Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Historical Maps and Pseudo-historical Games

Why do historical fantasy RPGs use modern maps of the past? I love historical maps. Very often they tell us about the way the world looked to the people living in that period; what was known and unknown, what tribal, cultural, political divisions were important, what aspects of their geography shaped their world. So why don't many (any?) historical fantasy RPGs incorporate these sensibilities into their maps? 

Now, I love hex maps because they render the map immediately gameable, abstracting geography to units appropriate to the system. But if you aren't 'gamifying' your maps, why not embrace at least an approximation of the way in which the people in the that time period saw distances, proximity, etc. Or go further, and treat these maps (or a modern pastiche) as if it was accurate geography?

Earlier this week I presented this admittedly fantastic map on G+, in the contemporary atlas of history style:

But does a game based on that differ from a game based on one of the oldest maps of the British Isles, from the Rome Ptolemy atlas, presenting the world as seen during the period being 'gamed'?

I know these aren't views of the same period in Britain's history, but you know what I'm getting at...


  1. Ever notice the rivers have much more importance in period maps than they seem to in modern maps and certainly so in gaming maps?

  2. As a geographer, I am obsessive about making my maps as accurate as possible. However, I no longer give players the same map I have or any map at all. If I do give them a map it tends to be a mix of historical and fantasy styles with some exaggerations and inaccuracies.

    As far as the importance of rivers in the map above, ancient maps tend to be somewhat precise on the large scale in terms of coastlines and rivers. This is because of the importance of such bodies of water to settlements at the time. when looking at a map on the small scale as above it may appear inaccurate, but the interior landmass is what is warped, while minute details of coastlines and rivers are portrayed and relationships between the bodies of water are maintained.

    1. Thanks, that's very interesting. Another case of emphasising the features that are important, though in this case the features are actually geographical, then?

      Have you ever seen Andy Law's map of the Empire for WFRP? Really precise, comprehensive work.

  3. wow, I'm impressed. It is rare to see that amount of detail in fantasy maps. I've never played warhammer in any incarnation, and haven't really researched much about it, so I was unaware of his maps. thanks for directing me to him.