Saturday, February 26, 2011

Top Five Fantasy RPG Maps

Rob, the protagonist of High Fidelity, claims early in the novel that you can judge the character of person by their responses to Top Five lists. Such lists are part of the stock trade for lazy day blogging. Who am I to resist the call?

What are your Top Five? I promise not to judge. Much.

In reverse order:

5. Dying Earth RPG maps by Sarah Wroot. The color and skill of these maps thrill me. They are some great whimsical touches on the street level maps of Kaiin that at times sell me on the Vancian feel more than the RPG itself.

4. Bey Su city map from Empire of the Petal Throne by M.A.R. Barker. It wasn't until my second time around in Tekumel fandom that I realized that the cover of EPT was a map by the professor himself. Bonus immersion points for a map more symbolic than geographically accurate (if anything what most maps drawn in our dreamworlds would look like to the inhabitants themselves).

3. William Church's Prax map from Runequest II (the first one that is). No other map captivated me into wanting to know more about a setting than this one (remember that the details of Glorantha were pretty sketchy for those of us who had only that rulebook as an intro).

2. William Church again sweeping the list with the map from Dragon Pass. OK this is a bit of a cheat since it's technically from a boardgame of Glorantha, otherwise I'd be tempted to put it in #1. Click to enbiggen to get the full effect. 

1. Ah, the all-time classic and nostalgic favorite, Darlene's map of Greyhawk. Other kids had posters of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and ferraris, I had this one up on my wall—where it reigned for four years until a Black Flag poster came along to kick it off.

25 comments:

  1. Ah, Darlene's Greyhawk map... Most likely my favorite as well...

    They aren't fantasy, but for some reason the After The Bomb: Road Hogs map on the back has always resonated with me, as well as the Poland map from Twilight 2000.

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  2. I agree with all your choices except the World of Greyhawk map. I'll have to give a think about how I'd order them and what my 5th map would be though...

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  3. I love looking at maps, but the naming can sometimes be a letdown. In #3 it's stunningly good, a real inspiration. In #2 some manage to be cliched but still evocative, like Sky Fall Lake. I love Far Point too, and there's also a Dwarf Run..! The Old Wind Temple is an interesting idea. I'm glad you kept it to five or I'd be here all day.

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  4. Can we have a "RPG map" dated 1949, Chris? ;) (June 28th to be precise; http://www.acaeum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=147045#147045 )

    > Bonus immersion points for a map more symbolic than geographically accurate

    Agreed; a wonderful approach, indeed, with definite appeal to pre-modern and early-modern cartographic sensibilities (in the broadest sense), even if someone felt obliged to enter the cardinal points in English at a later date (for the EPT set, as published). :)

    No love for Judges Guild then, eh? *ducks*

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  5. The full colour maps inside the Lone Wolf gamebooks had a lasting effect on me.

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  6. I think the Darlene map would be my No. 1 also. The rest of the top five maps, in no particular order: the example of the guild master's house from The Keep on the Borderlands (because I could just picture the view from the window), the Shrine of the Kuo Toa, the city of Phlan from the computer game Pool of Radiance, and the cloth map that came with the computer game Ultima III.

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  7. Have you seen the City of Tallon by Keith Curtis?

    http://www.kacurtis.com/Map_Samples/index.html

    This is his samples page, scroll down to find it. There are lots of other great maps on there (including the map from Game of Thrones RPG that he worked on)

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  8. The #1 for me are the maps of Wilderlands of High Fantasy, especially the ones from it's 3e reincarnation. The Dying Earth and Tékumel maps are also awesome.

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  9. The Wilderlands of High Fantasy maps set was the first role-playing game supplement I bought with my own money - and it took every cent I had at the time - so I have fond recollections of it even if it has a lot of flaws. I actually met a guy once who claimed he was the one who drew those maps, but I only half believed him as he got evasive when I wanted to talk about them more. Does anyone know the name of the artist?

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  10. @Phf
    Admittedly on this list Greyhawk looks just a tad weaker aesthetically, but it was my introduction into the notion that maps can be something other than just ugly utilitarian tools.

    While we have you, kudos on your own impending contribution to great maps with the Tekumel mini rules Band of Joyous Brothers. Mark Allen has a piece of a great map for that project on display here: http://marjasall.blogspot.com/2010/02/illustrated-map-of-tekumel.html

    @Porky
    I totally agree on all counts. The beauty of a top five list is forcing you to hone down (my honorable mention list is quite extensive). As far as names go Glorantha always seemed hit or miss for me--mostly hit but every once in a while you hit...well...a real porker.

    @Irbyz
    I had no idea that the map had it's origins in MARB's head way back then. Thanks for the back story.

    I am fond of JG maps especially the Blackmoor maps in FFC and the Wilderlands, but it's again part of that honorable mention category (a point or two deducted for their monochromatic ugliness).

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  11. @Greg and Quietus
    All nice maps, but I suppose I must be prejudiced myself in favor of hand-drawn over computer generated (no matter how artful).

    @Desert Scribe
    Totally forgot about that awesome Ultima III cloth map. Wish I still had it.

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  12. > I had no idea that the map had it's origins in MARB's head way back then. Thanks for the back story.

    (OT)
    Well, perhaps not "origins in Phil's head", since that's the actual date on the map - in Ts Solyani script at the bottom right-hand corner, obscured by the EPT title on the TSR box version. :)
    Stylistically I haven't seen enough of his early artwork (more to their Sinisterra fanzine for that period, since those mss. I have are unillustrated) to say for sure that it was actually created on the date stated, but Phil's works a few years later certainly were good enough.
    If the map /was/ "backdated" a couple of years, there must be a very good reason for choosing that precise date. :)

    =

    > I am fond of JG maps especially the Blackmoor maps in FFC and the Wilderlands, but it's again part of that honorable mention category (a point or two deducted for their monochromatic ugliness).

    Oh.. you mean /usability/ (i.e. permitting the DM or players the ability to color-key) plays second fiddle to "prettiness"? :p
    *g* OK, I know I can't "win" that, since I also had Darlene's map on one wall all through University - with the first 30 or so copies of White Dwarf stuck up in poly pockets for artistic prettiness and ease of accessibility on the noticeboard wall.

    What about the maps /inside/ the EPT box, then? Always thought those were underrated in later years given the general dearth of decent (color!) maps in the 1970s.

    > claims... that you can judge the character of person by their responses to Top Five lists

    What does it say about people who don't wish to list their own "top five"? ;)

    Cheers,
    d.

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  13. Since you're insisting on color, Chris... one of my own favorite "fantasy RPG maps".
    => http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v316/harami2000/greyhawkish.jpg

    (...and hopefully I won't get shot, since I ca'n't recall the size of image that was previously posted online)

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  14. @Irbyz
    Yep always a sucker for a pretty face.

    The Jakalla map from EPT is another almost for the top five. One really gets a sense of the monumentalism of a Tsolyani city from that map.

    The other map looks shockingly similar to what I was drawing back in the day. Virtually the same symbol and color choices at least.

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  15. Those Glorantha maps were the best. I had forgotten how great the DRagon Pass map was in particular. Hand drawn and inked, when well done, always rules.

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  16. I am a big fan of the JG Tegel Manor map. I also like alot of the MERP maps from the many modules produced

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  17. Peter Fenlon's Middle-earth maps for the old ICE products were works of art.

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  18. Oh yeah, speaking of William Church, I love his 'Young Kingdoms' map (as found in Chaosium's Stormbringer RPG, editions 1-4).

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  19. A bit before our time, Chris. ;)
    (Right back to the first top-down "fantasy RPG" world by D&D definitions; albeit also excluding anything John Snider might've done in their SF/a campaign).

    Oh, and what happened to the political digression, btw? It is /your/ blog... :)

    > The Jakalla map from EPT is another almost for the top five.

    Hmm... top ten, next time? :p

    Cheers,
    David.

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  20. @Scaly and Akraisa
    Truth be told I actually had the chance to see the MERP maps until very recently (lucky day at Half Price Books). They likely should be up there in the top five.

    Forgot about Church's map in Stormbringer (a game I played exactly one session of). The guy has a talent for maps.

    @Irbyz
    Ok now I am officially intrigued, especially with the reference to the designer of Star Probe. Let us in, puh-lease.

    RE: the political post. A major OSR blogger (apparently an irate right-winger) dropped both me and Jeff Rients from his blog roll following our posts.

    Normally, with me coming from a long-line of stubborn blue collar workers, this would just make me dig my heels in, but I was breaking my own rules about politics on this blog. So instead I figured I should be consistent and keep this a safe space for the thin-skinned.

    I am, however, writing an op/ed piece in the local daily (ha, that should hit several more orders of magnitude of readers).

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  21. OK so here's a political joke in lieu of another post.

    How politics works in our country:

    A unionized public employee, a member of the Tea Party, and a CEO are sitting at a table.

    In the middle of the table there is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, looks at the tea partier and says,"watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."

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  22. Funny joke. So who got their panties in a bunch because you posted something political? I need to know, so I can laugh at them.

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  23. Crumbs! That's all they're feeding us...

    > Ok now I am officially intrigued, especially with the reference to the designer of Star Probe. Let us in, puh-lease.

    Firstly, need to set aside that the original "Great Kingdom" was closer to being a SCA-ish equivalent and pre-"RPG" by /current/ definitions; although if the campaign idea had worked out as planned it would have getting into Tony Bath territory.

    Both Blackmoor and Greyhawk as "RPG worlds" were designed bottom-up, with assistance from real-world equivalents and generally winging things as required.

    Therefore, unless John Snider's science fiction/science fantasy campaign also produced world-maps (remember that that campaign also encompassed Blackmoor) at a very early stage, the first (again, by /current/ definitions) "RPG world" created top-down should be Rob's Kalibruhn. As shown in that photo, above, for the regional level map.

    Any similarities in form to Darlene's map for the World of Greyhawk is purely coincidental, of course, since filling a page will inevitably lead to a similar continental likeness, no?

    (And, yes, having a peek at that original "Great Kingdom" map is still important for general understanding and to clear a few more specific matters).

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  24. Kalibruhn, oh yes. I wouldn't have guessed it. Would like to hear more detail from Rob on his world. He mentioned that there was a good detail in it.

    It does look awfully Oerth-like.

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  25. Eric Hotz did a lot of great maps for Harn and other RPGs. I especially remember his work on Ars Magica and Castle Falkenstein.

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