Monday, March 29, 2010


I love a good map. Certainly maps of some kind were not necessarily unusual in fantasy, but when Tolkien got published, maps became the standard. Christopher Tolkien made some of what are, to me anyway, still the best fantasy maps around, illustrating the setting of his father's work.

In roleplaying games, maps are even more important. You can follow the thread of a decently written novel without a map if you need to, but it becomes an essential and practical tool to facilitate play in a roleplaying game. So today, most of the best maps for fantasy settings seem to be coming out of that arena.

Even then, though, you've gotta be careful. Some maps lean a bit too far into the "avenue for artistic expression" direction, and become, therefore, less useful and practical. For my money, some of the best recent maps are done by Paizo, and I've included a small thumbnail of their big Golarion map. This map in "full" size comes as an attached poster in the back of the campaign setting hardback and magified portions of it are included in all of the regional sourcebooks to date (that I have; I'd be surprised if this pattern changes anytime soon, though.) The Paizo map does a great job balancing the need to be a practical tool and the need to be an attractive work of art in its own right.

I'm thinking about this, because I've finally turned some of my attention to making a large, hopefully attractive map for my upcoming forays into fantasyland, be it via fiction writing, which I'm doing a lot more of again, or via running homebrew games. For years and years, I've sketched out maps on paper with pencil, relatively quickly. Although when I was motivated, I could take a bit more time and make it somewhat attractive, usually by copying the stylistic isometric black and white direction of Tolkien's maps, mostly I didn't bother because a sketchy, hastily scrawled map did the job and took less time.

But, if for no other reason than because I like them, I've been desirous to come up with a really attractive map or two. I doodled around with a copy of Campaign Cartographer that I inherited from some neighbors when they moved, but I never really got the hang of it. I really wanted a more drag and drop software, like map-making software that comes with computer games like Heroes of Might and Magic III, my personal favorite mapping software. Maybe newer version of CC will give me what I want without me having to undergo a steep learning curve to master the software, but I'm not anxious to spend the money nor the time to get to that point. So I'm back to doing it by hand.

Lately, I've been redrawing some of my scrawled maps with much more care and attention to detail on a posterboard. In pencil. Once I'm done drawing all of the features, I intend to use thinned down acrylic craft paints to give it a water-color-like coloring. This should allow the pencil to show through, but not very well. Then I can turn to redrawing it with a heavy pen; not ball-point, but an almost felt-tipped or rollerball type pen. I'll use the same pen to label the features.

When it's done, I anticipate that it'll be an attractive map. I'd like to scan or photograph it and post it here, but I'm not quite sure how, to be honest with you. I don't have a big scanner, and I've had bad luck trying to photograph posters and have them look nice. Maybe I'll swing by Kinko's (now FedEx Office; I guess they dropped the Kinko's name at some point after the merger) and see if they've got big scanners, maybe.

Anyway, stay tuned. I'm excited about the prospects, so at some point after I'm done, I'll most likely want to share my work. The map itself is a conglomeration of some of my modular campaign elements, many of which, I must admit, are not complete enough to really have detailed work about them done yet. But I'll keep chugging along. I can fill in spaces on the map without having to add too much detail to them yet, of course.

It'd be great if I could open up my modular campaign wiki to supervised editing, not unlike the DINO PIRATES wiki, but honestly, I don't know that I want it to be too collaborative. Even in the case where I don't have a clear idea of what kinds of details to put into the setting elements, I've still got a clear idea of what kind of tone, feel, and general direction I want to go. My control freak nature is clashing with my procrastination.

Oh, well.

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