A well-designed map or a good-looking battlemap can add a lot to a gaming session, especially for games where movement and positioning is important, like the last few incarnations of D&D. Maps and tiles for games are a field that is easy to break into and hard to do well, but recently I've come across some that definitely do it right.
Both Øone Games and Rite Publishing are definitely taking extra steps to make their products more useful than a simple picture.To start off, we've got two items from Øone Games: Øone's Blueprints: The Abbey ($1.95) and Øone's Black & White: Mad Scientist's Laboratory ($1.99). Øone games is one of the companies that have really taken to the PDF technology, and give you something that actually has functionality that would be impossible or next to impossible in a print product. Both of these products use PDF layers to let you choose square, hex, or no grid, as well as whether or not to print things like room numbers and furniture. You can even turn off the wall fill to save ink. Both maps from Øone have simple and clean line art - the Abbey overview map would not look out of place on the inside of a TSR module cover.
Unlike the other maps I'll be reviewing today, the Abbey is a large-scale product (not a battlemap), consisting of 7 letter-sized maps showing a walled medieval abbey complex high in the mountains. The walls enclose a dozen buildings of the sorts you would expect to find in such a place: cloister, chapel, church, refectory, bell tower, etc. This particular abbey is also prepared for pilgrims, with its smithy and stables; for scholars with its large library; and can act as a hospital with a sizable infirmary in times of plague or war. The layout is definitely reminiscent of actual medieval monasteries, so should you have need of such a building in your game, this is a simple and inexpensive way to map it. The only thing missing that I can see is a scale for the map: from the sizes of furniture I would guess that it's 1 square = 5 feet.
The Mad Scientist's Laboratory shares the same layered PDF features as the Abbey, but is set up to be printed at battlemap scale. It shows a large two-story house, the ground floor seemingly normal while the upper storey is given over to the sort of experiments that involve grave robbery, lots of late-night stitching, and an electrical storm. Furniture includes chemical vats, a steel table (with strapped-in monster) and even a room full of coffins.
|Showing off the Maptools vision blocking layer in |
Rite Publishing's Fantastic Maps: The Clockwork Maze
The Clockwork Maze depicts a large room (100' by 100') filled with gears and clockwork mechanisms and winding paths through them. The narrow (and potentially dangerous) "corridors" would make an interesting place for an encounter, especially if the enemy were not as restricted as the players due to size or mobility.
The Ruined Library depicts a central structure with two wings in a desert or barren environment that appears to have been devastated by boulders - maybe meteors, maybe thrown by giants. The shattered remains of bookshelves and their contents lie scattered across the floor. The art is well done and very attractive, but the cartography is somewhat lacking in the small details - the fallen shelves are incredibly sparse (none of them overlap) and there appears to be no other furniture in the building. Still, it definitely gets across what it sets out to.
Glass Ships and Icebergs is the least interesting of the three Fantastic Maps I reviewed. It features two small (35') ships made of glass (or ice) at either corner of a section of ocean with ice floes scattered between them. The section of maps that contain the ships has been made narrow so you can easily remove them without losing too much of the ice floe battleground, which is a nice touch, but there's only so much you can do to make a map like this appealing. Jonathan Roberts has done his best, but unlike other maps in this series I don't feel like you'd be missing much by going with a simple drawing on a whiteboard or gaming mat.
Both Øone Games and Rite Publishing are definitely taking extra steps to make their products more useful than a simple picture, and I'll be watching both companies in the future to see what they bring us.