Monday, January 31, 2011

Interesting Places: An Experiment

In early 2010, when I was just getting the interesting places series of maps started, a reader commented that, "I still have this problem with how to describe such an environment without just draw out the intricate twists on a battlemap." (This was in reference to the Caves of Madness map.) Having drawn some caves recently, I have been revisiting this very problem.

I mentioned this to Z and she recommended that I look into bubble diagrams, a spatial organization technique used by designers to establish relationships between rooms and areas in a house or building. First, what a great way to spec out the flow of a map before setting down to draw it. Second, it reminded me of the kinds of maps we used to make while trying to figure out how to navigate through Zork back in the day. Without any further thought, I quickly sketched out a flow:
If you look closely, you can see that this sketch corresponds to the cave map up top that I eventually drew. I didn't follow any of the conventions associated with bubble diagrams. In fact, owing to my computer science background, this sketch turned out to be closer to a graph than a bubble diagram. Nevertheless, it's good enough for our purposes. The next step was to translate the graph into a series of twisty caves. I pulled out the trusty light box and turned this out in about five minutes:
Although this map is closer to reality, it is still just a guide. The main thing to note is that the edges are now no longer straight. Now admittedly, this is a nothing more than a quick and dirty example. I didn't spend a lot of time trying to make this map beautiful. Other than a couple of dead end caves, there aren't any dead end passages. Aside from a few ledges and terraces, there are no vertical challenges detailed anywhere. This map is simply an experiment to illustrate one method of describing a subterranean trek.

How would you use these maps in play? For those of you into production, you could turn the graph into a transparency and overlay the actual map. I'm lazy, however, and would be happy to use both maps simultaneously. When describing the location of passages and general directions, and perhaps even for looking up the key, I would use the graph. For everything else, including calculating distances and areas, I would use the detailed map. Your mileage may vary.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Interesting Places: Caves of the Hruk-chang

This map started out as a doodle on a small note pad of graph paper. I spent maybe 40 minutes sketching out the passages. Then I digitally tweaked the image to its final form. I never think too hard about these maps while I draw them. As a result, it's always fun for me to look at the shapes which emerge. (I'd liken it to automatic-mapping, but there's nothing supernatural about it.)

There's not a lot of back story associated with this particular map. (In truth, I created it to test out a new monster.) The caves are themselves somewhat generic. Within, a number of passages are collapsed or otherwise sealed. This is by design. I also left off the scale so you can decide for yourself how big this place actually is. Twenty feet seems about right for my tastes, but don't let that stop you from making this the colossal, 100-foot-to-the-square, abode of some hideous, techno-giant for your sword & planet game.

You might place these caves along a vine-covered cliff deep within the rotting jungles of some forgotten world or in a northern wasteland of ice and snow. The caves could also be attached to a gargantuan cavern, just another detour amongst many in some dismal underworld. It's really up to you to decide how to interpret and use this map. As for the namesake of the place, that too is left as an exercise. I know what my Hruk-chang are. What are yours?

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Interesting Places: The Sunken Temple

Ages past, when the worship of centuries-forgotten gods was still commonplace, there stood a magnificent temple. Raised by the priests of Omanan, god of cool air, the place was an opulent edifice of stone and marble. People came from miles around to worship within its cavernous halls, marveling at its resplendent wealth.

Over time, the high priest became obsessed with wealth and power. Mundane statues were replaced with golden obelisks and the people were made to pay for the privilege of worship. Exorbitant tithes, collected under his baleful watch, sent worshipers headlong into debt and slavery. Temple priests congratulated themselves behind drawn curtains even as a web of shadow and delusion overtook them. Sinister rites replaced the chants of Omanan; temple halls, once perfumed, now reeked of pungent incense; and altars were blackened with the blood of sacrifice.

Dismayed by the decline and abuse, Omanan sent omens to the priesthood. Unheedful, the heartless priests continued to worship their new demoniac lords. Betrayed, Omanan visited inexorable divine retribution upon them. Spectral rays rained down upon the priests from the heavens like infernal light emanating from some distant star. The priests were slain instantly, only to be raised anew as soulless, gibbering, dead things. The temple became a crypt.

The people of the surrounding lands read the signs, picked up and moved on. Rivers changed course over the intervening years and the once fertile lands dried up. The temple disappeared beneath shifting sands, its undead inhabitants destined to the languor of the crypt. Travelers dread the arid wasteland, for scarcely an oasis can be found within its emptiness. Worse, the chill winds of night carry eerie cries from beyond the grave.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Paris!

Hello all. I'm not dead or banished to another dimension, just busy. The wife and I recently returned from a honeymoon in Paris, and the day job remains hectic as ever. Work continues apace on the first Calific product.

In the meantime, Paris! We stayed in a nice hotel in the Marais district, an area once frequented by the Knights Templar. The place was brimming with historical architecture and Z and I had quite the time. In addition to all the usual stuff—Musée du Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower—we did our own brand of fun stuff, including checking out St. Gervais et St. Protais Church, Église Saint-Sulpice, and Pierre Hermé. The medieval churches were very cool. The first was used by Templars in the middle ages and is home to an urban monastic order today. The second was featured in The Da Vinci Code. As for Pierre Hermé, you haven't lived until you have consumed one too many macarons!

While walking what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of kilometers, I managed to steer us into a couple of game shops. Z picked up a new set of dice at StarPlayer: pink and black, her favorite color combination. It did not hurt that these were official Call of Cthulhu dice, and therefore covered with snaking tentacles (something she really can't get enough of):


I tried to find something to buy at StarPlayer, but all I found was mainstream stuff: lots of Games Workshop, Pathfinder®, miniatures, etc. I couldn't even find any special dice. This should not be construed as a diss on StarPlayer, for they were easily the best game shop we experienced in Paris. I just wish they had a shelf of more eclectic offerings hidden in a niche in the far back. A little later in the day we stopped in at Descartes Ecoles, where I finally managed to find the right sort of purple dice to round out my sickly purple dice collection.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Years!

If you're going to be run through with a sword this year, then I hope it's this guy that does you in.


Speaking of New Years… resolutions. I'm not making any this year. Last year I said I was going to read 100 books. Ha! I managed to squeeze in a whole, earth-shattering twenty. With the day job, Calific, and the software side projects, well, there's just not as much time for reading as I'd like. I'm going to keep slipping in books wherever I can, but I'm not going to commit to an unreasonable number this time around.

Happy 2011, everybody.