Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Retrospective: Outdoor Geomorphs

I owned the Dungeon Geomorphs TSR published in 1981, though I never really made much use of them. I didn't know it at the time, but that product was a compilation of three smaller geomorph sets originally published between 1976 and 1977. At the same time as those were published, TSR released a fourth set, but these weren't of dungeons or caverns. Rather, they were outdoor geomorphs, the first – and only, as it turned out – set of which provided maps of a walled city.

When I learned of the existence of these geomorphs several years ago, I was intrigued. In 1985, Lankhmar: City of Adventure appeared and it included a little booklet filled with city geomorphs for the referee to use in fleshing out the City of the Black Toga. I rather liked that booklet and used it extensively, both for Lankhmar and for cities in other settings. If I recall correctly, TSR made use of such geomorphs in other products too. 

In any case, it would be years before I finally set eyes upon Outdoor Geomorphs (I still don't own a copy for myself, as they are rare and quite expensive to obtain). The product consists of 11 pages of maps, consisting of 22 square maps and 11 larger pieces. The smaller square pieces are truly geomorphic and can be used in any fashion, while the larger pieces can't be used in all configurations and may require some finesse in order to use. Nevertheless, there's plenty of variety across these geomorphs and, like the later ones with which I am most familiar, I suspect they could be quite easily used. 

Far more interesting, though, are the bits of text accompanying the maps. For example, there's a set of instructions that describe the process of creating a fantasy city. Written by Gary Gygax, it includes a number of specific details that I suspect relate to the City of Greyhawk, such as street names (Drunkards' Walk, Avenue of Beggars). Later, there are also mentions of locales, like Money Changer's Court, and even organizations, like the Brotherhood of the Blinding Light. There's also a sample key, which details three locations. While not explicitly tied to Greyhawk, a reference to the Lake of Unknown Depths makes things clear to anyone with knowledge of Gygax's home campaign. As someone who has long wanted to know more about the foundational campaigns of the RPG hobby, this is great stuff.

I have no idea why this particular TSR product is so hard to find or why it was not later re-released as the dungeon geomorphs were. I think that's a pity, because, in my earliest days as a referee, I struggled when it came to mapping cities and similar settlements. Having access to this would have been a huge boon.  

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