"...accurate maps don't come cheap. In fact, it's often more profitable to steal an accurate map than try to buy one on the open market, or so many sea captains claim."
- Chris Perkins, Iomandra Wiki Page
I spent part of yesterday browsing through the wiki page for Iomandra, Chris Perkins' home campaign. In it, he has posted various maps of his world and some of their cities. I was quite amazed, needless to say, as mapping my campaign world is something I've been trying to do for a while now (or at least finding a way to map Genkar, the city the heroic tier characters have been involved with).
For quick reference, here is the link to all of Chris' maps: http://community.wizards.com/iomandra_public/go/gallery/view/1?pref_tab=photos
I looked at the map of Io'galaroth and was amazing by the detail Chris put into his map. I was determined to start making some maps of my own, and started brainstorming how I was going to do this. I figured Genkar would be the best place to start, as the PC's have spent significant campaign time there (the entire heroic tier has pretty much revolved around the city), so I pulled out my notes of the city and wanted to start getting to work.
Scaling is always an issue. Chris states on his Io'galaroth map that 1 square on the grid is equal to 200 feet. This means that 40 squares of a dungeon tile equals 1 square on his map. I spent some time trying to do the math and figure out how big certain locations need to be, and to be honest, such a thing froze me in my tracks. Putting numbers to these locations of my campaign world became extremely scary and made me feel like I had to start designing every little location.
For example, at one area of Genkar we have the Tower of the Protector, a tall tower surrounded by a lake. Underneath the tower is the Tomb of Genkar, the gold dragon founder of the city. When I drew it, it was a 2x2 circle. That gives it a 200 foot radius. If I have adventures there, do I really need to make sure an entire area of the tower goes for about 40 squares? These are the questions I've been having, especially since I plan on mapping a section of the Tower in the next session.
Re-reading that paragraph, I'm telling myself I'm over-reacting. I think scale is just something used to convey a sense of grandeur for cities and certain areas. Chris doesn't put scales on all his maps (especially his world map), yet I still feel a sense of depth and wonder when I look at them.
I grabbed my copies of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to double check the maps there. I was 95% sure that LOTR had scales with the maps, but I wasn't sure about Hobbit. Hobbit does not have a scale. The distances are just drawn in. Does this take away from the map? Once again, I have to say no.
Game of Thrones don't have scaled maps either.
I'm now starting to see a pattern as I go through all these books again. Map scale really doesn't matter. With Thrones, the biggest city and the small cities are all conveyed by a dot, so they effectively are the same size. This is probably something handy to apply to DnD too. Scale doesn't really matter; it's all about creating what you want. If everybody knows that the Tower of the Protector is a huge building, I don't have to show every single little detail. I can show it to them in chunks and develop what needs to be developed slowly.
Squares and distances in dungeons function the same. These things take up however much space they need to in order to tell a great story. Maybe they snake underground. Maybe they're magically made to look smaller than they really are. There are a plethora of reasons for why things are the way they are, and most players probably won't bother asking about scale. For us world builders though, such things seem to be extremely important.
Ultimately, I think I will simply continue mapping Genkar without worrying too much about scale. When it comes to world maps, I think I can convey basic ideas like "X is closer to Y than Z". Unless you want to play a super hard core game, distance is relative. It's not the destination, it's the journey.
As always, please leave comments and let me know what you think. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf.