I’m just putting these all together for comparison’s sake for the benefit of the competitors in this round. The actual message board thread discussing these is here.
This map gets an “F.” This map is awful. It’s drawn in pencil and the scan barely shows the lines. I can’t easily see where everything is supposed to be. Even where I can see it, I don’t know what it is! Are those lines rivers? Are they forests? Lakes? What are those circles? Are those letters or numbers next to them?
Map, grade “D.” This map is marginally better than the previous one. All I did was go over the pencil with a dark pen so the lines would show up more clearly on the scan. I still don’t know what these lines represent, or the circles, and the numbering isn’t even clear.
Map, grade “C.” This is a marked improvement, but could still be clearer. It looks like the upper left border uses the old “use a humped line to indicate the edge of a forest.” The big loop on the right may be a lake, a giant mud pit, a swampy area, not entirely clear, but a quick email to the designer would clear it up. Rather than generic circles, the four locations use little icons–two forts or castles, some kind of ruin, and something that’s hopefully a cave but maybe is a giant eyeball. The numbers are clear and legible.
If you can’t draw forts, cities, or what have you, find a symbol on the internet, print it out, and tape or glue it to your map before you scan it.
This ENworld link is a handy collection of common gaming map symbols, and here is another.
Map, grade “B.” This is the exact same map as the Grade C map, except I colored in the forest and the blob on the right–green means forest, blue means water (rather than mud or swamp or magical barrier). It doesn’t matter if you color it with colored pencils before you scan it or if you’re using a coloring tool on your scanned map–color helps clarify what you’re depicting.
This map is still missing a compass (indicating north) and a scale marker, so I’d still need to talk to the designer about it.
Map, grade “A minus.” Some map as before, except I actually named the locations on the map as well as giving them numbers. I also added a simple compass rose and a scale marker.
Note that the scale marker is based on the grid size of the paper, which doesn’t show up on the scan–if squares are important (like in a dungeon), make sure the grid shows up so the mapper knows what the scale is!
Also, because the resolution of the scan may mean your map appears at a different size on your screen than the mapper’s screen, thus relative statements like “1 inch = 1 mile” may change; always include an on-map scale marker so the mapper can determine the scale without having to figure out at what DPI you scanned your map.
I give this map an A- rather than an A because in some places the handwriting is a little sloppy; if you have text on a map, it’s best to include a text file turnover of all the text on the map, spelled correctly. This allows the mapper to (1) just copy & paste the text onto the map, rather than puzzling out your handwriting, (2) cross off each piece of text as he works on adding it to the map, so he doesn’t miss anything that’s supposed to be there.
Thus, for this map, I should include a text file that says:
1 Fort Zur
2 Fort Brun
3 The Ruin of Castle Happydeath
4 Ogre Lair
1 square = 1 mile
(The last two entries are mainly reminders rather than actual copy-paste goals… the cartographer isn’t going to put the text “[[compass rose]]” on the map. We’re not expecting Round 4 entries to include a map tags list, just make your map readable, please!)
If your handwriting is bad, either use a text tool in your graphics program to add text to the map, or print out the text, cut it out, and glue it onto the map before scanning it.
Note that the A- map doesn’t get an A- grade for being awesome or interesting, it gets an A- for readability and how easily the cartographer could turn this into a professional map. I am 99% sure that if I handed this to a cartographer, he’d create a map that is exactly what I’m looking for.
Note also that this map could be much more interesting, with more details and such–but remember that the cartographer hasn’t read your text for the book, he doesn’t know if all the extra little details are necessary for your map, or if they’re just flavor to make it look cool (for example, if you draw a scrap of paper on the floor of a room, he doesn’t know if you’re trying to make the room look more interesting, or if that paper is a vital clue the PCs can find in the room). As you work with a company and a cartographer more, you’ll gain an understanding of the acceptable level of detail. For the purpose of RPG Superstar, the priority is readable, functional maps, not creating maps that are so awesome and detailed that you should be working as a professional cartographer rather than a writer.