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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.

80sSwordsSmall

 

 

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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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Isometric Mapping Thoughts

I posted this on the G+ OSR community as well.

Question on mapping. I’ve been looking at some wonderful examples of isometric maps.

Aesthetically I like them, but here’s my question. Do they have any effect from the player’s point of view? Would players realize that a map was done isometrically if the DM doesn’t tell them? Maybe it helps the DM express changes in height better, but otherwise I’m not sure.

This isn’t a knock on the design choice, I love them. Wish I could draw them better. I’m just wondering because I’ve always looked at them from the DM’s point of view and never thought about how they do or don’t change things on the other side of the screen.

 

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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!

IMG_0343

 
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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.

Notepad1

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

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

 

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Quixotic Observation

I’ve been looking at city maps recently, particularly medieval maps, and I noticed something. Or rather, I noticed a lack of something.

Windmills.

Windmills3

Taken from a 17th Century map of Paris

Several medieval maps depict windmills in and around their cities, but I can’t think of any maps of fantasy cities that include them. For that matter, I can only think of a few fantasy pictures with windmills and none involve cities. That’s an interesting omission considering the importance of mills to a city. Not every city will be situated in a place where windmills are an option, but their absence in fantasy illustration is interesting.

Windmills2From the same map. I like this one because it shows a large mill within the city walls.

Perfect for the court sorcerer.

This provides DM’s with a quick and easy way to add a bit of color to their cities. Windmills are evocative, like wizards towers, and can be tied in equally well with either magic or steampunk style technology.

Windmills1

From a map of 13th Century Rhodes.

A battery of windmills along a coastal wall could have more purpose than grinding meal.

Historically windmills have been connected to such fantastic individuals as Don Quixote and Frankenstein. Who can forget the climactic end to the 1931 classic Frankenstein?

FrankensteinWindmill

Good thing there was a Groupon for torches and pitchforks!

This has me thinking about ways to use windmills in game settings. I’ll save that for another post, more grist for the… well you get the idea.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Fantasy, Gaming, World Design

 

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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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Of Sunken Cities and Weird History

While Listening to this week’s edition of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast I learned a fascinating bit of history.

In Suffolk County, England, there used to be a thriving port town. Once it was a seat of power, serving as the capital city to the Kingdom of the East Angles, but the city’s doom was sealed on New Years Eve in 1286 when the mouth of the river was buried in silt during a three day long storm. The North Sea then began a slow but relentless assault on the city, swallowing up more land each year.

That city’s name is Dunwich.

“In the Roman period the shoreline was at least 2,000 metres further out. The town’s slow death began in 1286 when a three-day storm which started on New Year’s Eve wrecked much of the settlement and blocked the river mouth. Further storms silted up what had been an international port, destroying the town’s prosperity, and the erosion of the coastline was remorseless. As recently as 1736 All Saints was a handsome church with a tall tower: by 1912 only the ruined tower remained teetering on the edge of the cliff, and now nothing remains on dry land.”

-Article in The Guardian, May 10th, 2013

At this point the minds of H.P. Lovecraft fans are racing with possibilities. Given his Anglophile nature I would be surprised if the connection to The Dunwich Horror was a coincidence, though as yet I have not found any evidence of him referencing the real Dunwich.

On a personal note, as someone whose country wasn’t founded until 1776 I find it fascinating to see the term “recently” used in regards to the year 1736. In the United States we have a far more limited perception of time.

The town has other interesting history that makes it perfect for gaming. There’s a legend that you can still hear the bells of All Saints’ Church, abandoned in the 1700’s and which finally tumbled into the sea in 1922. According to Wikipedia, “A single gravestone still remains (as of 2011) around 15 feet from the cliff edge…”

This gives me the image of graves pouring out from the cliff face, spilling their contents into the North Sea. It’s a vision that strikes me as very William Hope Hodgeson-esq.

There was also a stronghold of the Knights Templar in Dunwich:

“thought to have been founded around 1189 and was a circular building similar to the famous Temple Church in London. When the sheriff ofSuffolk and Norfolk took an inventory in 1308 he found the sum of £111 contained in three pouches – a vast sum. In 1322, on the orders of Edward II, all the Templars’ land passed to the Knights Hospitallers. Following the dissolution of the Hospitallers in 1562 the Temple was demolished. The foundations washed away during the reign of Charles I.”

-Wikipedia entry on Dunwich

Why was the temple demolished? Were the Templars hiding something in its vaults? Something the Hospitallers later fell prey to? And is it still there, sealed within catacombs long buried beneath the silt?

This just screams out to be a pulp adventure or Delta Green operation.

In 2013 The Guardian ran a story about efforts to map the submerged city using acoustic imaging, giving archaeologists an unprecedented look at the remains.

“Although the ruins are only between three and 10 metres (9.8ft to 32.8ft) below the water, visibility is atrocious. Prof David Sear, of the geography and environment department of Southampton University, who led the project, described the Didson acoustic imaging used as “like shining a torch on to the seabed, only using sound instead of light”.

-Article in The Guardian, May 10th, 2013

That’s certain to upset any local Deep Ones who have taken up residence.

Below is a map from the Atlas Obscura entry for Dunwich. I love the map insert about the lost Saxon churches. Maybe the storm of 1286 was caused by ritual warfare between the lost churches, where beings far older than the Christian faith were worshiped in hidden sanctuaries. Lovecraft’s story The Festival comes to mind.

Perhaps this is what drew the Templars to Dunwich, the storm being summoned by the Order to annihilate the heretics. Or to remove them as competition for the affections of blasphemous gods.

However you look at it, the sunken city of Dunwich is overflowing with possibilities.

DunwichMap

 

Image from the Atlas Obscura

 

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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 FreeFantasyMaps.org 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?

PlayerRegionMap1

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.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Gaming, Maps

 

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