Maps in Firefight

Please tell me that I don’t have to draw a map every time there’s going to be a Firefight!

You don’t have to draw a map every time there’s going to be a Firefight.*

That said, you really should. It’s in the rules, it’s used in play, it’s very evocative, it’s quick, it doesn’t have to be pretty, and it adds a lot to the moment-to-moment play of the Firefight.

*I mean that completely in a “nobody’s going to twist your arm and kick your puppy if you don’t do this” sort of way. Map drawing is in the rules.


Don’t listen Daniel “I’ve had the game a week and I’m already preaching rules drift” Coffestain: You draw a map of the positions and cover of your Firefight. It’s in the rules. That’s how you play.

Wait. WAIT. Before the moaning and bitching ensues, think for a second. Think about who you are moaning and bitching to and about. Me. Am I a map fetishist? Have I ever advocated maps and minis in the style of 3.5? No, no I haven’t.

So why is the map part of the rules in FF? Because we playtested it both ways and, get this, using the map actually makes it more fun. Trust me, I’m still shocked over this revelation.


Well of course the players like having a map; it takes control of the scene away from the GM and puts it firmly on a piece of paper. Now the players can control exactly where they are and where they want to be. As a cinematic GM that’s the last thing I want. You may as well break out the minis. This is extremely disappointing because from the example combats I’ve read, I’m not sure that a Firefight without the map will make any sense to the players or even the GM.

I guess that this map need not be all that detailed. A simple scrawl of the general area of the fight with some cover points plotted. No, wait, I don’t think that’ll be fair to the players. The rules seem to imply that there is a tactical element to combat. I can’t just scribble down some stupid little map without having to put a little thought into providing the players tactical positions and such.

Grrr, maps suck and I’m extremely unhappy to hear that they’re part of the rules for combat. Of course, that’s my initial reaction and I haven’t played so what do I know.

Dude. Re-read the rules. It’s still abstract, the map doesn’t control anything. It’s just a useful way of tracking the positions. The players still need to advance and withdraw same as always, so the tactical space is still controlled by the game rules rather than by you or the map.

If your players want to be in a particular spot in No-Man’s Land, let them. That’s just color. If they want to take a position that offers disposition or cover, that’s already covered by the rules and their ability to take and hold that position is totally independent of any map.

My light-handed sarcasm flew right over Luke’s head, skandall. I’m not advocating dropping the maps, either.

They’re in the rules, they work extremely well, they’re very, very easy.

Give it a try and see what you think after putting the rules through their paces.

the players get the benefits of tactical positions and choices while still keeping the combat relatively abstract and chaotic. I suspect the game can handle cinematic trappings (though I haven’t played it that way and can’t be certain). But it’s not miniatures combat by a long shot.


  1. The GM doesn’t have any more control over the scene in BE than the players.

  2. Thank you for immediately jumping to conclusions and having no faith in my whatsoever. It warms my heart.

As Daniel and Zab point out, the map is SUPPOSED to be a scribble. It’s there for visual reference only.

The example map in the book? It’s a horrible scrawl. Why? I had a half dozen beautiful tactical maps from Chris that I could have used. Why go with a crappy sketch of my own? It certainly wasn’t ego – that map is a scrawl to implicitly indicate that FF maps are not supposed to be fancy.

I don’t even update my maps as we play. There’s no need.

I’ll say it again to all you doubters: Trust me. We’ve come this far together, do you think I’m just going abandon you?


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So, here is where I’ll disagree with Luke.

I love drawing on the maps. I like making big, bold lines with arrows on them with units move from position to position or whatever. Plus, scribbling out shit that’s been destroyed gives me a warm feeling inside.

Otherwise, what Luke said.

Skandall, why should the GM have “control of the scene” anyhow? Might be a good subject for a new thread and, if you start it, I’ll jump in.


I do not doubt Mr. Crane’s ability to write an impressive and well thought out game system. If I did, I wouldn’t have gone to my local game shops and told them BE is coming in book form and to get some ordered. So, no need to worry that I’ve lost “faith.”

All I’m saying is that using maps isn’t something I prefer to do in a game. I’ve certainly used such scribbled up maps in past games, and sometimes the players would begin to place dice on the map to indicate where everyone was. I would prefer to have the option to not use such maps and I’m sure that can be done in BE.

I guess you might say that the maps called for in the rules could be compared to recon photos that a commander reviews to plan their tactics. This makes sense, and perhaps if I explain it to the players in that way, they won’t start fishing for extra dice to use as markers. Though, I would have expected that, at least in some cases, the battlefiled could be selected by the commander that wins some sort of tactics test. It seems to make sense that the best commander would find a way to conduct the battle on their own terms as much as possible.

I would agree that if you’re going to use such a map then it’s just a “recon photo” and you don’t go drawing and updating it as the battle rages. I will certainly give it a go both ways and see what works best for me.

As for why the GM should have control of the scene, well because they’re the GM. Anyway, that’s a question of GMing style and I see no point to debating about that since it’s all a matter of preference. I’m a cinematic GM in the style of Hong Kong Action Theater. That’s my preference and it works for some players and GMs and not so much for others. If you really feel that strongly about the topic have at it, and I’ll add my thoughts.

Well, in BE the map is used to show Positions. You need to Advance to a Position, so your players don’t just get to put dice down to say where they are. They have to get there. In this respect, you need a listing of the positions. You could write it on a piece of paper as a list. Or you could make a map. Guess what? Making a map is about a thousand times cooler. If your players put down dice, that’s just color and you should let them. The only way to get mechanical advantage from the map is to hold a Position, and the only ways to get to one are to either use the Advance maneuver, or to win the initial Tactics test and opt to start in one. If your players want to outflank the enemy, they need the Flank maneuver, and so on. They don’t get to just say they’re doing those things any more than they get to just say that they stole the enemy Hammer cruiser: They must roll dice for the conflicts inherent in those actions.

As an analogy, in BE if the player says he is at the East end of the ridge, or that he’s wearing a blue shirt with the logo of a popular cartoon ocelot, you should just say yes. If he says he’s wearing anvil armor or holding the only bridge over the river, he has to roll the dice. The map doesn’t change that.

As for why the GM shouldn’t have control of the scene, in BE the GM plays the opposition for the players, so if they are Vaylen, she is the human side. And she plays to win. Giving her control of the scene would either let her win too easily, or force her to step back from playing to win, pull punches, and ultimately ruin the challenge of the game (at least, that is what I hear from Luke and others who have played, and it is my experience of other games, though I haven’t had a chance to do a real game of BE yet).

PS: I didn’t mean to sound patronizing earlier, I incorrectly assumed that you’d read the rules and just hadn’t understood how the map worked. Since you haven’t, of course you didn’t know how it worked. I hope the above clarifies the role of the map. I’ve experienced such scene control conflicts as you describe*, and they sucked. Usually the GM would subvert them by making some nonsensical pronouncement about how instead of gaining an advantage from blocking the exits and outflanking them, instead we’d earned a mobility penalty since we’d have to block the door while they could dance around, or something dumb that allowed him to maintain control of the scene. In BE, what happens instead is that the GM says “Okay, you want to flank them? That’s a Flank unit action, roll Tactics or Command.” Much more satisfying for both sides.

  • Oddly, all such conflicts I’ve had have been map-free.

I have not read the rules for BE. However, I have run Burning Wheel many times at conventions so I understand how combat works and it’s easy to see why the maps were added to BE. I can see handing players a roughly drawn map and saying, “Sir, this is our latest recon photo of the AOE. We’ve marked the positions with a tactical advantage.” Or perhaps, “You approach the door and deploy a spider recon drone. The drone slips under the door and into the room. It climbs the wall and after a couple seconds it transmits a map of the rooms layout.”

ALL I’m saying is that I prefer not to use maps.

I don’t agree that it’s a “thousand times cooler” to make a map. That’s one way of dealing with it. Another way is to have the GM and players work together to describe the scene. I happen to prefer the latter. Anyway, BE uses maps, so I’ll run it with the maps and just treat them as recon photos as I’ve mentioned.

I also don’t agree that it’s okay for players to put the dice on the map because some of them will take that as an absolute position but the rules don’t work that way. BW and BE use rules to abstractly represent the relative positions of units in combat. Putting a die on the map is not abstract. Players who are familiar with the rules are likely to understand this while new players are not. I feel that letting them put dice on the map is misleading and I wouldn’t allow it. Of course, I’d explain why I’m not allowing it and then I’m sure everyone would understand.

…instead of gaining an advantage from blocking the exits and outflanking them, instead we’d earned a mobility penalty since we’d have to block the door while they could dance around…

I can’t really say if I would agree with you or the GM that made the call without knowing more about the situation and who was involved. I like to say that there’s no such thing as a bad game, just bad GMs.

Lastly, the GM has absolute control of the game. The players influence the story provided it’s not disruptive. The rules of the game are tools for the GM to use (or ignore) to help provide suspense and intrigue to the story or to decide outcomes of actions that the GM doesn’t have a strong opinion about. The GM sets the stage and the players will make a mess of it without some control and direction from the GM. That’s my approach anyway and it’s served me and many players quite well over the years. I like to say that there’s no such thing as a bad game, just bad GMs.


Lastly, the GM has absolute control of the game. The players influence the story provided it’s not disruptive. The rules of the game are tools for the GM to use (or ignore) to help provide suspense and intrigue to the story or to decide outcomes of actions that the GM doesn’t have a strong opinion about. The GM sets the stage and the players will make a mess of it without some control and direction from the GM. That’s my approach anyway and it’s served me and many players quite well over the years. I like to say that there’s no such thing as a bad game, just bad GMs.

Well, that’s not how BE (or BW, actually) works, as written. The rules are the rules, and they apply to both players and GMs. Some rules say that the GM will make a certain determination, for instance in the case of advantage dice.

This is off-topic here, though. If it’s a topic of interest to you, please do start a thread on it. I’d love to hear about how and why that style of play works for you. All my experiences with and attempts at that kind of play have been pretty dysfunctional, so I’m curious what successful examples look like.

It is if the map itself is an abstract. Which is the reason for drawing it crudely. It isn’t ment to be particularly to scale. As far as I can tell it is ment as graphical representation of what you’d give in speech. Which, unlike Abzu, I’m not surprised improves things. Because I’ve found that once you get up to 4 or 5 items it’s hard to keep 4 or 5 gamers all straight on something that the original is just sitting in one of the people’s head. So everyone at the table is clear on roughly what is where. But you can’t pull out a tape measure or a protractor or try to use a grid overlayed on it.

I use maps all the time at the gaming table that are just scrallings. Not with D&D because it is fairly grid focused, but with other games that aren’t. Unfortunately the battlemat we use has a grid, so it can take some getting over to realise that the grid isn’t functional, the map is only a rough approximation, and that you need to provide qualifiers to describe the actual location instead of just placing dice/minis.

However until the players have unlearned and ignore the grid I’ve found that making the rough sketches on unlined paper does the trick [edit to help with that problem you mentioned about new players being confused what placing the marker actually means]. It just isn’t as convient (IMO) as wet erase markers and a large 2’x3’ battlemat in the center of the table.

When you get a chance [edit to read the book] you should definately review the section starting on page 620. Which says pretty close to the polar opposite of that. In part:

What you describe is an accurate paraphrase of, for example, the D&D rules view of the DM. BW and BE have a very, very different take on the power balance. Of course the Gaming Police aren’t going to come over to your house and crack skulls for you effectively splicing in D&D rules into BE. But realise that this is no small change as it cuts deeply against the core of BE.

P.S. Zabieru is right about this getting off topic. Likely another thread is in order. Although I can’t see myself adding anything there on top of this.

Ok guys, stop dog piling Craig. He hasn’t read the game yet. Give him a chance to catch up.


I very strongly disagree with the above statement. Were it written by anyone else, I doubt that I would even consider buying an RPG with a statement like that. Anyway, I’m working on a post for a new topic where we can continue this.

As for the map thing: I don’t like using them. I’ve had players argue with me about maps far too many times. I run modern and futuristic settings not fantasy, so maps aren’t as necessary. If I say you’re on a busy city street you’ll all have slightly different ideas of what that street looks like, but you’re also likely to share common ideas about the street; it has street lights, a bus stop, a mail bin, phone booths, perhaps even a newspaper stand. I don’t need to draw a map of the street and place figures on the map (whether it’s an abstract drawing or not). A player can say to me, is there a bus stop for me to use as cover? That’s reasonable thing to find on the street so poof, there’s a bus stop. No map of any kind is needed. However, in a fantasy game you can’t say the same thing is true. If I say that you’re all in a dungeon, well who knows what could be there and a map will certainly be helpful. The difference being whether the player can identify with the location based on real world experience. Anyway, there are those GMs who like to use maps and those who don’t. I’m not interested in having the merits of maps pointed out to me because I don’t like using them. They have their place and once in a blue moon I’ll draw one up, but I have no interest in using one every time I start a combat. If I ever run BE, I’ll try it both ways and then stick with whichever one worked best for me.

Actually, what I was referring to is straight out of Burning Wheel. I was also thinking of other games like Hong Kong Action Theater, Feng Shui, Paranoia (where the player isn’t allowed to know the rules of the game), Underground, Cyberpunk, Witchcraft, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and I believe even all the World of Darkness Games. D&D is not a game that I play or GM because fantasy isn’t a setting I’m interested in (Agone being the sole exception). I don’t like the d20 rules system because it’s too much like a miniatures war game with some RPG elements thrown in.

Look, I mostly run games at a convention. That means it’s a one shot deal. I’ve got eight hours to make sure that the players have a good time so they’ll want to sign up for the next game I run at a convention. If people don’t like my games I won’t be able to fill a room and that means I won’t be able to GM at the con. I don’t have time to challenge the players over an extended campaign and allow the players and I to push towards our goals. Nevermind that typically con players are trying a new game and don’t know the rules or the setting and thus have no idea what kind of goals would be good. Oh, and BW/BE is a very different game system from typical RPGs so that takes some getting used to for the players as well. My players may not even know or like the system. So that puts the task of entertaining more on my plate as the GM. What I want to do is make them walk out after the game thinking that it was a great game, they liked me as a GM, and the liked the system so they’ll buy it. Everybodies style is different and no RPG should ever limit the GM’s Authority.

Awesome, I’m looking forward to it.


Everybodies style is different and no RPG should ever limit the GM’s Authority.

An interestign statement; i think it conflicts with its self.

I must say I love running games where I put “Story” before “Rules” and I often have been very frusterated when dealing with a rule lawyer. But sometimes I do like a more rigid game system where the rules are written for all players (of which the GM is counted).

But… and this is a big but. The Maps are not that way at all! If you have read the rules, the players may add a little detail to the maps, but in the end the GM may add what they wish. It appears to me, from my read through of BE that it is a Collaboratibive Game. All players are part of making the story, and the GM-ship is split among the players in terms of scene framing, story direction, world building. The GMs job is less these things and more of “Playing the Opposition” a very different sort of style than found in many Stroy First games.

all in all, i must state now that I am a Forge newbie, so my word choice may be incorrect… none-the-less…

I think “conflicts with itself” is a bit harsh of judgement. But that could just be me.

I think skandall has some real good points in there. In some ways I think he’s really talking about a different situation than BE assumes. He is often in the position of teaching a game to people and usually only interacting with them over a limited amount of time. Which makes building up player to player repore, trust, and understanding difficult.

Like when you are giving a demo of a miniatures battle game to someone that doesn’t know the rules. You don’t have the same sort of balanced power between all the players at the table.

In fact I think that is a very close match to giving a BE demo. Because BE, through it’s rules having above normal for RPG coverage of the interactions in the game world, is a lot closer in that respect to a miniatures or boardgame. So from that standpoint with those types of games not really having an overlord seat at the table, outside of the more serious tournaments, it does make sense for BE to presume a similar situation.

Compounded by this not being the “norm” for RPGs, as in not how D&D approaches the situation, so the players even if fairly experienced with playing an RPG lack that common knowledge so it is indeed another thing for them to learn when they already have a lot of learnin’ on their plate.

P.S. Not to say that BE is a miniatures or boardgame, because it dealing in great depth with matters of psychology of the individual characters is pure RPG. It also certainly doesn’t have a tape measure/grid mindset to unit placement and movement that you see in many miniature games.

I certainly did not mean to be harsh… I know hwat he means, and I have fumed before about rules gamers.

Begin Aside:

In my last game one player made a grip with a number of cut outs, each character had one with their center of mass and reach on it, the player than could shape shift had a few different ones for each shape. It became the LAW when it was in play… oh how I hated that thing, should have killed it right then.

End Aside

I am almost afraid of demoing BE, so much of the facination with the game (for me) comes from the buy in in World burning, and Knowing the opposition… you made them! I don’t think you can put that in a demo slot.

The Sword did manage to squeeze a bit of that in. Part of the demo is the players roundtabling about what is so unique and special about the sword. It sure takes work to polish up a oneshot to get in even that much into a demo though, and with the time constraints of Con demos you really have to keep it under control.

For example I’m plan to run a BW pirate oneshot for a group a game with, and eventually play as a player in it for another group. Someone else has already run this senario a couple of times to get it into some shape, and I’m trying to polish, with part of that being trying to work in a way to introduce the world burning concept and just how cool it can be for all the players.

Fortunately I’ll have more time flexibility than at a Con, but I am going to keep an eye on time for future reference just incase someone else wants to borrow it later.


Ouchie. But it could have been worse…I could have been one of the other players at the table having to put up with the results. :wink:

If it happens to someone else it is dark comedy. If it happens to you it is a dramatic tragedy.