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*Freelance Traveller

The Electronic Fan-Supported Travellerģ Resource

#68: ďArtisticĒ Maps

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue.

ďI still donít understand why someone would want deckplans without shadows or lighting? For printing, it feels like you want the full monty and have the final complete image.Ē [FaceBook post, name redacted].

Clarity. Avoiding information overload. Allowing the referee to paint pictures in words. Easier for some with certain disabilities to see.

Iíll be using a subsidized liner in and adventure in 10 days and have lots of choice but will much prefer the simplicity of the Mongoose Traveller 1st edition plans (2D not isometric) to put in front of players on the table than the overdesigned, arty creations that may be all the rage and trying to emulate board game or something but in my opinion donít help role playing, arenít as easy to use and cost me more to print for no real gain.

If the Ďpainting picture in wordsí wasnít clear, itís much the same problem the VTT commenters have pointed out. Referee: ďOk, itís dark in that corner of the cargo bay. The lights are out. The antagonist has hacked the controls.Ē Wiseacre player: ďNo itís not, I can clearly see the lights are still onĒ. Or, ďSo this stateroom has been stripped emptyÖĒ ďSo why is there still a bed in there?Ē

The atmosphere comes from the role playing and description, not the attractiveness of the art (which I canít replicate in my own creations in any case), if Iím fortunate enough to find something close to what I want. The nicely lit, wonderfully art filled printout is suddenly useless when I want to switch to a Hostile horror scenario or a crashed ship overrun with exotic flora, or a stripped-out breakerís yard fixer-upper for the PCs to buy cheap. A simple barebones deck plan with my added description will fit all of those and probably cost me a tenth of the price to print in b/w not colour.

I can see how online (VTT) might be different although if Iíve got to hook players with visuals Iím probably not playing with the right crowd as Iím much more words oriented than images. Iím absolutely not saying that artistic maps canít spark creativity (though I might argue that less clutter could spark more Ė how about a player riffing not just off the air vents on the map but the electrical conduits which arenít for a spot of hacking or the floor grills which arenít pictured for a bit of hiding or Ö). I certainly understand the use, even the need on occasions for using maps to focus the attention or to help visualize locations or relationships, but as they say the pictures on the radio are better. Our imaginations will never be limited to whatís on the page. Having said that, I have seen some really excellent artwork that looks absolutely gorgeous and is way beyond anything I could produce, so Iím happy to take inspiration from it. And even to buy it if itís suitable for a publication that would benefit from it.