it right back as soon as you can. Make it the deal of every day. You can just put your PDF on eternal sale, sure, but if you have to point people to it instead of it being in their face and email inboxes, what’s the point?. I’ve heard tale that you can increase your daily sales up to like fives times this way, which means more PPP, that you use to submit as the DotD again as soon as possible. Don’t sit on your PPP, spend them like you need to hide money in real estate and boats. Got a little extra PPP? Buy yourself some featured spotlight impressions and pay attention to your click-through rate. Spend the that PPP like mom just gave you a blank fucking check at the comic book and candy store.

Step 05b

Keep the PDF cost low to put eyes on the POD copy. Yep, said it. You may have seen me somewhere on the internet complaining about how PDFs are often too cheaply priced, but I’ll be gotdamned if Zweihander has not used cheap PDFs as the best vehicle for print sales. If your thing is PDF only, then this is where you check out. But if you are pushing a POD+PDF package then you have an opportunity to really up your POD sales using that PDF. Get your ass on reddit, facebook, twitter, and g+ and give that PDF away for cheap as you can handle. The cheaper your PDF is, the more people will get it. This doesn’t mean more people will like your thing, but it does mean that your thing has more access to people who might like it. The more people who get the cheap PDF and like it, the more people are going to buy your POD copy. That’s the big secret: a cheap PDF means more POD sales, it means more PPP which means more exposure.

This means walking outside of your safe zone; it means talking to people and talking about how great your book is (without being a jackass) and it means really putting in work to get that cheap PDF in front of people. You need champs, too. Everyone can like your game but if there aren’t people who love your game then no one will be talking about. I’ve only talked about how to promote your thing within DTRPG, but you still need to work hard to make sure people outside of DTRPG know about it.

Step 06

Repeat. Real talk, eventually so many people will have your game that it will become irrelevant. But if 21,000 people liked your cheap PDF enough to buy your POD book, then you have a massive amount of people to sell your next book to. I’ve heard that if you sell 1,000 copies of a RPG book in a year then you’ve made it. Zweihander just destroyed that shit, and it did it through a very calculated and brilliant cycle of sales+exposure.

A Tip Or Trick

Send out coupons to wishlist customers. You can spend very little PPP to send a coupon to people who are already interested in your thing this way. I actually do this once every two months or so.

This Article Could Very Well Skip Part Where You Need A Side-Thing To Get A Lump Of Initial PPP

If the thought of Kickstarting a book, fulfilling it through DTRPG, and giving your backers at-cost coupon doesn’t sit well with you I think that’s a totally fine way to feel but also a fine way to run a Kickstarter. But maybe there is room for DTRPG to create PPP and sales-rank incentives for publishers that fulfill their Kickstarters through OBS…

Also, you can do most of this without Kickstarter but it’s a little bit harder. Going into DTRPG sales with no hype means that your product flies off the front page real quick. Having space on the front page is very crucial to being successful there, and that’s why you need to spend your PPP on promotional tools. If you need to promote your thing outside DTRPG for a month to earn those PPP then consider that the PPP cost of things will go up, and you might be locked out of ever affording a DotD slot. Which leads me to the last thing:

The only real way to sell well in RPGs is to make something great. Yeah, you can game the PPP system and increase sales, but you can’t really even access that game if the thing you made sucks.

I want to ahead a thank Daniel Fox again, for being a mensch and answering questions I had about his experiences with Zweihander and just say congratulations to him on his success. Big shout out to Gregory Blair too, who asked some really good questions so I didn’t have to. And also big thanks to Chris Tang from DTRPG who answered a few questions for me to help me sort some mysteries out. For real, Chris and Meredith at DTRPG are great people and have always been really quick to help me out with problem’s I’ve had.

A Personal Note

I would probably not go the at-cost coupon route even though I don’t really see a problem with it. The sequel to Cold Winter is coming out soon, and I did all the work myself so I don’t need to Kickstart it. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at someone doing this though, because DTRPG is the best place to sell digital RPG stuffs but the window you have to keep your thing on the front is really small. The guidelines for having a product up there are close to nothing, and it makes the place very noisy and crowded and it’s kind of like having to dump out all your legos to find that one sword that was actually shiny instead of dull grey.

Second Personal Note, Added on 11/15 Around Lunch

Some folks were talking about the business-ethics of running a Kickstarter where backers get at-cost coupons with a few bucks tacked on. I just want to reiterate that I think Kickstarters going through DTRPG should find a way to rake in some PPP since you don’t get it through the normal means, but don’t be a liar about it. I personally think that giving backers an at-cost coupon is fine, but I would not personally go the at-cost+bucks route because it’s shady, especially if you are not up front with your backers. Originally this article mentioned the method of giving out at-cost+bucks coupons, and in the back of my mind I knew it was a bad idea to even mention it so I gave the article an editorial pass to remove it. If you’re looking for a way to generate sales and PPP of something you kickstart and fulfill through DTRPG, have extra goodies ready to go at launch.

The Flood Of Oligen Hollow, A Free Sword & Backpack Adventure

It is no lie or secret that I adore Sword & Backpack from those fine fellows, Rothbard & Gazpus. For the 5th day of inktober I decided I would turn the first S&B adventure I ever ran with the game into something other people can run, and it’s called The Flood Of Oligen Hollow. The premise is that there is a terrible storm flooding Passwatch (a town in the hollow), and children are going missing. The local witch was helping, but has recently disappeared and the townsfolk want their kids back. This adventure is formatted in the S&B style, and written with plenty of room for a storyteller to fill in the blanks. Click the Witch to get the adventure.


Broadsheet: Death Bugle

Walking outside of the city gates in the Greater Red Sea (which is a bunch of sand, not water) is not smart. Two steps is all it takes to be waylaid by some tough guys or eaten by a world nemeses. But when your ass has to march outside with the band, to the cemetery and alongside a hearse carrying your dead best friend, then you better bring a weapon.

Broadsheet: Wheyzsey’s Face

Wheyzsey the Pervert is a bit of a legend in and around the Greater Red Sea. Mothers and grandfathers tell his story to children who ask too many questions and stick their grubby noses where noses do not need to be stuck. Click to make it as big as Wheyzsey’s fat mouth.


Broadsheet: Floral Scythe

This one is straight from my Dustmarrow headcanon and Sword & Backpack game. A thing to note about this: Dustmarrow is a desert type fantasyland, and in the “cosmology” there is a guy named Auwbdohl to round out the myth of where all the magic swords came from. Auwbdohl basically is jealous of people who are destined for great things, whether they are bad things or good things, so he sails the world killing off these folks and turning their blood into magic weapons. He knows who they are because of other magic stuff (his momma is Birth, more on that later). I’ll try to post about Dustmarrow more often. Anyways, here is the Floral Scythe what turns dead things into gardens. Click to embiggen:




This was part of inktober. To see the on-paper version, before the scan, check out my tumblr.

No Taverns – A Twitter Bot

No Taverns is a twitter bot I am curating with my good pal John Anderson. It will occasionally bleat forth adventure hooks and prompts for your RPG needs. The prompts are being crowd sourced from places like the RPG Talk discord server, and the G+ RPG community. You can check it by going here: N O  T A V E R N S

My Time In The City

The City Kit tiles were some of my favorite to illustrate for the ‘Traveling Through Dangerous Scenery’ official Hex Kit tile set, and I wanted to show off what kind of cool maps you can make with them. So here it is, a city map. Click the picture for a high res version.

More Hex Kit information here:

For those y’all just joining us, these hex kit tiles are drawn my by with my tired hands inside tiny hexagonal stamped stencils. You can then use them with Hex Kit to make your own super tight city maps like this one.

Free Hex Map Made In Hex Kit

Hex Kit comes with some old school tiles, and I made this map while I was making sure they worked. These classic tiles come with coasts and stuff just like the new school tiles, but they are much more in the style of the oldest of hex maps: black & white, centered icons, etc. They’re still hand drawn with my own mits though. Classic black & white tiles are the tiles that come bundled with the app, out of the gate. Click here to get the map and have fun, just don’t use it commercially.

Maps Are Pretty

David McGrogan, over at RPG-babe-headquarters Monsters and Manuals, wrote a post about what a useful map is and what a useful map is not. It’s a good, quick read and you should read it before you read this post because I am going to attempt a cracking, scathing, muckraking takedown of everything he loves and holds dear.


Just kidding, this is a sort of companion post to his. Now, if you have been to this website before then you can probably guess what my angle on this is going to be: I think maps can be useful and pretty at the same time, and I believe strongly that a map should be as good lookin’ as it is useful. I’ve foolishly (I am my own job killer) gone on audio-record as saying that maps at the table do not need to be complicated or pretty. When I was featured on Table Top Babble I mentioned that if you are struggling to make a map for your dungeon then all you need to do is mind map the important things and connect them with lines. I think that’s great. But, I am in the business of putting maps in books so it is in my financial interest to talk about why illustrative cartography has a place in those books, and maybe explain why most maps are not nearly as useful as they are pretty. (This post is sponsored by everyone who ever paid me money in exchange for maps, including David)

Maps Are Art

In his post, David writes ‘Maps must be for things that are difficult to envisage in your head, difficult to explain verbally, and difficult to sketch in 30 seconds on a scrap of paper.’  I think that this is part of the truth, but I think that it is only half the reason we have maps. Maps in games count as art and art is in games because art immerses the reader, opens windows into the setting, and facilitates a connection to the game’s themes with visual cues. Game books are a collection of data our brains need to process to play a game. Pictures help parse that data by offering a break from the chore of reading and give us a visual reminder of what we just read. It gives us visual association.

Novels don’t have pictures because good fiction is enthralling. What is enthralling in games happens after you read the books. This may just be me but a rust monster statblock is nowhere near as interesting a thing to look at as a picture of that rust monster fucking up some dwarf. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking “bullshit, Cecil, my game is super enthralling and I don’t need art or maps or whatever the hell this post is about.” Not so fast dude; I don’t care how innovative your dice mechanic is, if I don’t have some pretty pictures to look at then I am not going to care about it. Art is important to games and like I said, maps are art so maps should be pretty or at least evocative. (*)

Maps have double the responsibility that regular game art has. While page art has the job of in someway connecting a specific theme or image to what is being read, a map has to convey theme and the data. Maps have two extremes, illustration and diagram. A super illustrative map is going to fall short as an arrangement of things and a map that is nothing but information is likely to be a piss poor illustration. A good map is going to be somewhere in between the two. Also having two extremes gave me an excuse to draw this scale:

On the right side of our scale we have diagrams; they are rigid pictures or textual arrangements that give us the minimum of what we need to run an adventure. On the left side of this post we have a map of the Gnoll Hideout outside of town. We, as GMs, can look this diagram over and see exactly what is in each room and how each room connects. There is nothing else about this map that we can infer other than exactly what we see, or read in the accompanying text. No flavorful dressing. We would probably need to have extensive GM notes to accompany it or we would need to have memorized the adventure or we would need to have the adventure close by. With as much data is presented here we basically don’t need this map if we have the adventure handy. We could load it up with more data but how much text can we smash into the spaces around the diagram before we might as well just be reading from the adventure anyways? This isn’t standard behavior involved with diagram maps though; everyone learns at different rates and how much shit we need at the table to run adventures is going to vary. Everyone has different play styles and everyone is going to have opposing, raging emotions about what needs to be included in text descriptions. Suffice it to say that my main point is that while this map is super useful it is really ugly and doesn’t do the other thing I need art to do: excite me. This kind of map is really rare though. You mostly only see it in spaces where people are talking about game design.

Flowcharts, or diagrams also suffer another problem, for me at least. When I am thumbing through RPG books or PDFs and I see a diagram or chart instead of a map, my brainhole immediately raises a redflag and I am visited by visions of bureaucracy, sterility, meetings, whatever the fuck TPS reports are, business shit, waiting in line, and other things that remove me from the fiction. This is why I like my games artsy as possible; I want to be in the book, I do not want to be studying the book.

I don’t think I need to share an example of a map that is on the far left of the scale, because not having the time to make it is in itself indicative of what is wrong with over-illustrated maps. A map that is pure illustration is useful for the fiction but terrible for pushing that data we love so much. One type of map that I would throw into this pile is maps that are photo-realistic, or accurate on a satellite level. Especially in fantasy games. If your map of the valley where all the halflings live in their daub cottages is generated wit GIS data and shows a level of detail my computer has trouble processing then you might have effectively broken the fiction. They’ may get a pass from me in sci fi games.

To summarize this section: what I learned from reading David’s post (can I call it an article?) is that there are too many maps that veer to the extreme left of our scale. There are too many pretty maps and not enough informative maps. David isn’t wrong, and I am certainly guilty of that. From my desk I can reach over and grab binders full of maps I’ve illustrated that have no grid. (Fuck a grid. There, I said it.)

A Map In The Middle

I don’t think it is easy to make a map that has all of the useful things about a diagram but looks as good as an illustration. We try, I promise, but when it comes down to me painting blood splatters on the floor or tracing a grid onto that map I am going to choose blood every time. I could paint the grid as blood, but it’s hard to make a blood grid: either you have a mess of square blood or you have a red grid. But we’re grown up children, right? We like our games but at the same time we know how to compromise. Our problem is that we need a way to beautifully convey the data needed for a GM to run an adventure location. We need the diagram to make the job easier, and we need the illustration to help us keep our heads in it.

This is my version of David’s Goblin Ambush map and I think this version sits in the middle of our map-o-meter, if not slightly to the left. David wrote that this sort of scenario doesn’t need a map, that most folks would easily envision the scenario in their head. A nefarious coterie of goblins lie waiting for a mark, having dragged a log across the road to block carriages or semi-trucks hauling milk or whatever your game is about. That scenario is pretty easy, and doesn’t require a diagram or an illustration but having one certainly helps. For example, this map shows us a scale and where the goblins are (that’s the diagram part) but it shows us that they have cover behind rocks, it shows a stream and high ground. It shows us a trail leading into the woods and it shows us that the road is heavily trafficked by something with wheels (or something with skis for feet). We’re left with a pretty pleasant scene we could easily describe, and if I had given this the full color treatment there is so much more I could have added to sell the scene, to add to the fiction. Stuff lots of people wouldn’t just imagine, and stuff editors remove to kill that word count.

Everyone Has Needs

A map in the middle is going to be a compromise on some amount of tools players may need to play their game. It may excel or lack in a tool a specific player needs, but it at least meets as many needs as possible by simply being an intersection of art and diagram. If data and art are things that are tools we need to run games then a map is going to be the best way to combine those things. Not everyone is going to be pleased by what is offered; some people will think its too much and some too little, some people won’t buy games if they have no maps and some people won’t buy games if they do have maps. A map in a game book is going to be the publisher’s or writer’s or art director’s (or even just the map illustrator’s) vision on what exactly needs to go in a map to make it as useful as possible to as many people as possible. A map in the middle is a compromise and I think that’s fine.

I think it’s worth saying too, that technology plays a big part in what our maps are doing and the better the technology gets the better our maps get. Looking at module A3, at the maps printed on the inside, these maps are about as useful as they are ugly. We’ve come a long way, but the need and love for maps hasn’t gone away. The perfect map for you is going to be one you make yourself because you alone are the only one who knows exactly what tools you need to make a game fun. (**)

(*): “Non fiction books don’t have pictures and people still read them!” – Sure, some non fiction books don’t have pictures, but if you look at the next closest thing to a game book you get a textbook and there is a reason that textbooks are full of pictures. Non fiction without pictures chooses to bravely assume the reader is interested in or passionate about the subject matter and in which case, the non fiction is as enthralling as fiction.

(**): This includes town maps and I think that they seem especially useless to a lot of people because of how much time we spend in murderholes. Plan a year long campaign set in a city and see how long you can make it without a map. Here are some times town maps have been useful for me: counting all those little squares let me guess a population to let my Sword & Backpack players know how many people they saved from a massive fire. The shape of the city was the answer to a puzzle. The distance between the baker’s house and the market was important in planning to straight up ice that guy. Counting all those boxes to approximate a raised militia. Town maps are useful too.