Maps are cool. So are the tokens, chess pawns, Lego characters, and miniatures we push around on them. I love my RPGs to have helpful visuals to convey information. They’re good. I still have my set of D&D 4e player and monster pog/token things. They’re a gift that keeps on giving.
Making maps is a great past-time. When I was designing boss fights for my Campaign of Skorne (open table game using Maze Rats), I drew sketches of maps and fully detailed, recurrent maps. I used 11 x 17 inch paper and drew directly on them (I picked the picture above as an example). They’re completely grid-less. The messier, the better. These things were meant to be discarded. In the heat of combat, I would use a pen to draw directly on the map; the same pen I would use to track notes like HP behind the screen. No fiddling with Expo markers and those fiddly caps.
There was a problem though, and it came with character movement. I basically ruled that you could move a couple of inches (maybe six or lower) for your move for the turn and a bit more if forewent your action. We “eyeballed” it a lot, which turned out to be a bad idea in the intense situation of combat. A lot of players began player “mother-may-I” with me, moving their token as far as they could and then saying, “can I go farther?” I don’t blame them. Players were clarifying something that It slows things down.
I wanted a tactile, practical solution for a tactical, tactile, practical problem. One that doesn’t involve rulers and tape measures. I’ve seen those Warhammer players. I don’t want any part of that nonsense.
If you’re using an OSR game like Maze Rats, Knave, Into the Odd, Black Hack, White Hack that isn’t so fixated on precise ratios of “grid measurements to real-life measurements” this works very well. Your milage may very with other games.
The solution rule is this: On their turn, a character may move 25 feet and take one action in any order. Actions include: attack a target within range, cast a spell, drink a potion, move 15 feet, etc.
Assuming 1 inch on the game board is 5 feet, you have two standard movement “measurements” for PCs: 25 feet as their move action and an additional 15 feet is they burn their action. See it yet?
25 feet = 5 inches.
15 feet = 3 inches.
Use an index card!
Each player has their own and measures with the 3×5 card when it’s their chance to move. Done and done.
If you absolutely NEED a different measurement at the table (maybe a player has some lame boots that give them +5 ft of movement each turn), just cut a piece of paper to the length of your choosing. Just be sure to use something sturdy. Normal printing paper is pretty flimsy. Cardstock could do it.
For the GM using monsters with varying movements rates you have two options: the lame one, and the easy one. The lame one means you actually keep track of how far the baddies move. Use a ruler or measuring tape. The easy one means you just eyeball it. You’re good enough at knowing how far things are. Psh, the players don’t know the movement speed of each monster. Make it up, friend.
For extra-artsy, extra-peppy, high maintenance GMs (hello, fellow educators), you could double the use of index cards. For beginning players, it may be very nice to have a list of action options in combat (attack, perform a stunt, drink a potion, cast a spell, etc.) printed right on the index card. Or maybe the game you’re running has such tight, brief rules that you could print out a reference and glue it to the index. The world is your oyster.
Now go forth! Draw some cool maps and for goodness sake: run a game!
Post-Script: Friends in the United Kingdom and other countries, what would be your day-to-day equivalent? Is there a mundane office supply that has roughly the same measurements?