A map is like a good line-art illustration, worth the proverbial thousand words. On the best maps, you can simply take a look at them and immediately have ideas for stories or games that can take place inside them.
Yesterday I went through a folder of old game stuff and found the one below. I can’t remember who did the original illustration (I TinEye’d and everything), but I obviously loved it so much I swiped it and dropped a handful of my own campaign details on it. This was from a game back in 2006, I think, which didn’t quite take off because I was living in Texas and my players were in Atlanta. It was an attempt at play-by-post but almost immediately collapsed under the weight of six adults’ schedules. If only roll20 existed back then. Hell, we hosted this thing on LiveJournal, that’s how long ago it was.
The campaign itself was fun, I thought. Two big city-states at war, with the players serving as mercenaries taking whichever side they wished, with a great deal of urban conflict and political scheming above the players’ level but visible to them. Ptolus was one of the cities and the other was Ceyrun (which was the City-State of the Invincible Overlord under a different name). The home city was Belluna, a Venetian-styled canal city that was small but wealthy, and where I had run a previous campaign for the players. (I’ve doing something with Belluna right now, actually, but it’s in the queue behind another project or two.) But the point, of course, is that I saw the map, it gave me an idea, and a campaign emerged from it. All creativity requires is that single spark, and then… genesis!