CARTOGRAPHY FOR BEGINNERS

The game was complete with empty glasses of original pirate peanut butter whiskey…

This post will not be an attempt to teach you anything, to be honest. The title is a lie. If you thought it wasn’t going to be a lie, you have, in fact, failed your Wisdom check.

This past weekend I got a chance to finally play Treasure Island with my fiancé and quarantine pod members. This Shut Up & Sit Down review of the game is what sold me on it almost a year ago now, and I’ve been hunting for the best chance to experience it. You see, as a board gamer, tabletop RPG gamer, and really all around gamer, I seek out that “experience” play that only certain games can provide. It’s why Dread is my favorite RPG – every session I’ve ever run or played has elicited a very specific experience that only it can give me.

As we were playing, my genius sister was like, “why don’t you take a picture of this for your BLOG?” At first I wasn’t sure why, but as we continued to play, them seeking out my treasure and me hopelessly clinging to my perfect treasure-hiding talents, a picture began to form quite literally in front of all of us of our experience with the game. No doubt, that’s the intent behind the game, but as you can see our map from playing tells a story even with you never having seen a single moment of our gameplay.

Map Close Up

One quick note on the game – the black marker was anything I did as Long John Silver – they were clues that may – or maybe not – were accurate as to where I hid my treasure. The other colors, a little difficult to make out, were for each separate player/character. In this way, you can see exactly where they were searching on the island.

This isn’t a review of Treasure Island, although it was fun, and I think it will be much, much better on future play throughs. It’s not a retelling either of our experience playing the game.

This is a full-on endorsement to use maps to your full advantage in your games. OSR or not, maps help players and GM alike share a common history of the events of a game, and what else is a story if not a retelling of history – of something happening?

More so though, Treasure Island shows the power of letting your players mark maps themselves. It’s not a game with a GM, but it is asymmetrical, and as the odd-one-out Long John Silver, it certainly felt like being the GM at times, and it was great. I handed our secrets like they were cursed gold doubloons, and every time I could sow doubt or suspicion, I certainly did. I left it up to the pirates to decide whether or not I could be trusted.

But as the players drew their paths and search circles on the map, a story began to unfold with very little detail from me. They trotted all over the island looking for my treasure, and in the end one of the other players did find the gold! But you know what? That wasn’t the best part for any of us – even the winner. The best parts were those moments where they discovered and uncovered the secrets I had laid out before them as a result of the work they put into the map themselves.

Give your players the tools to do the work for themselves, and they’ll give you back gold many times over. Now I just gotta figure out the easiest way to do this kind of map in Roll20…

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