In January last year I had the somewhat crazy idea of setting myself a target, which I named The Cartographer’s Annual Challenge. With each month’s issue of the 2013 subscription-based CC3 add-on I would produce a map, with the only real constraint being that the content had to relevant in some way to my home-brew D&D® world/campaign, which I call Tolrendor. Twelve months on, I am very pleased to have achieved this: you can see the results here.
The motivation for starting this Challenge was simple. I have been a subscriber to the Cartographer’s Annual since its inception in 2007, and although I realise that for readers of this blog I’m mostly preaching to the converted, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve had CC3 for many years, but the reality is that it was only after the beginning of the Annuals, with their informative mapping guides and well-constructed style packs, that I really started to achieve map-making that I was proud of.
But here’s the thing! The actual number of Annual issues that I truly used was extremely low. Oh, I had my favourites, including the original hex mapping style from July 2010 (shown on the right), the Jon Roberts trio of styles, and the recent Pär Lindström regional style, but normally I simply enjoyed viewing the example images and reading the mapping guides. The Annual Challenge was deliberately designed to break that trend.
At times this content constraint turned into quite a challenge! The very first January issue was a style pack called ‘Investigation Props’, designed for modern/Cthulhu detective style games. How was I to use that for a fantasy setting? I had to rack my brain quite hard, but eventually came up with the idea of producing a handout as a pre-session recap. This proved quite timely, as my PCs were in the middle of a town-based adventure, and needed to remember the relationships between the important NPCs.
My favourite map of the whole Challenge also originated from an issue where I struggled for inspiration. The August issue was designed to depict science-fiction star systems. Beautiful example maps, but not fantasy. Then I remembered the old AD&D Spelljammer setting, one of my favourite alternate settings. After a quick rummage, I also unearthed a notebook of ancient (well 30 years old…) notes documenting the Tolrendor ‘Crystal Sphere’. So I used the basic style with its orbit drawing tools and planet symbols, but with a parchment background and some Spelljammer ships (added in Photoshop) to give a ‘fantasy space’ feel.
There was a definite motivation behind the decision that each map had to be related to my D&D setting. I don’t get nearly enough mapping time as it is, so if I was going to spend the time on the Challenge, it made sense to create maps that would be used in my campaign.
This has been great fun, resulting in maps like this overland one, detailing an area of my world that had always been sketchy before (utilising the beautiful ‘DeRust’ symbols from the September issue), or this dungeon map for a new D&D® Next campaign (although it might be 13th Age now, but that’s another story…) using the black and white style from the October issue.
There was only one map, using the June issue, that broke these self-imposed rules, and that was simply because the style just cried out for it. My son has been drawing his own world, and when I showed him the example maps for this issue, he definitely wanted a ‘Scaryland’ version. This seemed a reasonable request, so I went with it. Besides, maybe one fine day explorers will find this ‘lost continent’ on the other side of Tolrendor.
The one thing I didn’t always (often didn’t…) achieve was my target of finishing each map within the same month that the issue was released. I managed quite well for the first four or five months, but the rest were done in ‘catch-up’ bursts throughout the rest of the year. It’s something I’ll have to try a bit harder on in 2014…
Yes, that’s right, I’ve decided to repeat the Cartographer’s Annual Challenge in 2014. I’ve really enjoyed setting myself targets for mapping and having to find some inspiration for each issue last year. My CC3 skills have improved out of sight, and my campaign has benefited greatly, so why not? My January effort is now finished, so I’m on the way.
So if you’re a Cartographer’s Annual subscriber, why don’t you join me in the Challenge … let’s all get mapping and sharing!
Article by Andrew Collett (TolrendorDM on the ProFantasy community forum)