The love/hate relationship I have with maps and mapping is probably totally normal for a D&D player and DM.
Maps are gorgeous, fascinating, intricate, expressive, and awesome. Historical maps, continent maps, hex maps, city maps, dungeon maps -- I just love to look at them. But I can't stand drawing them. When I'm prepping a session, I map out of necessity. When I'm a player? Please don't ask me to be the mapper. I will screw it up. It's just not something I ever rose to or aspired to do well. Maybe if the scanner was working properly I'd be more interested in trying my hand at mapping, but in the end I get bogged down in the minutiae ("wait, did he say thirty feet or forty feet? Crap.") and that sucks the fun out of it for me.
That's the thing - I can draw a functional dungeon map. It won't be pretty, or fashionably cross-hatched or anything like that, but it'll serve its function...and that's about it.
|"Wait, is it sine or tangent? Shit. Somebody hand me the damn 'HERE BE DRAGONS' stamp."|
Which is precisely why there's a market for pre-drawn maps adaptable to your game. Over the past few weeks I've acquired some recent releases along these lines, so the following is an attempt at a review.
MOLESKIN MAPS I & II
Matt Jackson over at lapsus calumni draws some great maps, and there are a mess of free ones on the blog. Now he's released some in pdf form through Chubby Monster Games, with a third volume on the way. The Moleskin Maps volumes feature each map on its own page full-size, with a facing page for note-taking (with headings for background, key features and encounters, wandering monsters, etc). The format just makes sense, of course, although I wonder about the preprinted lines and their spacing (I haven't printed these out yet).
The maps themselves are great - they run the gamut: several cave/cavern complexes, campsites, farm, town, forest clearing, and a subterranean temple. They're definitely encounter maps, on the smaller side, but that's the point; these aren't complexes to populate for several nights' adventuring, they're for side-trek and last-minute type stuff. I like that the maps are "uncluttered" - don't get me wrong, sometimes I want the detailed cross-hatching and all of that, but sometimes I just want a map of a campsite I can throw down and go with. The fact that it's a pdf is a mixed blessing - I'll have to print these out to write out notes longhand, but conversely I can use screen-share to plop that forest clearing on the screen for an online game; and since I run almost exclusively online these days, that shouldn't be overlooked.
Dyson Logos is rightly famous in the internet-of-gaming for his deliciously-rendered maps, and he recently released Dyson's Delves, a collection of maps (some populated, others not), in print through Lulu. Dyson strongly encourages everyone to write in the book and make it their own, something that might be difficult for some folks accustomed to keeping their gaming paraphenalia pristine.
The collection includes several populated dungeons, ready to go at the front of the book; but the bulk of the volume is composed of page after page of beautiful, functional maps. Most of them are subterranean, but there are a few buildings and above-ground maps as well. Facing pages are essentially blank for note-taking and prep.
I foolishly ordered the softcover version of Dyson's Delves. Now that I'm warming up to the idea of actually writing in the damn thing, I wish I'd gotten the hardcover and put a paper-bag book-cover on it (like back in junior high) on which I could sketch a map or two of my own!
Bottom line is that I like both of these products, in some cases for overlapping reasons (utility), but also for contrasting ones (one is a book to turn into an artifact; the other is more versatile for online and non-D&D use). The Moleskin Maps are available on DriveThru, and Dyson's Delves is up on Lulu.
Oh, and one more thing about maps - if you're not occasionally using the Perry-Castaneda collection, you should be.