Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Nuts & Bolts #169 - The Perfect Map for the End of the World Part 2- Puttin' My Money Where My Mouth Is

Last week, I wrote about finding some old road atlases and thinking they could be great for making maps for Post Apocalypse games. Well, this week I put my money where my mouth is and show off the results of the last week worth of efforts, including the techniques I used to get there!

The map above (which is nice and high resolution so feel free to use it if you want), depicts central Massachusetts. I tore it out of the atlas, grabbed a pen and got to work. As it had been quite some time since I last did this I documented my process and had to figure some stuff out the hard way. Example: the aging effects I used can cause ink pens to run if they are water soluble, and even some run will happen if they are not, I used a black pen and ended up with fairly blue lettering after multiple soaks. Know your materials and consider your order of operations. 

The first thing I did was put some notes onto the map. Again I used a black ball-point pen, but as you can see from above it ended up looking more blue. This is fine, but was a result of my doing the writing before the "aging" effects. Here's what the WIP (work in progress) looked like before I started aging.

You'll also note there's a lot more there than in the final. I decided early on to burn off the ripped dangly bits on the left side, and tore off a good chunk of the legend since that would make finding locations a little more difficult. That gave me the nearly final size and shape of the map.

The above picture is in a weak soak of tea. Weak because I tried to re-use a used teabag from my morning caffeine infusion. You can already see the lettering turning more blue in color. This may or may not suit you and your preference for pen style. I know I will probably do aging before writing on my next map. I ended up sacrificing a new tea bag to make a second soak because I wanted my result to be a bit darker. I also crumpled and un-crumpled the paper a few times before, between, and after each soak, I was looking for a final result that had that soft and more cloth-like feel at the end, which I think I managed really well. 

Between the first and 2nd soak I also tried to put some stains in using a little cooking oil and some soy sauce (it's what I had on hand!) followed by some hot sauce (Frank's Red Hot btw). While the oil worked the other two ended up being very minimal in the final product. 

After the second bath in tea I was happy with the state of the paper but it felt like it needed something. My focus group agreed, and suggested some blood spatter would look good. I wasn't willing to bleed for my art, so I tried red food coloring. It was way too bright.

It looked far to red for an old blood stain, blood usually dries to a darker brick red/rust color so I needed to add something to the dots to darken them. I did some experiments on the side and found that Dark Soy Sauce (a specialty product for most folks) worked well. I think that dark coffee might get a similar result. You want something that will only darken the red, not cover it. I'll try coffee the next time out. These were all applied using the end of a chopstick to dab the paper. I wanted to avoid a paint brush. A fingertip could also work, or the end of a fork. Test on a sheet of scrap so you don't ruin you badass map. 

In conclusion what I did was:
  1. Write my on-map notes
  2. Burn edges and/or tear pieces off as you like
  3. Crumple liberally
  4. Soak with tea then dry fully
  5. Crumple liberally
  6. Spot stained then dry
  7. Second Soak and dry 
  8. Crumple liberally
  9. "Blood" dots 
  10. Crumple liberally
Based on my learnings though I think I would consider moving my first step till after the soaking is done depending on how "new" you want said notes to seem on the paper. Generally I am pretty happy with how it looks, although even the hi-rez scan above doesn't quite get the colors right. WHat I am very happy with is the physical presentation. In person it looks and feels like a well worn wasteland map that the characters might be given or find. Sadly in person games are still some ways away, but just making this has been hugely fun and given me a real hankering to run some post apocalyptic fun. I hope it will for you too!

An aside: The aging techniques, use of tea soaks and crumpling of the paper, can work for old treasure maps and the like for any genre. Use the basic idea here for your fantasy RPG of choice.

Or don't, I ain't the boss of you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Nuts & Bolts #168 - The Perfect Map for the End of the World

I'd wager, if you are of a certain age, you have memories of fighting with one of these dang things while trying to figure out where you are, where you need to be, and just how lost you really are. These days we all carry interconnected super computers in our pockets and take for granted that they know our location to within a handful of yards (or meters if you aren't in the US), but when I was younger, and especially when I was a kid, these were the closest thing we had to navigation aids. 

And damnit the post-apocalypse was better for it! 

Yes, the post-apocalypse. Back when I first started wandering the wastelands during my after-school hours the very idea of GPS and computer navigation was science fiction. The kind of science fiction that didn't belong in a good old fashioned post-apocalyptic wasteland! The idea of wandering the wastes with a tattered a stained fragment of an old paper map felt right at the time, and for me it still feels right. It has a low-tech tactile aspect that works in a ruined world where "treasure" was usually represented by physical goods and items, and where knowledge that wasn't part of a skill was often lost. The kind of wasteland where a waster stained encyclopedia was a tradable item. 

While cleaning my basement I found these three atlases, and was about to drop them in the recycle bin, after all, my phone does everything these do, but better. And then I got an idea. I'm prepping to run some post apocalyptic something later this year and ... why couldn't I use these for maps? I could tear the pages out, stain them with coffee or tea, mark them up with pen and marker, and then either hand them to players or take a picture for those internet games that most of us have found so much more convenient. 

Also, it was super timely as I didn't have a good topic for today. Ha!

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

I'm A Fan - Rifts Africa Style Necromancer


Been thinking about necromancers lately because of the Weird Frontiers game I'm running for some friends. Necromancers tend to be a "pet class" in my experience. They have skeletons and zombies and other undead "pets" that follow them around, follow their orders, and generally provide a lot of the substance of the class. Beyond the pets they also tend to have dark magic attacks, debuffs, and the like. So all of that said when I first got the 4th Rifts World Book, Africa, back in the mid 90s I was very pleasantly surprised by the very unique take on necromancers the book detailed. 

The rifts style necromancer could still animate the dead, and do all the usual necromancer standards, but in addition they could collect pieces of dead creatures and temporarily fuse them to their body with magic. These magical fusions would provide various special abilities and bonuses. A wolf's skull would give the necromancer a werewolf like visage complete with a powerful bite and wolf-like senses. The shell of a tortoise would act as a powerful armor, but slow the necromancer's speed and reactions. Tiger's claws would make for a deadly melee weapon. These ad hoc magical enchantments provided both a lot of interesting flavor for the necromancer, but turned a class that is often "rear guard" to a class that could be forefront. 

Now, I haven't played Rifts, or really anything using Palladium's system, in decades, nor do I want to, but I find myself thinking that the ideas and concepts that made this version of the necromancer interesting and fun to me, could work just as easily in any other system. For example, for an NPC necromancer in DCC or Weird Frontiers. Or potentially as a new focus for a Cypher System game.