Thursday, October 15, 2009

Campaigns Born From Maps

If there's one thing I've found true over the years, it's that gamers, especially fantasy or historical setting gamers, are fascinated by maps. Old or new, abstract or incredibly detailed, the allure of a map we've never seen before is tangible and it fires the imagination almost immediately. One of the first things we as gamers (and especially those of us who leaned towards GMing early on) found ourselves doing once we got into the hobby was drawing maps of our own.

I remember back in grade school, years before I had even encountered D&D, making in my spare time "adventure mazes"; blueprints for secret bases or tunnel complexes or other creations, filled with acid pits, or flamethrowers, or machinegun nests, laid out to protect some sort of secret room like you'd find in a kind of arcade adventure game. Years later I'd recognize in these drawings what were essentially non-fantasy-based "dungeons" (they were always set with modern traps like guns and bombs and such) that I'd put intrepid adventurers through in my head while I was drawing. Since I did a lot of these in my spare time at school, lets just say I'm glad I'm not in grade school nowadays, as I'd probably be spending a lot of time suspended because of some "zero-tolerance" policy towards, I dunno, drawing cool stuff.

Anyhow, as time went on and I began to get involved with RPGs, my map-making evolved as well, from "adventure mazes" to dungeons and castles and kingdoms and eventually whole continents. I've always been a fair hand with a pencil, but never really considered myself that great - a skill I've always meant to work towards improving but never applied myself - so when I discovered Campaign Cartographer, I quickly picked myself up a copy. Now, this was back around 2001, so I've only got CC2, not the vastly more capable CC3. You can make some really impressive maps, but making it look...not difficult. They are certainly serviceable, and give you a lot of power over changing thmgs quickly and making your maps look very good, but they all have a similar look and feel to them. I know that the new CC3 changes this quite a bit, and I'll have to pick it up soon, but CC2 is still a powerful tool.

It had been a few years since I fooled around with Campaign Cartographer, so a few weeks ago while I was out sick, I installed it on my laptop and began playing around with it, creating simply a random campaign map. My goal wasn't to make a "realistic" map, but rather a map that was chock-full of adventuring possibilities. I have seen maps before that simply make me want to run a campaign "right there", and anyone who's flipped through the Atlas of Middle Earth, or pondered over maps of Conan's Hyborian Age, probably knows what I mean.

So, over the course of an afternoon, I created the following map. I'm not terribly fond of the default color scheme of CC2 maps, and wanted it to look a little more hand-drawn, so I ran it through Photoshops "poster edge" filter and came up with something a lot less artificial looking.

I'll give fair warning that this is a big map - it's 2400 x 1800, so be prepared for it to take up some serious real estate on your browser when you click on it.

I think this map would be a great starting-point for a campaign. I haven't given any place names, or labeled anything, or even provided a scale (although I was considering something around 320 by 240 miles). It's really just a blank "sandbox" ready for a GM to dig into.

So how about it, gentle readers? Do you have any maps out there that have inspired you to create a campaign just by looking at them? Do you have any maps of your own you want to share that you feel do a good job of giving inspiration?


Siskoid said...

I think my first three years of role-playing were entirely consumed by exploring a world created from various maps from sword&sorcery books, just strung together.

I know Warriors of the Flame was in there for sure and probably the Belgariad. It was never about what was in the novels themselves. I'd just plunk dungeons and encounters in the middle of those funky and fun maps.

GeekBob said...

I've always been a bit of a map-a-phile since I got into RPGs ages ago. Though I was never good at drawing my own outside of graph paper dungeons, I've always loved looking at maps for settings like the Realms. Especially Waterdeep. By far, my favorites are City of Splendors, City Systems, and Volo's Guide to Waterdeep. The maps alone make the place feel so detailed and alive.

rainswept said...

I remember back in grade school, years before I had even encountered D&D...

My experience was near identical. I spent (probably hundreds) of hours expanding, modifying and projecting maps from novels. I would throw my creations onto my bedroom wall using what is probably my all time favourite christmas present... my Magnajector! Then I moved into whole cloth creations.

Back then there was only the library and it's 10¢ photocopies (honour system, of course) for reproduction.

I can't help but feel that the pre-internet era provoked something in children... a combination of "how can I do this" and "I'm on my own" that the omnipresence and thoroughness of the internet precludes.

Barad the Gnome said...

Map fascination = yes. This may be in part to me being a visual learning. That and maps are cool. :)

World creation started with some modules strung together (Hommlett is still in play as a location in my homebrew - Gundigoot is alive and well) and then the map was build outward in circles from there. I did make a big map of the whole area after that but the game development goes in spurts between finding an adventure to fit the map and finding a map location to place the adventure with no discernable pattern. Go figure.


Norman Harman said...

Neat, you captured one aspect of MERP maps. All the little details you keep coming across the more you look at the map. A cave up in the mtn, hut in the woods.

I like the designation of cultivated lands. Wilderness should be wild and mysterious compared to civilization.

What are the "watchtowers" around the edges of farmlands?

Brian Murphy said...

Maps are part of the reason why I was attracted to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (and later, the Lord of the Rings). Once I read that, the rest as they say is history. I still love those Middle Earth maps, which are a great mix of detail, evocative place names, and mysterious, dangerous edges.

Nathan Abrahams said...

This is a pretty awesome map. Where is a good place to get started in making them? I'm pretty rubbish at it, myself.

J. E. Badelaire said...

Campaign Cartographer is sort of the "industry standard" for RPG map-making as far as I'm concerned. You can order and buy it online.

For getting inspirations, try to find the Atlas of Middle Earth - it's a book filled with drawn maps, and great for getting you in a map-making mood. You can take one, make an effort to copy it, and add a few "tweaks" to make it your own.

It's all about baby steps.