No, I’m not here to talk about mapping the dungeon, or using miniatures in combat. Maps are useful in character for roleplaying reasons, investigative purposes, and to maintain the Victorian milieu.
In the mid to late Victorian period, mapmaking seriously came into its own. New technologies in design, layout, and printing made maps available to the general public for the first time. Advances in surveying made them more accurate and thus more useful. People began using maps for a variety of purposes, not just for navigation. They had always been art objects, but now the average person could own them, and the era of the map collector began.
In the mid 1850s, Doctor John Snow and Reverend Henry Whitehead used a map to isolate the source of a cholera epidemic. This story is told in The Ghost Map, a book that some believe derives a bit more from the story than is really there. Germ theory still had a ways to go before it gained widespread acceptance. Much of the action that the two men’s effort generated was driven by the miasma theory. The actions were correct, but came from an invalid idea, giving rise to some philosophical argument. The map itself came late in the epidemic, and its effect on the course of the outbreak is disputed. What is not disputed is that mapping the outbreak of cholera over time led back to the source of the outbreak, and created a tool for modern epidemiology. This same technique has since been used to figure out where criminals live by the pattern of their crimes, something that Dodgers should think seriously about. Scotland Yard will be tracking them not just with interviews and the clues left behind at the scene, but with techniques still in use in modern-day policing.
Widespread publication of relatively inexpensive maps of the countryside gave rise to the pastime of rambling, what we might call day hiking. People would drive or take the train out to the country, hoist up their backpack, unfold their map of the public hiking trails, and set off for the day’s explore, a picnic lunch, and a ride back home from another train station at the far end. The cost of a holiday weekend in the country came down to hiking supplies, food for a day or two, a blanket to roll up in under a hedge, and a map, sending droves of middle and lower class people out of the cities and into the countryside. Such an expedition could be a good cover for a field operation. Of course the party has maps of the area. This isn’t suspicious – the maps were bought at the high street bookseller, and there’s plenty of other people roving about with the same maps.
The Mapmaking Skill has considerable use, therefore, in character. Making additions to the published map for good or nefarious purpose gives the party an advantage in their operations. Map publishers sometimes will pay for corrections and additions to their maps, if they come from provably reliable sources and the new information can be verified. Low Social Level characters can’t afford to pass up any chance to make a spare shilling. Scotland Yard isn’t the only organization that can use time and activity mapping to track someone’s activities. Got a rival Dodger gang active in the area? Need to figure out the pattern by which a firm shifts their Engine tape deliveries? Think you might have a cell of the Sons of Thoth somewhere about? Use the Mapmaking Skill to model the information graphically and draw your conclusions.
The usefulness of a Skill is limited only by the player’s imagination and what the Gamemaster will allow. Do a bit of research and you can make a convincing argument. What have people in our world done with maps? Your character should be able to do something similar.