Flags, Banners and Battle Standard have been on my to do list for a long time, and here is first test sketch of a Shield Lands battle standard. This are fairly easy to do with some Photoshop work.
I'm fairly happy with how this first test turned out. Took me about an hour, which means I can do follow up ones much faster, when I know how to do them. The idea is for them to be somewhat unique and reflect who made it.
What do you guys think?
Its been in my todo list to convert my current Greyhawk map to use GIS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geographic_information_system) instead of Adobe Illustrator. Now after several years of getting up to speed on using QGIS and other GIS tools, I'm happy to report that the milestone is reached, all of the terrain is geo-referenced!
This means that I have placed Flanaess and Hepmonaland on my model of Oerth, with reasonable precision needs to be added. The current map is only accurate to about a mile, so that is the current data accuracy I'm working with. This is more than enough to create maps covering the whole of the Flanaess Hepmonaland down to maps of individual countries. The beauty of GIS is that now I can do the map in various scales and sizes with proper grids as needed.
Properly projected maps are another big plus, and here is the Flanaess seen from the city of Greyhawk using and "Oerthographic Projection", which means map looks look it is seen from space. This is my preferred type of projection for fantasy maps, it has very good area accuracy and gives you an great understanding of the size and proportion of things even over large areas. The main reason against the use of orthographic projections are the fact that they are ill suited for navigational calculations for real world sea- and air-farers. But fantasy adventurers rarely needs to calculate bearing to true north, magnetic deviation and similar tasks using maps. We want to know how long the road is between two towns, how large a square mile is, and what the land looks like. These are all things that an ortho based map can tell you.
Polar maps are well suited for ortho based maps, with the wealth of geography of Oerth that are situated above the northern polar circle.
To get a realistic view of how things are related across oceans as well as landmasses even closer to polar regions are a requirement for Oerth's northern geography.
For map covering the whole world of Greyhawk there might be best to use one of the many global projections, like ESRI: 54078 Natural Earth II.
This is is only the first step in my effort to create a good set of reference maps for the World of Greyhawk using modern day tools, but even at this stage things are really interesting and shows great promise.
Thank you so much for making it possible to making this project coming true!
Time for a first look at what it takes to keep the forces of the Old One at bay. The background map is a work in progress, so please forgive things like colors are not matching and features like forest are missing. Several of the lakes, especially in the north east, will be converted to bogs, wetlands, moorland or flat grassy areas. Veng and other major waterways are not edited much either, so expect lots of more detail coming.
There are enough work done of the map of this area to start detailing the defenses of Critwall. My campaign is now at the very end of 598CY and it is over 15 years since major fighting ended, and the Order of the Shield have reclaimed around a quarter of its former holdings. Critwall is, and always have been the center point for power in this region. From the Flan over a thousand years ago who built the first hillfort on the highpoint of the peninsula on the eastern banks of the mighty Veng. The white defensive line are the Flan hillfort. When the first Oeridian raiders took over the peninsula, they reinforced and improved the hillfort's defenses. From this moment forward there would be a fortress, in stone, on top of the low hill.
After the creation of the Great Kingdom Aerdy appetite for expansion grew and Critwall became a major staging point for a young, expansive empire. Not only the need to protect, now came the need to project power. No one in the region should doubt the strength, capabilities and determination of the Great Kingdom. In rapid succession a city wall (red) was built to expand the the old hillfort. A second major keep was built both to house more troops but also to serve as a temple.
The Flan had started to protect the tip of the peninsula with a earth and stone wall across (black), which also should serve as a way to protect the ports. This idea was realized and expanded on with a port district on the side facing the Veng to be able to handle river and lake traffic even under threat. Even back then the major threat came from the north and east.
When the Great Kingdom peaked around 200 CY or so, the inner defenses (white), the main city wall (red) was improved and a new ward was walled in (orange) covering the rest of the mesa. This gave the city the ability to house, and feed, a population of over 20,000 inside the walls.
The Flan who lived here in earlier times also saw the defensive nature of the peninsula and built a primitive barrier across at the most narrow point (yellow). The Aerdy used and improved this barrier, as much for tax and control purposes as for defensive needs. In my campaign this is where the Horned Society's invasion was stopped, but Iuz forces who came after where much stronger and the old mound was easily overrun.
The hordes of the Old One lay siege to Critwall itself, but the city defenses held. Sound sturdy engineering by the Great Kingdom builders, harassment from ships on the Veng which the Shield Landers and Furyondians dominated, and sheer determination of its defenders kept the city out of reach for Iuz.
As the reconstituted Order of the Shield under Katarina Walworth took over and started to claw back the invading hordes, the need for a much improved set of defensed was realized. First they used a small river valley which was given barriers to stop cavalry (green), the river banks was dug out on the western side to make it hard to crawl up it, chains, sharp poles and other nasties on top of that. A road made it easy to both control and reinforce sections in case of attacks. The main purpose of this barrier was not to stop an enemy, it was instead to delay him, buying time to secure the city in case of a major attack.
After several years of successful reconquest the area along the Veng's eastern bank all they way to the bridge across to the Veng (pink). A line formed by natural features such as rivers, lakes, wetlands and a canyon in the south was chosen as the new (provisionary) border. A number of small fortresses was built along this territory, all with access from the Veng. They served as garrisons, fall back positions that could be reinforced and resupplied from the Veng. They also served as secure shelter for the population who are now encouraged to resettle the (for this region) fertile eastern Veng bank. This line is patrolled day and night and have roads and trails to facilitate this.
Plans to take back more land from the Iuzian occupiers are under way. A new "line of interest and defense" (light blue) have been established as an outer perimeter. This is not a line to be held at all costs, it has few if any installations and is instead used to set the area the Shield Landers now want to keep a close eye on with daytime patrols along its entire length. This patrols primary purpose is reconnaissance, to make sure that any Iuzian forces big enough to be a threat are detected before they reach the purple line. Semi permanent camps and a few permanent bases are to be found in the area between the pink and light blue lines.
The dark blue lines are natural defense lines in the form on rivers and wetlands that can be used if need, something the Shield Landers are well aware of and trin for.
Katarina is building up the strength and morale of the Order, and raids into occupied territory are both more frequent and successful. The defenses of Critwall who was once a desperate necessity, are now becoming more of a reassurance.
You can download a higher resolution map here, both with and without the line marked out:
and a small version:
In my previous post "The Big Bite" I wrote about working with 64K, meaning huge chunks of terrain in one go. I wrote that I decided to work using "floating" progression, start with a single tile. Enlarge the image to cover the next tile and work on it to match the first area, then save the first area as a separate file, enlarge again and repeat. That was in February, now a few months and hundreds of hours later I know better. To effectively manage 4.2 billion pixels takes organization and persistence. To reshuffle pixels was OK to do once or twice, but to rely on in as a method was not a good idea with the same area being edited in to different places and lots of copping, copying mask and other hassles.
Back to the drawing board trying to come up with a better way of trying to edit 65,536 x 65,536 (which equals 4,294,967,296) pixels. I decided to group four 8K areas into group that I name and keep in the same file all the time to make sure that each area is only edited in a single place. Below is an overview map of my Shield Land 1-64K area with the Groups in white and the XY of each 8K cell in yellow. I haven't named the top row yet, will get to them soon.
Next step was to develop a 16K (16,384 x 16,384 pixels) template, and come up with a way to include a bit of the surrounding areas to make sure that transition was seamless. To get enough of information to make sure borders where seamless without too much overhead I decided to use 500 pixel wide border areas. I created a Photoshop file that had a 500 pixels extra in every direction. Guides both at the centers to accurately place the 8K textures and masks from World Machine, and guides both at the 16K marks and 500 pixels inside.
On the image below I have colored the surrounding area part yellow, and the 500 pixel margins from this 16K area pink. I can easily select, copy and paste this information between files. Take a look at the layers panel on the right and you can see that I placed all the layers I'm working on under Group 1, and given it a mask to make sure I don't edit outside of this 16K area. The surrounding areas pated in are above this group.
This is technical, I know, but to to set up your workflow is crucial when you work with lots of huge files and more data than you can keep track of. Naming conventions and storage strategies (including backup plans) are vital, sometimes it takes weeks, months or even years between the times you access a file. It would be hard to near impossible to find and know hot it is set up without a plan and organization. Writing blog posts like this also helps me remember how I was thinking, and then rethinking things when things needed improvement. That is a whole other topic, constant improvement.
Each 64K area are 4.2 billion pixels and the Flanaess alone with require a hundred or so areas...
You can download my Photoshop 16K template here (PSB format 17GB) https://www.dropbox.com/s/alxkb5069gwi899/Shield%20Lands%201%20-%2064K%20-%20South%20Keep%20-%201.psb?dl=0
Or you can opt for a scaled down 25% size version (PSD format 1.29GB) here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/8ejlwxzz98wplbi/Shield%20Lands%201%20-%2064K%20-%20South%20Keep%20-%201%4025%25.psd?dl=0
I'll write a detailed guide to how the file is structured soon.
A group of skilled and dedicated Greyhawk fans have put together a fan made Gazetteer detailing the Gulf of Ghayar and the surrounding lands. It is a 96-page free PDF that you can download here:
I've been gaming in Greyhawk for 40 years now, and been very interested in the geography of the setting from the time I first opened the box and saw the Darlene map. Strangely my interested of the geography beyond the Flanaess was very limited for the most of these four decades. The main reasons are lack of information and the few tidbits I've come across so far have been underwhelming, from bad maps to un-creative names (to say it diplomatically).
As my Greyhawk mapping project have grown in detail and scope the need to place the Flanaess on the globe, if the world of Greyhawk is set on a planet which most of the lore seems to suggest, have grown more and more. When I started my foray into trying to understand the planet Oerth better it was with this limited goal of placing the Flanaess, the rest I was keen on staying away from. The lore and the tension around it I felt an urge to stay out of. Now after about 5 years of cautiously and at first reluctantly trying to build an understanding of the Oerth, it have drawn me into a whole new level of fantasy worldbuilding that I have come to love.
In 2021 I presented my first generation of Oerth maps, that you can find here: https://www.annabmeyer.com/oerth-test/. Now it is time go learn from that initial attempt and create something more useful, more detailed and to try and better inspire Greyhawk gamers to venture outside of the Flanaess.
At Virtual Greyhawk Con last year I presented the map above with the areas I wanted to focus on and improve in the next generation of my Oerth Project. Fireland, Blackmoor, west of Sea of Dust, western Dramidj ocean, central Oerik, and the large isle at the NW edge of Oerik. Fireland was included on this list anticipating a Fireland source book from CASL Entertainment. Blackmoor with the goal of making it more compatible with Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign and generally more interesting and appealing (in a geographic sense, still cold and uninviting!) The lands west of the Sea of Dust had some issues with mountain ranges and layout I felt waw too ad-hoc and needed some tlc. The western Dramidj and central Oerik needed attention both for it being an area great to include geography matching other settings (more on that later) and also to adjust it as part of my findings when working on Hot and Cold Oerth variants. The far western "triangle" need some more work to make it less of a triangular extension.
Fireland I haven't touched yet, i want to leave it as a placeholder until CASL publish the sourcebook for it to not create a competing geography. Blackmoor has more of an interesting coast and more of the rivers now flow into it. Western Dramidj has been more altered to include both the geography from Lankhmar and the Gaxx Worx setting of Okkorim. This is not product placement. I'm doing it both as a way to show how large the Oerth is and it can include multiple settings of various nature, and also as a way to make the planet more interesting and useful. Further west there is also a rectangle marking an area in the central Oerik, that is where I placed the terrain of the Dark Sun setting. Our Flanaess are huge compared to these other settings that cover only a fraction of the size.
Still a lot of work to do before I feel my model is good enough but this is a significant step in the right direction, and it fulfilled my initial goal, placing the Flanaess on Oerth. The map below shows both summer and winter versions with polar views as well. Orthographic projections (as seen from space) are in my opinion the way to go as they show a realistic view of areas. Real world maps have often navigation needs with requires other projections, that are angular correct for example, or focus on a particular region. There might be a need to establish a Flanaess Projection as a standard for my Greyhawk mapping centered on that region of Oerth. That would be useful for hex and other overlays, with the drawback that they would be regional. Ortho based projections are global in nature and might be the best option for using a standard that can be used globally. That is something we have to test and very in the coming year or so.
Global climate is interesting and important not only in the real world, it is equally of great interest for me in my fantasy worldbuilding. It adds a crucial layer of understanding when it comes to who and what lives (or dies) in a region, what an area looks like and as an input for history and scenario planning.
Since the OGL debacle started it seems very fashionable to create your own rule system, and I'm one of them. To my defense I did start my "MeyerHawk House Rules" project before the rumors came out from WotC HQ. My ambitions in the field of game design are modest. Designing rules are not my speciality, so making a rule system for general use are way beyond my intent.
What I want to create are a set of rules that works for me running my games for players who likes to play in my campaign. Not a new set of rules, but build on an existing rule system. Before the OGL debacle started my intent was to base it on A5E - Level Up from EN Publishing. Then came the uncertainty with the OGL turmoil and I put my project on hold. My goals for this projects are to share my rules with you, without running into licencing issues. Thankfully it is probably safer to do so now than ever before.
Time to list the goals for my house rules
I want to mess around with some aspects of the rules, but it need to "feel" like D&D. Based on the D20, use AC, the same six abilities, hit points and the other terms familiar to all D&D players.
5E rules have become a new standard for D&D games, with many more or less compatible systems available or in development, so to be compatible with this ecosystem is the best way forward. With compatibility my plans are not to make my own 5E clone, but to be able to use 5E monsters, spells and items with very little tweaking. Also for the same type of content I create for my campaign to be useful in any other 5E based game without much conversion.
When you make a RPG system for publication you make it for an audience large enough to make it a profitable endeavor. My goal is to tweak 5E to suit me and my players playing in my Greyhawk campaign. This will remove a lot of the constraints, opening up for a system of rules for more advanced magic, divine workings and planar interaction.
The biggest change I'm working on is to abandon classes. Why the heck get rid of one of the pillars of the game you probably ask?
Two main reasons, the first is to emphasize the "setting view". Meaning people in Greyhawk would not think or talk about themselves as having a "class" as in the rules, people would describe their jobs, position and what they can do. You can be a warrior, a knight or the Order, or fight for something, but that is not something that should be constrained in game mechanics.
The other reason to abandon classes are players and stories. When you start playing a character and you want to be able to cast arcane magic, so you start playing a Wizard. Twenty sessions later your interest in arcane magic might have vaned, the story taken new turns, and you want your character to develop in new directions to follow along, or to thwart a villain using other means.
I want the desire of players and the story to guide the development of characters, not a course of advancement set by the rule book. Character will be able to learn new things by spending XP and making a Learning Check. Learning things your character have experienced or can find a teacher for will be easy, other things harder and will require time or adventuring.
Another side of things are the GM - Player work load, and I intend to place a bit more of the work on the player. Having players roll more of the dice and doing a bit more of the math. This will both speed up the game and keeping the players more invested and engaged, I hope!
Numenera introduced some of this, and that inspired me. I intend to keep the math the same but to shift the "burden" on to the player. For example: use a Defensive Roll instead of enemies making Attack Rolls. A character who has an AC of 16 makes a d20+6 Defense Roll against a DC 15 Monster attack, for a monster that has +5 to hit.
This way of doing things opens up for options geared towards this way of playing, and I'm more and more open to players making almost all the rolls, like perception. It is cool when players know they screwed up a perception roll, or are sure they made a good check. I have enough to do during games anyway, and to spread the workload more evenly is a good thing I think.
This is more subtle but a very important part of any RPG, keep it playable and fun all through long term campaign where the characters advance. The various D&D editions have had built in "sweet spots" or ranges where play was fun and not bogged down with too much crunch. Usually that have meant that play from around 3rd level to 10th or so have been great. Lower level play have had characters too feeble and higher level have meant way too many die rolls and complications.
5E have done a good job with this already but I think there are a bit more to do in this area, like giving low level character more hit points, introducing a +1 Proficiency Bonus to extend low level play. For high level play I want to see if it possible to create a formula to emulate multiple attacks using only a single attack and damage roll.
A more advanced system of rules for how magic, divine and planar aspects work in the world will add depth and new challenges for high level play. The important bit for these rules are that they have to work more on a "story level" and less on the mechanical level. Die rolls and things to keep track of should be kept to a minimum, like aspects to spellcasting only coming into effect when you go to strange places or angry you god for example.
Giving players more to do during sessions give me more room for rules and principles for how the world works that I can use both for world building, adventure creation and during the sessions. How gods and magic works are two examples of this. I' will present more as it gets developed.
I think we are all ready to move on after the "OGL troubles" having learned a lot about the importance of openness and licensing. I've used Creative Commons for my Greyhawk related stuff for many years, it is great to see it is now being used more broadly even by WotC. I intend for all my house rules to be released under CC -by 4.0, meaning it can be used for anything including commercial use. Only mention me as a source for it and you're good.
I'm using Obsidian.md for my games, to manage both my rules and all the other campaign notes. It is using markdown, and can easily export to PDF and HTML. I'll present my rules tweaks in blog form and as single article PDF's at first. Bigger compilations of rules requires more work, both in the form of editing and play testing so they will take more time. House rules are by nature in more or less constant development, but after an initial period of playtest will hopefully be shareable.
Hopefully some of my rules will appeal to you and be useful in your games!
Maps are an essential part of most roleplaying games and how we use them. From the grandest setting to the tiniest dungeons, maps guides the game and show us where our heroes, and the villains, are. Maps can do more than show locations, a lot more that are not as obvious but can enhance your game.
One of the main characteristics of all fantasy worlds are the fact that it only exists in our imagination, and this makes how it is mapped even more important. We can only interact with it thought some form of, description, image, map, chart etc. Depending on our preference these various forms become the key campaign planning tool. For me as a highly visual person maps are my preferred method of discovering the world, and a text about Greyhawk without a map lacks that critical visual component. Maps are my canvas for the stories I want to weave.
To have a detailed visual view of the lands that a great map are a huge inspiration for me and since I couldn't find what I was looking for I decided to try and create it!
Now two decades later and thousands of mapping hours later I have learned to maps can be so much more than pretty pretty and accurate pictures. Change some of a maps features and it can play whole new and interesting roles in your games.
By changing the text and symbols to something weird and unintelligible, you can make the map become puzzle that needs to be translated, leading to more adventures to find out what it hides. False information leads astray making it a kind of trap.
Outdoor adventuring was barely covered at all in the early days of D&D, which seems a bit strange to me considering its roots in wargaming that usually simulated outdoors battles. It was not until AD&D1E Wilderness Survival Guide that comprehensive rules for adventuring outdoors was introduced to the game. Maps really suited to outdoor adventuring have not evolved to the same degree as dungeon maps. Mapping underground or indoor environments evolved quickly and became a standard in D&D early on, but outdoor maps not so much. Even today its hard to see a trend towards comprehensive detailed and easy to use map of outdoor areas from game publishers. Great maps can be found, but rarely at the same standard a dungeon maps, and they either cover large areas using simple (but great looking artistic) symbols or super detailed renditions of tiny areas.
It is time to try and bridge this gap y creating useable and somewhat standardized maps for overland adventuring and travel. For this I will look into the world of orienteering and military maps for inspiration and guidance. A fantasy version of these types of maps would be very useful for a lot of gamers in running their campaigns.
Combine a fantasy style orienteering map with a top down and perspective image of the area and you have a great aid for, travel, exploration and encounters in the outdoors. Making outdoors an equally interesting gaming environment.
Cartography that are either high in realistic detail, or done beautifully have an esthetic quality in itself and will cross over into the territory of illustration. This aspect are often used by publishers to promote products on covers and posters, and it works. Most of us gamers have a love for maps and like looking at them even when we are not directly trying to use them as maps.