I think it might be game designer heresy to say it now, but there are a lot of amazing things in Dungeon World. One of my favorites is the command to “Draw maps, leave blanks.” At first this seemed counter intuitive to me. If I have a map, I want a map. Full stop, no blanks. But usually, I don’t want a map. I don’t want it predetermined what lies to the East because then I cannot serve the needs of the story as it stands whenever the characters head East. I felt that maps are remnants of old school dungeon crawl games where the GM is god and everything is pre-planned according to their desires.
But those blanks, those blanks are the key. Those blanks are the “play to find out” of maps. Sure, maybe the map already says that the Khanate of the Emerald Shroud is to the East, but there are still infinite possibilities for what that means for the story. What’s the Khan and his people’s relationship with the PCs? What opportunities and difficulties will that present? And what even is an Emerald Shroud?
Some friends and I ran a LongCon using the Dungeon World rules and this sort of map making proved an invaluable tool. Whenever I needed inspiration I would turn back to the map and think of where the characters might be and what else might be there, or what might really be there despite what the map says. It led to some of the best moments of the weekend, including a druid shapeshifting into a panther and consuming the ancient spirits flooding the Intersection of the Five Paths.
I think this usefulness speaks to a larger pattern of an evocative framework with alluring voids. We see this all the time in writing, especially in poetry. Constraints hold the form, but blanks allow for possibility.
One great example of this is the game that taught me that GMing can be as fun (or more!) than playing: Lady Blackbird. The goblins aren’t described. The magic isn’t outlined. And perhaps most of all, the infamous pirate Uriah Flint is largely undescribed. But we know there are goblins and there is magic and Uriah Flint most certainly is infamous. There is a map, but John Harper has left us blanks. Much like my Dungeon World map, if I am stuck for inspiration I can look to a clue included and let my mind wander. I find that my most exciting work comes from having this sort of creative constraint.
Map from Dyson Logos.