I just read this post over at A character for every game, and it got me thinking. I used to love fantasy cities, but after trying to use some of them in my games I started to wonder how I should use them. My main problem was the city maps. I've read so often how people have gushed over gorgeous maps and how they see their campaigns unfold just by looking at that map. I think I'm missing something.
Say you just purchased, or made your own, fantasy city. It will probably be a list of factions and powerful individuals to interact with, a list of shops, temples and other establishments of the city. The latter list might be so detailed that it contains hundreds of entries and their location, proprietor and kind of business they do. Also, you probably have a map.
I have a hard time using this map. If you have a big colourful map with a lot of houses on, neatly marked where different establishments are located, how do you use it in play? Do you lay it out on the table and the players point where they go, and you read of what they see from the listing of businesses I mentioned above? Do you keep the map and just give rough descriptions of the neighbourhoods based on the businesses listed there? Frankly, most of these ways of using a city map seem kind of cumbersome to me. I'd love to hear how people who have managed big city campaign does it!
The first time I wondered about things like this was when I managed to get hold of the first Lankhmar supplement to AD&D. The map was really good looking, and it also had these small city block pieces you were supposed to slot into the blank spaces in the city quarters. While I liked the idea of an ever changing labyrinth of a city, I never figured out how to use them. When would I show the players a map? When was it time to start describing alley by alley? As you maybe can tell, I've been playing mostly in different locales where I know how to run things. Running character based games is hard work, but I can do it. Running dungeon based games (in the broadest possibly sense), I can do that. But I feel I need to up my ante, and also dive into my love of city based fantasy like the one written by Fritz Leiber. So, please chime in and tell me how you use city maps in your games!