Luke Reid admits he’s new, having started playing Dungeons and Dragons in August 2017 and the Adventurers League in September, but he insists that, if you want to be a good Dungeon Master, all it takes is a passion and a want to ensure people are having fun.
In this, Luke leads by example.
Luke came to my attention at the recent Winter Fantasy, when players kept asking me if I had seen the amazing DM with the even more amazing maps! Meeting Luke, his passion for Dungeons & Dragons is even even even more amazing. Since August, he has thrown himself into running a weekly game of Tomb of Annihilation and attending and judging at conventions. Luke’s color hand-drawn maps are a standout feature of his table (although I hear he does excellent NPC voices as well), and he chatted with me about his tips for other DMs looking to improve their cartography and create a more immersive experience for players.
Cartography is like Dancing. Luke trained as a fine artist but emphasizes that even those who feel they don’t have drawing skills can impress a D&D table and that, with practice, those skills will improve. “It’s like dancing,” he says. “You’re always going to look better than the guy who isn’t dancing. Even if you’re a terrible dancer, you’re better than the guy who isn’t dancing.”
Mapping on the Fly. If you have a short amount of time to prepare a large number of maps, Luke says to stick with basic outlines. If you are judging at a convention, it is worth preparing in advance to save time during your slot. However, if you have just a dry erase mat and no prep time, Luke says the best option is to come with different color dry erase markers and – for bonus points – a few “extra little pieces” you can throw on the mat to add some depth and immersion. For example, in his Tomb of Annihilation game exploring the jungles of Chult, Luke will indicate ruined buildings with a few quickly drawn squares with holes in them; then, he will add pre-made trees onto the board. “That can go a long way in aiding the experience,” he says. Luke creates trees painting sticks from his yard but mentions craft and hobby stores also have premade props. Laminated miniatures (that represent barrels, canoes, barriers, and other universal items) are also great to keep in your kit.
Keep it Simple. As you start to develop your mapping skills, Luke says it is important to start developing a key. Trees, rivers, rocks, dirt, landmarks, sides of cliffs, you have to find your style for drawing these, and Luke recommends keeping things simple, as too many details can get lost at the gaming table. For example, a table can be a circle with a few lines and some crosshatching that looks like wood. For walls, Luke uses a chiseled edge marker and draws a hard black line. For stairs, to indicate direction, Luke recommends making bottom stairs really tiny and graduating up to the largest top stair. “It doesn’t look realistic, but it translates a visual that is clear,” Luke says.
You Don’t Need Fancy Supplies. Although his maps impress, Luke says he doesn’t use a lot of “fancy gear.” He draws all of his maps on large sticky note easel board with 1-inch graph lines on it, which he finds easy to transport. The rest of his kit includes pencils, prismacolor black markers, a tombow brush pencil (for flowing or organic lines like trees or rivers), a chiseled hard tip (for stone, jagged lines), a “really, really big eraser” (Luke lays out all his maps in pencils first), and a set of color pencils (“that gift all art kids get”).
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