Year of Contradictions
This year been a roller coaster for me, both personally and professionally. Seems to mirror the state of the RPG hobby in general in a way, WotC keeps stumbling while still somewhat holding on to the crown. So many other publishers have risen to the challenge and have been publishing a whole range of innovative games, supplements and tools. Our hobby is taking a step forward into a more diverse future, which I think is a good thing.
For me its been a year of mistakes, struggles, and creative highs. I've lost several people that have meant a lot in my life this year, the last one a week ago. Despite living a privileged life in Southern California, war and loss, have touched me like so many others around the world. Almost daily I see post from friends in the industry suffering from loss of income, illness and uncertainty and suffering in many other ways. I had a computer breakdown due to a power failure and had to rebuild it (twice) and change out parts, and get a powerful APU to protect my hardware and data in the future. This proves that you should not try and save money on protection, problems will hit you from time to time, so be prepared.
This is depressing, but also highlighting my relatively good position thanks to all of you who keep my going, both literary and figuratively. You help keep my financial situation from ruin and you keep me coming back to mapping Greyhawk again and again when I feel like giving up. After my computer breakdown and I had to dig into savings and get things going again I had my first really serious wish to stop mapping places that doesn't exist and trying to get a real job instead. When I feel the worst, my long established coping mechanisms kick in. Work hard, exercise and sleep. My instincts are to keep to myself and isolate, trying to make up for my shortcomings which is a dual edged solution.
I took a week off and then came back determined to try my best and make it work. My reason behind this is that 2023 has also been a year where I feel I have developed more in my skills and creativity than any other time in my decades of doing this. For the first time I'm starting to get a deep understanding of both the tools and also a much better understanding of Greyhawk and a vision of what I want to do. Earlier I just wanted to make the most detailed photoreal maps possible, now I think I've found a way to balance the visualisation of the world and its details and the needs of the game and what to leave to be imagined by us when when play the game. This have led me to add a bit more emphasis on things like heraldry and the history and development of places as well as maps themselves.
Time to go over all the things that have not gone well this year, and that is a long list. First out is my high $50/month tier which quickly turned out to be a bad idea that I wasn't ready to handle. I had the idea that I could organize and channel the interest I'm custom maps I received on a regular basis, but it it ended up with demands for things I felt I wasn't very good at doing, and this means I got even less done in a the little time that I had to do it. It is not my strength to quickly doodle something that i haven't formed a vision for. My own projects I plan in sages trying to build n previous work and reusing knowledge, assets and already made stuff. Now I was often finding myself in unchartered waters with only a limited time to produce something, that does't suit me well at all. This is something I will have to try and reach out next year to all who has been affected by my shortcomings and try to repair the damages I've caused.
Commissions follow a similar line, but with me feeling a bit less guilty. I had several commissions in the pipeline for 2023, and one way o the other they have all been failures. One I worked on for 5 weeks, and produced a map I'm really proud of despite having to rush it a bit. Delivered it, and never heard back, not even a thank you. Another big project I am involved in are being on hold for now, and no one knows when or if it will get going again. The third project broke down due to communications and unrealistic demands, so I pulled the plug on that one at an early stage. Being in the situation of not having to grab every opportunity makes this possible for me, how other freelancers who are not so fortunate have to suffer through I can only try to imagine.
All of this turmoil and my way of coping with it lade the ground for the next big failure in 2023, lack of communication. I'm so glad I have a presence on Twitch, both on Jay Scott's LordGosumba channel and my own mapping live streams. They have a time and place, and they force me to interact with others, and are hard to opt out of. Once the streams are going I love to do them, but I often feel dread before, especially for doing lonely mapping live streams. Afterwards I feel much better having done them. The same goes for my games, I dread running games before the sessions but love to do it once we get started and I fell the engagement from the players, afterwards I feel great.
Lendore Isle and Ratik
A discussion on missed goals would not be complete without mentioning Lendore Isle and Ratik, my two announced projects that have not yet been received enough attention and love. Lets start with Lendore Isle, that won a vote to be my next project years ago. I then worked on if for quite a bit and then it got complicated. I worked with Len Lakofka to try and make my version to be compatible with everything he created for the Island. The first hiatus came when Len got diagnosed with cancer and we had to pause. This also gave me a time to improve my skills since I felt they were not up to the task. Around two years later when Len had recovered work commenced again at a lower pace, but tings where moving forward and my skills had also improved. A halfway decent terrain became the result of it, which wasn't bad, but not good enough in my opinion. I started to figure out how to improve things when Len's cancer came back and the project was on hold again. We now know that Len never recovered from the second round, and my Lendore Isles have to continue without him. Then I was informed that there was other Lendore projects underway in the Greyhawk community and I decided to hold off a bit and see what came out of it, and have even more source material to work with. That is where I am now with my Lendore Project. I'm ready to start again soon, and I have a hunch that Lendore might be a perfect test case for trying out Gaea 2 when it comes which should be soon.
Ratik is more straight forward, I did a "best I could at the time" effort which I felt was far from where I wanted things to be. It was my failed work on Ratik that led me to realize that I needed a new approach. I sat down with World Machine and tried to work out solutions to the limitations with rivers and large terrains. It took me a couple of years to get a decent result, and in the meantime I overhauled my Flanaess map and extended it to include Hepmonaland which could all be done using Photoshop and Illustrator. I used Shield Lands and my own campaign as a testbed for a new generation maps. I will get back to Ratik, it is an area that geographically is the closes to my native Scandinavia that it is irresistible for me. I want to show of my mapping prowess with a cold temperate land with deep forests, mountains, mighty rivers and all the other features of this type of terrain.
This have been a lot of negativity, and I felt it was needed to write it, get it said so you know more of what is going on. From now on its going to be positive stuff, because there are a lot of that too!
I have posted over 40 times on my Patreon blog in 2023, which is not too far of my goal of a weekly post. Some post are very quick small things that doesn't count for much but others are long essays with lots of graphics which makes up for the shortfall a bit.
The big hit this year, if I look at positive feedback, must be heraldry with close to 400 shields made all in all and around 150 made in 2023. It is fun, and doesn't take weeks and months to finish, they tie into the lore of the setting, I love to do them so expect more heraldry and related stuff like banners and flags going forward.
My next accomplishment I'm really proud of is that after a decade of trying to establish a new "mapping standard" after retiring my old Bryce based Flanaess mapping, I have finally managed to find a new workflow that get me the results I want in a predictable manner. It was a long slog of trying to figure out how to do it, I've tried half a dozen tools and spent several years of work trying to get my feeble brain and equally underpowered computer to force software to do that it wasn't made to do. Shield Lands have been my test bed and now I'm getting the results I have always dreamt of, and I have found my new style. Now I want to sit down and work on if for several hours a day to just do this and in a few years I will have mapped a significant part of Greyhawk in this much better way.
My next accomplishment this year is to finally have my GIS conversion project well underway. It has been a lot of learning to get to this point. GIS is difficult enough when all you need to do is to present data in the form of a good looking map. What I need to do is to first create the data to be presented which makes the whole thing much more difficult. A lot of the ground work is now done and I'm making daily progress.
2023 was the year I organized my own Greyhawk campaign properly, from having lived in old binders, word documents, RealmWorks, Evernote and even an old Access database - it is now being properly organized in a Obsidian.md MeyerHawk vault. This have been a godsend in improving my knowledge and vision of Greyhawk and ideas for both my campaign, heraldry and blogposts have come from it. The Iuzian Zombie Goats came from organizing my Iuzian notes. Hand in hand with this project have been my House Rule development, my first serious take on the rules of my own games. So many great D&D creators who have given me inspiration and insights in RPG design, which have guided me in my work trying to make my own version of the game suited for my own games, more on this project below.
My website upgrade is worth a mentioning here, but for the amount of work it involved and also to remind me that it is time for another overhaul again very soon. Way more content is being hosted on it, and it need to be found easier and presented much better. I'm looking into solutions for this, and also trying to plan for hosting things like GIS map server and my rules database as well. This will require way more, and there are lots of options.
The March of Moore's Law
Progress in the world of tech that seemed to have been sputtering a bit for some years is coming back, big time. Both hardware and software are making advances that affects what I do. The most obvious one is AI that have now reached a level maturity that makes it both useful, disruptive and potentially dangerous. The view in creative circles here in the US are, for very good reasons, very negative pointing out things like, sourcing of the training data, job losses and other negative aspects of the technology. In my native Sweden the view is way more positive with a much more probing attitude of how can these tools be used, what are the limitations, and a the negatives are much more focused on security risks, political influence, hybrid warfare, cyber weapons, augmentation and control of lethality in warfare.
In many ways the opposite from here in the US, and I'm torn between the two views seeing merits in both ways of looking at AI and its implementation. Short term I'm to benefit from it, it can help me do better work much faster with things like programming, augmenting procedural workflows, quickly create textures and other assets and more. In a some years, a lot of what I do can probably be done by AI with a bit of guidance or at random by publishers and DM's to create the maps they need without the need for me to do them. This doesn't mean I will be out of a job, just that I have to shift focus and concentrate more on helping others shaping their vision and how to use the tools, which means I have to start building my social skills and online presence more as a way to prepare for the changes that are coming.
Terrain creation tools have been in a "semi-sorry" state of stagnation for a decade, and I was starting to accept the fate of having few new cool tools to work with any time soon. Thankfully this seems to come to an end, new tools are coming. First out is Gaea 2.0 that has a juicy feature list of stuff that I've been wanting since Gaea was first launched, like support for large terrains. The fact that Unreal 5 now supports large terrains and other game engines are coming with support for whole planets will, if I'm right, turbocharge the development of terrain tools for creating whole worlds. My guess is that Houdini, and probably Unreal as well, World Creator, Terragen and probably Vue will come out soon with support whole planet and world terrain creation. Technically Terragen and Vue have had this for years, but its too clunky, doesn't support rivers and water properly. This will change soon I think and there will be too much to choose from, which that is a good problem to have. It also seems like a set of data standards are emerging like Cesium 3D tiles, glTF, usd/usdz and others, which a key ingredient this field really needs to take of.
New hardware is coming too, CPU's like AMD's new Threadripper with 96 Cores, NPU's and even more powerful GPU's means I will be able to ramp up both my speed, scope and quality of my work, and the data standards means cooperation and reuse of assets becomes easier. I'm following this closely trying to figure out what tools to learn and what to save up to and invest in. GIS is an example of a technology I started to learn almost a decade ago which is now starting to pay dividends, there are other technologies that I know will be even more beneficial for my work in the TTRPG field. We see that in VTT's and other tools like character- and campaign managers, which are popping up everywhere these days incorporating the newest tech. Its early days yet and very little thoughts on interoperability, data standards and overall usefulness. Most of the energy seems to be to build a content store, and create a closed in ecosystem to try and squeeze out profits. This is a great approach if you want to attract investment dollars and make a profit, but detrimental to DM's and gamers in the long run. Thankfully there are other options coming too, which I will definitely come back to next year.
Theater of the Mind vs. Realities of the Table
All this new tech and cool possibilities have made me question how much is too much? What is usable at the table (real and virtual) and what is excessive and of little use in our games. This varies of course, different games styles, and where we game around a real table or a virtual, what props we use (if any) and our personal likes.
A lot of the maps and illustrations that are now becoming available, in modules, VTT's and that can be created using more and more sophisticated tools, seems to give you more and more details but with a narrow focus. A couple of super realistic and detailed rooms, a glen, or a river crossing for example. For most gamers this must be the right way to go, I say this since my assumption are that most creators makes the content they see as useful. For me the opposite is more interesting, a wider focus and less detail. I want to know where my character is in the world, what are the options in case we have to retreat or flee. Few things are more satisfying than to be able to read the landscape and choose a wise plan of attack, very few games I played in let me do that as a player. Most encounters starts in a situation that is preferable by the DM to tell the story, but gives very little player input. Smart, savvy, heroic characters would probably have avoided the whole situation if the players would have seen all the options their characters where facing.
My goal as a DM is increased overall player awareness combined with theater of mind for details and minutia. This require detailed landscape, and settlement maps, and simple maps of locations. Rooms and indoor environments can be a bit closer to old school visualisation that the near photoreal maps often seen nowadays. Travel and exploration demands a good grasp of the land by both players and DM. An interesting side effects of using very detailed maps covering a whole area is that getting lost is a very real proposition. When you use fog of war and only see to the horizon, choosing the right trail or shortcut become tricky. Blurring out things in the distance, and slightly rotate maps over time was tricks I have used on my players to great effect. Survival rolls to find they way can be vital to get there, and ending up in the wrong place can lead to very interesting adventures, especially if the players have made the active decision to go there, rather than just failed a roll.
Depth of a Setting
How much detail should go into the lore, things like music, food poesy and visual art are great, but do they add to the game or are just a waste of prep time? Just like in the previous paragraph, it depends, but I still think it is important for DM's and players to figure out what types of detail are important and to what degree are they beneficial to the game. Take heraldry for example, some heraldry are probably a great addition to most Greyhawk games. If you run a lore heavy game where political intricacy is key you can make good use of way more heraldry than a game where exploring dungeons, killing monsters and taking their loot is the name of the game.
For me as a Greyhawk content creator I'm of course is making things useful for my own games, that way I can put in passion and dedication. At the same time I have to keep an eye out for what can be useful for a wide range of Greyhawk gamers, it is a balance which keep this endeavour varied, challenging and interesting. I'm mentioning all this because it is a discussion I have to have both with all of you, and with myself in order to evolve and be able to improve on what I do.
Governing the Play - House Rules Project
Love them or hate them "The Rules" are key to what we do, and since we like to do it in different ways we need different rules. I've been wanting to dive deeper into games design since my early days playing TTRPG's in the 80's, but I felt I needed to know more before being able to make a useful contribution. I concentrated on making maps and the like for my games instead, but this started to change a bit when I had all day to spend on mapping Greyhawk. Thanks to the explosion of blogs, YouTube channels and great tools for handling information I felt it was time for me to dive a bit deeper into game design. My ambition only stretch as far as making a version of D&D that is customized to work well at my table for the kind of games I want to run. Like with my maps I want to share what I create. Now I feel I have both enough knowledge and the right tools to be able to do it.
An alpha version is taking shape and is not far from ready to be shared. It is a classless D&D version based on EN Publishing's Advanced 5E. It is somewhat compatible with 5E, monsters, spells and items can be used as they are. Characters might need a bit of tweaking, but the basic math is very close to vanilla 5E. Working on divine magic at the moment, it will come in both domain and pact versions. For example you might be able to strike a bargain with a powerful monster, like a demon lord, a dragon or Asmodeus himself (if he is so inclined). This can give your character cool benefits like senses, innate magic, spells and more, but comes at a price which varies due to who you strike the pact with. It is an alternative to (or combination with) the more traditional divine domain magic that you are given by becoming a cleric.
Work on a creating a GIS based version of my current Greyhawk map is well under way. I'm nearing the point where all the settlement data are entered, then its time for roads borders and then all the geographical and political labels. This data entry phase will be done sometime next year, hopefully before summer. This first step means we will have a geopackage that I will share and make available as Creative Commons, just like the current map, but this is just the beginning. Now that the data is entered the fun begins. The style I'm using while entering the data is suited for digital use, which makes the most sense since its purpose is to make it easy to use inside QGIS. Other maps need to be created for other needs, like print, spread maps and much more.
Before I get to all of the new styles there is another GIS project that is VERY long overdue that I'm going to start next year, that many of you have been asking for since I first published my map on the web. I'm talking about a Reference Project, now thanks to GIS all the information will be in a database which means its is now much easier to search for, and list, sources for all the data on the map. The goal with my Reference Project is to give references to where a name comes from and where to find more information. This will be a useful resource for Greyhawk gamers, but especially to all newcomers who are starting to play in the setting. I have built a fairly extensive digital database of Greyhawk content collected over more than 30 years and I keep adding to it almost every day. With the help of all the experts in the Greyhawk community I think this is going to be doable in a year or so.
Another very important side of this project is how to organize, present and share all of this information. It needs to be available both in an online and a downloadable format. I have many ideas, that needs to be tested, and I need lots of help and input from the community on how to this right. It is a resource not for me, but for the whole Greyhawk community and it needs to be as useful as possible.
City of Hawks
Next year is the 50th year anniversary of D&D and a good time to start the project every Greyhawk mapper have to tackle, the city itself. I've been doing this for 30 years and professionally over 10 and now I feel like I know a bit about what I'm doing and also have a bit of knowledge of the setting, and a vision of what I want to do.
My goal for this project is to create a vision of the city that includes all the awesome stuff we have learned to love over the decades we have adventured in, under and around the famous city, and present it as a real place that is impressive enough to be an home for Greyhawk campaigns for a long time to come.
A rough overview of the project that I estimate will take up to 5 years working half time on it.
Phase 1: POI and facts gathering, basic layout and rough placement, documentation
Phase 2: Basic Terrain building
Phase 3: Layout and POI placement
Phase 4: Terrain Detail and Rendering
Phase 4: POI detail
Phase 5: Editing, Enhancement and Presentation
My Oerth Project is under way which has so far mostly about finding my vision for the planet Oerth. It is mostly a sketch and think project that I have to give enough to to think build and refine my vision of the planet to be both inspiring, useful and a good base to properly map the Oerth in detail.
One of my main goals for my Oerth vision is to make the plane a suitable home for a multitude of settings. The planet is vast had has lots of room, way more than I've seen anyone given it credit for. Both the DA1 map and the new Chainmail maps showed ludicrously oversized realms which to me made the inferior cartography even worse, but it is lore and I want to pay it some love so I'm trying to keep some elements from them. When I have a continental layout I'm happy with and have done some climate and and other overview maps it will go out into the Greyhawk community for a verdict in 2024.
Oerth will be a side project in 2024 with a possible first model in 2025. I'm aiming for a resolution around the current Flanaess Hepmonaland map, but in 3D. The trickiest bit will be Flanaess and Hepmonaland, where it will be very hard to match every detail. I will concentrate on other parts of the planet first and as I learn a workable solution will hopefully emerge, or we have to put this project on hiatus until I have caught up with the Flanaess later. Maps o the rest of Oerth might be very useful even if they don't have direct matches in the Flanaess. I'm making a bet here that both my skills and the tools will have improved enough in a couple of years to make this possible. It might even be the best way to go about mapping the Flanaess, start out with a lower resolution and then make high resolution maps based on them later.
This have been one of my biggest joy this year, and not only have that led to a lot of heraldry, it has also enriched both my campaign and my understanding of the setting. I fell in love with the shields in the Greyhawk 83 Boxed Set, and that have now come full circle with me adding to the Greyhawk heraldry tradition.
Apart from over 100 individual shields I've done two heraldry compendiums, which is not much yet. My plans with are to keep doing them so they can be added as pages into a book or binder. I'm working on both the Horned Society and the Great Kingdom, which I hope to be able to have done during spring. Then I want to do compendiums for Keoland, elven, Dwarven, Nyrond, The Lands of Ferrond and the Baklunish are on my list.
Twitch, Discord, Social Media and the Web
Apart from increased Twitch presence and an website upgrade, this had been a year of me underperforming. This needs to change for many reasons, and I'm painfully aware of them all. My base goal in this area are to get back into writing more, and I will treat it like PT, force my self to do it. Writing is weirdly similar to physical exercise to me, my body and mind hate the thought of doing it, making me procrastinate as much as possible to avoid it. But once I have done it for a bit I get a high from doing it, and afterwards I feel like I've accomplished something. For the record, I also feel I'm not good at either writing or being athletic. Now I have chosen a job that requires me to write so I just have to do it, and try to get better at it.
Number two on my communications agenda are Discord. It is a great resource that I'm not using anyway near enough, and that need to change. I like Twitch streaming, and as a compliment I will start work hangouts for patreons on Discord, trying to spread them out so they can be accessible for people in different time zones. It can be fun, and worse case scenario I have to sit and work at my desk like I usually do which is not bad. It can be better than Twitch with audio chat as well.
Hosting my content in a better way that present it better and makes it easier to find is a high priority. I'm currently using WordPress and Oxygen Builder for my website. I also have a Notion that I've worked with a bit, and now I'm a heavy user of Obsidian and love it. Somehow I have to figure out how to best create something that works to make my content available in a better way. Might be needing more than one solution for things to work well, Obsidian has a neat publishing service, that makes it super easy to publish your Obsidian stuff on the web . The downside are that the publish function doesn't support community plugins, which makes it a lot less useful for me. Its the database functions I need the most and they are coming natively to Obsidian soon, and this might make Obsidian the easiest option to publish content that aren't big maps.
GIS maps can be distributed in various file formats, like geopackages, geoTiffs etc., or be hosted on a sever. Ideally I need to offer both, and that is what I'm aiming at but it will take some time and cost for the server part. Notion is an option to keep in mind as well, it is very powerful and easy to use, and the costs are reasonable. For the heavy lifting of source PSB-files in 10GB size or more I need some sort of Cloud storage, Dropbox would work but is limited in size and I need it for other things, so other options need to be looked at.
My Patreon tiers are in dire need of an overhaul, they are confusing even for me. I'm working on new tiers and rewards, and I will make a detailed post about my plans and the thinking behind it early on next year.
In order to keep my cost down I have kept my convention going to a minimum, only attending Gary Con this year. 2024 is a gearing up to be a special convention year as well with the double convention in Lake Geneva in March, Founders & Legends and Gary Con in a double weekend bonanza. Convention staff work, seminars, mingle, and even a bit of gaming is on the agenda. Really looking forward to this, might be the best convention ever. I'm going to work really hard to have new stuff to show off!
Before I flew for real to Gary Con in March 2023, I flew there virtually from SoCal in my Vertigo single engined turboporop plane using the Microsoft Flightsim, VR and my cockpit setup. It was a fun set of flights across western and central US to Lake Geneva Wisconsin. Here are some screenshots from my flight, lots of beautiful scenery and very varied weather. The low resolution and weird shape are limitations of VR screenshots, in the VR headset the resolution is many times higher.
My virtual Vertigo
Mountains, winter weather and rainbows.
Dramatic winter weather..
early morning, winter weather and mountains, are gorgeous even in VR..
Frozen plains of the Midwest, and keeping an eye on Discord while flying!
We are here, Lake Geneva Wisconsin in winter dress.
Lake Geneva seen from the south, Grand Geneva and the airfield are visible to the right. Ready for Gary Con!
Thank you all so much for your support in 2023, it has made me look forward to 2024 with a positive mindset!
I which you all Happy holidays, Merry Christmas and all that!!