Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #62 - Here Be Dragons

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Is there a role-player who doesn't love maps? Is it truly as common a thing among those of us who enjoy this hobby as it seems? Whether you like to draw them, or simply take enjoyment from the map-work of others it certainly seems to be one of the common things that bind our sub-culture together.

I'm no cartographer. Hell, I'm hardly even a capable amateur. At best I can muddle about and make something functional. It's nothing I worry about overmuch, I know my talents lie elsewhere, and I know that there are many very capable folks out there who draw (or otherwise craft) gorgeous maps I can enjoy. 

Have you ever wondered what use are maps though? Whether for combat or for world building maps are important to know where stuff is, and in doing so to understand where things are not, and what proximity factors there are. 

World maps help us understand both the physical and political boundaries of the kingdoms that our stories take place in. They show us where major places lay, and give us a means to determine how our characters will travel toward their next adventure. 

But what about what they don't show? I think that this is the real power of maps in fantasy, and by extension in our hobby. The undefined edges of the world, those spaces where once upon a time you might see a serpent or dragon or even a written comment, "Here be dragons." 

An overly detailed and specified map leaves less room for the unknown. Think about a map of Earth; there isn't much on there that you probably cannot identify at least at a high level, and at a more detailed level we have so much knowledge at our fingertips that we can find out whatever you wish. Contrast that with the characters in our games, they look at the edge of their maps and there is maybe a vague hint, or perhaps nothing at all. 

Here be dragons. 

Even in games of science fiction there is a limit to our knowledge of this vast galaxy of ours, and even more so a limit to what we know of the galaxies beyond our own. The mystery of that unknown drives many of us. In our past people explored beyond the edges of the map to discover new things, to seek new riches, or simply "because it was there." 

I think that's why I took to Numenera so quickly. The folks at Monte Cook Games seemed to understand that the mystery of exploration is something in our blood, something that we lack in the modern day and they gave that back to us. Other games feature hex crawls, or dungeon crawls, and both are in their own ways meeting that need for exploration and discovery as well. 

I don't have much advice to dispense this week, no real thoughts on how to better run a game, or plot an adventure. I just wanted to share these thoughts, to talk about something that I think speaks to why we game. Maybe not all of us, maybe not every game, but at least some of the time we are fumbling for the edge of the map, wondering what kind of dragons we'll find when we get there.

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