Category Archives: Maps

More Handy Notepads

Now is a good time to visit your local Half Price Books!

As if you needed a reason.

I found another line of pocket notebooks that is just perfect for on-the-go dungeon mapping. Leuchtturm 1917 is a German manufacturer of fine notebooks, and let me add that it pleases me to no end that in an era of cost cutting and digital tablets a company can still exist based on making quality notebooks. That it’s a German company also seems appropriate.

The model I found is a nice 3.5″ x 6″ with a 17×26 grid pattern on both pages. Technically 18 across, but the last column is on the gutter and isn’t easily used. The book has a thread binding, which on the downside means it doesn’t lay flat as easily as a spiral binding, but on the plus side it is sturdy, attractive, and reduces the profile making it fit in your pocket better. There are other nice touches in the design, such as acid free “no bleed” paper, an expandable pocket in the back cover, a built in page marker, and a band to hold it closed. These would be fine journals in any case, but the grid pattern makes them wonderful for gamers.

The US distributor for Leuchtturm is Kikkerland Design and they sell this model for $12.95. When I found them at Half Price Books they cost just under $5 and when I went back for more they’d been marked down again to $2.99!

I now have several Leuchtturm notebooks sitting on the shelf next to my Blue Sky planners.

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Posted by on March 8, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Dungeon Design, Gaming, Maps


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It Came from the Blogosphere!

Several very cool things have popped up in my RSS feed lately.

  • The Hack & Slash blog has done an impressive analysis of the various treasure types in the 1st Edition Monster Manual that discusses what each type consists of, what types of monsters are assigned to them, and what the treasure types say about the ecology of the creatures involved. It’s an impressive bit of analysis that’s both informative and interesting to read. The follow up post about how to use treasure hoards in adventure design is also quite good.
  • Dyson’s Dodecahedron has announced that he’s hit his goal of $300 per update via Patreon. Dyson has always offered his maps for personal use, but hitting this goal means he’s making them freely available for commercial use (with proper attribution of course). That’s both cool and generous. Dyson’s maps are excellent and if more people start using them in commercial adventures? That’s a win for everyone. It’s also neat to see someone really leveraging Patreon to do what they love and give back to the OSR community.
  • The amazingly cool Ask About Middle-Earth Tumblr was involved in helping fact check the latest CGP Grey video that does an excellent job of summing up how the rings of power work. I’ve become quite a fan of the Ask About Middle-Earth blog (along with a gazillion other people) and the author’s sense of fun and passion for Tolkien’s works always shows through in her work. Check out her site and definitely watch the video.
  • Lastly, I saw the image below on the Jewel in the Skull Tumblr page and it just makes my Saturday morning cartoon soul just sing. If my Google-Fu is accurate, these links go to the inker and colorist for this geekishly wonderful cross-over.




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Speaking of Isometric Mapping

One of the things I love about the OSR is that it’s allowed people to create and spread unique ideas and products.

Case in point, my post on G+ asking about isometric mapping was replied to by the author of the blog Blue Boxer Rebellion. He happens to make isometric dungeon tiles and sells them on Drive Thru RPG.

Dungeon tiles are nothing new, I got my first set in the 80’s and I know there were sets available in the 70’s. I’ve seen countless 2D and 3D sets, but I’ve never seen an isometric set before now. It’s rare that I can look at a gaming product and say that I’ve never seen anything like it. You can see his products on his store front here.

I love the optical illusion effect the tiles generate and the hand drawn black-and-white fits my preferred old school art preferences. You can get a good look at a sample on his blog here.


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Free This Week – Sketchbook Pro

I have returned from Pennsic War!

It was my first Pennsic for a while and it was a ton of fun. I’m still getting my feet back on the ground at home and work from the time off, but should resume irregular updates shortly.

In the meantime, Sketchbook Pro is the iTunes free App of the Week!

I’ve talked about this app a few times in the past. It’s an inexpensive drawing program for your iPad that works well for drawing dungeon maps.

It’s worth a look, and this week you can do it for free.

Happy mapping!


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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Dungeon Design, Maps


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Handy Notepad

*Update* See below for corrections

I’ve been wanting to do more mapping lately. Specifically dungeon maps.

To do this I wanted to find a notepad that was more portable than my trusty 8.5″ x 11″ graph pad. Something I could toss into my laptop bag or a jacket pocket. I found a few promising candidates online, but nothing I wanted to pay shipping on. Having tried several art and office supply locations I’d just about given up hope.

Then while going through Wal-Mart I came across the perfect solution.

A company called Blue Sky produces a line called ProNotes that could have been custom designed for gamers. The books are 5.5″ x 8.5″, comfortably fitting into the cargo pocket on my jeans and the spiral binding lets me clip in my pencil. The notebook is designed for mapping out projects, so when you open up the left hand page has a 12 x 22 graph while the right hand page has a ruled section for notes. You could practically market these to the OSR community as One Page Dungeon planners.

You can order them directly from Blue Sky’s website, the product page is here and the cost is $7.99 per booklet. Refills are listed as available through various retailers but I do not see them on the Blue Sky website. The notebooks I picked up at Wal-Mart were about half the price. I’m not sure if they were on sale or priced at the refill rate, but I snapped up the only two they had.

If you are looking for a portable dungeon sketchbook, keep your eyes peeled for these.

*Corrections* I stopped at another Wal-Mart and discovered a few things I had wrong. The pads I picked up are 4″ x 6″ and under the “Notes” line instead of “ProNotes”. This line doesn’t appear on Blue Sky’s web site. I found them on the shelf in the same section as the regular pads of paper and they retail for under $5.


It would be fantastic if we could get these branded for Labyrinth Lord or Dungeon Crawl Classics!


Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Dungeon Design, Gaming, Maps


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Proud Gamer Dad

It’s been a while since I last played with mapping on my iPad.

I had some time on my hands, so I pulled out my stylus and fired up Sketchbook Pro when up popped this:

KateDungeonMy daughter has been watching me create dungeons. At some point she fired up Sketchpad, figured it out, and this is the result.

I am so proud of my little Dungeon Master!

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Posted by on June 24, 2014 in Dungeon Design, Maps


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Map Musings

I love maps.

It’s certainly one of the things that has always attracted me to Dungeons & Dragons.

I love dungeon maps. From the classic old blue grid maps like the Caves of Chaos, to the isometric maps of Ravenloft and Dragons of Dispair (for all the flaws with that module the map is solid gold), or the beautifully styled maps we see in Goodman Game’s modules for Dungeon Crawl Classics.

I love world maps. Darlene’s Greyhawk is still the gold standard, but the map of the Forgotten Realms from the grey box is also magnificent. Our local museum used to have a map of Middle Earth on the back of the door to their office. It was a straight forward line drawing, but not the one from the books and I’ve never seen that specific design again. I spent as much time looking at that map as some of the exhibits.

Years ago an individual used to make hand drawn maps of the Known World of the Society for Creative Anachronism. I have one on my wall, from way back in A.S. 22 (1988 for non SCAdians). It’s a marvelous piece of art on par with anything TSR put out. Duke Syr Merowald of the Midrealm is the artist.

I adore the cloth maps that came with the Ultima computer games. The map of Britannia from Ultima V is my favorite.

Maps represent possibilities. They let our imaginations explore as we dream of where we can go and what we can find. For me, role playing games are about exploration and maps represent that.

Every now and then I pull out my sketch book and make my own attempts at designing maps. Over the years I’ve found I have certain preferences. These are not “right or wrong” rules of map making, they’re just the things I like. For instance, with dungeon maps I prefer black-and-white (or blue-and-white) to full color and I don’t care for textures, especially on the dungeon floors. I find that these tend to distract the eye from the layout.

However, I do like simple graphics and icons in the map, such as summoning circles or wells drawn in the rooms. I like the occasional 3d element, like an archway or dolmen drawn as the gateway to a standard 2d hallway. I love artwork around the sides of the map, which can be simple filler art or the extravagant and intricate images worked into the Dungeon Crawl Classics maps.

While aesthetically I appreciate dungeon maps done without a grid, such as the wonderful maps Dyson Logos produces, for practical use I still prefer to have a grid. It’s the old school Dungeon Master in me, who wants to figure the blast radius of a fireball quickly. But I must admit, the work Dyson creates is winning me over.

If you’re not familiar with his blog, Dyson’s Dodecahedron, you really need to change that.

Like, now.

Go on, I’ll wait.

For world maps I like both color and black-and-white, but I still prefer simple styles. I don’t want my eyes spending too much time figuring out what something is, I want them to roam over the map with ease. This map from has captured my imagination with its style and my sketchbook is currently filling up with ideas based on it. The map was created using Campaign Cartographer, which is the name in map making software. It’s not cheap, but it’s amazing what you can produce with it.

For those of us on a budget, I recommend Hexographer. The free online version suits my regular needs and the pro version is not expensive.

I’ve also experimented with drawing on my iPad, described here and here, and for that I still recommend Sketchbook Pro. It’s a bit limited, but you can still whip out some decent maps in short order. Plus the cost of the app and a simple stylus will only put you out around $10, so it’s definitely worth giving a try.

Still, for the most part I like the Luddite method of pencils, pens, and paper. One of these days I’ll even learn to use my scanner correctly and then I’ll post some of my own maps.

What do you like in a good map? What maps in particular have captured your imagination? How do you make your own maps?


I made this map using Hexographer’s free online tool. I like the overall design, but if I were going to remake it I would drastically reduce the variety of icons I used. How many different forest icons do I really need? Still, it’s a good example of what the tool has to offer.


Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Gaming, Maps


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Mythic Cartography – The Mountains of Kong Pt. 2

Last week I talked about the mythical Mountains of Kong. This week I’m offering ideas for placing them into a gaming world.

Why aren’t the Mountains of Kong there?

Just a Jump to the Left – The explorers who saw the Mountains of Kong stumbled through a rift in time opened by the Great Race of Yith. The mountains exist in the antediluvian era and the rift was an attempt by the Great Race to bring their entire civilization into our time period.

Records of the mountains are based on the notes from explorers who crossed over, not realizing the true nature of what they experienced. As the Great Race’s experiments progressed the rift expanded, which is why later reports increased the size of the mountain range.

One expedition discovered the true nature of the mountains and were able to close the rift before the Great Race could complete their plans, which is why the mountains cannot be found today. Only one member of that expedition survived but his journal is discounted as the ravings of a madman.

There have been recent sightings of the Mountains of Kong. These reports have been ignored as mirages or hoaxes, but in occult circles there are fears that the Great Race has resumed their experiments.

Back to the Future – Sightings of the Mountains of Kong are projections of the future. A horrible catastrophe will shatter the landscape, causing upheaval in the land and cracking open the space-time continuum. A brilliant mathematician has calculated that the sightings of the Mountains of Kong are waves of this future sent back by the force of the disaster. She has predicted when and where the next wave will hit and assembled a team of specialists. Her hope is that by studying the projections she will be able to learn more about the crisis and how to avert it.

Will her efforts save humanity? Or could her actions be the spark that brings about the apocalypse she hopes to prevent.

These Aren’t the Droids you’re Looking for –  Early expeditions stumbled upon an ancient civilization, whose hidden underground city holds secrets that its guardians decided mankind wasn’t ready to know. The guardians of the city manipulated the minds of the explorers, inverting their memories to make it impossible for them to locate the city again. Instead of an underground city in a hidden valley, the expedition remembers a vast mountain range. Attempts to return were thwarted, as the explorers sought in vain for peaks that do not exist.

You Shall Not Pass – In the early 18th century, African shamans were waging a war with powerful otherworldly spirits. Demons rose up with great beasts and mighty armies. The shamans used powerful rituals to conjure up mountainous barriers to block their advance, pen them in, and allow their warriors to destroy the demons. Eventually they were triumphant, but the cost was high and nearly all the shamans perished.

European explorers stumbled upon the edges of the battle, seeing only the mountain ranges summoned by the rituals without understanding their true purpose. The secret of the spirit war went unknown or discounted by the Europeans, except in certain esoteric lodges.

Other Worlds – The idea of the mythical mountain range can be transported to another world. For maximum effect it would be good to use an iconic world such as Greyhawk. Imagine a party of adventurers setting out from the Flanaess, equipped with a map by the Darlene the master cartographer.

But when they reach the Hellfurnaces, they find nothing. No volcanic mountain range, no Sea of Dust, just endless steppes.

Bonus points if you’re running the game for a bunch of old school grognards. I know it’d throw me for a loop.


Posted by on March 4, 2014 in Fantasy, Gaming, Maps


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Mythic Cartography – The Mountains of Kong

Africa is a continent of diverse and spectacular geography and the range of mountains known as the Mountains of Kong is one of its most stunning features.

The Mountains of Kong begin near the coast of modern day Guinea and stretch far to the east. Eventually they link up with the equally fantastic Mountains of the Moon, where the headwaters of the White Nile are located, and together they bisect the entire continent, ending near the Red Sea.

The mountain range gets its name from the Kong Empire, which controlled much of the Ivory Coast region and lasted form 1710 until 1898, eventually falling to French colonialism. The first European to discover the Mountains of Kong was the Scottish explorer Mungo Park in 1798 and they were included on maps drawn by cartographer James Rennell. Later explorers included the mountains in maps made from their own excursions and the legend of the range grew.

The existence of a large and impressive mountain range that covers such a vast area would be one of the marvels of the natural world, except for one minor detail.

The Mountains of Kong don’t exist.

Nothing exists that is even close to the range based on Mungo Park’s exploration and expanded on by the accounts of later explorers. There are certainly no ranges bisecting the entire continent, or linking up with the equally mythical Mountains of the Moon. Despite this the Mountains of Kong continued to appear on maps until the late 19th century, and erroneous references to them still turned up in poorly edited atlases until the 1990’s.

How the legend of the Kong Mountains came about is a mystery. It’s unclear if it was the result of misunderstandings or overactive imaginations on the part of cartographers, excessive creativity from explorers, or a mix of both. What we do know is that once the tales had taken root they only expanded in scope, with each new story causing the mountains to grow. It was only when sufficient numbers of European colonists penetrated into Africa that the mountains were finally proved to be an illusion.

From a sociological standpoint the persistence of these legends for nearly two centuries is fascinating. The 18th and 19th centuries are marked as eras of European expansion and discovery as well as the birth of the modern age and industrialization. Yet the existence of a mythic mountain range thousands of kilometers long was accepted fact despite all the explorers, all the missionaries, and all the traders moving into the region. Not to mention the African people, who would have known that such a feature didn’t exist in their own back yards.

I wonder if anyone bothered to ask them.

What was it like for explorers traveling through Africa, expecting to find these mountains and instead finding nothing? Did they think they were lost? Did they feel compelled to perpetuate the legend to protect their own reputations? Did they simply believe that the mountains existed further away from where they were exploring? I suspect that the last was the most common. Cartography on that scale was not an exact science at the time, so it would be reasonable to believe the mountains that everyone else had talked about were simply a few hundred kilometers away. Certainly that seems more reasonable than thinking everyone else was wrong.

Again, assuming you aren’t asking or listening to the locals.

History is filled with mythical geography. Atlantis, Mu, and High Brasil come to mind. But these are products of the ancient world or describe places that the legends say no longer exist. What I find fascinating about the Mountains of Kong and the Mountains of the Moon are that they are from a more contemporary time period and describe places that should be there. It is easy to dismiss the story of Atlantis as allegorical; Plato was a philosopher given to using fiction to convey lessons about the world. Matters are different when you discover that something in a book based on so many accounts turns out to be made from whole cloth.

The history of the Mountains of Kong is a fascinating story about human nature, our perception of the world, and about the age of exploration and expansion.

I’ll be back in part two with some gaming ideas inspired by the Mountains of Kong.

Check out Infinite Machine, a Tumblr page for science fiction and fantasy pictures. Their posting of the above map is how I first learned of the Mountains of Kong.

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Posted by on February 27, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Maps


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Papa’s Maze

Via Purple Pawn I came across this story of a girl who discovered an amazing hand-drawn maze her father had done.

“When pressed for details, the father explained that he spent 7 years creating the map on A1 size paper, which is about 33 x 23 inches.”

The maze is huge and intricate, not a map in the Dungeons & Dragons sense, there are no embellishments or story about it.  At least, none we’re aware of.  It’s a straight-forward maze on a grand scale.  I have always loved mazes, long before I even knew what Dungeons & Dragons was I loved them.  And I still do.

Furthermore, now that I am a parent, and having lost both of my own parents quite some time ago, the story behind this maze hits an emotional chord.  I love hearing about people who have a passion for unconventional things.  I love stories of children and parents learning about those passions in unexpected ways.  People fascinate me, everyone has a story to tell, and there are interesting tales in the lives of others just waiting for us to find them.  

In turn, there are interesting tales in our own lives that others may one day stumble across.  Things they will appreciate in ways we may not, being too close to them to have the right perspective.

Prints of the maze are available from the site for $40 each and I may have to get one for my wall.  


Posted by on January 23, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Maps


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