Map Order Advice for Non-Cartographers

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Map Order Advice for Non-Cartographers

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As many of you may be aware, Paizo Publishing is in the midst of its annual RPG Superstar competition. Last night at midnight was the deadline for contestants to submit their entries for Round 2—Create An Encounter Map.
Now, because I have close ties to Paizo (and even closer ties to the host of this year’s contest, Owen K.C. Stephens), I have recused myself from advising any contestants on their submissions. I AM, however, open to giving general advice on broad game design topics (which, as it turns out, may not always be the best advice when it comes to RPG Superstar).
Via social media, I witnessed a handful of contestants stressing out over their inability to take their innovative, detailed, thematic concepts and render them onto graph paper in order to submit them. “I’m a writer, not a cartographer!” was a sentiment I saw repeated over and over.
Here’s what I wanted to say to each and every one of them:
The thing to remember is that you don’t have to draw your map well … you have to draw it CLEARLY. It could look like a flowchart, as long as your intentions are plain. In your head you KNOW what that physical layout is—that’s your job, to come up with the concept! But in order for that concept to be of any use (particularly to a publisher) you’ve got to be able to communicate that concept to a cartographer in such a way that he or she can create a printable version of what you see in your mind.
In all honesty, as a publisher, I’d RATHER you turn over a bare-bones sketch than a lushly-rendered one. Because the cartographer can’t tell the difference between a “pretty flourish” and an “incredibly important detail” in your sketch, leaving less room for him or her to . . . y’know . . . create an interesting and beautiful map. So the more detail you put in, the more likely it is that the final map will look just like your sketch, rather than some fantastic interpretation of the idea you have in your head.
Now, as I said, this advice might not be perfect for contests like RPG Superstar, where the judges (particularly if voting is open to the public) may be rating you on your execution of the map, not just the concept. But it IS something to keep in mind if you happen to do well enough in a contest that you get the chance to write material for publication.
Your job as a designer is to create the best ideas (and produce the best text) you can . . . leave the visual arts to the visual artists. Get your map ideas down in the clearest, most succinct ways possible, and give the cartographers room to shine!

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