a hexagonal map and some surrounding text

Thinking about gaming groups again…

In some ways, I have no business trying to imitate Dyson’s work, of rpgcharacters.wordpress.com.  I found his stuff on Pinterest in some of the gaming resources there.  He publishes maps every Tuesday and Thursday, and has produced over eight hundred maps in his blog.  This is not something I’m likely to achieve. Ever.


At the same time, I appreciate his work. And I like his design sense.  And as Ymptree of Coffee and Blood traded comments back and forth on her blog and here relatively recently, on the subject of the land, the idea of kith and kin is pretty important to both of us.  We challenged each other to make maps of what we think of as our home ground, the realms of our fantasies and communities and dreams.

Challenge more easily accepted than achieved.

This is not that map.  But as that link to the story about kith and kin suggests, the maps of fantasy novels, and the maps of the roleplaying games I was in as a kid and young adult, have played a large role in who I am and what I think about.  The maps, too, from my walk on the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain played their part as well. Although that walk pre-dates this blog by several years, so it’s challenging to talk about from mere memory.

The Camino and Maps

Let’s start with what everyone knows about the Camino.  This is a path that runs from central-ish France, or more specifically several places in France, to the few narrow passes through the Pyrenees mountains, which gradually converge on a single road through Basque country, the bishopric-cities of northern Spain, Astorga and Leon and O Coruña and others, and eventually arrives in Santiago, the burial place of Saint James the Greater, brother of Jesus and Apostle in his own right.  Travelers along the way are likely to encounter various experiences, from wild dogs in abandoned villages to a church containing the Holy Grail.  Interestingly enough, if you walk the route, part of your travels take you over Roman and medieval roads, past faerie mounds, and into places where genuine danger—both material and metaphysical—lurks with surprising frequency, along with marvels and miracles with almost-equal frequency. Yet if you drive this route, you are much less likely to encounter experiences of magic or mystery.  It was in part this experience of the Camino, the differential between the miracles of muscle-powered travel and machine-travel, that inspired my own work on Mount Higby.

One of the things that you must get, as a walking pilgrim, is a passport. The passport is a little accordion fold booklet with spaces for stamps to go: rubber stamps that act as proof-of-foot-or-animal travel to the pilgrim’s office at the end of the road.  (On one side of the accordion from my passport is a map of the whole route, mapped out in wondrous clarity—little line drawings of cathedrals at the big towns, a similar cluster of houses at the towns, a pale double-line connecting them.  Or maybe this isn’t the map on the passport, but a companion guide. I forget.)

I remember trying to re-make that map in my journal. This was before I met Dave Gray, so I didn’t have either a vocabulary or practice to fall back on. It was hard.  The map was simple, beautiful, and easy to understand: turn here, follow signs to this town name next, look for the abstract design of the seashell along routes, this many km to the next rest area, dirty water here.  But the maps I produced was ugly and unclear.  Making clear maps requires practice, and insight into the landforms.

So.  I need to practice some map-making skills, and grid maps of underground or interiors, or hex-maps of land-forms, are the place where I began.  We go back to our roots, whether in the land or in the mental landscape, frequently enough, don’t we?

The Town of Pontefract

The town of Pontefract is arranged along a reverse-Y section of road, with a central town and several muddy tracks leading away from it.  Barley grows in the higher-level fields, while rye is more common in the lowlands; floods in the spring have sometimes coincided with a rash of magical attacks on the populace which leaves people quaking in fear of sorcerous villains watching from the woods. Approximately 1500 adults live in this larger hex, which is 6 miles across.

Somewhat to the north are two ‘camps’ or rough-hewn villages of a half-dozen or fewer huts.  One is actually in the woods, and serves as a lumber camp for the harvesting of trees for furniture, house and boat construction, and other large-scale activities.  They have a license from the elven lords of the Great Golden Wood to harvest trees from this area, but the work is slow-going.  Somewhat more to the east is a large quarry that provides a second-tier quality marble, suitable for facing on brick buildings.  Most of the marble gets sliced off in thin sheets, and shipped downriver to the larger cities; some adorns Pontefract’s few public buildings.

On the southwest part of the hex are two mine entrances, one in the cliff face of the Western Downs, the other in the nearby flanks of Bald Hill.  Eventually, these mine tunnels connect with one another some 150′ underground at the dwarven community of MineGate; mostly copper, some iron, and a little silver and gold comes out of these mines, along with finished work that the dwarves make for export, like knives, scissors, and other tools.

A canal runs through the central part of town, supplying a trio of mills.  These are the community’s most advanced technology— one for grinding grain into flour, one for pounding flax into fibers for linen and paper, and one for sawing raw timber into beams and boards for export.  They were built by the Marquis of Pontefract, or at his orders; and they have been working unvenly since he disappeared a few years back.  His elderly uncle now leads the community, but lacks the authority of king and country, and is somewhat doddering in any case.

In the southern part of the hex, south and west of the halfling community of South Meadows, is the course, a long racetrack apparently for horses, near to the ruins of an elf-town and a few barrows or man-made grave-hills.  These things are understood to date from before the growing of the Golden Wood, and only a few oak trees, and no farming crops will grow here.  A good many shepherds live up on this high ground, managing their flocks, with no difficulty for either wool or milk; but cattle don’t graze here, because they give yellow-green milk for days afterward that is usually fatal to dogs and infants.