Gordon posted an article recently that’s stuck with me, arguing for concurrent sigil work (with the use of a robofish), rather than over-the-wall engineering.

Dwarven Village

A Dwarven Village

In yesterday’s article on Design, I offered up some of my early experimental work with book-making in line with the work of Esther K. Smith, How to Make Books (amazon|powell’s), as part of a larger effort to learn paper engineering skills (including building paper automata and pop-up books, eventually).

But Gordon says “sigils” and I think “types of projects”.  And the work of Dyson has stood out recently to me on Pinterest. The map here is a sample of what he’s done in the past.

And I think, Hey, I used to do things like that.  I wonder what it would be like to do that again?  I haven’t done much of this kind of design work in decades; I’ve been paid to be a writer or a teacher for the most part, rather than an artist (and I’ll talk about the artwork I’ve been producing in another post sometime soon, probably early next week).

In the meantime, though, I’ve produced three maps.  The first one was the one at left, the Dwarven Village. It occurred to me that I had seen many above-ground village maps, and a good many Dwarven city designs, all inspired by Tolkien’s Moria (Khazad-Dum). But where were the villages, the towns? What did those look like? This was an attempt do that.  Near the upper center of the map, a staircase from the surface comes down to an octagonal chamber; this is the entry point from the Lapis Hills region, above the dwarves’ community.  The chambers around it are common and market spaces, for interacting with surface communities; to the left of the stairs are a series of chambers that serve as workshops and store-rooms, while to the right are large halls for bartering, and a huge kitchen for cooking food for community feasts.  Along the bottom of the map are a series of 20×30′ chambers for dwarven septs or families, and a large 30′-wide “Hall of the Families” for community interaction.  Off to the right is the bath-house, with separate pools for hot, warm and cold interaction, and changing and relieving facilities for both women and men.  In the upper left is the entrance to the mines, carefully guarded against intrusion from below.

Palazzo CellarsAnd that led to the Palazzo Cellars. I used to run a game in a city called Piacenza, sort of a Renaissance-era Florence with D&D style magic.  It was easy to imagine the cellars of the Medini family’s palazzo, with locked iron doors and stairs down into the city’s sewer system, and a series of chambers for the storage of everything from valuable trade goods to great-grandmother’s christening gown to the furniture cousin Louie broke… and maybe even the undeadified bodies of several family elders to defend the family sleeping above?  The treasures of the family, too, could be squirreled away in some of the vaults in the back.

You can get a sense, from the layout of the map, of the palazzo above, too.  Can’t you?  The building is roughly rectangular, with a little add-on in the northeast corner (assuming the top of the map is north).  It sits in the middle part of the city, between two north-south-running streets, on a slight slope so that the sewer channels under those streets run toward the river on the south end of town.  Several of their neighbors also have entrances into the service platforms within the sewer tunnel; and a neighbor slightly to the northwest has the easiest access with the most known about his basement.  A single grand stairway enters into the palazzo’s basement — and you can see, from the layout of that corridor, that the south part of the house is the oldest, while the northerly part, including the family crypt of columns, was added later; and that a whole secret cellar exists in the most recent addition to the house, away to the northeast.  All of the areas that connect to the sewers have extra doors and security, both leading into the house, and out, because the Medini family is as worried about traitors from within opening the house to intrusion, as it is about people breaking and entering.

The Treaty HallBut I can’t leave well enough alone. And so I produced a third: The Treaty House.  A bizarre cross between a temple and a treasure-house, between a customs office and a magical monument-of-enforcement of a long-ago treaty between three warring kingdoms, the Treaty House sits at the place where the borders of three kingdoms meet.  A columned pavilion on the roof allows broad views of the plains and mountains, and a place where a treaty can be signed in full view of waiting armies.  The interior is a series of rooms, long stripped of their valuables by bandits and thieves, that once displayed scenes of reconciliation and turmoil between the three kings.

Porches, bridges, and statues adorn the outside of the structure, serving as formal and informal locations for discussions between diplomats and kings and generals.  In the northern basement, a series of cells provide places for confinement of extradited prisoners or ransomed spies to be held during negotiations.  The southern basement provides a guardroom for a treasure to be held in a separate chamber in a kind of forced escrow until certain terms of agreement are met.  The building’s many entrances prevent the structure from being turned into an effective fortress against any opponent, thus preventing the building from being used as a launch-point for an attack on any of the three realms, or a place of safety for fugitives from those same kingdoms.

While I’m visiting my parents over the next couple of days, I’ll have to see whether or not they have any of my old surviving maps from when I was 10-15. I don’t think so, but I’ll look if anyone’s interested.

In the meantime, I want to say something about what I’m doing here. Yes, I’m imitating Dyson’s artistic style, and his content area of expertise, namely maps.  But these maps can, could, be combined with other things I do, such as teaching the Palace of Memory.  Or maybe they’re a sign that I should take up gaming again, which I’ve been away from for more than a decade.  Or maybe they’re a different kind of sigil.  Or maybe they’re connected to my work teaching computer programming — because it turns out that it’s hard to teach computer programming without some content to go on, some imaginative base from which to launch into the realms of 0s and 1s.

The larger point, though, derives from Gordon’s. To focus all your magic, or all of your effort, upon a single pathway to success, is over-the-wall engineering.  The costs are low at the beginning, but rise (often astronomically) as you work your way toward publishing or success or product launch or achievement.  However, the concurrent methodology which he suggests is differently-oriented.  Right now, I’m working on being a druid (and living up to my title as ‘bard’), being an artist, re-launching the Design Lab experience at my school, learning paper engineering, learning electronics, learning carpentry and mechanics (more on those in upcoming posts), and generally trying to be successful at a LOT of things.

Sigils aren’t just pen and paper, you know.  And there’s benefit in trying out tools and techniques, in making things and objects, that at first glance seem purposeless and odd, and yet have tremendous transformative force.