[RPG] Tips for creating engaging modern setting battle maps


I'm playing a modern horror campaign, basically "Exorcist cops vs Japanese Folklore creatures". The combats take place in the city, and this, I think, it causing my battles to be dull, like a Final Fantasy with battle grid. I'm using Savage Worlds, so minis and maps are important.

I don't have the resources to use colorful tiles nor the ability to create something very detailed, but using a grided whitboard and color oil pens I can make interesting fantasy battle rooms. Here, they usually stay in the same room, specially when facing a Wild Card, there's not much movement.

Battles, as expected on a city, take place inside abandoned buildings and the streets at night. Though there are fantasy elements, the city is not a fantasy city (they're playing in Tokyo, people's not supposed to know about those monsters), so the best I've done so far is conveniently placing gas tanks together while they were being chased by a supernatural slasher… and even that was boring…

Any tips for making them more interesting?

Best Answer

Actually, combat in a modern city should be a lot more interesting than in most fantasy settings! That's because of the complexity of the terrain. The opponents the players are facing may have numerous types of advantages.

  • Height - the enemies may have higher ground than the players. It may be small scale, they may attack surprisingly from the ceiling of a room, they may be higher on a staircase or just sit on top of a garbage container. It may give them the advantage of reach or surprise, it may make it easier for them to defend them selves. They may be a lot higher than the players, sitting on a roof of a building, a balcony a few stories above ground. It may let them attack the players from afar, provide them great cover from gunfire, let them observe the players from afar and not be seen.

  • Cover - it's really easy to hide or set up a trap in a city. There's the severs, back alleys, rooftops, you can hide in buildings... It's not as simple as in fantasy, where the cave in the middle of the woods is obviously the Den Of Evil and where the monsters just jump out of the bushes. Same for indoor encounters - that damn monster may actually be hiding in the closet! When fighting in a city, you may never be sure where and how numerous the enemy is. Also, narrow corridors, small spaces and the like may be used as a tactical advantage.

  • Mobility - fights can be set up very dynamically in an urban environment. The enemy may be moving swiftly and quickly. Airducts? Sure! Jumping around from window to window? Why not? Don't get me started on the usage of vehicles... This may need a little imagination and creating home rules, but still, the possibilities are there.

  • Other circumstances - the players may need to do their work secretly, not letting the regular folks know about the monsters. Maybe they have to limit the casualties among civilians and destruction of property. Maybe they can't use open fire due to being too close to a gas station / whatever. Civilians might get in the way, so can the law enforcement or other authorities. All this can be used to pose an additional challenge to the players and help avoid boredom during fights.

Limiting the fights to simply choosing the target and rolling the old faithful combo can indeed be boring, but fights don't have to look that way! Try to have all of this in mind when designing maps, and I think you'll be able to come up with interesting ones!

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