Saturday, July 1, 2023

Of Marshalled Lands and Messy Maps

In looking at my campaign map, which is the 'official' map I'm working with for Hack'D & Slash'D (which I had hitherto referred to as 'the Broken Vale'), I realized that the map showing the Desert of Desparing Souls was not compatible with the map I've been using for the Desert of Despairing Souls of my Arath solo game. And my first thought was, 'well that's a problem'. And then my second thought was (putting on my best Bob Ross), 'well, what a happy accident'. I made the maps a year apart for different purposes, so they have some shared concepts, but different locations.

Because let's talk about medievel maps. Until the late 1300s, they were messy and inaccurate and contradictory (and sometimes beyond 1400 too). They relied on a variety of accounts to generate their estimated locations, and then took a guess when they weren't sure. A desert, in particular, would be especially hard to map. What points of reference are you using? You were feverish and dehydrated and going through a sandstorm for three days, but SURE, we trust you that it is exactly twenty-two leagues between those points. No doubt.

Now, in a fantasy world such as this, magic would provide significant help - until it didn't. Yes, an Augury (or Dark Argury) spell might give you answers, but these answers might be cryptic, coded, or incomplete - so you make assumptions that may or not be true. If you ask Ubek where the Ruins of Vas Anok are, he might tell you to walk to that place, because that is where he intends to meet those on the road to Vas Anok - that is where you will 'find' it (from his point of view), even though it is not where it is located. You can only find it by getting lost first. 

Some cultures might have symbolic rather than literal maps. Why yes, the dwarf kingdom IS ten times larger than anything around it. It sure feels that way to us. The other lands don't really matter, so we made them really tiny on our maps. Your point is?

And then I thought that maps are stories (probably why I like them so much). They are stories about us. So, if a human is going to commission a map (because that is something humans do), he (this is totally a guy thing to do) would also want to be able to name it. And he would not name it 'broken', because that implies a lack of control. So, even though EVERYONE calls it the broken vale (because this place is pretty broken), he would decide that these are called the Marshalled Lands, because by mapping them and naming places, he has brought them under some form of control. They are under a banner of sorts, because they have been mapped and there is a written law that puts all things so mapped under the High Marshal's Dominion. 

Oh, well that settles things for sure. No doubt the elves are going to completely bow down and let you garrison troops. They didn't know that you'd put it on PAPER and everything. That's, like, really official. So, this map is very official. Until it isn't.

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