Mapping Dilemma – How To Stop Your Players From Yawning

From Johnn Four

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0001

I hate to admit it, but because of bad RPG mapping habits I game mastered a “yawner” last night. My number one goal for each and every session is to entertain, and players yawning is a sure sign I’ve missed my mark.

While every game master has their off-session now and then, I can pinpoint several issues which would have made my game session an exciting success. I’ll share these with you in upcoming editions so that you can learn from my mistakes, but today I’m going to focus on the biggest cause of last night’s downfall: mapping during the game.

If you’re playing a story that involves mapping, here are three tips to ensure your players don’t start to yawn by the end of the first corridor.

Put your own mapping desires aside and walk a hundred miles in your players’ shoes.

I thought it would be exciting to have players map their own way, possibly become lost, and then desperately rifle through their self-made maps to find the solution. Some good old puzzle solving.

The reality was, one player struggled to make a map based on my verbal directions while the rest of the party sat there and grew bored. That was not fair to the other players and it wasn’t fair to the player who had the responsibility of mapping.

Next session I’m going to draw the map for the party. Sure, I feel there’s some potential excitement lost in my accurate rendering of the exploration map, but it sure beats tired yawns!

Establish a mapping decision maker so encounter between-time passes fast.

Last night, the party would approach an intersection and I’d address all the players with the question “left or right?” This caused delays and confusion while they considered the decision.

Next session, I’m going to have the party decide on one person to give directions. If the party feels like going in a different direction, I’ll let them interrupt. This will greatly speed up play so we can focus on the meaty stuff.

[Edit from Johnn in 2021. I no longer do this. In-character roleplay of direction to take and figuring out maps is entertaining for groups, especially if you have an NPC in the party so you can join the roleplay.]

If left or right on the map becomes important to the story, give extra information so players have something on which to deliberate.

Because I did not provide any information, every decision of “left or right” became an irritating and meaningless stoppage in play and every intersection became a bland choice.

Next time, I’m going to look ahead and see if I can provide some juicy information so Choice is made more important and the play becomes more enjoyable for all.

For example, “to the left is pitch black silence that goes beyond the light of your lantern – although you feel a slight breeze that carries a scent of rot. To the right you can hear a dull clanging sound from far, far away.”

Now, at least, there’s something worthwhile deliberating – especially if there’s a clue in there (i.e. the party is looking for a magic hammer).

The big lesson you can learn from my mistake here is to put aside your own feelings, take a pulse check during the game, and don’t be afraid to change things so your players can have more fun.

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