Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Cozy Maps

Here's the thing: I am preparing a regional map for my sha-Arthan setting and I must confess that I am having some difficulty in settling on a scale. I know that fans of OD&D favor the five – or six – mile hex for reasons both historical and rational. My natural inclination, as a traditionalist, is to choose one of those scales for the map, but I worry that scale might be too small for my purposes. 

This is, as I said, a regional map, depicting the territory of the Empire of Inba Iro and its neighbors. This is the area through which I want to introduce the overall setting, where a new campaign of Secrets of sha-Arthan might begin. Even though it's only a portion of a much larger world, I want it to be large enough to sprinkle with lots of adventure locales and scenario seeds. At the same time, I want its size to be both manageable for the referee and comprehensible to the players. In my opinion, too many creators of fantasy worlds think Bigger is Better and draw their maps accordingly. My intention is something that's, if not exactly small, a bit more "human-sized," if that makes sense.

I've always been very fond of this map from Chaosium's RuneQuest, which depicts the lands of Prax:
While the map isn't perfect by any means, it comes very close to balancing manageability and comprehensibility. The area covered by the map is large enough to encompass lots of important landmarks/adventure sites and leave lots of space for the referee to place his own locales. Conversely, the map is also small enough that it isn't filled with lots of blank, empty spaces that take weeks for the characters to traverse. This kind of map feels "cozy," for lack of a better word and it's more or less what I'm aiming for with the first regional map of sha-Arthan, though I'm still wrestling with the specifics.

Do you have a favorite regional, "adventure scale" map for use with RPGs? I'm very curious to know which ones you like, because they might be helpful to me as I wrestle with making my own.


  1. I like one that's roughly the same size or scale as a comprehensible real-world area (ideally England, since lots of interesting history took place there).

    One of the notable things about the map of Prax (which I like as well) is that it is tiny by modern standards. You could drive across it in a few hours. Which for a scale of people walking is exactly what you want.

  2. The one-hex-per-day metric can help designers settle on a scale. Choose a distance that represents how far most characters will travel in a single day under "typical" circumstances. For example, if you expect characters to travel on foot over open ground then you'd set the scale at however many miles that would cover in a day. In most BX rule sets, that's about 24 miles per hex. Adjust as appropriate based on expectations for your campaign. If you expect a lot of horseback travel, then that distance might be 36 miles per hex. On the other hand, if characters move at the rate of their donkeys (who carry the gear) then it might be 18 miles per hex, etc. In all these cases, you can see that 6 is a common factor, hence the popularity of that single digit.

  3. I think Forbidden Lands has a nice regional map, as well as Mork Borg (at least if you reference Feretory) though I prefer Forbidden Lands'.
    The best, I think, is B10's though, which, with a smaller scale, gets a lot more detail in more or less a similar space to the one you are looking at.
    If I had to create now a campaign, I'd probably start with a slightly larger area, though.
    More like a small nation than a region, something with a 1000 km diameter.
    Enough space for people to walk a month or two to get across.

  4. I've thought a lot about map scales and adventuring recently and concluded that 1mi or 3mi per hex is where I wanted to be.

    I had a few reasons for this.

    While 6, 12 or 24mi hexes might work fine for just passing through these are vast areas if you have to search for a particular locale. Within 3mi of my childhood home there were the ruins of half a dozen medieval castles, a couple of sites that were the remains of churches, several woods, a couple of very small caves, a witches' glen and a concrete-filled mineshaft. Any or all of these could be adventure sites. In fact for my 10-12yo self most of these locations were adventure sites or sites that had a reputation that meant you should stay away, the mineshaft and glen in particular.

    Aside from special feast or market days medieval people (wel Scottish or British ones) didn't go far from their homes, perhaps one or two hours walk - 3-6mi if there was a track and 2-4mi if there was none and the terrain was flat or didn't have many rivers to ford (few bridges). This means that not many people would know much about the countryside beyond their immediate environment, so asking for directions or rumours from a peasant wouldn't be all that productive.

    I think that this ignorance is still the case today. I know that I was pretty ignorant of the village in the valley over the hills away from the coast where I lived as a kid even though it was less than 6mi.

    I also think that many RPG have too much detail in their maps. I think that there should be a DM's map (all the detail necessary to run the game) and a separate player's map (detail level about the same as Ptolemy's maps of the islands of Britain and Ireland).

    1. I think what you say about distance is important. As modern persos, we tend to see medieval or antique maps and distance with the idea of a modern experience. The Rpg Te Deum pour un massacre made a good point about this by providing the following information.

      In France in the 16th century, before modern way of travelling, was like Europe today. Regional languages had precedence over French, there were less People so more empty spaces and the means of travel were laborieuses, with the danger of being robbed on the road.

      Travelling from Paris to Lyon by horse was the modern equivalent of doing Paris-Moscow by car. Rivers were the most used paths, as in Mesopotamia. Mountain were unexplored.

      So even if Prax and Dragon Passfeels very small to a modern reader, it would be "felt" by their inhabitants like living in America without cars

  5. For all my life I've hated the 24 mile hex. It is an awful gamification of geography. For instance, a 1/4" 24 mile hex map of the Eastern US would cover from New York City to Atlanta on an 8x11 sheet of paper! The entirety of the British Isles and parts of northern France would fit on the same. These are so zoomed out that you couldn't put the names of duchies/counties and major medieval towns without overlapping words. Forget about fitting in Sherwood Forest. So what is even the point of a map like this? What can you even put on it that's of interest to adventurers?

    But lets look at a real world exploration. The Lewis and Clark Expedition averaged between 10-20 miles per day. It was noted that 14 miles was a good day. So let's say out fully armored friends can average 12 miles a day. Wouldn't it be better to say, great you got this hex in the morning and this one in the afternoon? But what if that 24 mile hex is dense forest or hills or even mountains, What is the point if it takes three or four days to go through it? There is a reason the 5 or 6 mile hex is so awesome. And the 3 mile hex is right there with them.

    1. "These are so zoomed out that you couldn't put the names of duchies/counties and major medieval towns without overlapping words. Forget about fitting in Sherwood Forest."

      That's an excellent point, along with your point about Lewis & Clark. The absence of roads and bridges will slow down progress significantly.

  6. Although there are no hexes at all on it, I felt the setting of the (alas, now defunct) Talisman Adventures RPG had a coziness to it that was very appealing.
    (Although part of the appeal may have also been nostalgia for the original GW Talisman Board Game that it was set in)
    I like the single city, the handful of other settlements, the lone Castle, and the sample of each type of imaginable terrain.
    You can see a picture of the map in the gallery attached to this Reddit post about the game

  7. One thing you must needs do for certain, if you do not use hexes, be sure to put a scale bar on the map. I have no idea what the scale on the Prax map actually might be, as all it tells me is that it is 10 km per cm, and without a bar and the map not being to its original printed scale, I have no idea what that scale actually means.

    Also, if you must use metric, for the love of Gary, please make up some native words for all the measurements. Nothing takes me out of immersion in Glorantha's wonders faster than being told that the walktapus is 15 meters away...

    1. If it helps you any, the original of that image measures just over 19 cm by just over 25 cm. The distance from Moonbroth to Dwarf Knoll is 3 cm, so 30 km (18.75 miles). A direct line from Adari to Pavis is about 10.5 cm, so 105 km (about 65.5 miles).

  8. My favourite cartography by far is Peter Fenlon's Middle Earth maps for MERP. They're works of art in their own right and I find them very immersive.

    One problem with the MERP cartography is the scale however. The Fenlon maps use 1" = 20mi and that doesn't scale very well to the adventures. For example in Rogues of the Borderlands one adventure relies on a zombie walking to a village of a few hundred from a valley with barrows 60mi (3") away. That's more than the distance separating Glasgow and Edinburgh.

  9. I've always been fond of the earlier maps of Allansia, one of the Fighting Fantasy continents, like this one.

    There's no scale and at first glance it looks huge, but it's more like the Prax map above. I used it as the setting for the mini-campaign in the D&D5 starter box, because I didn't want to use the Forgotten Realms, so spent some time researching distances between locations.

    The original D&D5 map was portrait and mine is more landscape (ha ha) but the campaign area is roughly 25 five mile hexes wide, and covers about 1/8 of the larger Allansia map.

    (That's the player map I linked to above; the GM map has more locations for the players to discover.)

  10. 10km/cm = 6mi/cm, so a hex measured in cm would get you there. I agree with commentators above about modern ideas of scale, btw. I live & grew up in rural new england, and a 5-6mi hex would be my entire town, with fields and forest and a river, numerous ponds, part of a mountain, and so forth. I've lived here my whole life (50+ years) and there's still stuff I'm discovering in town.

    1. I also base a lot of my campaign background on something like pre-1066 Britain. It has 3 countries within it now, but in the past it was much more broken up. Central Europe was also diced very fine for much of history, with only the most casual of acknowledgements to an central power.

  11. My two cents about settling on a scale, assuming you are going with hex maps. I usually follow this process:
    1) Consider the size of the region (in square miles) you want to represent on the map. Great Britain has around 50,000 square miles. But since we are talking about an empire, it's probably (but not necessarily) more. Let's say 150,000. (x = 150000)
    2) Consider the number of points of interest (sites, not regions) you want to be actually showed on the map. Now, consider how many more points will be showed when the players have thoroughly explored the place. Let's say 20 for our starting number and 60 for the final number. YMMV (y = 60)
    3) Decide how many places per hex with a fully explored map (all points of interest showed, In my case, 60 of them). I like 1 every 4 hexes. (z = 4)
    4) Remember that you can always "zoom in" ou "zoom out" later.
    5) Calculate the number of hexes in your map:
    #ofHexes = y * z
    In my case, 240.
    6) Calculate your scale (miles per hex)
    Scale = Square Root of (1,155*x/#ofHexes)
    In my case, Square Root of (1,155*150000/240) = 25 miles per hex (or 24, to use a more common scale).
    7) Your scale will dictate how many days, weeks or hours between points of interest, so you might want to adjust your random encounter chances and consider how much time represent "1 turn" of overland exploration.
    8) What consitutes a "point of interest" also changes with scale. A simple wooden bridge might be a point of interest at 1/2 mile per hex, but not at 24 miles per hex.

  12. The map of Salisbury county in Pendragon 2nd edition was cute; a hand-drawn map, not exactly straight lines indicating roads, travel distances in days or half days rides. Of course, Pendragon is a bit different; it was more a map of the PCs' home range, rather than where to find adventure.

  13. Three (or six) miles hex are 1 (or 2) leagues. Leagues are rather nice as the unit a traveler can walk in an hour. Distance as time helps one place items of interest apart on a map. e.g. you don't want your orcs closer than a day's travel from your humans, etc.

    Having done some hiking on the Spanish Camino (about 250 miles in 2 weeks), my wife and I learned that pushing yourself to hike with a pack 30+ miles a day instead of "only" 20-24 takes a serious toll on your body after the 2nd day. It's a surprisingly big difference that should accrue penalties if the party try to pull off a Strider/Legolas/Gimli style pace.

  14. I fully agree with Jacob72's comment. When I was a kid, I often went on holidays on the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer (Brittany, France). The whole island basically fits in a 6-mile hex, and it takes the better part of a day to cross it on foot. Circling it takes 3 to 4 days.
    And on this tiny hex, you can find :
    - 4 villages, including a fishing harbor, a military harbor with a seaside huge citadel, an ancient abbey, a secluded village, and none of them gets along,
    - almost a hundred hamlets comprised of family farms (about 2d6 houses each),
    - a whole system of cisterns and fortifications around the citadel, including weird sewers and buried places where no one has set foot in three or four centuries,
    - a magic / witch forest,
    - at least three menhirs,
    - a small lake, some ponds, an orchard,
    - 20+ beaches lodged in small coves between sharp cliffs, including : one with hellish waves, one with weird seashells and small bits of explosives washed ashore by a sunken WW1 ship, one with a weird marsh, one infested with jellyfish and venomous fishes, one renowned for it's lethal currents, one that's almost impossible to access unless you cross a maze of brambles and thorn-trees...
    - at least one sunken 17th-century galleon with rumors of treasure and gold,
    - three lighthouses and one meteo station,
    - the ruins of at least three other lighthouses and semaphors, and one windmill,
    - several seaside caverns and grottoes, including a giant one that's closed because the waves and rocks are too dangerous, another nicknamed the Vazen pit or the Devil's pit, and another that was used by pirates and English soldiers for smuggling and clandestine operations,
    - one islet that gets cut off the island when the tide comes, where you can get trapped for 6 hours if you're not careful,
    - a cove named "Borderune" (Runeside) with a rock looking like a giant bear,
    - wild boars sometimes,
    - traces of occupation and encampments from both Bronze Age people and Roman soldiers,
    - a dozen small seaside forts, ruined or occupied, one once built and owned by a famous actress,
    - a former orphanage / child prison that's full of ghosts and awful stories,
    - lots of bunkers built by the Nazis and left in place along the coast,
    - a tiny airport, a ranch...

    Of course the island is exceptionally packed with stuff, and of course most of these places might be of little interest for a more epic or lengthy campaign. But it shows how much stuff you can pack in small distances, and Europe is certainly a great inspiration for this.