Names on Maps, Names in Books…

I started redrawing the map of my world the other night, pulled out all my notes on the cultures, the places… and I had this sudden urge to just throw it all away. Not because I didn’t enjoy making it — I’ve always loved maps, for as long as I can remember — and I have spent a lot of time in that world both in my imagination and sharing it with others.

My earliest memories of gaming include Greyhawk. I remember the name Rel Astra, it’s the first place I ever looked at on a map and just wanted to go there. I remember looking through the old Expert book at the maps of the area around Threshold and it puts a smile on my face to think about it now. I poured over maps of Thunder Rift, Yrth, Mystara, and a ton of others and I always loved them.

And I made my own. Tons of my own. For a while I started making maps of everything and everywhere. I made maps of towns, maps of countries, maps of continents, and I never actually used any of them, just filled them with names and ideas. After a while I started making the places first and building the maps around the ideas. And like all GMs I experienced the frustration of building worlds and learning that more times than you’d like, it’s asking an awful lot of players to learn a new world and everything that entails.

And I started thinking about the joy of visiting Rel Astra again. See, that story about Rel Astra? I didn’t know a thing about it. I didn’t even really pay much attention to where it was on the map — it was just this name that made me think of so many things, that sparked my creativity. When D&D4E first came out that was one of my favorite aspects of it — how it was “setting light” with evocative names like “Bael Turath” and “Arkhosia” but they didn’t really mean anything more than the hints we were given about them and we (players and DMs) could speculate to our hearts content.

So I guess that’s another struggle I’m fighting with myself these days — do I even need a map of the setting? Heck, do I even need a setting outside of phrases and suggestions? What makes you happy?

Thanks for reading.

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8 responses

  1. See I want short descriptions. A name on the map? Yeah sure, it is a name on the map.

    Rel Astra? Who cares, why should I leave my nice comfy home?

    Now Rel Astra, the last bastion Bastion of the Dragon King, beset on all sides by enemies, looking for a desperate ally to save him and perhaps take up the mantle?

    Or Rel Astra, a well run city with deep secret, its military might is only possible by the fact that it only needs a fraction of the farmers any other city does, and with that surplus of men, it is no wonder that they are going on a conquering war path.

    etc, etc.

    For me maps don’t do anything for me, instead it is the short little descriptors that make me go “Oooooh.” At least a couple lines to a few paragraphs.

    1. Yeah, I know a lot of people who like the “short description” as a springboard and a hint, without giving away too much. I always struggle though with how “necessary” the actual Map is.

  2. I had that experience with a friend’s obsessive map drawing and his compulsive need to always have a Port Blacksand somewhere on each of them. My desire to go there grew stronger and stronger the longer we adventured, because we never, ever got there!

    Names have power, there is no doubt, but they will either strike GMs and/or players or not. Sometimes a hint of a description is necessary, to fuel the flames of player interest and GM investment in hook pulling and seed planting.

    Perhaps a lesson could be taken from con men in this regard?

    1. Major sidetrack alert!

      There’s an intriguing adventure concept… a place on a map that the adventurers never seem to be able to get to.

      * Traveling to the location on their current map brings the party to a new place where the locals have a different map showing an alternate location of the place.

      * Asking the locals about it yields things such as, “Oh, Port Blacksand? Nah, never been there… it’s about four days travel down the river from here… come to think of it I don’t recall anyone EVER claiming they’ve been there…”

      * When examining their original map the party will be amazed to find that Port Blacksand has indeed moved to that position.

      What treasures lie in a place nobody seems to be able to get to?
      How far must one travel before the magical location is finally entered?
      Can anyone actually get to Port Blacksand?
      How is such a place moved?
      Is the location simply a ruse?

    2. Hahahaha. That’s so funny. I had this island chain called the Sothus Is’hus that my players in many campaigns kept “almost” traveling to and then the games would end. They’ve still never been there.

      They feel your pain. As do I.

      1. I named the archive on my Blog the Port Blacksand Memorial Home. I figured after 25+ years and living on the other side of the Earth, the odds of actually getting there any other way were too low. 😉

        I like Kevin’s suggestion a lot. It puts me a bit in mind of Tanelorn~

  3. this got me thinking about my home game that is loosely set in the forgotten realms. I really just use the material as phrases and suggestions, and mostly so i don’t have to come up with names of stuff and places on my own, I don’t even stick to the map layout.

    so no I don’t think you need a map of the setting in that it is not vital to the game, but you seem to get alot of pleasure and enjoyment from it and I think that is reason enough. Plus you never know what is going to grab a players attention and imagination.

    1. You make a really good point. “You never know what is going to grab a player’s attention and imagination.”

      That’s worth keeping in mind in everything I do as a GM/writer.

      Thanks. I do sometimes get caught up in my own “Stuff” and forget the reason I actually do this (and of course, sometimes get paralyzed thinking about “hypothetical players” too much).

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