Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mapping Tanch

What started out as a series of lairs and dens dug into the rocky hillside also concealed the overgrown entrance to an old, mostly forgotten temple (though it wasn't quite abandoned). The old temple led onwards into a series of inter-connected cavern systems within which dozens of player character got lost. Fun times.

This old map is messy, imprecise, and completely hand-drawn. It was set-up so that there would be space to add new sub-levels, secret sections or special lairs as necessary. Players sometimes knocked down walls or attempted to dig their own passages, and lairs had a tendency to collapse so it was important to be able to adjust and adapt to such modifications.

It will be fun to update this dungeon. We'll be adapting the approach we used in building the maps for Bujilli's first dungeon. We might also try to incorporate some of the new set of Caves currently in-progress...


  1. Some of the names look Tekumelani. Where is Tanch?

  2. Tanch was part of a campaign that pre-dates my introduction to Tekumel by a few years actually. It is one of the things that motivated a friend to get me to meet some of the Tekumel Games staff.

  3. I have to say I rather like the organic hand drawn feel of the old Tanch map more than the colored/computerized method used for Bujilli's First Dungeon. It has a more "map" less "early 90's nethack clone" feel that I find compelling.

  4. @Gibbering Mouher: Wow. We're glad you at least like the 'organic hand drawn feel' of the map. We're not sure what 'early 90's nethack clone' means exactly, but it sounds extremely negative...

    1. I wasn't trying to be especially negative - I apologize if it came out that way, the Tanch map gives me a nostalgic feel while the second one feels a bit like a video game map. Of course this is subjective issue - and both maps are well done. I suppose it's just a throwback/nostalgia thing for me, the main thing I think that a map loses in the newer digital style (which is similar to the one I've seen in some WOTC products) is a certain ease reading, and the organic style I mentioned above which I find visually pleasing. I think the perfection of the lines in the second map may be the source of my unease.

    2. You raise a very good point, one that we have been considering as well: the perfection of the lines is why we've avoided software like Campaign Cartographer--it looks too clean, too digital, too something we have yet to coin a good word for. The maps for Bujilli's first dungeon developed as an experiment, taking hand-drawn elements and overlaying digital components so as to retain readability and to achieve something of a hybrid. It was more akin to how a comic-book is digitally colored now. The underlying map itself was hand-drawn. We're still working on how to best combine the hand-drawn and the digital. It's an on-going experiment.

      Nostalgia does have merit, but nostalgia for what particular period, approach, set of techniques is quite fluid. We're working on maps using the non-repro blue like TSR used in their earlier offerings, as a kind of homage. We're also doing a lot of hand-drawn elements that we can composite into sequentially-related maps. The Caves we're working on in the Moleskine sketchbook, will be in another style entirely. so we definitely do agree with you on the desirability of something more organic, more 'correctly imperfect,' than straight-on digital stuff. Though, to be fair, some of the maps coming out of WotC, Paizo and others are quite impressive and very attractive. We're not knocking them, we want to achieve something else, something different...and we still have a ways to go to get there...

      We're also quite intrigued with doing maps that are far more messy, deliberately incomplete, and presented as works of art in themselves. There may be something to approaching a set of maps as artifacts unto themselves, objects to be considered apart from the associated text in order to 'get' various hidden messages, key referents, secret options, clues, Easter Eggs, etc. There might be something to this sort of an approach that we're exploring right now. We'll post some examples soon. When they're complete.

      You mentioned the video-game look/feel...and that has given us something to consider. Neither of us are very up-to-date with video-games, and they are a huge influence upon everything else these days. A lot of the more modern RPGs play like tabletop simulations of online or PC games. That creates a set of expectations, a context that we need to be aware of, if only to try and visually subvert it somehow.

      It's a lot like looking through tutorials for digital painting; most of them are geared to the current trend in concept art, very few attempt to build upon the techniques of Rembrandt or Redon or (whomever you prefer). It feels awkward that with all the tools available that enable every single user/artist/designer to be completely unique and different, that so many of them are trying so had to conform to a set style. But that's a tangent for another time.

      Thank you for taking the time to clarify things a bit. It sounds like we may be fairly parallel in our thought processes. You've given us something to consider as we proceed with the current set of experiments-in-progress. And that is greatly appreciated. Thanks again!

    3. I was considering this a bit more, and especially why my initial response came across so virulently (which was unintended). Suffice to say I do enjoy the Non-Repo blue TSR homage maps which I know I've seen in at least one product, and find the Mapper software maps unsatisfying for the same reasons you mentioned.

      A) On the Bujilli Map, I see where the hand drawn is in there and I realized what it's missing to me compared with the Tanch map. One, I dislike the ordered nature of the large swirling bits - which have an almost 3d copied to 2d sprite feel but I think a hand colored version used as a 'stamp' would work fine. Second it's the lack of "rock" or noise really around the rooms. The crosshatched style hand drawn map popular lately looks great (Dyson Logos is the finest practitioner of the style I believe?) and depends on a loose cross-hatching around the walled areas to indicate earth and stone that is very pleasing. The Tanch map uses simple hatching and is effective as well.

      Video game maps - The best I know of that are readily available are Blizzard's from WOW - say what one will about WOW, but it has top notch design talent. They can be found in this archive on the blizzard site, just click on the locations and then expand the little maps in the right pane.

      I like the idea of the unfinished map, treasure map style, it sounds like a bit of a trick getting them usefully clear and style artfully mysterious.

    4. You know, we were considering doing a sort of cross-hatching texture instead of the basic gray, but decided to keep it simple and easier on a printer. We're big fans of Dyson Logos and Matt Jackson, both of whom are quite excellent in their use of cross-hatching in their maps. The 'noise' aspect is a good observation--we'll need to add-in something like you're describing when we do the next set of maps.

      The Vortex was another experiment. We're still ambivalent about it precisely because it straddles the 3D/2D divide. Plus it is too symmetrical. We're re-tooling the Vortex graphic and may wind-up just re-drawing a set of the things from scratch, by hand, in a different style to see how it can be made to work more cleanly with the rest of the map. You're right on the money with the hand-colored stamp idea, as we've been researching a ton of antique maps of all sorts and that seems like a very good direction to explore.

      Thanks for the link. We don't play MMORPGs, but we'll spend some time looking into them now. We do have friends who are deeply caught-up in WoW. You're right, their maps are quite good. Very nice design. This could be quite inspirational.

      Making deliberately unfinished maps can be a trick, but it can be fun. We used to hand out crudely scrawled treasure maps (like the ones gained via summoning a Grobbly Bonk...) to our players and letting them fill-in the blanks as they explored the locales. That worked well. Maybe we can adapt that a bit to here-and-now gaming.

  5. Hand drawn maps all the way. Looks great.

  6. We certainly will do more hand-drawn stuff. We have a ton of old pens to use-up...


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