GM Tips: Use the Map

GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

Have you ever had one of those moments when someone suggests something to you, that as soon as you hear it seems really obvious and yet you’d never considered it up until that point?

One of the many good suggestions that Rob made during our current D&D campaign is that I should have the map up on the screen of our Google Hangouts (since we’re running online) more, in retrospect this seems really obvious but was something I hadn’t considered before. I gave it a go during the last session and (despite a few initial technical hitches with screen sharing) it seemed to help during the session, I screenshared an MS Paint window with the map of Battlebridge in it and used arrows drawn freehand to show the characters travels around the city; when I needed to use it again later I could just press CTRL+Z to undo/remove the previous arrows.

I also really found this useful as a GM allowing me to keep track of where everyone was and be able to give them descriptions of the places that they were walking past and the people they might meet.

Although we did this online I’m pretty sure the same would be applicable in a face-to-face game, you could lay out a map on the table between your players, cover it with acetate and use a wipeable marker or a chinagraph pencil to draw the arrows on it, wiping them off as necessary.

I found this was extremely useful and would advise any GM to consider getting the map out more and using it as a tool to aid in exploration around your game world.


Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

8 thoughts on “GM Tips: Use the Map”

  1. I’m glad you found it helpful, and it did make things easier for the players to know where they are and comment on what’s around them.

    In my home games, I do exactly what you suggest; we lay the current map out in the center of the table (it’s in a plastic sheet) for all to see. Sometimes, the PCs might enter a location which also has a map, and we place that on top of the land map, so that the current map is the one that’s always in view.

    1. Yes it definitely improved the aesthetic of the game and not only helped the players but also helped me decide what to describe to you guys as you wandered around 🙂

  2. Have you ever considered using roll20? It does wonders for our Kingmaker Pathfinder campaign!

    1. I have used it before but mainly for the jukebox function TBH, I’ve never considered the extra time spent preparing battlemaps and tokens gains a commesurate benefit in terms of game enjoyment for my group since we don’t use virtual minis. I generally just mack a map in Photoshop, open it in MSPaint and then screenshare it in a hangout.

        1. Yes, Roll20 can be run within Google Hangouts, I’ve used it like that when using the jukebox function and have also used it to create a Fate playmat with fate tokens etc.

          Unfortunately I found (for me personally) the increased effort of setting it all up, getting everyone to create an account, etc wasn’t really justified by the benefits.

  3. I am a big fan of Roll20, which has tons of good tabletop display features, and also good to show any handout or map, but people like Google Hangouts for the extra conferencing features (you can insert a Lower Third or marquee with your name, your head zooms up when you are the one speaking, etc.)

    Roll20 can actually be invoked as a Google Hangouts add-on, and then once you specify what campaign you’re in, the map appears in the middle, somewhat smaller than in Roll20 natively.

    So it’s possible to have a single screen with Google Hangouts alone, that will project the Roll20 tabletop view on and off. Even better is if all players have multiple monitors: assign Google Hangouts to one and the Roll20 view to the other. If you have a “Matrix operator” set-up, there’s no limit to the Google Hangouts and Roll20 and rulebooks you can display at one time!

    1. Yes, I’ve run Roll20 from within Google Hangouts, however, I wasn’t a massive fan of it, having people with multiple monitors is a good idea if all of your players have that hardware set-up and a decent enough internet connection to cope with that; however I certainlty don’t have the money to buy that sort of equipment ATM and I want to keep my games as accessible as I can to as many people as possible (hence using Google Hangouts with a minimum of additional add-ons).

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