Monday, October 5, 2009

Blackmoor Maps

James Mishler has a very fascinating post about the cartographic archeology of the Blackmoor campaign map. These are the kinds of posts I absolutely adore and are part of the reason why I started blogging in the first place. Too much of the early history of the hobby is being lost and, as gamers, we're worse off for this stuff not being preserved and better known. I'm glad I'm not the only weirdo out there who thinks the deracinated hobby we have today isn't a good thing. Kudos to James for taking the time to write little gems like this one.

15 comments:

  1. Fascinating. When I wrote Marienburg, the map of the city was based in part on a 16th or 17th century map of Amsterdam. There must be something about Dutch maps that makes game authors want to use them. :)

    Security word: "eurshas," the plural of the name for the underground race that secretly controls the EU.

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  2. Deracinated? Really? That seems a little harsh. The hobby has diversified and grown; it now includes as many play styles and games as monikers such as wargaming or boargaming, but deracinated?

    I infer from that that you would liken the so-called OSR to a group of refugees. Is that what you mean?

    I will grant you that it is sad that so few people seem to be playing in what one might call the original style. But, the American League and National League play by slightly different rules; but both are still playing baseball, right?

    For the record, I've chosen my words very carfully here.

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  3. Deracinated? Really? That seems a little harsh. The hobby has diversified and grown; it now includes as many play styles and games as monikers such as wargaming or boargaming, but deracinated?

    When I speak about "the hobby," I mean roleplaying games, not other types of games. When I say modern RPGs are deracinated, I mean that they no longer have the same roots as the earliest RPGs. They're no longer inspired by the same literature as those early games. Conan, for example, is a character Schwarzenegger played, not the creation of R.E. Howard and Cthulhu is that funny octopus-headed plush character you have sitting on your desk.

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  4. There must be something about Dutch maps
    ...they're the highest quality, clearest and most widely distributed maps of the period: they look recognisably like our own maps and are therefore both easy to understand and easy to "fantasy-up." Most medieval Iberian, Italian and T-O maps can't really be "read" in the ways we're used to.

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  5. More useful link to endless Blaeu map goodness. The Transylvania map's delightful, but I think the Prussia and Fyn ones might be more directly swipe-able.

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  6. Heh. I work there. Small world. :)

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  7. Very interesting. Plus, I learned a new word. :)

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  8. I'm glad I'm not the only weirdo out there who thinks the deracinated hobby we have today isn't a good thing.

    [...]

    When I speak about "the hobby," I mean roleplaying games, not other types of games. When I say modern RPGs are deracinated, I mean that they no longer have the same roots as the earliest RPGs.


    Out of curiosity, James, have you written explicitly about why this is a bad thing? I understand that you yourself quite like early American RPGs, and relate personally and viscerally to their literary/ludic lineage (la la la!). But considering the ever-increasing number of players taking up rules-lite games in genres other than pulp fantasy, the proliferation of non-mainstream RPGs and indie titles, and the cross-pollination between modern RPGs and other tabletop games...what exactly is wrong with the hobby abandoning its roots in wargaming and pulp fiction? Does it offend your historical sense only? Do you co-write throwback games because you really think the games were Simply Better in the 70's and early 80's? Or is this primarily a cultural matter for you?

    [Sidebar: Instead of seeing the entire RPG hobby coming through OD&D and Chainmail, maybe we should talk about Gygax's work as the catalyst for a hobby that centers around D&D commercially but has experienced most of its creative growth quite elsewhere since the 80's. An evolutionary source but not the only one - and arguably not the most important, after the narrativist shift in RPGs...?]

    I suppose I'm implicitly asking something I (also) wonder whether you've explicitly addressed: other than being first, is there anything about D&D that's still of intellectual (vs personal/emotional) interest? i.e. Do you dislike this 'deracination' because of any quality of Gygax's work other than its antiquity and your personal connection to it?

    I don't know whether I'm phrasing my questions well, but I mean well here and am serious. Why should pulp gaming be of non-historical interest to gamers anymore, and why are the games of the 70's and early 80's good models for modern gaming - particularly when modern systems have come around that (many believe) pack more punch with fewer shortcomings and broken bits?

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  9. @Wally,

    You know, you raise some very interesting questions. I couldn't help but try to find myself within them.

    My friends and me came to know D&D through the published TSR products of the early 1980s. Where D&D came from, and how it evolved, was never a question in our minds. The game was fun, and that's what mattered. When we created adventures of our own, we emulated what we played and had no real interest in reading the fiction that helped spawned the game or finding a copy of Little Wars.

    On the other hand, I can see James' perspective too. Even if we don't take a personal interest in chainmail or read The Dying Earth we should acknowledge that the history of the game does matter. Whether people play D&D or something else we should be careful, as Edmund Burke said, not to reject our inheritance.

    Good questions and comments.

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  10. James will obviously speak for himself.

    But as someone who aggressively plays "indie games" and will concede that there are a lot of things D&D 0e does kinda poorly, there's something that's really wonderfully primordial about it.

    First, because the game cannot be played unless you and your peers are willing to become co-designers--not just of a setting, but of mechanics, including crucially important mechanics. A culture in which play = design = play is a very different culture than one in which you get a pre-packaged set of rules which work flawlessly to deliver a set experience.

    Second, OD&D is part of a mid-70's cultural ferment - which I call Daydreamer Fantasy - which anyone in their early 30's or younger probably has no idea it ever existed. It was a looser, more relaxed time, long before large publishing companies realized there was lucre to be made from reanimating J.R.R. Tolkien's corpse in an endless string of "fantasy" trilogies. (A good example of this kind of mid-70's fantasy might be Ralph Bakshi's "Wizards," which in turn is a shameless rip-off of the works of Vaughn Bode.) System-wise, 0e is actually a pretty good approximation of that mid-70's culture: a whole bunch of semi-incoherent escapist tropes glommed together in a sort of imaginative ferment.

    (This is one point where I think James's fixation on Gygaxian Naturalism is a little misplaced. This stuff should be woolly and whimsical, silly and strange.)

    Another issue is that for most traditional games, the "sandbox" format is kind of a lost art. You've got all these modules, or adventure design rules, that urge you to tell a story, but don't tell you how to do that. Old School play solves this problem in a very Zen manner: there's no effort to "tell a story" at all: there's just an environment, and here's some crazy stuff that happens. New-fangled indie games take a very different approach to the problem, but the sandbox approach is definitely fun and should be borne in mind.

    Whether these things are "better" than trad games or indie games is a game for Internet status-seekers. But I think it's generally a good idea to have this sort of knowledge tucked away somewhere in case it's ever useful to others.

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  11. Stop the "my version is better than your version" discussion, you know nothing fruitful will come out of it!

    I want to point your attention to:

    http://portal.digmap.eu/

    They are digitizing old maps! and they are at pretty decent qualities too.

    I just found about it after i decided to flip some maps based on the blackmoor-archeology post.

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  12. Refugees! I always see us "so-called OSR types" as freedom fighters.

    WOLVERINES!

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  13. Wow...I really like what muleabides has to say here. Very insightful indeed. And I wholeheartedly agree.

    I am a child of that era (the dreaming 70's), and as such, prefer that style of play. Early edition Dungeons and Dragons just seems to fill a niche for me. I'm not claiming it's better at anything, just that it seems to be able to meet needs that I can't coherently define. Too much dreaming? Maybe.

    I'm not sure if I agree that the hobby as a whole is deracinated though. It has certainly changed, no doubt, but what doesn't as a whole?

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  14. It's really fascinating to see how the Blackmoor maps were created. I am still trying to figure out of the Blackmoor map was connected to the early Greyhawk map if it was anything more than just a loose connection between these settings.

    -Havard

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  15. My understanding is that the GH - Blackmoor connections were placed in the 1980 Greyhawk folio to show that the campaigns were related originally, although the BM in GH isn't the same BM from Dave's campaign.

    There was also at least one connection to the City of the Gods via a gate from Rob Kuntz's "Castle El Raja Key" dungeons, and this level may or may not have been a part of the expanded Castle Greyhawk.

    Allan.

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