Friday, 19 January 2018

In Which I Have a Breakthrough

For an extremely long time (blogger tells me it was 2014) I have been wanting to write up a campaign setting based on that wonderful bastard love child of Borges and Lewis Carroll - the map whose scale is 1:1 (mooted in "On Exactitude in Science" and Sylvie and Bruno respectively). 

My original idea was to imagine a country in which at one time there had been a ruler who dictated that a map should be made on a scale of 1:1, so he could survey his realm properly. It was necessary to float this map on the neighbouring sea or install it in a huge empty plain nearby, for obvious reasons, but over the centuries the wind and elements had torn it up into fragments which had blown around and caused the giant map to become fragmented and disrupted. Somehow, I felt, this ought to be the basis for an interesting and gameable campaign setting in which the PCs set off to these various different giant map fragments, but there were two insurmountable barriers to conceptual progress, namely:

1) Okay, so there are big bits of paper depicting fragments of a country on a scale of 1:1....so what? What is it about them that would make PCs want or need to explore them?

2) Paper is, let's face it, just paper. It's not as though anything interesting goes on on top of bits of paper which couldn't be accounted for without having the paper. (How, actually, is "An archmage has built a tower on this piece of map!" different from "An archmage has built a tower here!"?)

Today in the shower (natch) I made an epic breakthrough: it's not a map whose scale is 1:1. It's a scale model whose scale is 1:1.

This ancient ruler, whoever he may have been, began a project to create a scale model of his realm on a scale of 1:1, floating in the sea nearby. The passage of time (hurricanes, storms, freezing and thawing of the ocean, etc.) and the gradual disenchantment of his successors with the project render it incomplete and ultimately abandoned; some centuries after its inception the giant contraption is cut adrift and left to float away across the ocean like some vast island of flotsam. Parts break off and form mini islets of their own; other parts sink; other parts decay into ruin. Pirates use parts as bases; seagoing monsters lair in it; ghosts of dead sailors haunt it; outlaws and exiles infest it; wizards build strongholds in it; and so on and so forth.

I now move from the conceptual barriers to the practical. A floating warped and ruined three-dimensional replica of a real world place whose geography is the same, but different, and which gradually moves across the oceans in a shifting flotilla which is always slowly but definitely changing position. How to draw a map of that?

24 comments:

  1. Isn't 1:1 just as big as the original? Or it is 1 metre to 1 centimetre?

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    1. 1:1 is just as big as the original, yes. That's the point!

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    2. So it is basically as a parallel dimension superimposed onto current world and slightly off spatially? What is is built from? Matter to construct an exact replica of kingdom is not be 109% the same amount of matter the actual kingdom is made with, but it must be excavated from somewhere or made from something, I think.

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    3. That is true if everything has to make sense, but clearly this is a bit of a flight of fancy. Although maybe next to this kingdom there is a huge pit where all the material were excavated? Maybe it was made by magically rendering young childrens' dreams into a physical substance...?

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    4. Isn't that a good part of Borges musings on the subject, the inconvenience that a 1:1 map makes itself inaccurate by adding quite a significant feature to the empire, not accounted for in the map?

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  2. I think a 1:1 scale replica loses some of the humour and game possibilities of if it was "slightly off" after consulting with his advisers (like 1:2), otherwise its not much different than just going to the actual location.

    If it is 1:1, the most useful thing about it would be a quest hook to figure out how to break into something on the actual kingdom.

    "The security of the royal treasury is cloaked in mystery... but there is a 1:1 scale recreation out there in the sea somewhere you could practice on..."

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    1. I disagree. Think of what could exist on a huge decaying ruined replica of an ancient kingdom - who or what would end up living there? But definitely, there is an element of game play which would involve trying to figure out where things are on the replica in comparison to the real thing, or trying to better understand the real thing by examining the replica, etc.

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    2. A hexmap crawl where the map of the hexes crawl. haha!

      There's lots of potential here. Bottom of the dungeon has a teleport chamber for returning to the surface? Which surface?

      Go get the relic you know is hidden in the wizard's tower... wait, which tower?

      Magic rings that teleport you from kingdom to model and model to kingdom are now suddenly "shortcuts" because of the altered geography of the model. but probably more dangerous.

      The king's wizard has accidentally the whole mountain, could you go get him a replacement? Without orcs?

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  3. Awesome concept, lots of good adventure hook to be had.
    I'd like the "replica archipelago" to be an almost untouched version of an older, better time, full of secrets of the (supposed) benevolent old ones. The empire is in disarray - maybe we can find some wisdom there?

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  4. How about the map represents a snapshot in time of the previous age? Going there unravels some mysterious forgotten secret about the present day world. If done right, you could have a "Statue of Liberty" moment a la Planet of the Apes where the PC's perceptions get turned upside down.

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  5. I think this is incredibly silly. :D

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  6. The giant map idea was... a bit silly as you realized. However you are entirely correct that this modified idea, while still challenging to pull off, has some legs. A lot of thought would have to be given to the *materials* of the thing. What if the PCs start digging etc., but I'm sure that's a solvable problem.

    Ancalagon

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  7. I like the giant empty plain location more than the sea. Something like Death Valley - flat and inhospitable.

    What if the 1:1 scale model was not entirely accurate? Just as a Pakistani map shows Kashmir as part of of Pakistan, the 1:1 scale model contains areas the ancient kingdom claimed but did not control.

    Old maps shows monsters in Terra Incognita, so the ancient cartographers imported monsters to wander the edges of the 1:1 scale model. Since then, they've spread all over the place and cause trouble. Perhaps they are scale models of real monsters: terracotta orcs, clockwork dragons, giant crayfish golems.

    The nomads who live in the empty desert plain have developed a cargo cult around the ruins of the 1:1 scale model. They claim it was built by the gods/serpent men/elves. Their holiest site is a map key the size of town.

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  8. Is it an exact copy, or merely a mockup of all the actual buildings? The later would give the whole thing an abandoned theme park style. And is it just the buildings or also all the furniture? Are all the trunks and cupboards filled?

    Also, how big is this whole thing? Could be just one city or a thousand miles across.

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  9. Seems my comment disappeared into the ether...

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  10. I thought it might be fun if the replica was also a snapshot of the previous age (when it was built) and journeying there is done under some assumption to recover an ancient clue to aid the modern powers-that-be...however after the PC arrive they have a "Statue of Liberty" moment a la Planet of the Apes and realize some fundamental assumption about the current world is a lie.

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    1. Yeah, that would be cool. Definitely the model would be a snapshot of a previous age, so things would be the same but also different - maybe grander if the previous age was a more powerful and prosperous one.

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  11. Ideas for dwellers on this fake land.

    "New Atlantis". Famous city is on the map and the original is destroyed by whatever reason. Refugees from the disaster have reached the Model Atlantis, and are trying to rebuild. (Note, this is inpsired by the Persian king Khosrow, who sacked Antioch, captured the inhabitants, then *rebuilt a copy of it* for them, named Weh Antiok Khusrau or literally, "better than Antioch, Khosrow built this.").

    The Nomad Alchemists: The map's material is saturated with an incredible amount of faint preservation spells, which explains why it has been so durable for so long. The Nomad Alchemists are a groups (several groups) of individuals who have found a way to extract this magic to create useful magical items and effects (potions and whatnots). However, this damages the map. The Nomads Alchemist are thus rarely welcomed and constantly stay on the move. Not all map dwellers are opposed to them however, as their wares *are* useful.

    The Map Druids: Such a large construct has evolved an ecosystem of sort, and the Map Druids tend to it. They do their best to promote fauna and flaura that preserves the map, and eliminate lifeforms that are dangerous to it. The Map Druids *hate* the Nomad Alchemists with a visceral passion and will do anything in their power to kill them.

    The Lost Cult of Wobek Jozefa: This cult followed an obscure god and only had a single temple, hidden in the moutains. The temple was destroyed. Now the remaining cult members are scouring the map, searching for the remplica of their Holy Temple to start over, as it is said to contain a copy of the sacred texts. The members of the cults know the map better than most and can serve as guides.

    Ancalagon

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    1. Great ideas. Love the Map Druids especially.

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    2. Coming from you that's great praise :D

      ... Wobek Jozefa is a god in my Yoon Suin Campaign - the god of swearing and of urgently telling people to stop before they hurt themselves or cause a scene.

      Ancalagon

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  12. I like the prior anonymous poster's idea of refugees of a razed city moving to its simulacrum, but I think it works better if they act as if nothing had changed.
    A war was held on the area of the model representing the territory of the belligerents, for authenticity of outcome without disturbing commerce.
    Desperate for land, a tiny island nation towed its own facsimile to shore and colonized it.
    Mapping the model is of vast naval and mercantile importance. Surveyors and cartographers are sent to the mountains on which it was based.

    Playing with ways in which the map is treated as or becomes as real or more real than the territory is the aesthetic to go for, I think.

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