The other night, my Game Master pulled out a new GM’s screen  to spread around his laptop. It was a small, laminated, easy to read, touristy street map of Seattle. We’re playing a near future cyberpunk World Of Darkness game set in a futuristic Seattle, and suddenly we actually had a city to explore instead of basic guesses and googling to tell us what the city was like in certain areas. The streetwise maps seem to be made to provide just enough information to get a visitor around the major parts of a city and not be too cumbersome. They point out basic attractions or buildings that are of significant importance, like museums, police stations, hospitals, etc. and they fold up in a nice pocket sized package. After we looked over it for a few minutes, I immediately thought of 5 games where I would have LOVED to have something like this, but had to make due with more complicated or less adequate mapping options:
- The 1920s Akron, Ohio gangster game where I ebayed a 1940s roadways map of the area that at least told us the boundaries of the city in a previous time.
- The Fey take over a fictional modern Pennsylvanian city game where I photo-shopped a map of Budapest because it had all of the roads and rivers I wanted in about the shapes I wanted.
- The New York, New York Ridiculous Superheroes Jaunt where we kept googling various locations to determine what just got destroyed.
- The Cleveland, Ohio zombies game where we printed a basic map from google and kept making up locations that weren’t really there because we couldn’t get the right landmarks at a manageable size in the multiple printouts and ceased caring about reality after a while.
- The one-on-one Chicago, Illinois Dresden Files Game that had my player flying all over chicagoland chasing spirits.
I have to say, I’ve only seen one of these maps and been around the website  a bit, but at under $10 dollars a piece, they make perfect modern city maps for the level of detail needed in most games. The lamination is a nice factor as well, as dry erase markers can denote special areas or be useful for quick notations of where things are happening in a city. The grid system can be used to denote in-game places as well, listing the players’ homebase at A4 makes it easy enough to find. I’ve picked up 2 or 3 for cities I know I want to set future games in.
If you find yourself in a modern game and want something more than a google map print out, these might be something to consider, but I bet there are some other overlooked options out there as well. What do you do for maps of cities in your games, especially modern ones? Do you have a detail threshold that you need a map to have, or would a fairly generic map like this work well enough? Is your detail threshold different for other genres where less modern concerns like weapon shops and alien relics are of more concern to the game than realistic things like bus stations?