Thursday, April 28, 2011

X Marks the Spot!

Original Art by Katy Salvo
Upon first hearing, I immediately identified with the boy, being one myself at the time.  He worked for his family in their little seaside inn.  All that it took to change his life forever was the arrival of an old, shifty guest soaked with sea-salt, rum, and paranoia.  The traveler dies in mysterious and violent circumstances and a search of his belongings turns up a map.

There's nothing to spice up your adventure like a map, as old gamers know.  (Can I get an "Arrr-men"!?)  Maps are enormously helpful in getting imaginary landscapes into one's mind.  But they should not be underestimated as artefacts and plot elements in and of themselves, either.  We live in a world where maps are common to the point of being cheap and even free.  We expect maps to be available, up-to-date, and accurate. In this way as in so many others, it is our contemporary world that is utterly exceptional.  Before the 18th century, maps were rare and expensive, and the more recent and accurate they were the rarer and more expensive they were.  Finding a map is practically finding a treasure already, not to mention introducing a major plot element.

Maps can (1d12 Table!)
  1. Be the object of the quest itself
  2. Show the way there
  3. Show the way home
  4. Show the adventure location
  5. Mislead due to accident
  6. Lie purposefully!
  7. Be at the center of a dispute between two kingdoms
  8. Be stolen property
  9. Bear a curse
  10. Allow one to use a well between worlds
  11. Be the product of the adventure
  12. Lead to buried treasure
Fantasy Cartographers
The two pictures below link to my two current favorite fantasy cartographers for your browsing pleasure.  Also, if you draw like me (read: like a spaz), then you might also enjoy playing around with Hexographer's map-making software.  It produces clear and usable, detailed hex maps.

Atlas of the Flanaess Project by Anna B. Meyer
The Wealdland by Allen Taliesin

Oh, and before you respond to me by quoting Indiana Jones, remember that line is a purposeful set-up for this scene below.  Hey, a lightly marked Roman numeral ten is still an X.

EDIT: Link added from below for convenient navigation.