The Free Cities

Free Cities

This is a strategic map for our current campaign world. The larger region focuses on a few powerful city-states on the eastern coast of a large continent. To the west is the Skyspine mountain range, separating the civilized lands of humankind from the savage plains  known as the Hordelands. An ancient road running east-west connects the two coasts of the continent via hardy caravans that brave months of hard travel and lawless wilderness.

For city names, I just ripped off Greyhawk (Urnst & Dyvers), the Forgotten Realms (Cormyr & Sembria), the Cityscape sourcebook (Fourwinds), the Bible/history (Tarsus & Pyrrhos), and made-up noises loosely based on syllables from The Black Cauldron and Taran, Wanderer (Rhys and Llyr.)

Making the map involved a series of arcane rituals stolen from Usborne children’s books about calligraphy and map-making. Basically, decide if you want to use regular printer paper (for a crumbling, ancient feel) or heavyweight sketch/watercolor paper (for that weighty, vellum texture.) Then, take a couple of teabags (I prefer Earl Grey; it’s the classiest of the teabags) and soak them in about 2 ounces of cold water for a few minutes.

While the old bags get their soak on, place pages of your preferred paper on a cookie sheet. Grab those bags and slop cold tea all over the pages. Really soak them.

I used to just do this on the kitchen table, but my roommates eventually got pissed about me filthifying another common living space with ridiculous nerd-diversions. The cookie sheets’ rims catch most of the splatter, and they only needs a quick rinse afterwards. No fuss, no muss — and back to map making.

Splatter the tea-water around; every speck and discoloration adds a little something. Get both sides of each page so your players can move the thing in any direction without loss of verisimilitude. Nothing cracks the fourth wall like an incomplete fake-map-half-tea-stain.

Once your paper is thoroughly besotted with ol’ Earl Grey, leave it out in the unmerciful desert sun to dry for a few minutes… but grab it before it dries completely. While it’s still a little soggy, draw a nice ragged coastline with a dull #2 pencil that fits the contours of your ideal campaign. If the paper tears a little bit, so much the better.

For ragged edges, I lay a ruler gently along the edge of the paper and start tearing. This gives the nice ragged edge an old-school map needs.

Once the map is totally dry, retrace your coastline with a soft tip, black colored pencil. Throw in a few mountain ranges and rivers (draining from the ranges to the sea) and maybe some hills. A fine-point pen for place names and city locations allows a little clarity — throw in some old-timey script style penmanship and the effect won’t be lost.

At this point, I usually throw a couple strategically placed cigarette burns along the edge or center (less is more with the ol’ Joe Camel) and then roll, fold, crease, tear, and otherwise molest the final product to give it a worried feel.

Bam! Something like an old map that you can hand to your players while they ooh and aah at your artistic abilities. Call it a day.

I store maps and other papers in plastic binder protectors, organized by type and purpose. I’ll post some other shit about DM binder organization later, because I don’t have much else to do in this shithole sandbox.

Any other tips out there for aging maps or making play hand-outs?

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2 Responses to The Free Cities

  1. Pingback: The Five Duchies of Tarsus | Gonzo in Disguise

  2. Pingback: A Word About Hordes | Gonzo in Disguise

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