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Tuesday, February 23, 2016


You will need a Hundred Aker Forest to run your sandbox. This doesn't have to be a topographical work of art you can find attached to fantasy literature. Actually you are better off starting with a different kind of an adventure map.

In the 12th Century Ghenghiz Khan unleashed a terrifying new adventure upon the unsuspecting world. It was a new kind of a map. Cartography was in its infancy in those days. Ancients were doing geographic surveys, that showed accurate positions of mountains and rivers, Babylonians were doing accurate urban cartography showing the layout of their cities.

All those years later, 12th Century Teutonic Knights were doing real life Hex Crawls. They tried to navigate impenetrable forests by using written narratives describing the topography often 50 years out of date. Maps of the Teutonic Order were as follows: "Follow East for half a day, until you find a grove with three giant Oak Trees. You will find a stream one hundred paces from the Giant Oak Trees. Follow the brook downstream, until you come across the ruins of a woodcutter's cottage. Follow the overgrown path until you reach the clearing that lays beyond the stand of pine trees."

Of course, the Pine trees could have burned down, the stream dried out, another stream might have sprung in the wake of the Spring Thaw, etc, etc, etc, and the brave knights spent weks and months meandering across the wilderness, looking for pagans they could hunt for sport.

But back to the Great Ghenghiz Khan (real name Temujin). Hitler weanted to be a painter, and all Temujin wanted, was to become a civil servant in China. Both were thwarted, one, by lack of talent and acceptance, the other, by machinations of his extended family on the range, and Temujin was thrown in jail after failing the civil service exam (which he really passed, but the corrupt Cinese officials were bought off by his back stabbing relatives), and so, Temujin eventually escaped from Chinese captivity, succeeded beyond anybody's wildest expectations through amazing innovation (one of the most modern thinkers of history), let it go to his head, and the rest,as they say, is history.

One of his great innovations was that he invented what we used to call Rand Mc Nally road maps in the days before GPS. Not to scale, Mongols used schematics of Town A connects to Town B, Town B connects to Towns C and D, C connects to town F, E, and J (a hub), while D leands to village K, town L etc. They were more interested in how long it took from Point A to Point B, rather than in topography or geography.

And so, during German blitzkrieg in WW2, columns of German tank units, 300-400 men each drove east about 4 to 6 miles apart and decimated any, that would oppose them. 600 years previously, columns of Mongols mounted on ponies, about 200 men each advanced into the country they were invading, about 2 to 4 miles apart...

Mongols of the Golden Horde of the Ghenghiz Khan did not use Lord of the Rings style of the fantasy maps, and neither will we.



  1. I think that the most beautiful map in Dungeons & Dragons is still the Greyhawk map. Not only is it beautiful but it was printed on a better medium than just paper. Later products put theirs on paper, and went much cheaper with the ink used, the colors of Greyhawk were stunning, and popped nicely, while others are dull and not as interesting to look at.

    Tolkien's map was beautiful, and I've seen people do some wonderful pieces of art with it. It was nice to be able to flip back and forth and have something to look at as you follow along with the adventures, but the text was always fascinating; like Gimli listing off the names of the mountain tops, things that he had never before seen with his own eyes, but only depicted in art and legend. It really brought out a true love for the land. This kind of stuff I try my best to emulate in my games.

    Do you want a very high detailed map, or just a basic one? At the end of the day, the only thing that you really need is distance and basic terrain. How close do you keep to the rules listed in Gygax's DMG?

  2. Greyhawk map is very nice, I have both editions of the World of Greyhawk, and Tolkien's map of Middle Earth is evocative, but you are missing the point here.

    Once you have your campaign setting developed, and you have fleshed out the geography, then you can indulge yourself in cartography, and add a beautiful campaign map to your sandbox. However, at the conceptualization stage we are at, a geographic map will only distract you. At this stage of the game we are after the narrative topography of your campaign setting.