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Author Topic: Maps in fantasy  (Read 5816 times)
GreatWolf
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« on: April 25, 2001, 06:02:00 PM »

Okay.  It's been a crash week for me, which explains my lack of posting, well, anywhere.  I've also been slowly digesting some thoughts and brainstorming a bit.  However, I thought that I would get some feedback on various miscellaneous thoughts that I've had.  This is the first.

It seems to me that a general assumption of most modern fantasy games is that a detailed map of the country must be supplied.  This is a little bit difficult for me, partly because I am lousy at creating maps.  However, as I've thought about some of my design goals for Alyria, I've begun to wonder if including a map would be a good idea.  It has been noted that many fantasy novels (or near fantasy, like Edgar Rice Burroughs) do not include maps.  Rather, while there is the sense that the author knows the spatial relationships between different areas, he is not particularly concerned about detailing every single terrain feature.

Another benefit (it seems to me) for an RPG in not providing a detailed map is the flexibility provided to the GM.  Sure, he knows that the Citadel is situated on the coast and that the Ark is several hundred miles to the east, separated by a wide grassland and forests, which are inhabited by nomadic tribes and Misbegotten creatures.  But now he is given the freedom to fill in the details.  He could create settlements or even entire cultures situated in the "blank space" on the map.

So, is this a good idea, or does this seem like a cop-out to the rest of you.  Any thoughts?
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Seth Ben-Ezra
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2001, 08:04:00 PM »

Hey Seth,

Quote
a general assumption of most modern fantasy games is that a detailed map of the country must be supplied...I've thought about some of my design goals for Alyria, I've begun to wonder if including a map would be a good idea...many fantasy novels (or near fantasy, like Edgar Rice Burroughs) do not include maps.


You could write a thesis on this topic. How did it become de rigeur for a fantasy novel to have a map? Is this another artifact of the pervasive influence of The Lord of the Rings? The Worm Ourobouros doesn't have one. Most of the fantasy I read back in the 70's didn't have them.

I quite like the idea of not including a map. I like it a lot. It would be aggressively Narrativist, as in transgressively non-Gamist and non-Simulationist. But you'd have to address it head-on in the game or you'd get slaughtered for it in the reviews and forums and in the gamer grapevine. "Alyria? That's the setting-heavy game without the map, right?"

Perhaps you could address it with some alternative way of laying out the geography of the game world that would better facilitate Narrativism than a typical map? A map probably tends to create a more Simulationist "18 days of dull travel" syndrome, when perhaps there's some alternative that would facilitate scene transitions without that, as well as maybe some Narrativist back-and-forth cutting between scenes.

Good question. I'm not sure what the solution is though.

Paul
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #2 on: April 25, 2001, 09:07:00 PM »

Two games you should look at for advice on this: Orkworld and Maelstrom.

While Orkworld has a map, it doesn't put locations for any of its wonderous places on the map, instead leaving the placement up to the GM and players. In Maelstrom, locations move frequently from place to place, but maintain connections or relative placement with those locations important to them.

With Alyria being rather setting-heavy, perhaps you should list places, and types of areas they might be in, or locations they might be close to, but don't include a map, letting the GM place these locations as fits his campaign.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: April 26, 2001, 05:26:00 AM »

Seth,

One of the foundation concepts in Sorcerer's first supplement, "Sorcerer & Sword," is that modern fantasy has completely lost touch with the conceptual framework for producing fantasy adventure stories and heroes.

That framework is as follows:
1) conceive of a very sketchy, map-less context or setting,
2) conceive of a hero, including his or her ultimate fate (and with it, "the point")
3) write stories about the hero, almost certainly not chronologically, inventing nuances and details of the setting for purposes of each story.

Then, years later, you or your fans cobble it all together "in order" and figure out a map.

"Sword" presents this point in much greater detail with lots of references, but this pattern applies to Elric, Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Jirel of Joiry, and many other sword-and-sorcery heroes.

Now, before anyone gets all fired up about counter-examples, bear in mind that I'm talking about PULP SWORD-AND-SORCERY, and that High Fantasy in particular shows different patterns. But I do think that the heavily symbolic, heavily hero-based context that Seth wants for Alyria would do well to consider the actual literature closest to his ideas, and follow the relevant pattern.

Bottom line: Is Alyria for READING or for CREATING stories?

Best,
Ron

P.S. I'm playing Orkworld now and the "fill-in map" idea is brilliant. Plenty to work with, but nothing dictated.

[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-04-26 09:27 ]
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2001, 07:27:00 AM »

Okay, mass response here.

Paul saith:

Quote

Perhaps you could address it with some alternative way of laying out the geography of the game world that would better facilitate Narrativism than a typical map?


I've been thinking about this.  One of the half-formed ideas floating around to be included in Alyria is the idea of a relationship map (of sorts) for the different movers-and-shakers on the macroplot level that are important to the story.  This way, the actions of these individuals, organizations, or nations are factored into the developing plot.  Perhaps the geographic details should be factored into the necessities of these evolving relationships by each individual group.  Have to think about that one more.

Clinton, I'm shocked at myself for not thinking of Orkworld.  I have a copy on my shelf and didn't even think of it.  In fact (unlike many others, from what I gather), I am glad that the setting was left sketchy.  It gives more freedom to the group to invent interesting places.

Ron saith:

Quote

Bottom line: Is Alyria for READING or for CREATING stories?


After some soul-searching, I have decided that it is for creating stories.  That is why I am trying to maintain a careful balance on the level of detail that I invest in this world.  I have considered writing stories set in Alyria, but any details composed for those stories would not be "canon".  This is why I am wrestling with some of these issues.

In my mind, Alyria is (in part) an expression of a worldview in concrete form.  The different elements that I am including are mostly there for symbolic reasons.  (I'll have to start a separate thread on that topic later.)  Certain sketchy interactions between these elements will be put in place, in order to give guidance to the players.  But I do not want to dictate the totality of the world to the players.  Instead, I would like to give the freedom for them to improvise on my basic theme.  Hmm.  Sounds like jazz....

I have to run.  More on this later, I hope.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #5 on: April 27, 2001, 07:31:00 AM »

Okay, here comes the continuation of that extended ramble that I started last post.

I just finished reading a review of Hero Wars on RPGnet along with multitudinous remarks in the attached forum.  One of the common complaints is that Glorantha is constantly changing with each new sourcebook being released and that it is difficult-to-impossible to have a complete understanding of Glorantha due to the overwhelming weight of information avaiable.  Along with Tekumel, Glorantha seems to be the ultimate in Setting-rich games.  However, this depth of information also raises the learning curve.  The player (and GM) must absorb a lot of information in order to understand the totality of their characters' situations.  For many, this is too much to do.

At one point Alyria was headed in the same direction as Glorantha.  However, over time I have decided that this is not the best direction to pursue.  Instead I would hope to establish a pattern of play through the game, by mechanics, setting details, and atmospherics.  Now, if all goes according to plan, there will be plenty of room for a group to use to construct their own stories.  Entire nations could conceivably be invented for Alyria if the group desired.  In fact the setting is being specifically constructed with this sort of openness in mind.  However, if I do my job, I will be establishing a basic melody, to use the language of music.  The gaming groups that play Alyria will be improvising on that basic melody.  My goal is two-fold:  1) provide a strong melody and 2) avoiding harmonizing myself as much as possible.

That is the concern behind my asking about maps.

There was a point here somewhere, but I seem to have mislaid it.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
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archangel_2
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« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2001, 09:05:00 AM »

Well, this would probably be too much work, but here's my suggestion none-the-less. lol

How about create 2 or 3 complete maps of Alyria. What I mean is, create 2 or 3 different versions of Alyria, and allow the GM to decide which he prefers (and make sure to stress that creating his own would be the best option of all, but if he doesn't have the time or inclination to do so, here are some examples he could use...)

If this isn't acceptable, then go with the Orkworld example, but PLEASE have a map!

I just finished reading "A Storm of Swords" by George RR Martin not too long ago. When I was reading this series, I would often refer back to the map, as I was better able to understand what was going on in the books as a result. The parts where activities occurred not listed on the maps (such as Danaerys in the first two books), it was rather frustrating to me.

And in my own campaign, I'd been slacking in creating a map of the world, and the players were rather annoyed with this fact. I know because they told me so! lol

So I would REALLY prefer if you did make a map of some sorts, however you feel it would be best to do so. But that's just my opinion, and you know what that's worth! lol

Daniel Worthington
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2001, 11:29:00 AM »

Not sure what I can add from a design viewpoint, as I've never had a wish to design my own game, but I can relate a sort of epiphany I've had lately. This sort of relates to Ron's Sorcerer and Sword supplement, since I'd read this a good while before.

Normally, the thought of playing in a fantasy game without an established world would have set off alarm bells, and told me instantly that the game was probably shallow, and not that good. The problem with this argument is: for a group of gamers in their late twenties to early thirties, creating such a world before even playing was not an option. Time does not allow it, you have to create new gaming paradigms to adapt to your time constraints.

As a result, we started the game with just our characters, and their backgrounds became the first elements of the world. As time has gone on we did gain a map (just to show position, and it's not to scale). I'm sure if a simulationist analysed it he'd point out how we took 1 week to travel to A but only two days to Z etc, but to be honest we don't care.

The point being we built the world around the characters and this still continues to occur. Only a few weeks ago the player of one of the half-elves wrote up the history and culture of the elves, because we knew we would meet them soon.

The GM runs the game, but he's probably added no more to the world than the players. He's probably added no more of the plot either, but that's a different topic.

So, what am I saying, basically that a vague world, assuming your concept allows, may not be as bad an idea as it originally sounds. It could make it a better game, but it may damage sales?

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Ian O'Rourke
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2001, 11:08:00 AM »

Heck, half of what I buy supplements for is to look at the nifty maps. This is great Simulationist stuff. The more detailed the better. I love the map of the Hyborean kingdoms in every conan novel. I feel like I've been there...Most fantasy worlds I design actually start with the map. And as I stare at it I can feel the populations begin to swell within each border.

But since you've decided to go with a Narrativist format, you probably should go with Ron's suggestions. Interestingly enough there was a Simulationist game Nexus (Robin Laws again?) I loved in which you couldn't have a map; this due to the fact that the entire world changed more or less constantly and completely in its geography. Simulationist and no map required. Neat. Hey, is this an example of a Narrativist setting element (in an otherwise Simulationist game)?

Mike Holmes
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2001, 08:00:00 AM »

Well, I'll chime my 2 cents worth here.

I love maps.  To me cartography is a story in itself.  I'd be very disappointed if there wasn't a map...

Unless...here's what I've been thinking.  What if the geography of Alyria was created through your metaplot mechanic.  The map of Alyria could essentially be filled in interactively through the course of play.

You might have the mainland, the sea of mists, some mountain top islands, and the base for the Ark and Covenant located.  The rest gets filled in by the play group.  

I know that your character mechanics are pretty abstract, but perhaps there is some means of measuring how well traveled a particular character is when the game starts...what a more traditional game might call an "Area Knowledge" Skill.  Different players would thus have the ability to create a greater or lesser part of the world depending on what their character knows.

If the character has never been outside of his village and has only heard rumors about how decadent and wild a near by city is, that player would have enough "points" to define the metaplot game stats of his village in detail and a rough guideline for the city.  Another player, whose character is a traveling merchant might interject at this point "Oh, you mean Merktis, yes I know it well.  A fine city of marble and glass where anything can be found...for a price"  Thus, spending some of his greater number of "points" to flesh out that locations details.

"points" (and I'm using quotations because I'm not sure what form that might take mechanically in your game) could even be saved and spent on the fly.  While traveling fast across a plain pursued by bandits one player could suddenly dip into his "point pool" and declare "During the Iron Wars Duke Egol besieged and sacked the Fortress of Lune.  The ruins of Lune's keep should be just over that ridge, we'll be able to hold off the bandits there."

How much of this was just created vs dovetailing with existing knowledge (The Duke, the War, the Fortress, etc.) would determine how "expensive" this ad hoc addition to the game world is.  Point being that unlike detailed setting worlds, the Duke Egol, the Iron Wars, and the sack of Lune don't come at all from some world book created by Dark Omen, but purely from player interaction and large parts completely on the fly...geographic Directoral Power if you will.

Further, points could be earned throughout the story for various activities.  If the party enters a city they may hire a guide.  That NPC guide has significant "area knowledge" about the city and so his "points" are at the parties disposal ("Fortuneately our guide remembers a short cut through the back of Alkabesh's grocery").  A scene at an Inn could be roleplayed out, or simply boiled down to some opposed "Gather Information" rolls, the end result of which is earning a couple points  ("We're almost out of water, but that old innkeeper said something about an abandoned monastery with a well, we should be getting close")

That said, being a fan of good mechanics, I'd prefer to see a fairly involved game mechanic support for this sort of thing rather than simply direction to do it as needed.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2001, 12:13:00 PM »

That is a cool idea, and I think indicative of what Ron was talking about. And I wholeheartedly agree with you that this should be a really complicated mechanic. I'd matrix out the costs of introducing elements in fact. I can see the GM listening to the description and refering to the chart and furiously tallying up the cost of the description. Charge players after the fact and let the score go negative if necessary. These negative points can be used by the GM to throw some stuff that the Character in question "forgot" (probably dangerous or detrimental) about the locale in question. Sure that secret entrance to the Citadel is useful, but it puts Jim at -10 points. Just enough to justify it being in poor repair and about to collapse when the character enters it.

This sounds like a narrativist version of the Rune point mechanic.

You'd also have to award extra points to the Cartographer, a player who volunteers to draw the map. He gets a photocopy of the mostly blank map and draws in the details as the group travels, so that they can get back later if they like, and have a reasonable idea of travel time.

Next game, you start with a fresh page and a fresh world. Or keep the data if you prefer and add on to the old map. That's pretty darn cool. I love the idea of collaborative world design, because these worlds have an eclectic flavor, and it saves the GM a lot of time coming up with detail that might never be used. The detail developed with this system will be either usefull to the characters or at least will enhance the story in some way. Excellent.

Mike Holmes
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2001, 02:12:00 PM »

Actually I contacted Valamir off-forum about this idea.  I like the sentiment behind it (and am going to steal it), but I'm not really all that concerned about point balancing.  Alyria is Setting-based Narrativism, so the Setting is more than just the stage on which the action occurs; it is the thematic carrier.  As such, it needs to be crafted based on the narrative needs of the moment.  The system that you're suggesting, Mike, isn't really Narrativist in this way.  Nothing personal.  :smile:  It is also more complex than I would like.  Alyria is going for the abstract and rules-light.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2001, 03:21:00 PM »

The Theatrix flowcharts might be worth looking at Seth. I think the right kind of flowchart could be used to guide the GM in measuring the accuracy of a player's modification of the game geography.

Paul
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Valamir
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« Reply #13 on: May 26, 2001, 10:48:00 AM »

Actually, my own historical bent is probably closer to Mikes on this one...but I think there is ample room to compromise on a "balanced" system vs purely narrativist needs.

Details will have to wait until you reveal your interactive plot mechanic, because I suspect this can work in a very similar manner.

I do think some form of point structure is required, and love Mike's idea of letting the "points" go negative as necessary.  The reason I'd get behind a points system with some degree of item cost is to put a soft limit (guideline rather than restriction) as to what can be done while feeding into another opportunity for a reward mechanic.

In a city a scholarly player visits a liabrary and consults a book of ancient lore.  What a total pain in the ass to have to come up with the details of what was found in advance and totally at odds with narrativist play.  BUT granting 5 setting points (possibly based on the results of some form of "research roll" or possibly totally free form depending on how deeply rules lite you're getting) would fit the bill admirably.

The setting points are an exciting and useful reward that don't feed into power gamist additudes and competely free the GM from the need to invent a bunch of ancient lore himself.  The points can even have descriptions attached.  They might be Setting Points: 5 (Dark Forest of Arven).  Indicating that their useless for determining which Inn in Annadale has the best wine, but quite useful for determining that the "deep recesses of Arven are dark and trackless, perfect for losing pursuers".

I eagerly await further details.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #14 on: June 01, 2001, 09:35:00 AM »

I disagree that the method that I've indicated was not narrativist. To the extent that you base the point costs on story principles, that makes the mechanic narrativist. Sure, if I was to say that inventing a small city was 4 points and a big city 5, that would be more simulationist. But if you say that the cost of building a city depends on how often it's been mentioned in the game previously, or the number of characters that seem to need a city and the like, that's narrativist.

But given that you're doing a rules-lite game, I won't advocate it for this game. Simply saying that players can create stuff will probably work. Actually, you might want to give players bonuses for creating stuff to encourage it. Possibly a bonus to a type of success roll only useable while in the area (maybe always, maybe once depending on how important the locale becomes or on its description).

So, Bill creates the ruin of his home town where his character's family was killed when fierce raiders stormed it years ago. While Bill's character is there he gains a bonus to rolls using his Anger stat. Linda creates a spot in a field with a monument to a hero fallen in a battle fought there years ago. Inspired by the legend, her warrior gains a bonus whenever using Courage to succeed at something here. Maybe each player has two or three points with which to create such locales each session. Use 'em or lose 'em. That limits the total number of locales so players have to consider them carefully, while still having an incentive to use each point. Maybe one point creates a one time only bonus locale, while three makes it an always a bonus locale.

I'd still like to see a really complicated version of this, though, and maybe I'll come up with a more Simulationist version for my own use. This goes with my new idea of incorporating altered Narrativist tools to make better Simulationist games.

Mike Holmes
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