Last time I talked about why mapmaking is an exciting tool to use in a devising room and what it can shift about the way that we normally make theatre. Today we’re going to look at how we do it. I thought this post was going to be the conclusion of the map series, but I have more games I want to talk about in future posts, so stay tuned.
My favorite mapmaking resource from tabletop is a gorgeous little book called The Perilous Wilds by Jason Lutes. It’s a supplement for Dungeon World that expands the scope of a dungeon-delving game to craft and explore a fantastical world. Dungeon World traditionally focuses on the characters and their relationships, building the rest of the game out from there, but The Perilous Wilds gives us an approach for making a whole world together. This book has a special place in my heart because it uses a lot of the methods that I was using in Skills & Scars to build a map with the audience.
The Perilous Wilds recommends that you already have characters before making your map so that their personal details can be tied into the spaces you’re creating. I often prefer a style where you create the world first and discover the seeds for characters through that process. For your work, I recommend that you create the map together whenever it feels like you want one, and not to fret about how much you do or don’t have established ahead of time.
The mapmaking process from The Perilous Wilds has six steps:
Step 1: Put yourself on the map
Step 1: Put yourself on the map
The very first thing you’re going to do is figure out where your map starts. For an adventure, this is simply “Where does the journey begin?” It also functions as the anchor that all of the characters will have together. For theatre, this first step also means thinking about the shared reality of the characters and the scope that seems most interesting to you. Are we interested in characters that travel across distant lands or does this all take place in one city where each neighborhood feels like a different planet? (Love ya Philly)
You’ll also want to nail down the physical process for making the map. I recommend using one massive piece of paper or putting each region on its own index card. Once you have that, put your favorite “You Are Here!” mark on the map and head to Step 2.
Step 2: Add regions
Regions in The Perilous Wilds are wide stretches of terrain or territory. They are containers with borders that are geographical or political. I like to think of them as the primary colors of the map. We’ll add more details about them later, but at this step it’s an invitation to be evocative and think about dynamics. Perhaps a thriving peaceful kingdom is bordered by a forest, ever-frozen in winter. For a smaller scale piece, regions might look like different parts of town or individual wings of a manor.
Each person takes a turn adding a region to the map. Mark the border of the region and make some notes about it’s general quality. When it’s your turn, feel free to ask for input from others, but make sure that each person gets to use their turn as chance to make their own mark on the patchwork we’re building together. Don’t get too lost in the details of any one region and remember that general doesn’t mean generic. Pay attention to which regions are near or far from each other, and make sure you’re starting spot ends up in one of them. Once everyone has had at least one turn and the map feels full, move on to the next step.
Step 3: Add places
Places always exist inside of one of the established regions, and these are going to be the locations where we set our scenes. They can be anything that makes sense within the region and seems like an interesting spot to find our characters. Again we’re going to add these to the map one at a time in turns. This step is our opportunity to add details and wrinkles to the regions. Feel free to play into or against the themes that have already been determined by the other players. Give each person one or two turns to add locations, and don’t be afraid to make too many. You’ll have time through rehearsal to figure out which places are the most vital to your play.
Step 4: Add personal places
If you’ve come into this process with at least some semblance of character already established, this is the step where we begin to find out how they feel about the world we’re making. The best way to do this is to have each character answer a pair of questions. The Perilous Wilds recommends “Where do you call home?” and “What’s a place that’s significant to you?” I also like using: “Where is a place you feel comfortable?” and “Where is a place you don’t want to be found?”
If you haven’t made characters yet, this step is a chance to lay some personal claim to some of the places. Pursue the ones that are speaking to you by proposing a character that could be found there. Maybe it’s a character you want to play or maybe you want to cast someone else in the ensemble to explore that role.
Step 5: Add connectors
After connecting the places to our characters, we connect them to each other by adding connectors. “Connectors” is a super sexy name for the space between two places. During Skills & Scars, my version of this step was “The Easy Way or the Hard Way” and for each place on the map I would ask one of the audience members the Easy or Hard way to get to another location. It’s interesting to think about the interplay between ease and obstacle as a way to look at your characters footprint on the world and start to imagine their behavior.
Step 6: Share rumors and legends
The last step before starting the adventure is creating rumors for each of the places. This gives us reasons that the characters might want to go exploring. Rumors are juicy invitations to discovery because we begin not knowing if they’re true. For theatre, this is the step where we pivot from establishing what we know to collecting what we’re curious about. These might become the themes of our play or they might just give us a starting place to create some scenes. As a creator and deviser this is also an opportunity to remind yourself and the ensemble about the intriguing aspects that the regions and places initially sparked for you. Think back to the broad colors that inspired you in Step 2 and see if you want to tie them back in with a rumor.
Draw Maps, Leave Blanks
Today’s process is a literal mapmaking exercise that gives us an artifact we can use to establish a reality for our fiction. It’s excellent for creating expansive, evocative worlds where different locations are important. Perhaps you want to create your own version of Prospero’s Island, or maybe you’re creating a melodrama that takes place over a chaotic warfront. If you liked what you saw, I heartily encourage you to pick up a copy of The Perilous Wilds where you’ll find more worldbuilding tools and some wonderful random tables. If you’re more curious about smaller, singular locations then be sure to come back in two weeks for Kingdom and Fiasco.