Friday, April 30, 2010

Fear and Loathing

It's not necessarily wise to accept an invitation to a goblin night club. Then again, if you get an invitation like that, how can you not accept?

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fugitive Art

Home of: Richard Kimble by Mark Bennett is one of the greatest pieces of fantasy map art I’ve ever seen, and I encountered it hanging inside a Microsoft office building.* It’s also featured in Katharine Harmon’s book The Map as Art. Fantasy art and cartographic art get around.

I spent a little time before writing this trying to categorize this artwork using Wikipedia. It doesn’t fit Wikipedia’s description of lowbrow art; it’s not outsider art; nor is it truly naive art, since it clearly exploits an established body of technique. I guess the art world hasn’t yet gotten around to categorizing fantasy cartography, which is fine by me.

I want to talk about this picture a bit, just because I love it so much. It’s a map of the United States full of places which (presumably) really exist, ostensibly included as part of the fictional Richard Kimble’s real FBI file. And apparently Richard Kimble really got around, visiting every state except Mississippi and Hawaii. The map chronicles his adventures in those states. If you’ve watched every episode of The Fugitive, you’re probably more familiar with this fantasy United States that you are with the real one. But the fantasy United States isn’t pure fantasy. It’s deeply informed by the iconic regional experiences of the real United States:

“Cornell, ID. […] The Max Henderson Ranch (Mr. Kelly ranch hand) Eludes Sheriff Morgan Fallon and his posse on pack mules”

“Black Moccasin, NB. Ted Krumer’s new mechanic (Ben Rogers tractor driver) must flee to Bright’s Farm (Tyler County)”

“Crawford Farm (Mike Johnson field hand) protects Lt. Gerard from deadly pitchfork thrown by fellow fieldhands during storm”

So it’s a map of a TV show, but it’s also a map of our United States. In that sense, it’s as much a portrait of our world as, say Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is a portrait fo Breugel’s world.

The map is also a technical triumph by any cartographical standard. It is executed 100% within the strict conventions of a functional map. It’s dense with detail. Each entry includes location, Richard Kimble’s alias at the time, the names of major protagonists, and the involvement of law enforcement in the scene.

But the map also purposely strains the limits of legibility. The closer you look, the harder it is to really make sense of the story. The entries are dangerously cramped in certain areas. The faint dotted lines that presumably mark the progress of the chase of Richard Kimble disappear behind the text, challenging you to follow them. When you look this close, the illusion that this map is a bare representation of fact begins to break down. You start to see disjunction between the real United States and the progress of a fictional journey.

But the illusion never breaks all the way. The map stays right on the line between the factual and the impossible, and that’s what makes this a really great fantasy map. It’s fun to look at, dense with information, flawlessly executed, thoughtful, and deeply informed by its subject matter: a truly great map.

* Microsoft has a spectacular art collection, including some stunning works that I'd call fantasy cartographic art.

Update E. Tage Larsen points out in the comments that this form of art can be properly termed Information Graphics or Information Design!

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

February Compilation - Fixed!

FYI, there was a problem with the February compilation. It was missing some dungeons! It has been fixed now.


In Praise of Hand Drawn Maps

There's an interesting article on Slate right now, She Does a Better Job that MapQuest, an exploration of hand-drawn maps. As you might have guessed, I'm a fan of hand-drawn, not just for art, but for practicality. Read the article. It's a good exploration of the utility and beauty of hand-drawn maps, then go check out the Web site of The Hand Drawn Map Association. You'll see some of mine on there.


Chord Progression

Here's a dungeon I drew up for my wife, the performer and storyteller over lunch after one of her performances. I'm not very creatively inspired this morning, so maybe this will pick me up. It does make me think of the possibilities of dungeons as resonating chambers, sound-based magic, and climbing around inside a giant guitar. Come to think of it, I've been told that the design for Seattle's Experience Music Project was inspired by the interior construction of a guitar.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Year of the Dungeon PDF Compilation - February

Nick Kristof of The Fantasy Cartographic was kind enough to create a compilation PDF of all the February dungeons, and it looks great! Having all the dungeon in one book with their descriptions is very handy indeed. Thank you, Nick!

There will be more compilations coming in the future as well!

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Peryton Perch

Past Hunter's Hall and Socerer's Aerie you will find your prize

A furious baron tries to protect his flocks from an implacable preadtor with a mans' cunning

An order of rangers, jealous of their secrets, sworn to kill any that discover them

Deadly shroud ninjas on flying carpets ready to fall upon the unwary with deadly death

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Down the Drain

The princess has lost her diamond ring; a straightforward quest for a brave adventurer; except for the odd fact that the ring fled under its own power on tiny spider legs; and why does the princess always keep her face completely hidden by bandages?

Captured by giants! This is a sad predicament. Fortunately, giants aren't very good jailers. They left this perfectly good drain here as an escape route. Surely the escape isn't more dangerous than the prison.

Life is good in Spanterhook. The farmer's markets don't have too many grub weevils and the plumbing is good... except when it's not. Nobody really knows how those old pipes and valves work anymore, so every time the sewer backs up, somebody has to go inside and find the clog. Fortunately the pay is good and funeral costs are covered.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dungeon Weird: Randomosity

A couple of nights ago I was feeling kind of down and exhausted after a busy, difficult couple of weeks of life and work, and feeling creatively drained. So I did that thing you do when you're down, I made some random tables.

The purpose of the Dungeon Weird: Randomosity Table is to generate cool, weird bits for your campaign.

To use the table, roll 1d20 on each column. Take two of the three words generated, mash them together, and create something weird.  


1. Honey
2. Top Hat *
3. Giggling
4. Pearl
5. Moon
6. Heart
7. Surgeon
8. Starlight
9. Glances
10. Operatic
11. Snow
12. Sponge
13. Roses
14. Perfume
15. Unicorn
16. Sparrow
17. Poet
18. Silk
19. Pilot
20. Jack-in-the-box

1. Stalactite
2. Fangs
3. Mandrake
4. Mushroom
5. Bandaged
6. Root
7. Tattoo
8. Dripping
9. Stockings
10. Chitinous
11. Frozen in amber
12. Fingernails
13. Petrified
14. Hair
15. Eagle
16. Rhinoceros horn
17. Sewer Engineer
18. Fisherman
19. Operating theatre
20. Naga

1. Leech
2. Brain
3. Rotting
4. Rust
5. Eyeball
6. Spider
7. Wound
8. Oozing
9. A black cat
10. Odd-shaped shadows
11. Vampire
12. Lice
13. Tears
14. Murder
15. Walled-up
16. Zombie
17. Millipede
18. Chimney Sweep
19. Pickpocket
20. Troll

Here's what I cam up with in a few rolls:

Surgeon - Fisherman - Zombie
A guild of bizarre fisherman/surgeons working by the magical principle of sympathy. They immerse you in a pool of tears, then hunt down your dreams and fears when they manifest in an underground lake of similar composition. They also look creepily like golems.

walled-up - Dripping - Surgeon
When a fisherman surgeon is kidnapped by a crime lord to perform an illegal operation, the walls of the lords dungeons being to weep tears and blood due to the magical radiation the surgeon has absorbed in plying his trade.

Silk - Lice - Operating Theatre
The fisherman surgeons primary competition is from the Guild of Seams, who create stunning tapestries by using highly trained silk-producing insects. The same insects can be directed into wounds to stitch up internal ruptures.

* I've been playing a bit of Echo Bazaar lately. Can you tell?

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Archaic Torso

What's the Archaic Torso about? How the hell should I know? But when the Stravellings put it there, they didn't ask permission. They just plunked it down in the middle of Saint Acelot Square. And why is there a small but growing crowd of bedraggled worshippers hanging around it talking in strange tongues?

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Dungeons of January

It's time to put up some of the originals for sale! These things are just cluttering up my desk and I need to stop moddlycoddling them and let them go out into the world -- to good homes only!

Some of these dungeons have minor scuffs, dents, or discolorations. This is because of the process by which they are created. These dungeons travel with me. I work on them in coffee shops, on the bus, and in the diner while I'm waiting for lunch.

Each dungeon original is $25.00, plus $3.00 shipping.

The first batch will be January dungeons only, with more to follow soon: Store. Most of the dungeons I posted January were given away at Gen Con or to friends, which is why there's only a few dungeons there to start with.

If you order multiple dungeons, I will refund the shipping charges for all but the first dungeon.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Dungeon Planet

10,000 worlds, suspended in a whirling gyrus like glass spheres caught in a Whirlpool

The exquisite observatory, counting away the obscure purpose of its construction

How big does a planet need to be to be considered a world, anyway?

A conscientious eye tyrant, enduring the scorn of his kind, focusing his prodigious intellect on banishing a persistent mystery

PS If there's one thing I love as much as dungeons, it's planets, and this one's both!

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Family Break

Hey all,

So I'm swamped with work this week, except for a short break I'm taking while my family visit, so no posts for a couple of days.

In other news, I'm going to open up my Microdungeon store next Tuesday. It'll just be a small selection of original dungeons to start,with some more neat stuff to follow bit by bit.



Monday, April 12, 2010

Meteoric Shrine of Kintok-Glau

An artifact descends to Earth having been touched by gods, and we know when they get involved, it's never good news

A madman or prophet mumbling half remembered phrases

A ravenous predator sharpening its claws in its cave lair

A chamber of natural wonders, both beguiling and deadly

A rumbling chant, deep within the rock, growing both stronger and more urgent

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Comic Book Cartography

Comic Book Cartography is a spectacular blog of the art of the fantastic in maps!

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Digging Go Play NW

A band of gamers assemble for an annual celebration of games and friendship...

An annual ritual, held in the heart of a great city...

Murderous zombies erupt from the Earth to interrupt a long-awaited feast with chaos...

It's Go Play NW!

This map is a little preview of the new venue for Go Play NW, the Richard Hugo House in Seattle's Capitol Hill Neighborhood. I'll be there running Apocalypse D&D microdungeons (and maybe some other stuff), along with dozens of others gamers and all-around awesome people. Registration is open now. Go Play NW is a great time, and well worth the cost of entry. We would love to see some of you there!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dungeon Dressing: Scriptorum

A scriptorium is nothing more than a room where acolytes or other trained scribes are employed to copy books or scrolls. Within these limitations, a broad range of arrangements are possible. Scriptoriums of the religious, arcane, or commercial sorts are possible. Arcane scriptoriums in particular may require special magical security measures if the material itself is at all magical. Even a small typographical error can cause catastrophic results. Those employed in these places are often lesser underlings who spend long hours at tedious work. As a result, there always the temptation to tuck away a particularly choice bit of script for personal use or enjoyment. Such a hidden stash might include valuable arcane lore, magic spells, or religious secrets. Petty gossip or pornographic poetry is just as likely to be the subject matter, though occasionally these can be valuable pieces in their own rite.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lair of the Salamander

A primordial elemental of anger that once aroused will not be turned aside until it has consumed itself and all around it

A brilliant maker of artifacts, dabbling in dangerous techniques in his unstinting quest for perfection

A rare and valuable reagent gathered from a forbidden source

An grizzled veteran of many campaigns, her courage shaken by self-doubt

An enchanted arm band, containing a bound planar entity, capable of working powerful and disturbing transformations on the wearer

PS: And yeah, adventurers, just TRY to get across those lava pits to do whatever you need to do over there!

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Deeper into the Mines

Last night, Gabe, Phil, and I fired up Apocalypse D&D again to continue our adventure in the mines of Khunmar.

When we last left them, the party was trapped in a flooding room with the Antlion King. Ebag the Thief was unable to disable the trap, but with his enormous strength, Karl was able to bust down the door before Ston the Dwarf started to seriously drown. The Antlion King got away in the fracas, however.

Beyond the flooding room, behind a secret door, the party found the Antlions’ real treasure, a horde of coins and some minor magic items. As they were counting it out, however, a group of goblins entered through the *other* secret door. Seems they’d been skimming Antlion treasure for weeks. There was a tense standoff, and one of the frightened goblins shot Ebag with a crossbow (dropping him to -1 HP) before fleeing for their lives.

Some time later, in their search for the escaped King, the party discovered a large cavern where a group of ogres had set up a sort of bar where the various monster groups met in relative neutrality. Since several goblins were already there (including the party’s escaped prisoner Toe Snap), there followed a tense dinner discussion. The goblins ended by handing the party a couple of tasty adventure hooks, then slipping away into the gloom.

But here’s the thing. The goblins definitely got the better of the discussion, thanks to some failed rolls, and ended up handing the party a potentially deadly mission to a lost secret library haunted by a ghost. I was a little nervous that I might have set them up for a TPK, but their native caution served them well. Not only did they get out with the book the goblins wanted, but they avoided the ghost. They did leave behind a potential trove of good loot, however, so I have a hunch they may come back some day.

The adventure ended back at Happy Harry’s underground bar, where the party contemplated their next move, and heard rumors of a horrible creature from another dimension.

The Apocalypse D&D hack functioned very well, with only a couple of head-scratching moments (which can be addressed by fixing up the moves some more). The new trap hunting move worked pretty well. On a good roll, the party can pretty quickly traverse a decent expanse of dungeon safely, but there are still important choices to be made regarding where and how to hunt for traps.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

The Vampire's Den

An urbane abomination, clinging to the civilized accoutrements from a dimly-remembered life

A forgotten trinket that holds the secret to a family curse

A faithful servant, assiduous in his duties, yet twisted by a gnawing madness

A cozy den, a warm fire in the hearth, kept ever stocked with goods and comforts, concealing a deadly array of traps

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Eric the Red's Dungeon

It doesn't have to be perfect, just plenty sturdy, and with a secret room. No double doors either. They always try to sell you double, but single doors work just as well. A nice big room with a table and lots of chairs for sitting and drinking in. Good solid pillars.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kickin' it Kobold Style

It's April Fool's Day, so I'm going to just take it easy, and try not to take anything seriously for a while.