How to Make Excellent Maps and Directions for SCA events.

By Caladin Ironhearth


In the SCA there is a wide variety in the quality and usefulness of maps and directions. Some are so excellent that the SCA signs are almost completely unneeded. Others are so horrible that even with the signs and all the hard work, by the time you get to the event, you drift off to sleep with visions of “Wrapshots and Humiliations Galore” for the map maker dancing in your head. It is for those latter maps and mapmakers that I have thrown together this page. So here goes with the basics of making good maps and Good directions for the SCA.


The Guiding Holy Principle:


1.     No surprises.


Kinda says it all, eh? I don’t remember who said it, but one of my favorite quotes is “The Difference between Mediocrity and Excellence is a million tiny details that nobody ever notices (if they are done right).”


That’s the goal with using directions, so simple so clear that the person using them never really thinks about it, just follows them and winds up at the site, never noticing what a splendid excellent wonderful fabulous job you did (I figured since this is the only petting you‘ll EVER get if you do it right, I might as well lay it on thick to last :) )


What to Include:


Always Include both a map and “verbal” instructions, if nothing else, because the process of making a map forces you to check all of your directions and you’ll avoid dyslexia, confusing right turns with left turns, etc. Also some people are better with maps, and others better with instructions. Not to mention that decent maps and decent instructions can often team up together and do a good job that neither could alone.


Each map and each set of directions should be as complete as possible, the goal is for each to be usable alone without the other. Both the map and the directions should be as simple and clear as possible. Let’s begin with maps.


The Three rules of a good map.


1.    Always have a compass rose displaying North.

2.    Always Show the name of every road, and the name and number of any exit.

(See guideline #5)

3.    Always show distances between each turn accurate to 10ths of a mile for every leg of the journey after you turn off the highway.


Other Guidelines…


Which are not required but are awfully clever and a general good idea...


1.     Although you may not be able to make the map to scale keep it as representative as possible. After you have finished your map, go to, or equivalent, and check to see if you've accurately described to roads, turns and the approximate scale...


2.     If on a Web Page, Include a Link to Mapquest or other equivalent site, showing exactly where the site is.


3.     Put the postal address for the site on the Website, because this makes it easier for people to find it on Mapquest, etc. It also makes it 100% easier for  folks who use GPSs to enter the site into the GPS Unit.


4.     Always keep the map simple and in black and white. High contrast Low noise. Most of these maps are read in a dark car at 60 to 80 MPH.. take pity on them.


5.     Make the map large enough that it can be printed if you are displaying it on a web page, or large enough that it can be easily read if publishing in a newsletter.


6.     If possible, after you’ve made the map and directions have a person who’s never been there try to use them to get to the site. Work weekends are an excellent opportunity for this, distribute the map and have people use it to get to the site.


7.     If the road has multiple names use them all in the directions, but put the best one on the map if there is only room for one.


8.     On the map it’s often a good idea to show the exit before and the exit after the correct exit off the Highway, this gives people coming from both directions a “sanity check” to see if they’ve missed it and a warning that it’s about to come up. Exit numbers do the same thing, and much more concisely, so this is an” if you have room” kind of addition.


9.     Use some kind of Iconic representation on the map for the Site itself. Put a little circle and the word site, or a little tower graphic on the map to show where and which side of the road the site is on.


10.                        Show any Dangerous curves, road hazards, speed traps, etc. It’d be nice to be warned as your’ hurtling down a dark country road wouldn’t it J


Giving Directions for Everyone


Most people who make the map and write the directions for SCA events are people who know how to get there very well. (Duh). The problem with this is that often there are lots of assumptions that they make and which they don’t even think about, Since they know the way so well, they’ve forgotten how to find their way there and will just list the few landmarks that they use to navigate along the way. They KNOW which fire department they are talking about, or which Big tree to turn left at… But the person you are really writing the directions for knows NOTHING, and has to assume nothing, Trusting in your work to guide them safely. Which is why they get so angry, when it does not work. They feel (Rightly) like you’ve violated their trust. Beware of assumptions they are your natural enemy.


The Rules for directions are unfortunately much more complex than for a map. For the most part the directions follow the similar rules as the map, but I’m going to go ahead and add them all here so you can use these rules as a separate checklist for directions once you’ve made them.


The many rules for giving good directions.


1.     Format your directions Clearly. Put a header on each section, either in parenthesis or underlined and bold. Also, if there is room, separate each section with a blank line. This makes it easier to find your next step along the way (see example #6).


2.     Always use Road names with directions.


 Take Joe Rd heading North.


3.     Always give miles to nearest 10th of a mile between each turn. This is critical because it lets the driver use his or her odometer to see when he is approaching the turn to start looking… As well as a sanity check for passing the turn… Think about how many times you’ve driven down a dark country road trying to read every street sign as it goes by. Tedious and difficult.


4.     Always give both the Direction of the turn and the Cardinal Direction of the road you are turning onto.


Turn left Heading North Joe Rd.


Turn left on North Joe Rd.


5.     Always make your directions work from both significant directions. Just because your Site is north of your home area, not everyone is going to be approaching it from the south. Your directions should (in this example) start both from the North and the South.


6.     Start from an obvious known location, like a Major City.  Then Meet at a common intersection and Continue on to the site. (Note that there is a blank line between each section, and that each section is started with a header telling you exactly where it starts to ease reading, say in dark cars, Hurtling down roads at hellish speeds… hint hint…) Putting the words Continued Below is an excellent idea as well, as it naturally guides the reader to the next section.



 (From Southville)  Head North on I-64 to Exit 256 Boolean Road, Exit and turn left Heading West on Boolean Road. Continued Below


(From Northopolis) Head south on I-64 to Exit 256 Boolean Road, Exit and turn right Heading West on Boolean Road. Continued Below


(From Boolean Road).... The rest of your directions


(note that there is a blank line between each section, and that each section

is started with a header telling you exactly where it starts)


7.     Always use the all road names. If the road changes name mention that on the instructions.


Take State Road 12 (Pickle Parkway) 12.5 miles north to Hamburger Highway, (note that Pickle parkway Changes it’s name to Tomato Trail, at Johnson lane, but is still called State Road 12) .




Other Guidelines:


·        Use Landmarks when possible. In general People either Navigate well by Building maps in their heads (usually men) or by Building a series of landmarks to guide them from place to place (usually women) If you want both kinds of people to be able to use your directions (and you have room) you can be sure to add a land mark for any turn that is not marked by a large obvious highway type sign.


·        Make your landmarks clear and UNIQUE. If your landmark is not very clear and very unique you’ll wind up getting yourself in more trouble than you think.



(BAD) Head towards Smallville on East Rd 12, Turn left at the Volunteer fire department.


(Good) Take East Rd 12 for 13.5 miles to Smallville,  In Smallville there will be a Volunteer Fire Dept on the left, the next road after the VFD is FM1616  Turn left onto FM 1616, heading north.


Why is the first example bad? What if there are other small towns with other Fire depts., along the way? Is the Fire Department before or after the turn? The second example the Fire department is clearly both In Smallville and on the left and right before the turn, specifying the turn pretty clearly. Of course adding the Distances makes it even clearer, after you enter Smallville 13.5 miles from the previous turn you should expect to see a VFD on the left… Correct?. This is good.


·        List any know speed traps, the reasons are obvious.


·        List any Dangerous curves, road hazards, etc. It’d be nice to be warned as you’re hurtling down a dark country road wouldn’t it J


·      If you are reusing old directions, check them! Drive them to check for changes, several meridians wrote to tell me about an event where the Critical "Stop and Rob" store used as a landmark went out of business and removed the sign. Also sometimes Road Number signs disappear or change names (ie FM 1234 to Old Numbers road , or vice versa)


·      Consider listing directions for leaving site. sometimes there are T intersections and such that are harder to find going out than going in, if you have anything complex you should consider having exit instructions as well as entry instructions. It'd be awful to have a bunch of happy, Brain dead, exhausted Sca-dians turn into grumpy hate-your-event ones, just cause when trying to drive home they took and enforced "scenic tour".


·      Multiple Intersections. Sometimes you have more than one road coming together at the intersection, and in this case the standard "SCA <----" sign and directions may be be enough. be sure to list the road by name, and put an sca sign just a few yards down the road, so they can tell immediately which is the right road (placing road signs might bea whole new section :)) 

·      GPS unit support.Another good idea is Putting the actual street address of the site conspicuously in the web site, so that people wtih GPS units can enter it easlily to navigate to the location. (yes I added this twice but now that i have a GPS this is REALLY nice! :) )



There you go, you are now Lord (or lady) of your own creation, master of all you survey, and generally a “Studgodly” type personage in the area of maps and directions. I’m sure as soon as I post this I’ll think of something else, and if you have any input feel free to send it to me at caladin (funky sign you know ) io (dot) com.


If something is not clear to you, especially send me a line describing how you’d like it explained better.