My Sci-fi Map Dilemma

My Map Dilemma

I am running a mash up game of Gamma World and Battle Tech. The players are specialized construction workers that use giant mecha suits to work in any environment. In this case they agreed to a one-way ticket to help build, terraform and colonize the only habitable planet (Ceti Alpha 6) that is within relativistic range of Earth.

Their ship crashes on the planet only to discover that it is not anything like they believed. Mutants, Kaiju and your basic post-apocalyptic fun fest surrounds them. On top of that their new world has some kind of new element that disrupts sensors. Which brings me to my dilemma. I want their map to be futuristic looking but has ended up looking like a fantasy map in a high-tech frame. I have pondered making the map topographical, but that is too specific and visually a pain in the neck to make on every map.

I like props for my games, at least if they are reasonably easy to make, barrow or steal, but I am having problems here. Does anyone have suggestions of maps that exist that I can repurpose or ideas of how I can visually make my map look more sci fi?


The two idea’s that come to mind is a map that has the elevation lines or contour map. These are a little harder to read unless trained but look really cool. On just about any map you could get a light green transparent sheet and put a set of circles mimicking a radar screen and use as a overlay. I guess it could be any color for sy fy, green just came to mind because of old movies.


My first suggestion would be to add a hex overlay, especially considering your Battletech inspiration. Although that can harken back to the “hex crawl,” I think it will have the desired effect with your awesome border.
My second suggestion would be to throw some high-tech/sci-fi markings on the map. For example, designate where their ship crashed and maybe a few things around them or something they may have spotted while inbound or in orbit. It won’t take a lot and you don’t need to spoil anything about your setting. Check out sci-fi diorama decal sets, markings on the Star Trek Enterprise, or my personal favorite, use the Aurebesh alphabet from Star Wars. Maybe just some sci-fi looking circles around a couple of spots. Google “sci fi circle” for examples.


depending on how advanced you want to go you could use the map there are part of the story. Their is a new element, crystal, metal, Etc. that is interfering with their scanners, give them the above map until they find a way to either deal with said element (harvest it, destroy it, X thing it…) or find a way around it (Satellites, Drones, planetary scanner, X thing) then start giving them a more detailed more Sci-Fy style map.

Outside of that, what are you using to make said map ?

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also, if you would like, We could work together on making a more sci-fy / advanced map later on if you like??

Simple thought – apply lots of grain via a filter so that it doesn’t look so hand-drawn/colored. Any kind of consistent texture would communicate that it is an artifact of a screen or printer.

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Maybe try and use textures from actual satellite imagery? I believe you can turn off the overlays in Google maps with the satellite imagery turned on to get ‘photographic’ textures. This requires a tiny bit of photoshop skill, but it shouldn’t be too hard.

Thank you Everyone! I am going to try out some of these suggestions (radar overlays, actual satellite imagery, sci fi circles - who knew?, bringing up the grain).

As to how I am making my maps, I am using the Affinity suite of programs. They are similar to Adobe programs, but are not subscription based. Normally they are $50 each, but have been 1/2 off for most of the pandemic ($25 each).

One thing I did forget to mention is that I like hiding clues in maps and props I make. For instance I have written Affre’ 852 three times on the map as if it was a glitch showing the hackers handle that sabotaged their Space Ship. Over the course of the campaign this name will keep popping up and become a recurring villain, but one that is long dead.

I don’t include this sort of knowledge in skill checks because I enjoy the big reveals farther down the road. It’s for the players to discover. Yes, this is a bit of jerk move, but hopefully it will give more punch to the conspiracy of how old Earth F’ed the attempt to grow a colony outside of its reach.

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Fabulous ideas here. I’ll only add that font choice, color, and iconography can go a long way. And if you’re after a retro look, consider green, amber, or cyan on black…

A lancer map made by the GM of the Lancer/Mecha Hack game that I’m in…

And the mining colony map I made for a Mothership game…


That mining facility for Mothership…bitchin.

Thanks, man. Was fun to put together. I need to re-use it for a live game. (It’s for a PbP Mothership game.)

Oh, and was made in Dungeon Scrawl , + some post-work in Lucidcharts.

         Nice maps Haririgan!  Also, what do you think of the  Lancer rules? I own them but have yet to invest time into learning them.    I chose the Mecha vs Kaiju rules because I know Fate and can easily mess with it.

I like the Lancer background, but I haven’t invested the time to learn the rules deeply. They’re rooted in the SotDL ruleset so that’s a plus in my book, and there are distinctive tactical combat and “RP” phases in the game, but to be honest – I find The Mecha Hack suits all my mecha needs at the moment. And for the PbP game I reference above, the GM is, in fact, using TMH to run Lancer.

Fate-wise, I really like both Camelot Trigger and Apotheosis Drive X for mecha action. The latter is a bit of a mess in terms of how its laid out and its ideas are conveyed, but there’s some great stuff there if you can get past that.

(Last word on Lancer – when you get right down to it, half of the game is a full tabletop wargame, complete with hexes, line of sight, firing arcs and the like. I love me some Battletech and Heavy Gear, but I generally don’t want that level of tactical crunch in my RPGs. Your mileage might vary, but if you’re a Fate fan… it’s pretty different from that.)

I have been on hold for various reasons, but I did jump on the map making program Dungeon Alchemist for science fiction maps on KIckstarter. It looks great and should be usable by the end the month (maybe). Eventually, I am sure it will be available for everyone. This said, I will have to report on how well it works.