Friday, September 13, 2013
I am a busy dude, and as I have become more experienced at running my regular D&D game, I have found myself trimming the fat from my prep time whenever possible. One of the best tricks that I have added to my DM toolbox deals with creating locations. In the past, I would spend hours, if not days or weeks painstakingly dreaming up and then drawing out the maps for location-based encounters. I would agonize over whether the dimensions for different vertical levels in a structure lined up properly, or whether there were enough fields around a city to maintain its population. I really didn't have time for that kind of crap, and my players didn't really pay attention to it. They wanted cool places to get into fights, and that's it.
Then I realized, why spend all that time fighting writer's block to dream up totally unique places, when you can draw inspiration from the fantastic places already out there!? I set up a Pinterest board called Gamespiration, and over the months that I've had it, the board has filled up largely with photos and illustrations of fantastic locations. The pictures are great for breaking through creative blocks that might otherwise result in yet another fight in an 8x8 room with a couple pillars.
Let me give you an example of how I pulled several existing images together to inspire the location where the final climactic episode of my last campaign took place.
First, I knew I wanted the battle to take place outside a ruined city on a plateau up against a glacier, out of which were running rivers of blighted water. But drawing a city map can take FOR-EV-ER. So I looked around until I found Ani.
I kept the basic shape, changed the fortifications at the north edge to the foot of the glacier and converted some of the landmarks into sites appropriate for my particular ruin.
I also knew I wanted a Helm's Deep style fortress set into the foot of the glacier, so I grabbed this image and a couple others for visual inspiration.
I also grabbed this one for a top-down map.
I ignored the underground cutaway on the bottom of the map, replaced the steps and altar at the top with a keep, and added a few more breaches in the walls from time and previous battles. All-in-all the modifications were much quicker than dreaming it up from scratch.
When my players headed to the ruined city to scout things out, they went poking around in some ice caves looking for a back entrance to the mines they thought might be the source of the evil blight. I took my inspiration for the cave environment from this image.
The beautiful thing about using Pinterest to inspire location is that you can draw from rich visual resources, which can add depth to your locations' descriptions, or even just be shown at the table. "You enter an icy cave that looks like this."
You also can be laying the foundation for incredible locations outside of your prep time without disrupting your usual activities. Anytime you see a cool or potentially inspiring image on Facebook, in an article you're reading or anywhere else online, you can just use the Pinterest plugin in your web browser to toss the image onto your board. When it comes to prepping a location, you then have a one stop shop to get things rolling!