Posts Tagged ‘maps’

Countercolonial Heistcrawl: some maps

August 2, 2016 Leave a comment

Over the past year or so I’ve concluded that the best way to make progress on CCH is to start a campaign, and for that I need some campaign materials – factions, equipment/units, characters… and maps.
…..for player-facing maps I like period productions a lot, with all their elisions and doubts:


Here’s the whole spice islands region, a couple of thousand miles across.

If you’re playing non-Europeans there are excellent reasons for not using these European charts. Still I think the style gain from using something more culturally appropriate…
is probably exceeded in usefulness by the gain in clarity of using something more recognisably map-like, with some pretensions to uniform scale.

…all that said, charts on a suitable scale for tactical encounters are really a recent development, and CCH’s landscape isn’t supposed to map precisely onto Earth’s (after all, I want players to contribute their own islands without fear of having Indonesians or Malaysians complaining that they’re misrepresenting their people), so I’m moving away from just using Google Maps co-ordinates.

Blah blah blah here’s an area map for the game, lifted and lightly toasted from some geographically-appropriate islandy bits – obviously, ignore text and (most) roads marked on it. Hexes are 6 (nautical) miles across, so this map is about 150 nm wide:

The game starts at 2 tiny islands that are rather dimly-outlined on this map – here, zoomed in and highlighted:
Here’s a tactical-scale map of those islands  – hexes are 100 yards (20 hexes to a nautical mile), per the last post’s ship combat rules:

Water depth in this last map is keyed to the draught of different ships – a big East Indiaman can sail safely in the darkest part, the lighter part would be deep enough for a size 3 cargo vessel, the lightest blue is for size 2, 1 and reed galleys only, and white is exposed beach sand.
No prize for identifying the islands I swiped for either of these – in fact, if you research them it’ll probably mislead you.

by the way… Dubrovnik

September 6, 2013 1 comment

no posts in a long time, and this one’s quick and lazy…

But Dubrovnik’s about as perfect a coastal fantasy fortress town as you could ask to find. And I for one didn’t know about it. Here, have some images and maps (google sat). Just swipe it wholesale; the Croatian tourist authority will probably thank you:


(janettelarobina) The fortifications are intimidatingly huge up close, but overlooked by a cliff, so there’s a catapult challenge.

There’s a straight main street from the harbour to the big gate, suitable for triumphal processions or standoffs between local princes and invading revenants.


The traditional trading circuit takes advantage of currents and also provides a 2-port buffer between the rival principalities. As the old sailor’s saying goes, “Hvar washes away all enmities.”

It dominates an island trading network and maintains an uneasy truce between the Korcula and the Sipangu.


Why do most of those guns face inland?

It keeps a string of vassal forts along the coast and around the islands that would be perfect troublesome gifts for enterprising adventurers.


the amphitheatre and Contesting Pool are useful for public address out of season

It holds annual contests against the King of the Sea, watched by anxious crowds from the surrounding lands, who fear the day that the mer-folk throw off their ancient shackles and destroy the shipping they all depend on.


archaeologists are divided on whether the landship “irrupted” from the soil like a tooth or was blasted out.

It stands guard against the Machines of the Underearth, whose landship thrust out of the ground 1400 years ago and remains, undecayed and indestructible, as a reminder of the contingent nature of human power. The equally undecayed Invasion Bridge has become an indispensable part of the local economy.

And if the PCs arrive as Southern Barbarians, without a Kuna to their name, it offers the infamous Galley-workers’ Barracks for accommodation.


Inmates pay for their food and lodging with labour, and even see a little extra money at the end of the year! It is currently estimated that a galleyman could save enough to buy citizenship after 137 years’ service.

Have two interactive maps and two photo guides for further information/inspiration.


of course, there’s a chain to protect the little harbour’s mouth. The stories of underwater caves leading right beneath the fortress are foolish local legends.

(BTW: on the map kick, check out the change in datasets between google maps’ coverage of post-Yugoslav, kinda-independent Montenegro and weirdo shut-in Albania. One satellite covers the Montenegrin side of the border (with brightly lit river), another has the other side of the river, and a third, older-looking (who knows, really) image takes over from a few miles into the territory. But if you’re short of unfamiliar gaming ground to hexify, just trolling up and down that coast has a bunch of gems for you)

Back to the bad old 6-mile hex

April 8, 2013 1 comment

So the topic of the enormous howling waste of the 6 mile hex has come up again. Here Steamtunnel remarks that all of Bethsoft’s Oblivion fits in a 4 mile square. Commenters note that verisimilitude for computer games is different from what you’d expect in an RPG.

Anyway, it is true: settlements and incident are distributed very unevenly across the land. Monsters and Manuals made this point cogently with some one-mile rectangles around Britain.

Behold Brielle. I know I’ve mentioned it before but that’s because it’s such a great little DnD one-horse town, with room for a blacksmith and a chemist’s and a mill and not much else. We can see from the still-standing 17th century fortifications exactly how big the place was 400 years ago. It’s about a third of a mile long by a fifth of a mile wide. It could probably support itself on… 2 square miles of good farmland? (that would provide 640 people with 2 acres each, which J. P. Sommerville thinks is reasonable and right now I’m too lazy to disagree). So it occupies one small corner of a 6 mile hex.

Leiden’s a more respectable candidate for a “hex of city.” That jagged square of canal-moat gives you an idea (though the boundaries of the city are less certain in fact, since successful towns always break their enceintes). At the time of its great ditch digging, Leiden was a successful linen-weaving town and trade hub, big enough to support some organized crime and intrigue with nearby cities – an ideal place for a major expedition to set off from. It’s about a mile on its long axis by 2/3 of a mile across. Not very different from burgeoning powerhouse Amsterdam in 1600, which would grow to about 4 times that area by virtue of becoming NW Europe’s major entrepot in the first era of global trade.

And between the two, if we were to lay a 6 mile hex grid down, what would we find in the roughly 5 hexes that separate them, during the 17th century (for which we actually have good maps, even if they do show west as up)?

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 11.45.38 AM

On a fairly straight line, representing a reasonable route of travel, 11 noteworthy communities (let’s call them Brielle-sized, more or less) including the regionally important city of Delft. And within convenient reach, two cities of comparable size with Leiden but greater importance: the shipping center of Rotterdam and The Hague, seat of power for the entire Dutch Republic.

My choice of the Dutch Republic is not accidental for this experiment, since it was one of the most densely populated territories in Europe at the time under consideration – it’s a good upper limit for your pseudowhatever.

Now check out the fortified palace district of the Khiva, in Khorasan (Islamdom’s Northeast Frontier province in the 10th century). You can make out the jagged line of the wall fairly clearly there: it’s a more or less N-S rectangle, about the same size as Brielle but with a totally different population profile since it represents the ruling class’s bolthole, surrounded by the unprotected city of the lower classes.

Alas we don’t have any particularly good idea of how big the whole of Khiva was in the 10th century, nor how much (far from good) farmland was required to support it. But check out the density of settlements around it. The much smaller town of Qoshkopir is about 2 hexes away (10 miles), the comparably-large Urgench rejoices in its control of the Oxus river trade route about 3 hexes away. But once you’re out of that oasis and you’ve said farewell to the meagre orchards of Hazorasp, you’re in for a 33 hex journey through friendless desert to Bukhara (more like 36 of you follow the river) or 42 hexes to the Abode of the Mad Archmage at Ashgabad. Or, for that matter, 40 hexes to Merv. Here you have to use your imagination a bit more, since the city is buried under desert scrub. But take my word for it – well over 6 square miles of dense, Ankh-Morporkian/Vornheimian urban life, with a wall around it and a separate fortified ruling quarter within (and another within that), home to (maybe) more than a million people – one of the 12th century’s premier destinations, graced by the astronomer and sometime poet Omar Khayyam, seat of the (latter, diminished) Great Seljuk sultans – it’s truly a hex full of city. On its own oasis, with a whole lot of desert around it in every direction.

What’s my point? Maybe that the 6 mile hex encourages a certain uniformity that’s not very naturalistic – or, rather, that the real world is not always very obliging in providing regular encounters. But also I think the size of hexes isn’t really important in itself: it’s really what that size implies about the world that I find interesting. Hexes tend to represent one unit of interesting stuff, for which it’s worth dropping out of fast-forward travel mode. As such they represent the degree of compression of the narrative (and the overall dangerousness of the region, since hexes also represent repetitive risk of random encounters). In the garden of the Netherlands perhaps a village is hardly worth mentioning – you could trip over a dozen on a day’s hard march. In the open steppe/desert of Khorasan, however, a string of hexes represents a logistical challenge. And one lonely watchtower is worth a playable detour.

I guess I’m saying make your hexes the size you want dramatically. And if you don’t have much to say about a certain tract of country… well, hexes are useful for tracking all sorts of stuff: gun ranges, use of supplies, visibility. I don’t advocate ditching a uniform scale to speed up desert or sea travel. But how about this: when you roll for random encounters, the number you get is the number of hexes until you have to roll again (minus one, so if you roll a 1 it’s an encounter right here). Then the density of encounters can be represented by the size of the die you roll: d4 along the river, d6 across country, d10 across the desert, d20 across the sea.

ETA: oh yeah, some other stuff I wrote about 6 mile hexes: how far you can see across the Greek Islands, and a correction to that post, which shows you can actually see pretty much the whole of the Minoan saltbox from a couple of places.

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some places you can go in Tartary

January 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 2.38.22 PM

This bit on the pools of water for cooling off old nuclear reactor fuel rods might be directly relevant to my game! (via player Paolo Greco) Especially if my players go to places like these.

But the real point of this post is this here: a google map of some locations in my Tartary game, with captions. As I see it there are 2 great disadvantages to using real-world locations for your game and fantasying them up:
(1) people who can’t tell fantasy from reality might get upset about what you’re saying about their home (especially if you say it’s a great place for radioactive horror);
(2) people who can’t wrap their head around the fact that you’re presenting them with fiction might demand you do more research and get it right. To show respect or some such.

I reckon these quibbles are totally blown out of the water by the fact that now I don’t have to draw a map. And players can point to places in between my Interesting Points and ask me “what’s there and why shouldn’t we use it as our base of operations?”

Also I can update it as the campaign progresses with new data points.

Also, you know these can be collaborative? Like, your players can add disinformation stuff they’ve discovered and map your campaign for with you?

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Ultra simple mecha hack suitable for playing with your kids

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment

You will need: Hex map (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), mecha counters showing facing, 1d6. Either paper for each player to record mecha info or, if you want to get fancy, cards to deal out for the Weapons and Specials.

Build your mecha

Draw from a deck of cards or roll dice to select a weapon and a special feature to deck out your giant robot chassis. By default all mecha have 8 HP.

1. Rocket fists: max range 3 hexes, Damage D2 and spin target around 180 degrees
2. Cannon: range 6, damage d2
3. Blunderbuss: range 3, dam. D6, then take a turn to reload
4. Missiles: Minimum range 3, max 6. Damage D6
5. Hatchet: range 1, damage d6
6. Harpoon: range 4, damage d3, drags opponent closer by 1 hex each turn unless opponent breaks the cable by rolling a 6.

Apart from weapons listed above all mecha can punch (range 1, damage 1).

1. stickymines (2 of em): Range 1, autokill in 2 rounds unless the opponent rolls a 6
2. more engine: +1 move point
3. jump jets: move 2 hexes in any direction, end with any facing
4. Armour: +4 HP
5. Can opener: range 1, if you roll a 6 you can steal opponent mecha and your mecha becomes inactive.
6. Super dodge (2 of em): declare before anyone rolls to hit: attack automatically fails.

I say mecha but with a light reskin this could work for Pokemon, Barbie, Lego Friends... you know, with hugs instead of missiles.

I say giant robots but you could reskin this any way you wanted – and who wouldn’t love a version where adorable candystripe ponies blow kisses and give hugs – or maul each other with missiles and hammers?

Turn Order

Roll for initiative to see who moves first. If players have multiple mecha then everyone moves one mecha in initiative order, then everyone’s second mecha etc. After everyone’s moved, everyone gets a chance to turn one hex-side (60°) to react to the new situation.
Then everyone fights: physical attacks first, then shooting. Roll saves/whatever to react to that, take damage.


Mecha can only move straight forward and turn. Each mecha gets 4 movement points every turn to spend on moving forward (1 hex = 1 point) and turning (one hex-side = 1 point).


Range in hexes = your difficulty to hit on 1d6 – so maximum range is 6 hexes. You can shoot/fight into the front 3 hexes only. Physical attacks go first. resolve all damage/death at end of turn.

Ways you can complicate this

All mecha can also Charge (range 1 – into hex directly ahead only, damage = the number of hexes you moved this turn, and the charging mech takes 1 recoil damage)
1 move point to go up or down 1 level (marked on some maps). You cannot cross a boundary of more than 1 level. Roll 3+ to avoid losing 2 move points when entering/crossing water. Roll 4+ to exit a mud/sand hex. To cross a gorge either use jump jets or run 3 hexes in a straight line that turn (to do a running jump).
Each side has multiple mecha, but only one pilot – the rest are remote controlled. Kill the pilot and the whole side goes down.
pilots can run around outside mecha, try to break into mecha: move 1 hex a turn in any direction, roll 5+ to grab onto a mecha and start climbing. Reach cockpit one turn after climbing, roll 6 to get inside. Pilots have 1 HP.


Wampus reskin

Wampus reskin

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Pseudo-medieval city maps

November 13, 2012 5 comments

Roger of Roles, Rules and Rolls has reminded me to share some cities suitable for medievalish gaming.

See, I love Vornheim but I can never get comfortable generating cities procedurally on the fly the way Zak does because I feel like I need to have a real overview of the whole city in order to be able to run anything in it, because I want to know how far the players will have to run and around how many corners to reach the gate or the sanctuary of the temple when the angry mob comes after them.

And although Merv, Constantinople and Ankh-Morpork are all steaming cities of millions, I also like my in-game cities to be recognizably finite because then you don’t get the condition of anonymity and easy invisibility that adventurers tend to take for granted.

And I love drawing maps but I hardly ever actually do it because (a) time, (b) my maps don’t have that all-important element of the unexpected and irrational – they are designed for my current purpose, while actual places are always designed for a million conflicting purposes and so that’s why people routinely do stuff nobody would ever do like putting the prison and mental hospital next to the armoury.

So instead I use real places. Every time I travel I bring back a map. And there’s a surprising number of immediately usable real places right on Google Maps, which still have the outlines of “medieval” or “early modern” cities. So here’s a few. Be warned, the links below are mostly to HUGE images.

Let’s start with the most obvious candidate:

Venice was a bustling metropolis in its 15th century heyday, big and tangly enough to hide legendary assassins, secret police forces, multinational trading houses, a fearsome navy and a shadowy ruling cabal. And it still has a pretty similar street plan today – good enough for gaming needs, anyhow. Need to know the main sights? Go check out some tourism site, but basically the seat of government and sea trade tax office is right on the main wharf on the south side, by the mouth of the grand canal, and the navy yards are on the east end, and the bit that looks industrial on the west end was added in the 19th century, so lop it off if you don’t like that in your burlap medieval mudhellscape. Google map. Note that square Isola San Michele is the necropolis and that the church on the end of Dorsoduro, Santa Maria Della Salute (south side of the southern entrance of the grand canal) is an architectural charm to ward off the plague, which was still a recurring problem in the 18th century. If you can’t make RPG hay with that I don’t even.

Brielle in south Holland changed from the 16th century to the 17th and then gave up.


It still nestles in its cozy girdle of cannon forts waiting for the French, while next-door Rotterdam (which rather dominates this google map) metastasized out of its enceinte, got bombed to rubble, and re-emerged as a thoroughly 20th century industrial hub. The big white building’s the church (more obvious on this bird’s eye view), the rest was at one point almshouses, linen-processing yards, boatbuilding, stabling, and orchard gardens for the richer folks against the threat of siege. Note that it has exactly one main street where all the reputable taverns are located (that’s Hogsmeade right there), and before cars came along you could close the gatehouses on the moat at night, like at (delicious Victorian confection) Carcassonne, which I include even though it should already be in your library:

I’ll forgive you this time for not knowing about the fortified island at Concarneau [Google Map] [useful tourist map], a sort of Carcassonne-on-the-sea but less footled about:

but you should really already know about Mont St. Michel

and be ready for when the players decide to knock over that dominating abbey.

Although the “medieval” towns of Tuscany are as mucked about by Mussolini as Carcassonne was by Viollet le Duc, as far as gaming goes that really just makes them better. Thus stereotypically hilltop Siena –

(Florence’s competitor, arrested after the 15th century by the plague, for our much later benefit) in 2 maps that are confusingly shown rotated one from the other but together get the idea across, gives you enough courtyards and palaces and back alleys for all your flashing blades skullduggery, plus the ludicrously dangerous horse race around the central “square,” Il Palio, beloved of James Bond location scouts and Travel Channel specials.

Smaller but no less reconstructed San Gimignano has a baffling profusion of towers suitable for spying on the population, hurling heretics off, storing grain or calling the multicretic faithful to prayer in an appalling religious cacophony 16 times a day.

This map doesn’t show you the towers, alas, but oddly google maps steps up with an oblique bird’s eye, with captions. The size of San Gim is a useful reminder that these tiny little villages really were important urban centers 400 years ago. Wee Siena supposedly (unless Mussolini made it up which would be just like him) had/has 17 semi-autonomous districts that competed with each other in business, crime, church decoration and lunatic horse-racing. Which should give you a sense for what “locally famous” might mean. It’s also really easy to get lost in these small spaces: trust me, when everything’s whitewashed, even little Mykonos town can turn you around and around for hours.

Amsterdam was also a pretty small (but globally important) town up to about 1900 and, usefully for us, after that it expanded outward rather than effacing its old street plan in the center, so many of the buildings in the center date from the 1600s.

In 1649 (pictured in the map above) it was in the middle of its golden age: it was Europe’s biggest center for shipbuilding, a major hub for banking, international finance, the gold, silver and diamond trades, and (largely, maybe) controlled Europe’s access to the 4 noble spices, needed for holding the plague at bay and for entertaining in high society. It was also (perhaps) the most tolerant, multi-culti melting pot in Europe, home to deposed nobles and Jews from Spain and Portugal, middle-European economic migrants and refugees from the 30 years war, and a whole mess of troublesome Protestants and other heretics. This fascinating 5 minute video gives you a sense of the slow fits and starts with which it expanded, but to really get the size of the Jewel of the North Sea, I’ll tell you that it’s a 10 minute walk down the long 16th century axis from the harbour mouth to the south end of the Singel (enclosing canal/inner edge of those multiple rings of canals) and that’s adjusting for traffic and walking through the red light district. Note both in the map above and the last link, south is confusingly more or less at the top of the map.

Heading east to my favoured territory alas the Russians did a pretty good job of effacing backward and anti-modern Turkestan and replacing it with post-Soviet and anti-modern Central Asia.

There are hollowed-out museum cities (Khiva here has a weirdly lacey, patchwork quality after the monuments were “cleaned up” by having the houses around them removed) but you have to use your imagination and there’s certainly no obvious easily-stealable urban fabric. Following that last map link though you can see the extent of the old walled city (ie the elite expensive bit) pretty clearly. Mythopoeic Ramblings has already posted this lovely necropolis, which is useful too.

Supposedly the Islamic City is defined by a knotty tangle of semi-private courtyards and alleyways and underporches that makes it hard to map in a top-down way (although mostly when people say “the Islamic City” they mean “Fes“), so Zak’s methods seem tailor-made for this kind of confusion. But Chinese-influenced cities tend to have a brutal (but often subverted) regularity to them. Thus the capital of China’s legendarily cruel and paranoid First Emperor, Chang-an (shown in that link in its 19th century refiguring but there you are), and northern Thai (Lanna) stronghold, Chiangmai:

[google map to compare] which is about as square as Thailand’s “first capital,” Sukhothai:

give you a sense of life and love in the time of autocratic government.

Less geometric and considerably more fun, Ayutthaya in the 17 and 18th centuries had quarters for visiting Arab, Chinese and European tribute-traders, intrigue galore, a Greek con-man grand vizier, massive flammable palaces for state cremations, and Samurai bodyguards for the king. It’s also a demonstration case for the problems of generating maps from textual sources. Amusingly/irritatingly, the most useful map is not this complete image (nor google’s tidy map) but this dodgy partial pic out of a book:

Now it’s a “historic park” with the emphasis on “park” – crumbling temples separated by golf lawn grass, its solid stone Manhattan skyline still gives you some sense of the weirdness of arriving in a place with different gods:

but if you were to sail there in the 17th century in your trading ship, after navigating a hundred miles of jungle river you might start to lose faith in the supremacy of your cannons. You might be unnerved to be greeted by inspectors dressed as monkey demons, and bewildered to arrive finally in a City of Giants or Animate Statues, chillin’ right now, but ready to take offense at your barbarous ways.

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Want some real history? Don’t value your eyesight too much? Have some ship plans

November 9, 2012 Leave a comment

model of a 1938 liner cabin for all your death on the Nile needs. Click on the picture for pretty much the same size image here on the Dystopian Pokeverse or click on the text link right there in the previous sentence to go to the original database. Then you can click on the picture on the db page to get (sigh) the same size image again. BUT THEN you click “groter” under that image to get (sometimes, somewhat) higher res. I would do all that for you and publish the results, hexed up and cleaned up and high contrast, but I’m busy until at least February, sorry.

Here’s a section through a late 18th century warship of 64 guns for all your American revolution/French and Indian War type stowaway needs. And below, a nice, clear section, deck plan and cabin plan of an 1806 frigate for all your Napoleonic Dutch Aubrey/Maturan-manque needs.







And the same multi-view treatment for a French 24 gun corvette of 1832 for all your Belgian revolt/alt-history “rescue Marx from the time-travelers” needs.

All courtesy of the Rotterdam Maritime Museum, via their amazing treasure trove database of all things maritime, maritiemdigitaal. Which is totally searchable and useful if you play with it for a couple of weeks and also happen to speak Dutch. You might find it more searchable by doing a google image search on it though, using a search term like “ship model” and restricting your search to