Monday, June 26, 2017
The Shattered Star Poster Map Folio contains three large 8-panel maps of the cities of Kaer Maga and Magnimar, and of the region of Varisia. The maps are full-colour and quite attractive. They're printed on regular poster paper, so they won't hold up to regular use without some wear and tear (I've had to fix one with tape after just a couple of uses) and, unless the marks are going to be permanent, they can't be drawn on without laminating them. The three maps fold nicely between the thin cardboard covers of the folio, and the whole package can stand on a bookshelf even after the shrinkwrap is off.
The map of Varisia is my favorite. It's done in a pen-and-ink style as if it were a real map used in the fictional campaign setting of Golarion. I love how each settlement receives a custom illustration and how the placement of various monsters and intriguing, unlabelled structures hint at danger and the thrill of exploring the unknown. Some might quibble that showing some of the monsters of particular regions, or mysterious structures, verges on spoiler territory for players--I haven't had any problems and I think the flavour of the drawings outweighs the risk, but I can understand the need for GMs running certain adventures to be careful. The map is of real practical use as well because it denotes roads and trails, labels the distance in miles between settlements, and comes with a distance scale. I had originally planned to just give this one to the players and privately use a more traditional map of the region, but I don't think that will be necessary. GMs should note that, since the map is "zoomed out" to show the entire region of Varisia, detailed local maps will still be important. For example, the area around Sandpoint looks like barren plains on this map, but anyone who has the map of the Sandpoint hinterlands from various products knows there's a *lot* more going on in the area. It should also be noted that this map is exactly the same (although much larger, of course) as the map in the middle of the "Varisia, Birthplace of Legends" Player Companion.
The map of Magnimar is impressive in its detail. 94 different structures are listed in the legend, and if you look closely at the map, you can see that the cartographer spent time to make sure each structure has a shape and size that makes sense. For example, Serpent's Run (the huge hippodrome) is indeed a huge oval with attached facilities, while the Lord Mayor's Menagerie does indeed look like an enclosed zoo. The cartographer has even marked each separate piling of the Irespan and provided an inset map of what the Underbridge district looks like. GMs running Rise of the Runelords should note that some key locations are noted in the legend that might otherwise require PCs to do a little investigation to find, but it's not problematic enough to keep me from wanting to use it. Overall, the map really helps to clarify the layout of the city, and it would definitely be something worth using to track PCs' movement throughout the city.
I have not used the map of Kaer Maga in actual gameplay. My first impression is that I'm not a fan of the colour scheme or the weird border running along the bottom of the map. It is well-detailed (57 locations in the legend). I've read the "City of Strangers" sourcebook and would imagine that Kaer Maga is a *very* difficult city to represent pictorially, but I'm afraid this map hasn't met the challenge. It's less interesting and more bland than the Magnimar map, and overall the least impressive of the three. Of course, some map is (usually!) better than no map at all.
I've only used the Varisia and Magnimar maps in the context of the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, and I would rate both as highly useful. I haven't run Shattered Star, so I of course can't comment on how well the maps fit the need of that AP. Overall, two excellent maps and a third average one make this a set worth buying if the price is right.