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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.

 
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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.  

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

 

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Bits & Bobs

Bits & Bobs, surprisingly not a new retro-clone!

It’s been a stream of consciousness day, so this post is going to ramble more than a little.  With apologies to The Rambling Roleplayer.

You’ve been warned.

I was looking for the source of an old Roger Raupp illustration that caught my fancy and it turned out to be from a story in Dragon magazine, issue #54.  The article’s title is “Ruins: Rotted & Risky – but Rewarding”.  I ended up reading it through.

I found the article to be quite good.  It discusses the similarities and differences between using surface ruins and underground dungeons as adventuring locals, a topic that has been on my mind off and on for several months.  There are some wonderful examples of doing this kind of adventure, certainly in the source literature.  Conan, Elric and their ilk spent more time in lost cities than subterranean vaults.  Module I1, Dwellers in the Forbidden City is an all time classic adventure that is almost entirely set in a lost city.  A more contemporary example would be found at the Dreams in the Lich House blog, where the author’s Black City campaign has combined an extensive alien ruined city over top of a vast underground complex.

Our own Google+ hangout game recently had our party encounter the ruins of the City of Gygaxia!

What?

Back on topic, the article included a nice collection of tips for designing ruins, including tables for seeding monster lairs in the abandoned structures.  It’s quite a good article and worth a read.  My arsenal of DM’s design tools is pretty extensive at this point, but this fills a design niche I hadn’t given much thought to.

The result of this was that I finally revisited an idea that’s been rolling around in my head for a long time.  I love dungeons and some of my favorites are lost dwarven cities.  Give me a site where the dwarves delved too deeply and too greedily and I’m a happy gamer.  To that end I’ve been doodling with such a city off and on.

Taking cues from Moria, I envision this city as having once been a center of commerce and passage between realms on opposite sides of a mountain range.  Borrowing from Erebor and Dale, outside one of the city gates is a ruined city.    The article prompted me to pull out my sketch pad and start working up a rough draft of the city map.

This in turn reminded me of an app for my iPhone that I recently picked up.

I did warn you that this post was going to wander.

I have an extensive collection of materials, some of which I’d like to be able to scan in for online use, but much of it is in books that don’t easily fit on my little desktop scanner.  I also love to make maps, which I still prefer to draw by hand.  I’ve had some fun with mapping on the iPad, but I still prefer a good pencil and pad.  However, I have little practice scanning them in and cleaning them up.

Scanner Pro by Readdle aims to help me fix that by turning my iPhone into a handheld scanner.  The software has several features that set it above just taking pictures.  It has an auto-detect for the borders of your subject, saving the effort of cropping the image.  It takes images in color, grey scale, or high contrast black and white, which is good for line art.  You can adjust the contrast and brightness of the image on the fly, and you can save the file as either a .jpg or a .pdf.  The latter when combined with the multi-page feature allows you to make a multi-page .pdf file from your phone.  From there you can email it or upload it through a variety of means.

Below are examples of my city-in-progress, both in grey scale and contrast formats.  I need more practice holding my phone horizontally and the grey scale image has some shadows, but I decided to leave the flaws in.  Like the subject, using the software is a work in progress.

Click to see larger versions of the images:

GreyscaleTest1ContrastTest1

All in all, not too bad.  The drawing is straight #2 pencil with no inking.  Considering that, I’m pleased with how well the software picked up the details.  The contrast version also completely removed the shadow. The only adjustments I made to the pictures were the built-in contrast and brightness settings.

It also allowed me to capture a digital image of one of my favorite illustrations from any game book.  This is a straight shot with no cropping using the contrast settings.

photo

Scanner Pro shows promise and I’ll be playing around with it more.  Not to mention developing my adventure setting.

Thank you for taking this wander through my thoughts.  And hey, this is my 100th post!  I’ve had a great deal of fun since I started this weblog and look forward to the next 100.

Until next time, happy gaming!

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2014 in Dungeon Design, Gaming, Maps

 

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More Tablet Mapping

I finally got back to playing around with mapping on my iPad.

Sketchbook Pro continues to satisfy me, though I’ve added to my wish list of features.  I would like to be able to better organize the files into sub-folders, as opposed to in order of file creation.  Also, I have a fine point stylus on my Christmas list.

My first foray into tablet mapping was back in this post.

Following that up, I did this map as a “level two” to the iDungeon of Doom.  One nice advantage of digital mapping is that I can take the previous finished map and use it as a transparent layer for my new map.  That makes it easy to match up the paths between floors.

A few notes:

Area 4 is a waterwheel fed from the whirlpool’s cascade in Area 12 on the first level.

Area 16 is a three-level chamber.  Each entry is at a different height.  I’d probably need to include an inset map of the room to convey it properly.  I’m playing around with trying to do an isometric map for the room, but so far it’s beyond my meager stylus skills.

Area 13 is an elevator.  When it rises up it uncovers the secret door.

The circular areas 18-22 have pools in their centers that act as teleportation devices.

EyeLevel2

And here’s the first level of a tower complex:

TowerLevel1

Eventually I may stock these maps with something like the one page dungeon format and see how it goes.  But for now I’m just enjoying the sketching.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2013 in Dungeon Design, Maps

 

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Tablet Mapping

I enjoy making dungeon maps.

I’ve enjoyed that since the time when I’d only heard about Dungeons & Dragons but hadn’t yet played.  One of the things that I love about the Old School Renaissance for gaming is the wealth of maps that fans are creating and sharing.

(And if you also like old school maps, make sure you’re reading Dyson’s Dodecahedron!)

I’ve been experimenting with using GIMP for my digital mapping needs and I enjoy it, but haven’t had enough time to really dig into it yet.  I love using a good old pad of graph paper, but I’m not fond of the results I’ve had scanning files in.

However I do have an iPad and I love playing around with it.  For the moment that’s going to be my playground for digital mapping.

I did some research on the web and hit up a few Google+ communities and Sketchbook Pro looked like a good tool.  The application and a cheap stylus cost me just under $10 and for the price it does the job nicely.

Sketchbook Pro has most of the standard drawing tools you’d expect, including plenty of pen styles with adjustable thickness and hardness, color and fill tools, and a built-in square grid template that’s perfect for dungeon mapping.  It also offers plenty of layers to work with, a must for digital dungeon design.  Numbering rooms is a snap too.  It didn’t take me very long to get the hang of it and knock out a basic layout.

1stMap1

Sketchbook Pro does the job nicely, but it does have limitations.  While it does have a line tool it doesn’t have a “snap to grid” feature, which accounts for some of my less-than-straight lines.  Drawing with the stylus takes practice and trying to get my lines just where I want them can take a few tries, the undo feature is my friend, but this could be alleviated with a finer quality stylus.

Sketchbook Pro does have a transformation tool for layers, but surprisingly it doesn’t have a selection tool.  So you can copy entire layers but not lasso and copy sections within a layer.  Also, while there are plenty of stamps built into the pen selection, there is no way to create your own stamps.  So any frequently used icons will have to be drawn each time.

However for a $10 total investment I’m more than satisfied with the results.  A basic dungeon can be created quickly and while a more complex design takes longer than good old graph paper, it’s still something you can accomplish.  Combined with the portability of an iPad and stylus over a desktop and this is a tool that’s going to be staying in my DM’s arsenal.

Here’s a level from a more ambitious dungeon design. I could easily add color or a background texture, but I prefer the simpler old school scheme both from an aesthetic and practical concern.  Colors and backgrounds tend to be distracting.  For a more printer friendly version a white color fill on the grey areas does the trick with a few clicks.

The iDungeon of iDoom!

IMG_0343

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Dungeon Design, Gaming, Maps

 

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