Friday, April 15, 2011

M for Maps

[Note: Any non-gamers tuning in to this series of posts are invited to consult my New Reader Introduction for some RPG-specific definitions and a general introduction to the Lands of Ara blog.]

ckutalik over at Hill Cantons somewhat recently posted about his all-time favorite Top 5 fantasy maps. I strongly urge you to check out that post as well as his two excellent follow-up posts, What Makes a Fantasy Map Great? and How to Awesome Up Fantasy Maps. Really great stuff!

Inspired by ckutalik, I now offer my own list of Top 5 Fantasy Maps:

5. 4e Manual of the Planes - City of Brass

 You can read WotC's brief write-up about this here.

4. Thror's Map from Tolkien's The Hobbit

3. Holmes Cross-Section

2. Greyhawk

1. Hexed Ara Map

And, in case you want to pursue this topic further, here are a few more recent mapping and hexography posts:

Ark at Rather Gamey, Hex on the Borderlands

Steamtunnel at Hydra's Grotto, Hexes

Telecanter's "Sea Hexes" diagram (borrowed from this post by Charlatan at The Mule Abides)

Zak Sabbath's Formula To Figure Out Exactly How Big Your Hexes Should Be


  1. Map four is the incredible one I had in my edition as a kid. Just seeing it produced a visceral reaction (good one).

  2. @ckutalik: Yes, Thror's map was a hugely influential map on me as well. Thanks again for your inspirational map posts a few weeks back.

  3. @Jovial: The map is hand-drawn but the numbered hexes were overlaid by Spawn of Endra via a computer. I am not sure what software he used -- maybe he can fill you in.

  4. Christ, I've written this comment twice, and just as I'm about to submit the fucking thing I go back up to look at the map for some god-damned reason, click on it and lose what I've written. The map is just that fucking irresistible to me. Seriously.

    For the grid, I took Carter's scan and added the grid in Illustrator. The scan was a tiff, so the "white" background was actually trasparent as in the thumbnail above. I made the grid with the online graph paper generator:, and placed it under the image. From Carter's notes on the scale of the original, I scaled the hexes and 36 miles at this size was a surprisingly good fit. This was ground-truthed (so to speak) by comparing travel times between locales according to Carter's game notes and intuition. I also decided to set the grid so The Free City of Kaladar was at the center of it's hex. Ultimately this was exported as a png file.

    I love the feel of Carter's hand-drawn art, and when we first talked about how to make an awesome high-production-value map, the idea was to have Carl do something with this. In the meantime, I figured we could just add hexes to the existing map and have something usable for running the game, figuring out travel times, wilderness encounters, and keying specific locales. So to keep this more like Thror's map instead of wargamey hex-dominated maps, I wanted to minimize the amount of distraction for the eye. The art invites you look into different details and envision what each region might look like, or how the Wasted Lands came to be, and so on. So the grid lines are light weight (0.25 pt), 40% greyscale, and placed under the art rather than over it. For the hex numbers I used Arial Narrow to keep it small, and put them at the bottom of the hex (this is the usual alignment, but e.g., Carcosa puts them on top, which to me suggests a header telling you what the hex is about -- the hex number -- which it isn't).

    For me, putting a heavy black-lined hex grid over this (or any) map is like imprisoning it in visual chicken-wire. And with that I'll post the comment before I delete it again.

    [Good thing I copied it because Blogger screwed me over this time!]

  5. The less BLAHBHALABLAH way of explaining the above is:

    I wanted the hex grid to be subordinate to the art, literally and figuratively.

  6. Nice to meet you through the A-Z challenge! Hope to see you around!

  7. Updated the Ara map to give it a white background on the blog post.