27 February 2017

The Project

First off, let’s talk a little bit about my background. I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons for as long as I can remember (about 20 years). One of my earliest memories is waiting for my Dad to come home from work so I could play my first game of D&D. That first character was an elf named Zeniff. We had later forgotten I played that character, and my family insisted I hadn’t played D&D before we moved to our new house; they insisted my first character was my cleric, Paul. When I was in high school we found Zeniff’s old character sheet, so I could finally prove I played D&D at the old house. Anyway, we played using the old BECMI boxed sets in the Known World, and were pretty isolated from anyone else who played D&D until middle school and high school.

When I was in middle school I played a few games of Alternity, Rifts, and World of Darkness with my older sisters’ friends who were in high school. It was about the same time that I became aware of the 3rd Edition of D&D and other RPG groups. I DMed my first game when I was a sophomore in high school. It was also during high school that I began to read RPG forums (like ENworld) and blogs. By the end of high school, I had made so many houserules and adaptations from other games in order to ‘fix’ D&D that I decided to create my own game system. The first complete version was finished by the end of 2010; currently I’m in the middle of editing, reorganizing and rewriting large parts of my system. I’ll post more details about it at some point in the future.


On to the matter at hand, I am currently studying Geography at the University of California Northridge. I will be graduating at the end of this semester and am working on my capstone project.  My project will consist of building a web map and analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of such an application, specifically in regards to fantasy and rpg maps. 

Computer based mapping in the form of GIS software has been around for several years. Digital map making is nothing new, but for a long time only those with the right skills and training could make use of GIS software in order to create digital maps. The end result was often a static map, in paper form, or as a part of a digital presentation. The basic cartographic design has remained relatively stable in this transformation of medium. However, the introduction and widespread use of web maps is having a dramatic effect on the profession. The ability of a web map to be interactive affects many of the basic assumptions about creating a good map. Things as simple as zooming in and out and panning around on a web page influence how a map is perceived and used. With the web map, the main concern is how the map will be used by the public more than strictly adhering to any single dogma of how to make a good map.

In the midst of all this change in the field of cartography, publications dealing with the fantastic are left behind. The common paperback novel still has the same style of generic fantasy map that persisted thirty years ago. Maps of fantasy worlds have been published in RPG books for decades with little change. These maps are also often released as pdfs, but they were designed to be printed either as poster or on a page in a book. The cartographers of the RPG industry rarely use or make hand drawn maps, but they are not using GIS software either.  Campaign Cartographer, Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Publisher are common software programs used among fantasy cartographers. The maps produced are often aesthetically pleasing, but of little use if trying to describe a location.

The goal of this project is to show how fantasy cartography can make use of modern technology and how that will benefit those who play RPGs. The webmap I construct will showcase the world of Mystara.

The world of Mystara is a fantasy setting that was developed for the Dungeons and Dragons game in the early 80s. It was specifically made to introduce new gamers into a setting that contained all the elements of Dungeons and Dragons and showcased how a new Dungeon Master might create a fantasy world. Most of the countries in the setting were modeled after a real world historical cultural in order to show new gamers how to use different aspects from history as inspiration for a fun game. The actual world map was derived from a paleogeographic map of the earth during the Jurassic period. Ultimately many different versions of this setting were published over the course of about 15 years in many different game books. These publications often contradicted each other or redrew the map in some places. A lot of work has already been done by fans in solving contradictions and filling in gaps. However, a lot of this work has been undertaken under some faulty assumptions and are not geographically accurate as a result.

This project will focus on the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in the fantasy world of Mystara. The culture of the area can be described as resembling medieval England shortly after the Norman conquest in 1066. The country covers an area of approximately 22,260 square miles, an area slightly larger than modern Croatia. The reason for focusing on this area is to limit the scope of the project, in addition to the fact that this area has the greatest amount of detail published about it within the world of Mystara.

As stated previously, the work of others, though amazing and not to be belittled, has almost entirely been based on some false geographic assumptions. The first and probably most important detail ignored is the origin of the world map. The world of Mystara is clearly stated to take place on earth long ago in one of the rulebooks (even though it is also stated that the Dungeon Master can change this fact).
The home world of human player characters as portrayed in the D&D Basic, Expert, Companion, and Master sets is . . . simply our real one, but at a point in the far past. The land masses diagrammed in the Companion set are a rough depiction of the ancient world of Pangea. The continents have only begun to drift from their early unified position, following the modern theories of the shifting tectonic plates. . . We have the elements of fantasy to this likely early configuration, and the result is the campaign world described in the boxed sets and adventures. This period of Earth’s history is therefore known as the Age of Magic. (DM’s guide to Immortals, p. 5)
In addition to this several times in recent years the creator of the world, Frank Mentzer has stated that the basis of the world map was a historical map of Pangea.

“Some of the Suits wanted to create their own in-house campaign world for D&D (i.e. no royalties for a change) and thus Mystara was born. It started with a worldmap of Pangaea from Francois Froideval, twiddled by yours truly, and introduced in brief in the DM's Companion and extended to the entire world in the Master DM's Book." (Frank Mentzer, 4 Aug 05, http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=106&t=10717&p=216320&hilit=Francois#p216320 )

during BECMI the topic of a Base World did come up, and Tom Moldvay had included certain details in his set (and Zeb's X-1 module likewise). I remember discussing the topic with various folks (mostly Gary), and Francois Marcella Froideval contributed a map of earth dating geologically somewhere between single-land-mass preprepreprehistory and the current state of continential drift. (Frank Mentzer, 2 Sep 10, http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=106&t=35588&p=947988&hilit=Francois#p947988 )

Though Francois and I had frequent contact, as we were both creative friends of Gary, I wasn't familiar with the things he did while he visited TSR. I don't even know if he was an employee. Early in the period that I was developing BECMI I had openly invited everyone to contribute or participate, and Francois retooled the historical map of Pangaea (Earth before continental drift) as a suggestion for my new world, and I accepted it and took it from there. (Frank Mentzer, 31 Aug 06, http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=10717&start=1500 )

“We played with plate tectonics as early as '82 (when Francois pushed it)” (Frank Mentzer, 23 Oct 13, http://www.thepiazza.org.uk/bb/viewtopic.php?f=85&t=11264&p=134142&hilit=francois#p134142 )

This idea of setting D&D as Earth’s Age of Magic was ignored in later publications, so numerous contradictions grew up between the early publications and later expansion material.

“One interesting side effect: since I was doing the entire boxed set line alone, and since TSR was using committees for most of its designs of that magnitude -- a procedure with which I simply refuse to comply; I almost always work alone -- I was not only uninvolved with the Mystara world line but was also never consulted about anything in it” (Frank Mentzer, 4 Aug 05, http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=106&t=10717&p=216320&hilit=Francois#p216320 )

Figure 1


The modified map of Pangea was presented in the Masters set as seen in figure 1 without any geographical reference (latitude or longitude, projection, scale), and any work that subsequently expanded on it has been guesswork. Taking the statement that Mystara is earth in the past as a basis, then it follows that earth’s geography and everything we know about mapping the earth’s surface should be applied to Mystara as well. If modern paleogeographic maps are examined, it can be seen that the map of Mystara closely matches that of the late Jurassic period (http://www.scotese.com/late1.htm ), yet the match is not exact. A map of the same geologic time period must be found that would have been available to the publishers of Dungeons and Dragons before the release of the continental and world maps of Mystara. From the quotes above it can be surmised that work on the world map had begun as early 1982 or 83. This was well in advance of the publication of the Companion set which was released in 84. A map matching our criteria can be found in a publication about rainfall patterns in the Mesozoic (Parrish 1982). This map almost perfectly matches that of the world map of Mystara(compare Figure 2 with Figure 1). Based on the original paleomap I will be using the Mollweide projection to map Mystara.
Figure 2

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