Friday, August 7, 2009

An Evocative Map

While I maintain that Darlene's World of Greyhawk maps are still, after nearly 30 years, the most beautiful maps ever produced for any fantasy roleplaying game, there are others that equal (or even surpass) it when it comes to evoking the sense of wonder I seek in most RPGs. A good example is William Church's map of Prax from the second edition of RuneQuest.

For me, this map will always represent my vision of RQ, a game I rarely played back in the day and whose direction over the years has made it less and less like anything I'd want to play. At the time this map was published (1979), though, RuneQuest was just a very imaginative fantasy game rather a mere vehicle for Greg Stafford's theo-sociological flights of fancy. With its Bronze Age society and peculiar takes on many of the standard tropes of fantasy, the game nicely distinguished itself from Dungeons & Dragons without resorting to the "D&D but better" tack that most other fantasy RPGs employed in their attempts to acquire mindspace in an increasingly crowded market. RuneQuest was very much its own thing, unique and confident, as I think the map shows. Every time I see it, I wish I had played RQ more often and even briefly consider giving it a whirl again, freed from the setting accretions dragged it down and sucked much of the joy out of it.

Maybe I will someday.


  1. I loved the RQ maps from that era. I remember both myself and another DM friend at the time switched to drawing mountains in that style in blatant imitation.
    Actually PLAYING Gloranthan material was difficult back then, because you always felt like you were missing important information, but those early RQ campaign packs were still years ahead of their time.

  2. Bill Church did a matching Sartar map, as well, that was similar to the one used as the map-board in Dragon Pass (in fact, I'm not sure that this isn't where these maps came from in the first place).

    Chaosium understood the solid benefit of evocative maps. The maps from the Griffin Mountain campaign (pre-AH) are also awesome. As are the maps from Pavis, Big Rubble, Borderlands, and nearly all the early Call of Cthulhu adventure/campaign sourcebooks.

    Yurek Chodak's hand-drawn maps were awesome and sadly it's hard to find quality like that these days.

    Recently, the most evocative maps I've seen are the cartography done by Sarah Wroot (I think that's her name?) for the Dying Earth game from Pelgrane...

  3. For me, the most evocative D&D maps are Judges Guild's 18 Wilderlands maps. Poring over them is a never-ending source of inspiration.

  4. Mark Smylie's maps for the Artesia comic (and RPG) are also pretty darned beautiful (and evocative).

  5. I know very little about RQ, and nothing about this map (except that it's amazing). Are there descriptions, short or long, of any of those places on the map (such as the Block), or is it left up to the reader to decide? I'm just curious as I have no idea what came with this map.

  6. Fopr my money, the best RPG maps were Pete Fenlon's for ICE's MERP. Just pure works of art.

  7. Are there descriptions, short or long, of any of those places on the map (such as the Block), or is it left up to the reader to decide?

    The beauty of this map is that it is SO evocative that descriptions are unnecessary. Maps like this fire up my imagination to the point where I want to create my own back story for things like the Block and Orani's Mistake. I my mind, I DON'T want any descriptions because they'd handcuff my imagination. This may very well be why we don't see these kinds of maps more often — one can make more money off of multiple source books full of canon than with a single, gorgeous map like this one.

  8. @FrDave:

    That works for me just fine - I was just curious, since I had never seen the product. Peering over this map or putting it down on the table amongst some players and saying 'have at it, folks!' would be a great exercise in creative gaming.

  9. I'm with Zach. The Fenlon MERP maps are just amazing.

  10. Any place labeled "Monkey Ruins" is worth taking a look at.

  11. Are there descriptions, short or long, of any of those places on the map (such as the Block), or is it left up to the reader to decide?

    The RQ2 rulebook does not include descriptions of any of the places on either of the two maps it includes, which is what I like about it. There's a very limited amount of Gloranthan setting information in the rulebook itself, so you can kinda/sorta intuit what some of these places might be like, but there's nothing specific enough to limit all sorts of interpretation.

    This situation changes considerably once the supplements start appearing.

  12. "the best RPG maps were Pete Fenlon's for ICE's MERP"

    I agree!

  13. This map is a player (and a GM's) dream map.

    So many things to see and do. You can spin a campaign out of your imagination with this map.

  14. Agreed, that PRax map is a good one. And while I love the Darlene Greyhawk (I even have it mounted), the rivers starting in the middle of nowhere bugged me.

    As far as maps go, Columbia Games produced some beauties for Harn, both the realistic maps and the medieval woodcut styles.

  15. Yes!! I love that map, and the one of Dragon Pass.

    Remember that the rule-book did not give details on all those evocatively named places. It included very little about Glorantha, just enough to convey the setting's atmosphere. There was a sketchy map of the larger world, and a couple of pages of general background. The rest was in little bits of flavor throughout the rules -- and in those wonderful, imagination-firing maps!

  16. Yes, I love that map too.

    I actually first saw that map in Cults of Prax since I didn't "upgrade" to RQ II until just a few years ago. Cults of Prax does have descriptions of most of the locations on the map.

    This is an excellent map, but like Geoffrey, my gold standard for maps is the Wilderlands. The Prax map comes pretty close though.

    The Harn maps were the first full color maps that I felt really gave the Wilderlands a run for their money, unfortunately, Columbia Games pumped out too much world detail like many other game worlds.

    Sticking to RQ II era stuff for Glorantha, I think it would actually be possible to keep from drowning in detail (well, ok, Trollpak may be an exercise in just too much detail, but it actually includes a really nice map).

    Personally, I never got into the Greyhawk map, in part because I never liked the way the terrain seemed too uniform, I always liked the Wilderlands maps with their little bits of Forrest or mountains or whatever scattered around, along with larger expanses. It always felt more real.

    I did like the ICE maps, but trying to play in Middle Earth just never felt right. Glorantha, I can play in, but that's because I developed a solid feeling for my own Glorantha before the detail really exploded.


  17. Technically, a lot of the places named on the map had already been described in the boardgames (White Bear & Red Moon for the Sartar map, Nomad Gods for the Prax map) and supplementary articles in Wyrm's Footnotes before RQ, and especially Cults of Prax, were published, but I guess a lot of RQ fans weren't familiar with those (I know I didn't see any of them until years after the fact).

    I still have a very soft spot for those RQ2 supplements and the vision of Glorantha they depict -- so much different from what came later, in 90s-era post-RQ fandom and especially in the HW/HQ era. I would absolutely play through Griffin Mountain or Borderlands or the scenarios in Trollpak, or have a party based in New Pavis exploring the Big Rubble, again. Those are some of the best gaming times I ever had.

  18. Also, as a fun bit of trivia, many of the locations on both this map and the Sartar map are tributes and puns on the names of Greg Stafford's friends and the people who helped playtest the games. Anyone familiar with the 70s-era Bay Area gamer scene should easily recognize several names :)

    Of course, the anthopologically-minded "Glorantha scholars" of the 90s used to complain about this kind of stuff, that it wasn't sufficiently serious or authentic or whatever, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they got a lot of these places renamed in later Canon...

  19. I always used my own settings. I can't draw and am using Greyhawk maps with my own setting. I only ran a single RuneQuest campaign (using the Avalon Hill edition of the game in the late 1980's).

    Players hated the rules but liked the adventure. I think that the character generation fristrated them. It was drastically different from D&D which was played at the tiem without any skill system whtsoever. Myself, I thought that their system of sorcery and magic was poor and did not work when compared with the AD&D system of spellcasting, though I never liked the idea of memorize spell cast spell erase spell from memory. Didn't like any sort of a point system either and eventually caem up with something better. Anyway, what I really liked about RQ was the Shamanistic magic in it. There were rules for the PC to go into alternate planes of existance and chase and engage in COB-based spirit combat with the spirits that shamas can use as guides and the source beind the magic. Loss of combat meant Shaman was possessed by a hostile spirit. I liked it a lot, but none of the players chose to be a tribal or a Shaman, so I used it as a trap, where opening a chest would reveal a spirit intent on possession of the character. I didn't pull it off good and the player to whom it happened was completely lost. We didn't go back to RQ. Much later on I used a very similar mechanic where a magical weapon was trying to possess a player by making him paranoid and turn him against the others. I did it all through story telling and role playing. other players were getting pissed off both at me and the player, the player himself, amazingly, caught on really quick, figured out it was the sword and got rid of it.

  20. Cool map. Just looking at it makes you want to go there and have at it! I always liked the Judges Guild maps for this reason. Hobgoblin Hegemony, anyone?

  21. I still have a very soft spot for those RQ2 supplements and the vision of Glorantha they depict -- so much different from what came later, in 90s-era post-RQ fandom and especially in the HW/HQ era.

    Absolutely. When I was younger, my vision of RQ and Glorantha was very different than what they've become since then and I think that's sad. Old Glorantha had a unique but accessible feel. That's been gone for a long time and now most gamers I know look on Glorantha the same way they look on Tekumel -- too much work to get into for too little reward.

  22. FWIW, here's the Sartar/Dragon Pass map. (From the facing page):

  23. I recently rediscovered RuneQuest in its Mongoose reissued format, and (go ahead, start the flameware - I know it's not the OG RQ...) I've gotta say it's a really playable game with a deep setting that has allowed my players to really self-define some very diverse characters and start playing in a sandbox more ripe for the picking than many other campaigns that have trappings galore. RQ's current format for Glorantha, despite its huge backdrop of global politics, is a tremendous "find the ruin" playground for players who really want to roleplay.

    -Tyler - where I record my RQ game, amongst other musings.


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