Monday, September 15, 2008

REVIEW: AGP Wilderlands Maps

Under review today are three different products produced by James Mishler's Adventure Games Publishing. They are: Rhadamanthia Continental Map, Southern Reaches Judges Map, and Southern Reaches Players Map. All three are PDF-only products and sell for $5, $4, and $1 respectively. All three maps consist of a single page and were drawn by Peter Bradley. Likewise, they are all intended for use with AGP's Wilderlands of High Adventure setting.

The Rhadamanthia Continental Map is a full-color 17" x 22" map that shows the entirety of the continent on which the Wilderlands is situated. The area described in the various Wilderlands materials over the years constitutes only one-fifteenth of the whole of Rhadamanthia, which should give you a good idea of how large area is depicted on this map. Unfortunately, the map is at a very high scale -- approximately 160 miles to the inch -- which limits its utility as a playing aid. To be fair, the map is jam-packed with suggestive place names, such as the Ironbound City of Shackles, the Forest of Long Ago, the Desert of Lost Dreams, and many more.

None of these locations is described; they're just names on a map. The impression I get is that the map is intended just as an overview of new regions of Ghenrek IV, regions that might one day get detailed in future AGP products. I'm of two minds about this myself. On the one hand, the eighteen regional maps of the Wilderlands are already more than enough to keep referees and players occupied for years. On the other hand, I also understand the desire both to learn more about the world beyond the Wilderlands and to have new areas to explore and within which to adventure. It's a delicate balance, to be sure, and, based solely on this product, it's hard to know precisely what AGP intended in producing it. What we have is an attractive map that's more art than gaming aid, which I think means its primary audience is diehard Wilderlands fans rather than the general gamer looking for a setting for his sandbox campaign.

By contrast, the Southern Reaches Judges Map oozes utility. Not only is extremely well drawn and attractive to the eye, it's also filled with the kinds of details that a referee needs to run his campaign. This map is drawn at a scale of 11 miles per inch and effectively replaces Regional Map 18 of the Wilderlands. The map pinpoints the location of dozens of towns, cities, ruins, and geographical features. Many of these can be found on the original Regional Map 18, while many are unique to this map. In a few cases, locations from the original map have been renamed or replaced with entirely new ones. This is in keeping with the fact that AGP's version of the Wilderlands is a variant one, with its own idiosyncrasies. I personally find this approach a refreshing one, since most of the changes are small enough that most gamers won't notice but significant enough that they add a level of "freshness" to the setting, while purists may disagree.

As with the Rhadamanthia Continental Map, the Souther Reaches Judges Map is a single-page product, with no accompanying text of descriptions. Presumably, the referee will simply use original Wilderlands materials for such things or, in the cases where the locations are new, make up the descriptions himself. Because the scale is so small, I didn't find the lack of descriptions problematic. Instead, they were inspirational, since I felt I had enough information (in the form of names and geographic relationships) to indulge my whims and creative urges with abandon. This is a product that demands to be used and I appreciate that wholeheartedly.

The Southern Reaches Players Map also demands to be used -- quite literally. The map itself is mostly empty, a field of blank hexes with a few large terrain features, such as coastlines, rivers, and major cities noted on it. This map is a tool for engaging in a classic Judges Guild "hexcrawl," as the adventurers traipse across the countryside, exploring the wilderness and noting what they discover on this map. While I absolutely love the idea behind this map, I can't help but think that AGP might have been better off bundling it with the Judges Map or even making it a free download from their website. At $1, it's hardly expensive, but, given that the map is mostly blank, I think it might have been more useful as a promotional product that would help market the Judges Map or even to better explain the concept of the hexcrawl, since I have little doubt it's alien to many younger gamers.

Taken together, these three maps nicely illustrate the glories and pitfalls of selling a fantasy campaign setting. There needs to be a balance struck between providing too much detail and too little. In my own personal opinion, the Rhadamanthia Continental Map is an example too much detail; I'm simply unsure of what purpose it serves beyond scratching a completist itch that I think is the bane of many a setting. The Southern Reaches Judges Map, on the other hand, strikes a perfect balance and is a terrific example of how campaign setting maps should be presented. The Players Map also has its virtues, but primarily as an aid to play rather than as a product in its own right. It's a fine illustration of how to run an old school sandbox campaign and very much in keeping with the best Judges Guild traditions. I wish that it were better used to help promote that style of play than it is, but I am nevertheless glad the product exists.

I look forward to future Adventure Games Publishing Wilderlands materials and am intensely curious to see what lessons they may have learned from their first forays into publishing new maps for use with the Wilderlands of High Adventure.

Final Scores:

Rhadamanthia Continental Map:
3 out of 5 polearms
Southern Reaches Judges Map: 4½ out of 5 polearms
Souther Reaches Players Map: 3½ out of 5 polearms

5 comments:

  1. Calling the maps "PDF-only" is somewhat inaccurate. I have both Southern Reaches maps in print form, obtained from the publisher. And I don't have it yet , but the Rhadamanthia map is available in print form, as part of a limited edition run. The AGP print product list is here:

    http://www.adventuregamespubs.com/products.htm

    Also, I should point out that the AGP product "The Guide to the Wilderlands of High Adventure", (which is sold both as a separate PDF and is an article in Adventure Games Journal #1) contains a lot of good info outlining the places on the Rhadamanthia map.

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  2. I called them PDF-only primarily because, of the three, only the Southern Reaches map seems to be currently available in printed form and it goes by a different name in its hardcopy incarnation. I wasn't certain the two were identical. Is the hex Players Map available in printed form? I don't see it on the AGP site, but maybe I'm just blind.

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  3. The Player's Map and the GMs Map are down as a front-and-back affair. Which struck me as... odd.

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  4. Heya James, just a few quick comments...

    First, as to the Rhadamantia map, the smaller scale version of the continent is indeed pretty much for die-hard fans at this time and, at that scale, the map is intended as much as an art piece as it is something of passing utility. The original plan was to release it in 80 mile per inch scale (thus one hex being 1/16th of an inch), but the cost of producing such a product was absolutely prohibitive at this time. But I still wanted something so Wilderlands fans could see Bob Bledsaw's vision of the whole continent, as it is Bob's vision with maybe 10% of my contribution (and really, my contributions were simply adding a few minor details and changing a few names at this level of detail). While it is not as satisfactory a map for gaming as might be, it is still something to help the fans know what Bob intended; plus of course, with gamers, some might just pick it up and run with it on their own without any other Wilderlands input!

    As to the Southern Reaches Map, the print version will be included with the Southern Reaches Gazetteer, which describes the area in great detail (48 page Judges Guide, 24 page Player's Booklet, and 24 page Encounter Guide). The print version has the Judges Map on one side and the Players Map on the other; the owner of the map is granted the right to photocopy the Players Map for personal use. In general what many judges did with the original Players Maps from Judges Guild is copy sections of the map and hand those to the players, rather than simply hand over the whole map, though some do hand over the whole map; with large copiers these days, it is very easy to copy the map whole if desired.

    The reason they are printed back-to-back is simple: cost. Together I am able to offer the map alone at a retail of $5; individually in print, I would have needed to ask $4 for the color Judges Map and $3 for the black and white Players Map. So by doing them back-to-back I save the fans money.

    As to charging $1 for the Players Map in PDF format, I still need to make some money to pay the artist... a nominal $1 for a map one can use for decades, as fans have with the original JG maps, seems not much to ask.

    Hope that covers everything...

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  5. First, as to the Rhadamantia map, the smaller scale version of the continent is indeed pretty much for die-hard fans at this time and, at that scale, the map is intended as much as an art piece as it is something of passing utility.

    Nothing wrong with this, of course, and I certainly appreciate a little glimpse into the world beyond the Wilderlands. In my reviews, though, I try to look at things from a broader perspective of utility for old school gaming, which is why I graded the Rhadamanthia Continental Map less highly than I did the other two maps. The Southern Reaches Judges Map is really superb; I can't wait to see the Gazetteer that goes with it!

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