Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Wealth of Maps

Roleplaying gamers today enjoy a wealth of maps due in greater part to the Internet Age enabling many creative individuals to share their work.

Dyson Logos sets the bar for "old-school" style maps.
In the old days -- particularly during the “Golden Age of Roleplaying” (the early 1980s) -- gamers used to wait every month for a new map from either the latest adventure module or the pages of one’s favorite gaming magazine, a field dominated by the venerable, late, and lamented Dragon Magazine. Most came attached to a ready-made scenario, though unstocked dungeon geomorphs also existed. Many gamers created their own maps by hand in an age before PhotoShop, cell phone cameras, and scanners (or personal computers, for that matter), though these rarely went farther than their local group of players. Gamers relied on publishers for their map fix.

In today’s Internet Age talented individuals -- regardless of formal graphic arts pedigrees -- generate a multitude of interesting, exceptional maps, many designed specifically for gamers to download and stock for their own game campaign dungeons. (This stands as one of the great achievements of the Internet Age: enabling individuals to share their creations among a vast, world-wide community of like-minded people.)

Although I prefer rendering my own maps in my particular style for my own projects, I admire and wish I had the talent and time to emulate others posting free map resources on the internet:

Doug Anderson over at the Blue Box Rebellion blog provides some fantastic graphic offerings on a number of levels, from geomorphs and city maps to character and equipment sketches (most geared toward the free Dungeonteller game he’s working to upgrade). His recently posted cutaway dungeon maps not only serve as diagrams of dungeon locations but artfully communicate a sense of atmosphere with minute details and textures; they are absolutely amazing works of art and fully functional dungeon maps. Don’t miss the wonderfully rendered, top-down dungeon geomorphs as well as a host of other free resources in the blog sidebar.

Dyson Logos has rocketed to the forefront of the online dungeon map scene with weekly (at least) posts of personal maps he’s drawn, scanned, and posted at his Dyson’s Dodecahedron blog. His style -- solid lines, hand-rendered cross-hatching, intuitive dungeon symbols -- most mirrors my own cartography. Aside from admiring his artistic talent, I hold him in high esteem for the amazing output of maps he generates and his generosity in posting them for free online for gamemasters to stock with monsters, traps, and challenges for their own dungeon adventures. His Dyson’s Delve books combine a map on one page with a fill-in-the-blank location key on the facing page, a novel means of encouraging gamemasters to create their own adventures and customize their print gaming books.

Billiam Babble over at the Inked Adventures blog -- and through his e-storefront at DriveThruRPG and its affiliates -- offers some amazing top-down dungeon geomorphs, many free from his site, with a more complete catalog of affordable sets at DriveThruRPG. The print-and-play nature of these nicely rendered materials means gamemasters can print and trim what they need and lay out a visually appealing dungeon map with a three-dimensional feeling. They’re ideal for use with miniatures, though at a smaller print scale they could generate professional-looking map layouts, too.

Matt Jackson’s Lapsus Calumni blog features many useful gaming resources, particularly his Moleskin Maps. Jackson’s style ranges from basic scans of his notebook maps to carefully finessed final pieces with a more polished, noticeably more computer-assisted sheen. His PDF Moleskin Map publications use the maps with fill-in location key format, quite useful in that one can print out new maps and keys as needed. He’s rendered maps professional for several game publishers, including Chubby Monster Games, of which he’s a co-founder.

Gus L’s posts at Dungeon of Signs frequently include map elements, many keyed for adventures or intriguing locations. The maps often reflect a quite organically grotesque and borderline Lovecraftian style. Of particular interest are his “tourist” maps of general dungeon regions or sections of the innovative HMS Appolyon setting, “a miles long demon and monster haunted cruise ship that travels between worlds and frequently 'rescues' individuals from the seas it traverses.” His numerous PDF scenarios include maps and artwork in a similar organically spontaneous style.

John Carr’s Age of Ruins blog features a weekly “Saturday Morning Maps” post primarily populated by his original maps. His cross-hatching method -- alternating diagonals filling individual graph paper squares -- isn’t quite as organic as freehand crosshatching like Dyson Logos employs, but lends maps an almost mesmerizing quality.

Stonewerk’s Blog offers a slew of maps and geomorphs with a nice professional polish, all inspired by the old school renaissance blog scene and the phenomenal maps of Dyson Logos (see above). Besides the maps and standard top-down geomorphs, it offers a selection of “vertical” geomorphs for an elevational perspective on a dungeon. It’s also a good source of map-related news and links (as are the blog rolls of any of these blogs).

I’m sure I’m missing many worthy cartographers and their fine work, but these came to my attention online and continue to garner my interest as they update websites and blogs with new work to inspire gamemasters and keep the craft of roleplaying game mapmaking alive. Browsing any of the blog rolls on these websites can lead to a lot of wasted time but a wealth of information on maps and old-school renaissance-style games.

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