Friday, February 20, 2015

Introducing the Prefecture of Eastsea

We are currently between Books 5 and 6 of the Kingmaker Campaign I am in. Because our GM has been tirelessly working on this campaign for over two years I thought it would be an excellent idea to fill in for a bit. This will (a) give him a breather and (b) allow him to experience as a player what he has worked so hard at as a GM. As we normally do side adventures between AP books I decided to take on the penultimate side adventure.

As there is very little published for 15th level characters in the River Kingdoms area of Golarion and since one of our characters wanted to "push east" to create a holding on the Castrovin Sea I decided to run with that plot line. The map for this area is based on the maps I made last summer. 

When designing that map, I just extended the local topography down, allowing mountain chains to trail off and taking what few cues I had from existing sources. That was the easy part. The hard part was coming up with a history and explanation for why this area was never settled. In my opinion, the closeness of a navigable trade route to Casmaron should make that area very popular. So, something must have happened. 

In the end, I decided that this once was a settled area. A thousand years before, on the eve of the first, great Kelesh - Taldor conflict, the Taldanes settled this area as their newest prefecture, Eastsea. The goal was to put a permanent Taldane settlement on the Castrovin Sea. But something terrible, terrible happened. Something so awful that sailors and Iobarians avoid this place completely and memory of it has almost been completely wiped from all of Avistan...

So, without further adieu, here is Eastsea as it appeared on the eve of its destruction (as researched by one of the party). 

The Prefecture of Eastsea - as a PC handout. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A castle from the past

Time for a little change of pace. The map below I drew around 1990. It is the stronghold of one of the PC's I was playing around the end of high school. There's nothing amazing about it, unless you take into account that the map survived 25 years with only some slight wrinkling.

Castle Ziemovit, circa 1990. 
The castle was not much, Just a keep surrounded by some buildings and, further out, a few tilled fields. Beyond that its just open grasslands. There's a small dock in the center that allows boat traffic to the sea. A watchtower is at top-center and a waterfall is center-left.

Given more time and playing, I probably would have filled in the rest of the blank space with copses of trees, small hills and the occasional home or farm. But this campaign wound down shortly thereafter and the map sat in the stack of my notes for a long long time.

Lastly, one item of housekeeping. I am going to attempt to adhere to a Fridays only publishing schedule. I was thinking three times a week, but I don't want to burn out too quickly over this. :) The good news is that it means 3 posts this week (there will be one on friday).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Step Five: In the end it was lizards all the way down...

Phew! This is the last post in my "How I put together a map" series. If you've sat through all five posts, I thank you! I'll be moving onto another map after this, so don't think this is the end.

When we last left off I thought I had a pretty good idea of a surface village sitting adjacent to a cave. But while I liked the concept, I didn't think there was enough 'Wow' factor. In particular, I wanted to have a secret passage extending from the temple on the surface to the cave. And that would be difficult with the previous map. As I thought more about it, I decided that it made sense for the village to at least partially sit on top of the cave.
My "final" map of the Lizardfolk Temple
The biggest change on this map was to divide it into two smaller maps. Lots of products do this, both to clarify the individual sections and to accentuate different things. The top map is the 'surface map' , showing terrain, surface structures and the main level of the cave. There's a key (still penciled) in the top right along with a scale. lol. And I just noticed a typ-o in the scale. It should be 1 square = 5 feet. Oh well, Had I pushed this further, I would have done one more iteration of this map to clean up things like that.

The bottom map consists of a subterranean upper and lower level. I used red to indicate secret things like trap doors (x in a square) and where different levels connect (via letters - A connects to A). On the top and bottom maps I've also included a profile view - the top map has a profile view of the arch. We can at long last see how my arch differs from the one I showed in post one. You can also get a sense of the plant life - large deciduous trees and numerous hanging shrubs off the edges provide concealment for the lizardfolk defenders. The lower map has a profile view between the room in the upper right hand corner of the lower level and the lower room of the upper level. This chimney is one of several ways to move from area to area that an adventuring party can discover. 

I'd now like to walk you through the map (an opportunity Superstar entries don't get, by the way). We will start with the longhouse. The longhouse hasn't changed much since the first map - but now its interior is described. There is a center room which holds the altar for ancestor worship. To the south of that room is the office for the cleric in charge of maintaining the shrine. A trap door in the floor extends down to the one on the left side of the Lower Level. To the north of the altar is another room where ceremonial attire and accessories are kept. 

With the cleric or shaman now occupying an office in the longhouse, the round hut to the south is free for visitors to use. I kept the gardens there partly out of habit but also because they are still convenient for the cleric. Across the path we still have the hut for keeping mounts and north of that we have two additional huts for visitors. The boat launch is still there because occasionally there are nonlizardfolk visitors to this shrine. Lastly, across the river there is a tree whose branches overhang the river. I can definitely see some enterprising thief trying to infiltrate the village that way. 

The sloping mound has morphed somewhat and a potter now resides above the main cluster of huts. Lizardfolk do not work very much in stone and so a potter seemed more apropos. Following along the top of the plateau we come first across the strangle vines and then to a wood platform hidden amongst the trees that acts as a lookout for the lizardfolk sentries. 

Turning our attention towards the palisade in the upper left hand corner we follow the path into the cave. The path turns from gravel to hard clay here. We pass a small room high up on the wall where 1-2 lizardfolk watch for intruders coming from either direction and come to a large room. The stream rises from the north wall and to the south there are stairs down to the lower level (A) and up to the upper level (B). The upper level stairs are behind some beautiful tan and white limestone formations. The main passage extends south to a communal area for lizardfolk sentries. Behind that are is an empty room that the sentries rest in. 

Entering the lower level through A we come to a four-way intersection. To the right leads to the chieftain's room, to the left leads to the priests' area while south leads to the common area. Going left we pass another four way intersection. Up leads to a storage room, down leads to the bedroom of the two acolytes while left leads to the head cleric's room. The head cleric's room has the trap door in the ceiling that connects back to the temple. There is also a secret door that leads to a fungal garden and past that to the back side of a bas-relief face. The head cleric frequently looks through this into the common area to keep an 'eye' on his flock. 

Taking the right path from the first intersection we come to a room that has three doors. All but the middle are false and all three are trapped. This leads to another corridor which eventually heads to the common area. Before that there is a turn to the left that leads to the chieftain's room. His room has three sleeping areas - one for himself and two for concubines. There is also a trap door leading up from his room to the egg room on the upper level. South of the chieftain's room is another gathering room and a sleeping chamber for his guards.

The remaining portion of the lower level consists of the common areas. There are numerous sleeping areas throughout here (wherever there are animal-skin rugs). In the very center is the kitchen, with s secret door that leads back to the chieftain's area. All the way in the southwest is one final passage that leads to pool. This is the lizardfolk's fall-back point. Should the tribe ever be overwhelmed, they all know to fall back to this room. Because, besides being a well, this room also connects to the bottom of the lake. If pressed the tribe flees to the relative safety of the open waters. 

Lastly, we  have the upper level, leading up from (B). This leads first to a large room with a guard monster. I hadn't quite figure out what kind of monster, but it wasn't actually necessary for the map. To pass this chamber one either had to horizontally traverse the wall or drop into the room and then climb up the far side. This led to a passageway which lead to two rooms. The first room housed the tribe's women who cared for the eggs while the second room housed the eggs themselves. 

That's about it. At this point I only felt there were some small errors in the map. The beds were wrong on the surface. Some of the bushes could have been clarified. Maybe the upper-lower profile should have been longer. But I felt pretty good about this map as is. 

Next time I'm going to drag out a map I did a couple decades ago. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Step Four: Making a map into (hopefully) a Superstar map.

So in my previous post I ended with the comment that while that map was a perfectly serviceable map I was aiming for something higher - a Superstar map. To help to achieve that goal I went back and read through a whole mess of forum and blog posts that tried to explain what made a superstar map "super". Then I went back to paper and came up with the following:

My next attempt at a map. The smaller grid let me expand the map's focus and was more in keeping with what other Superstar entries turned out to be. Also, the scale is back to the usual 1 square equals 5 feet. 
There's a lot of changes in this map, from the artistic style to the content. Lets look at the art first. The most eye catching change has to be the introduction of color. For color I use Micron and Prismacolor calligraphy-style markers. Most craft stores should stock them. Most of the lines are 01 point, with 005 point for the really thin lines and 05 or 08 for the thick lines. I tried to keep the color choices logical - brown for wood, green for flora, blue for water and black for rocks. Its not always consistent - I have my palisades in black, but thats ok. Gravel is represented by a black dot pattern. Muddy slopes are represented by a brown dot pattern. The parallel dashes represent cliffs, although there is no place where I list the changes in elevation. One of the things I consider a mistake was the inclusion of a 'drip line' marking the entrance to the cave. This is deliniated by the black line across the river at the top of the map. On the plus side, the change in line thickness from surface to underground should be obvious.

Layout-wise, I would like to point out some of the changes in the surface village. The river, for one, is wider and, as mentioned in the previous post, deeper. it spans almost the entirety of arch, meaning that the only way in now is by boat. Looking at the huts you still have the sage's hut to the right of the boat ramp, but to the left you have this new hut with a fence around it. This hut is for visitors who bring mounts. Just north of this hut is another hut with some shapes alongside of it. This was supposed to be the village blacksmith. The two huts above them were for temple attendants. The longhouse is only penciled in in this map because I was toying with changing its rectangular shape. The longhouse's purpose was morphing in my mind as I was drawing the map. Initially, I was thinking of having the villagers outside and the temple underground. But after awhile I thought that idea was awful. Screw our ancestors, say the villagers! We want to be safe! Put the temple outside and us inside!

Which brings us to this whole new part of the map where I have fleshed out the underground. The river continues underground for dozens of feet before stopping at at short waterfall (which was only penciled in). The path, which previously had been rocky and uneven, is now a smoothed gravel  bank. Two thirds of the way to the waterfall there is a side passage that goes for several feet before stopping. Where it stops it intersects a crossing passage. This crossing passage is 10 feet above the floor, requiring people to climb the walls to get up to it.

From there, you can follow that passage south to a large, long room. Geologically speaking, this room was where the river used to flow through until it cut its way down to the current level. Now it serves as the major meeting room. To the south of that are several rooms for the majority of the tribe while to the north the chief has his own room. Lastly there is a door leading out into the upper plateau as well as a narrow crack that guards can use to look out across the plateau.

Finally, this is the first map to really show part of the lake. We can also see better why this is such a great defensive location - this whole shoreline is all cliffs. Apart from climbing the cliff face, there is no other mundane way inside besides going through the arch.

I found this version of the map to be the best one I'd drafted of them all. But I still had concerns about the usage of space (there is a lot of white space) and the fact that this was all just one flat map. I wanted some three-dimensionality. In the final map (which comes next) I try to address these issues.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Step Three: the first attempt at putting the map on a grid.

So this post will be about my first attempt to put this small village onto a grid. For the record, this was a rushed map - hastily sketched out to see how the arrangement of features would look and whether it was an overall good use of space. Remember, I was considering using this map as an entry to the RPG Superstar competition. So the map had to be more than just "serviceable". It had to kick posterior.

First attempt at placing the map on a grid.
 Note the scale is different than the usual 1 square = 5 feet.
  (1 square here equals 10 feet as noted in the upper right hand corner above the key.)
Ok. So, what is important about this map? Well, I tried out a few things and you can see that there are some other ideas that are germinating in my mind. First, I've increased the size of the village. There are now twice as many huts, although the basic arrangement remains the same. I have also added additional elevation to the top of the map. The combination of additional dwellings and a better defensive position is an indication that this is moving from just a small outpost to a more important settlement.

It is interesting that there is also a boat lying on the boat-ramp. This small change is the only observable change in a fundamental shifting of my thought processes. Prior to this, I had assumed the stream was no more than a foot or two deep. Now, it is deep enough for at least fifteen foot canoe at the downstream end. Shortly after deciding upon this change in my head I also read that lizardfolk are quite accomplished swimmers and would probably not need boats. Therefore the logical conclusion was that this boat was for visitors. Ah! But what would be here that would attract visitors. It did not take long for me to decide that a temple devoted to ancestor spirits would be appropriate.

Turning this into a temple was probably the largest change I made while designing this map. A temple is very appropriate to this setting. Temples are frequently located in unusual or highly defensible places. A temple would be a reason for adventurers to visit and helping out the caretakers could provide both an adventure hook as well as a base of operations. Its a good, solid idea.

But after sketching this out I decided it wasn't 'Superstar' material. It had the one hook - the arch, but that's it. The village could have been lifted out of anywhere and I felt that I was missing something with not fleshing out the cave. Its what I felt were these shortcomings that made me want to take another crack at this map.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Step Two - A conceptual sketch map

My next step is to make a rough draft of the map on an 8.5x11 sheet of paper. I do this lightly, in pencil, so that I can erase neatly and cleanly. There is frequently a lot of erasing going on in this phase  as I try and figure out what "looks good" before committing it to a hex or grid.

The first rough draft. This was drawn in pencil and scanned such that the pencil marks look a lot darker. 
At this point, I really didn't have a clear idea of what this was supposed to be other than a collection of huts inside a sinkhole. Admittedly in the back of my head I was thinking of some of the native settlements in X1: Isle of Dread as well as the lizardfolk tribe in the Kingmaker AP.  After some consideration, I went with the latter as inhabitants, thinking this to be a small settlement. 

As for what is inside the settlement - there is the large longhouse to the right. I envision this as the main house for the head of the family or tribal elder. Directly south of that sructure is a round hut with some gardens. This, presumably is a cleric or sage's hut. there is a central area (either gravel or dirt) and to the south is a boat ramp fo easy access to the stream. The stream flows from the top of the map to the bottom. At the top the stream exits a large cave, crosses under a wooden palisade, follows the cliff line and eventually passses under the arch. In this iteration the arch has sufficient room to walk alongside the river. 

The cave is unmapped. There is a path leading into the cave but it is quite narrow. Also, above the longhouse are many vines. These could be stranglevines or something similar. Between the house and the cave is a slope leading to the plateau above the village. Lastly, there are numerous places along the stream where the walls of the sinkhole have collapsed into the water. 

That's all. The next map will be my first attempt to put all this onto a grid.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Step One - Inspiration

For me, inspiration is always the first step to any map. I need something to hang my hat on. Usually this something is a room, a landmark or some kind of feature. As a geologist my predeliction is for natural features like rock formations but it could be anything - a castle layout, a bridge, a statue.. even a tapestry. This inspiration is the anchor that I build the map around. Its an idea I borrowed from Sid Meier. Wanting a unifying theme for one of the Civilization games, Meier prominently displayed a painting in the studio with the instructions that if the developers were ever "stuck", they should come back to the painting and reflect on it. The idea was that the eventual design should not stray too far from the original thought.

The inspiration that I chose for this map was a natural feature in Pennsylvania called 'Arch Spring'. Arch spring is a natural bridge located just downstream from a large, perennial spring. I visited the region many years ago, but never went to the spring (it is on private land).

Arch Spring. Photo apologetically borrowed from Temple University's website until I can find my own.

Natural bridges aren't that rare. The US West has many examples of them (there's a National Park called Arches) and Virginia has a much larger and more majestic example as well. But I happened to like this one. The coziness plus the water plus the thickness of the arch contrasted with the greenery of the surrounding countryside screamed someplace that needed exploring. I knew also that the water that fed the spring came from a cave (though in reality that cave had a far different access that what I was envisioning) and I thought of including that as well. The arch itself suggested a natural palisade which could be easily observed and defended.

So all these thoughts - the arch, the cave, the natural defensive value, changes in elevation, palisades - were bouncing around in my head after in the first few minutes after looking at the photo. In my next post I will take all that and quickly sketch what I think the area should look like.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Expanding the focus of the blog - also what I've been doing for the past few months.

Hi all, 

Its been awhile. Been busy with other things - life, etc... But I wanted to touch base with the blog on two points. 

Point One: I participated in Pathfinder's RPG Superstar Contest this year. While, in retrospect, my first entry needed a lot of work, I was fascinated by Round 2: the map round. This is the first year that Paizo is doing this event. The event consists with doing a map - just a map - for the round. I like the idea of having a map stand on its own. To borrow a baseball phrase - that's right in my wheelhouse. Furthermore, in the associated blogs, forum posts and et cetera, I learned that some companies pay people to design maps! Not the completed, painted-like flip-board maps. I knew about that. No, I'm talking about designing the maps that will then be translated into those works of art. Until last week I thought that the design and the art were all done by one person. While I'm certain that there are such talented individuals who can do both, apparently in practice the task is routinely divided between two people. While I don't yet possess the skills to do the art portion, I can certainly do the design. So, that's going to be a goal - to eventually get paid to design maps.

Point Two: I have been working on Kingmaker-related things. Specifically, I have been working on the area to the east of the Nomen Heights. I've been answering some of the questions as to why this area (which should have been populated and a vital trade route to Casmaron) has remained uninhabited. I have a lot of the back-story done and a bunch of the encounters at least started. But I want to hold onto it some - at least until its finished!

However, I will be posting a series of maps very soon as I did make a map for Round 2 of the RPG Superstar contest on the chance that I did make it in. So, I'd like to share that concept in the next few days. The plan is to walk through the thought process I had in putting this map together. So, stay tuned!