Props: Building Maps and Letters

Ever played in one of those games where the GM lays out a prop that it is obvious they have spent hours on?  Well sometimes GM’s know a few tricks on how to make something look terribly cool in a fraction of the time it looks like it took to make.

I have decided to do a bit of foreshadowing in the Skull and Shackles Pathfinder campaign I am running for my group.  A part of doing this is actually going to be giving them a treasure map that they will find in some creatures loot somewhere or on board one of the ships that they pirate away for later use!

A good map has the old crisp aged parchment feel.  It has a slightly off look and of course for a pirate map it has to look like it has been through the wringer.  All of this is achievable in a little under half an hour including drawing the map and I am here to walk you through the steps!

Editors Note: This process requires the use of an oven. Do so at your own risk – The Iron Tavern is not responsible for fires!

  1. Things you will need
    1. Piece of paper
    2. Lemon cut in half
    3. Bowl
    4. Pastry/Paint Brush
    5. Oven
    6. Something to write with and a lighter if you want it to look like my final product!
  2. Lemon and an oven.  Basic chemistry! Set the oven to 160 degrees celsius (that is 320 Fahrenheit for others).  If it is a fan forced oven we do NOT want the fan on or the paper will blow about everywhere.
  3. After the oven is set you need to do is squeeze the lemon juice out of those halves.  You don’t need to strain the pips 🙂  If the lemon is very dry you may need a couple to get enough juice.
  4. Once the lemon is dry use the pastry brush to cover your piece of paper.  I generally do both sides but one side should be OK.
  5. Place your sheet of paper in the oven and watch it.  Mine took around 7 minutes to get a light off white colour and a nice crispy antiqueness to the sheet.  I also picked up some nice fat stains on the sheet from my last roast which is cool because it makes it look like it has lived!  The longer you leave it in, the darker it will get but it may catch alight so keep an eye on it.
  6. Once the sheet is done, do your writing.  If it is a letter or whatever go for it.  You can see I am a tragic and actually use a quill and ink for this phase which layers that little bit more on to the authenticness.
  7. The next step is optional and should be done outside or over a sink.  For my map I took a lighter to the edges of my page, a little bit at a time.  Let it burn a bit, blow it out.  Repeat until you are all the way round.
  8. Final step is presentation.  For my pirate map I rolled it in to a tube, tied a bit of twine around it in true piratical style.  If yours is a love letter, place some ribbon around it.  If it is a secret message and you have wax and a seal, go for it.

Finally, take it to the table and lay it out for the players.  they will think it is cool and wonder how much spare time you have.  For the pirate map it took me a little over 20 minutes, all up to make, including the photos!

Hopefully this helps you bring a few props to the table!  Keep rolling 🙂

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.