Monday, April 17, 2023

A Delightfully Blank Canvas

William Church's map of Prax from the second edition of Chaosium's RuneQuest remains one of my favorite RPG maps ever. The other day, for reasons that will become clear later, I found myself perusing a different Chaosium RPG, Stormbringer. The game's original 1981 boxed set includes, among its many goodies, a fold-out wall map of the Young Kingdoms that's also the handiwork of Mr Church. 

Please enlarge!
Though the map of the Young Kingdoms lacks the wonderful little details of the Prax map, I nevertheless find it quite compelling. Michael Moorcock and his evocative names – the Sighing Desert, the Weeping Waste, the Silent Lands, among many others – deserve a lot of the credit for that, of course, but Church also did a great job of bringing this classic fantasy setting to life. In fact, I might even argue that, in this case, the sparseness of the map works in its favor, particularly as a map for use with a roleplaying game. The map practically invites players and referees to fill in the blank spaces and make it their own, as any good RPG map should. 


  1. There's a striking full-color (mostly with the nations in pastels, so bright but not garish) version of this as the map in the boxed edition of the largely-forgotten and long OOP Elric wargame. BGG has a good image of the Chaosium edition here, and AFIK the later Avalon Hill printing was similar:

    I'm still quite nostalgic about that one. It's just below the top tier "games with personality" like Divine Right and Dragon Pass and (weirdly) Revolt On Antares for me, despite having rather poor game balance that makes playing it an exercise in frustration and unexpected reversals.

  2. This really is an evocative map, and very clearly Church's work. Even if he wasn't credited on it, one could still recognize his distinctive drawings of mountains and the use of a sword as a marker for a "special place" (look at Ashaneloon and Kaneloon on the southern edge of the map). A note on the lettering: this is Letraset dry-transfer, and the font is Artistik. It was relatively new to Letraset in 1981, and it seems to have caught the fancy of a lot of graphic designers working on fantasy-related art.

    1. I can see why it was popular. It is an attractive font, exotic but quite legible.

  3. Early Chaosium maps were brilliant. Church had a great style, and I had fun re-drawing my revised non-Runequest campaign maps in something the "pictorial" style he used. The maps in the Dragon Pass and Nomad Gods boardgame use a similar style but for hex maps to cover the same area, and I find these even more useful as they let you run hexcrawls in Glorantha with the same great Church-style graphics.