Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gaming Gear: Maps of Mastery, Christopher West

"Chris West loves gaming and expresses that love with an artist's eye. Luckily for gamers, he shares that eye with the rest of us."

Back in the olden days of roleplaying, maps were crude scribblings on graph paper, dictated to the players by the Dungeon Master. Mapping caverns by hand gave you a feeling of exploration; you used your imagination to fill in the details of the surroundings that the DM described. Unfortunately, not everyone at the table imagined those same details.

Arguments were common about who was where, what was in the room and how close that ogre was to the brazier full of hot coals. Savvy DMs and players slipped around the arguments and kept the game moving, but it was always the most frustrating part of a session. There are times that I miss those days, mostly for the nostalgia of making due with what we had. Well, the day has finally come where we don't have to make due. We have Christopher West.

Caves of Chaos, Copyright 1980
Show this map to any old-school gamer and
watch their face light up. 
Chris West is best known for his work on the Star Wars RPG and miniatures combat line, as well as Wizards of the Coasts' Maps of Mystery project. Chris now works freelance for his own company, Maps of Mastery.


All Maps of Mastery (MoM) are double-sided, making them cost efficient; $14 gets you two, high quality, 22"x34" poster maps. In addition, Chris includes a bonus 5x8 map tile on the reverse side of the package insert. These bonus tiles are designed to overlay a section of one of your maps to add detail, a genre-specific twist, or extra options. For example, the tile included for his Swamp Caves map is of a crashed starship buried on the beach. The Swamp Caves itself is genre-neutral, but by adding the crashed starship you can give your sci-fi game the right feel.

Chris also provides additional 5x8 tiles for free. They include another tile for the Swamp Caves that converts the primitive campsite to a high-tech campsite ala Empire Strikes Back. The early incarnations of his Alien Starship tile set are also available. Print as many as you like to create a living alien starship for your Star Wars game, a flesh-lined tunnel system for Call of Cthluhu investigators to explore, or a necromancer's twisted hovel for DnD or Champions campaigns.

On the Table

All MoM are square 25mm (ie: 1" = 5') scale. The grid layout is subtle, often blended into the art itself instead of assaulting the eyes with bold black lines. Additionally, certain objects are outlined by thin red, yellow or green lines. These lines help players know what type of terrain the object represents.

  • Red lines = solid, impassible objects, like walls.
  • Yellow lines = terrain that impedes movement without providing anything to hide behind, such as thick undergrowth and quicksand. Thick undergrowth may also allow concealment.
  • Green lines = areas that impede movement while also providing cover like broken statues and defensive barriers.
Two copies of The Swamp Caves of Forsaken Lands I
placed top-to-bottom
Another unique and impressive quality of MoM is that most are designed to link to other maps in the same series and, in many cases, to themselves. At first this may sound odd, why would you want two maps that look exactly the same next to one another?

Chris manages to pull off an incredible feat. Wild cave and wilderness maps balance detail with a sense of natural randomness. Placing two Swamp Cave maps top-to-bottom creates a maze of trees and passages that, though similar in design, provides a huge and satisfying playing field.

The sci-fi Cargo Docks from Mass Transit II manages the same trick. Even placing two of the larger, docked starships top-to-bottom, like the Strike Force Carrier from Mass Transit III, gives the feeling of a crowded Imperial military port. Combine the Strike Force Carrier with the Cargo Docks, Offworld Transit Facility, docked Nova Eclipse and Offworld Shipping Center and you have a living starport ready for action. Your biggest problem will be finding a table to hold it.

Final Verdict

If the detail, variety and utility of Chris West's Maps of Mastery rank them alongside larger companies like Paizo and Wizards of the Coast, their unique quality of linking together, along with the tiles he provides for free, pushes his work over the top. Chris West loves gaming and expresses that love with an artist's eye. Luckily for gamers, he shares that eye with the rest of us.

Previous Work

You can check out Chris' previous work at the following links:

Modern settings, including the d20 Modern supplement "Critical Locations"

You can also follow Chris on Facebook and Twitter.

UPDATE (9/12/12):

Chris West has just been announced as the official cartographer for gaming legend Monte Cook's new RPG, Numenera. Congrats to Chris.

Official Announcement
Numenera Kickstarter Post


  1. Wow, thanks for the wonderful review, Rich!!!

    1. My pleasure. You make quality product, Chris. Keep it up.