Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a series of articles that talk about gaming maps and diverse uses for them in your games. It's no secret to anyone reading this blog that I'm a huge fan of Christopher West and his Maps of Mastery store*. Chris has been working in the gaming cartography business for over a decade now, and has produced several beautiful maps for the Star Wars Miniatures game. More recently, he's taken many of those themes, made them more IP-generic (i.e. filed off the Star Wars details), and expanded his catalog of sci-fi (and fantasy) maps. What we have now is an ever growing resource for maps suitable for gaming in a variety of settings.
Mapping the Scene
So what is the point of this series? I really enjoy Chris's maps, and I haven't run a game session in recent memory where I haven't used at least one of his maps. They're diverse in their usefulness, some more than others. My goal is to pick a specific map from the current Maps of Mastery catalog and showcase some neat ideas and scenes that it can be used for. I'll try and go through as many unique ideas as I can from a variety of settings; fantasy, steampunk, historical/weird war, modern, and of course sci-fi (...interesting list, huh?) I want to give my readers a resource for using these maps in scenes and encounters for their games, as well as provide a challenge to exercise my own creativity and try to come up with outside-the-box scenarios and stories for these maps.
Today we're going to start with one of Chris's earliest maps (of Mastery!), the Offworld Shipping Center from his Mass Transit mapset.
It's a classic, glorious map, with rail cars, cargo bays, control centers, hazards to play with, and even a neat shuttle laid out in the landing bay. The map connects to other maps in the Mass Transit series in a variety of ways, allowing GMs to make truly huge areas for the players to stomp around in.
But what can we do with this map, by itself? As far as utility goes, Chris does give many of us access to overlays for his maps, especially .pdf copies of them. We get an overlay to remove the shuttle and make that an empty landing bay, for instance. With some of the other Maps of Master products, we could leave the bay empty or throw in some more barrels and crates, or a different vehicle, or even turn it into another command and control center.
Speaking of control centers, we've got a nice little cluster of terminals and displays in the center of the map. This is an optimal location to control all aspects of the map's mechanical mechanisms; retractable bridges, security fields, locked doors, cargo cranes, even turbo-lifts could be controlled from these stations. There is a second control station just outside the control center. This leads into the landing bay, so it's optimally used as a security checkpoint that anyone who arrives has to approach before access to the rest of the facility is granted. The orange light on the wall could be used as a weapon or other scanning device, letting the person behind the protected glass know if the person is carrying weapons, or is human, or whatever the device is scanning for. This security station probably has access to locking and unlocking access doors on the map, and maybe control of the fuel depot.
There are two other wall terminals on the map too, one down by the security gate across the railway, and another in the upper left near the south entrance to the fuel depot. If the GM wants these to actually be used, they could be utilized in a more local means to interface with the main computer for the map (if networking is a thing) or individually to operate the security gate or lock down the fuel depot. The depot has a lift, which those controls just outside the room could control.
That's the layout, now let's talk about what you can do with this map in any given setting.
Fantasy: Okay, we probably can't do anything with this map in a fantasy setting...or can we?
This map is actually pretty useful for a city or fortress in a fantasy setting that could allow for such a thing (Eberron comes to mind). We'll say that this is a section of a dwarven fortress, one that is moving valuable minerals from deeper within the mountain to transit points where they will either be smelted (ores) or sorted (gemstones). It works better if we use the empty landing bay to remove the shuttle from the pad, but everything else works fairly well. The control center isn't really computerized as much as it is a series of records and bookkeeping files that outline productivity within the mines or possibly even troop disbursements for shipments elsewhere in the kingdom. Elevators become closets or storage rooms where weapons and supplies are kept. The fuel depot stores water for animals or possibly even alchemical substances to power artificed devices used for transportation. The railway can be used as-is, if there's ever a race in fantasy that would use rail-cars, it's the dwarves (or gnomes, I suppose). The security checkpoint is magically warded, with scrying sensors that detect magic, races, and illusions.
Game Use: Your PCs may need to infiltrate the fortress or mines by sneaking in the cargo holds, or bluffing their way past the security checkpoint. They might not be looking to get into the fortress any further, maybe they need something from the bookkeeping center, such as maps, schedules, or inventories. Maybe the bookkeeping center is the objective, and there's a magical scrying crystal that someone wants the PCs to steal for some nefarious scheme.
Steampunk (and Weird War): For this we have Dr. Fornazio's Aeronautical Cargo-dome! Various airships, gyrocoptors, and rotor-planes from shipping companies and privateer fleets utilize the Cargo-dome to transfer goods ans services. Built into the side of the Rockies, the various aircraft arrive at the landing bay where they offload their cargo. Servicemen and specialists who work for Dr. Fornazio secure the cargo in two holds near the landing bay, while the pilots of the craft check in with security. If their ship needs fuel, it can be arranged for at this time. After a brief waiting period in the cargo hold, the goods are moved to a steam-powered train system that carries the cargo into the mountain to be secured in protected vaults.
Game Use: A Steampunk adventure could include raiding the Cargo-dome in hopes of securing an item from the cargo hold before it can be moved into the more secure mountain vaults. Perhaps the fuel depot is the target, and a hopeful independent freelancer sees the Cargo-dome as a prime target for theft of petroleum (or whatever your world's aircraft are powered by). Maybe the objective is deeper within the mountain, and the PCs need to defeat the evil Dr. Fornazio's Elite Security Magistrates to gain access to the inner vaults and the even more deadly dangers within!
Modern/Sci-fi: I'm going to try to come up with something different here. This isn't an Offworld Shipping Center; it's a missile loading bay on a warship. Missiles are loaded from a secure hold off the right side of the map along the tram-line. The freight cars are actually missile packs or even giant torpedoes, that are configured before launch in one of two preparation bays (the Cargo Holds). Once the missiles are ready to launch, they are moved along the track to the loading cranes, which can move along ceiling-mounted trams to either of the two launch tubes along the left side of the map. The Control Center is the master loading system and fire control station for this particular launcher. In such a scenario, I'd make the landing bay the storage bay for additional munitions and armaments.
Game Use: PCs might have to infiltrate this section of the ship to place explosives of their own, or prevent a missile with a bio-weapon from being loaded and fired from this launcher. Either that, or they're on defense, trying to prevent enemy saboteurs from destroying this launcher (and possibly the whole ship).
So there we have it; the first of my "Mapping the Scene" articles. I hope you find it useful, or at least entertaining. I know it certainly helped me look at this map in a different light, and increases the odds that I'll use it in the future for a variety of games.
May the dice be with you!
*- One final note; Chris West is a phenomenal artist, cartographer, and gamer to follow. In addition to his Maps of Mastery storefront, Chris is also on Patreon. Currently, anyone who supports him on Patreon is receives a series of exclusive maps on a monthly basis. As of now he's giving us various tiles for a modular-configured Starship (which is 3 months away from being officially finished, but you could always reverse the image on a few tiles and have a complete vessel now). Maybe I'll take a stab at drafting up Star Wars RPG stats for this and a few other vessels Chris has designed and laid out on his various maps.