Using maps to structure your world
Handing out a city map
While giving your players a map when they enter a new region might be not feel too realistic it does allow you to structure your world and your game. Maps mark points of interest using icons or numbers. And those numbers act as triggers.
As an example I proudly present Ardbeg. A small mining settlement in The Great Dwarven Empire of my home-brew world.
Using the numbers/triggers
Like any curious explorer or tourist your players will be drawn to those numbers. They will tell you they head for building number 37 and ask you what they see. The stage is now set, it's concrete. This allows you, the Dungeon Master to show your word to your players.
On the Ardbeg map number 37 is "Bea's Deep Dug Inn" a rowdy bar frequented by miners who come here to blow off steam after a long day's work.
Running down the numbers
"Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game. - Soren Johnson"
Your players might just run down the numbers and ask you about 36, 35, 34 all the way to 24 until they have a complete rough guide of region. Which is certainly effective but results in you, the DM in info-dumping your world on your players which makes for terrible gaming experience.
Running through the numbers I'll be required to info dump what all of the +/-19 houses between the bar, Nb 37 and the red light district Nb 24 look like. Apart from 11, 12, 17, 32, 35, 36... they're all pretty common. Bored yet?
Give every tree in the forest or every house in the city a number. When they find out it's just another tree or house they'll take a step back and start to explore in a more engaging way. Just be careful. Tedious might not stop them. And tedious makes for a tedious gaming experience. Thus while easy and effective I recommend one of the solutions below.
All the houses are numbered.
Some places might not always be reachable, or might not even always exist. Mountain passes might be frozen shut during winter. Markets might only appear every last day of the week. This forces your players to consider when to explore. Preventing a rundown of the numbers.
Number 17 is the city square. Depending on when it's visited it might house a market, military parade, protesters or it might just be a square.
The cost of exploring:
Exploring should be encouraged but it should also have a cost. Predictable as in time spent, rations consumed or by the use of random encounters. This forces your players to consider what to explore. Preventing a rundown of the numbers.
The space between the numbers:
In the cost of exploring I mentioned random encounters which crosses into the 'conflict' chapter of world-building where we currently are talking about 'location'. So I'll come back to that in another post. Main idea is that a lot can happen between the numbers on the map as they move from one to another.
When you're designing a world and structuring it around a map;
- Mark everything on your map.
- Temporarily unreachable - consider when to explore.
- Exploring has a cost - consider what to explore.