Beyond the Aryth Ocean: Part 3: A review of selected maps in other fantasy media

And we have arrived! Welcome to the third and final part of our article series on Awesome Fantasy Maps. So far we’ve discussed maps from novels and computer games. For this last article, I’m going to discuss maps found in other, more “miscellaneous” categories of fantasy entertainment.

Part 1 of our discussion of maps in fantasy novels can be found here. Part 2, in which I review maps from fantasy computer games, can be found here

Lone Wolf: Magnamund
Remember those old Choose your Own Adventure game books? The Lone Wolf series was a set of 20 or more books (not including the various spin-offs) written by Joe Dever and illustrated by Gary Chalk that combined role-playing elements with interactive fiction. Using a second person POV throughout the books, “you” were Lone Wolf, the last of the Kai Warriors. In the first book, Flight from the Dark, you begin your journey outside the ruins of a monastery where your Kai order has just been wiped out. You have two things besides your basic equipment: a quest, and this map:

To this day, I think the premise is brilliant. You have the ability to explore this world, in novel form, in a fairly non-linear manner. When your initial quest is over, you move onto book 2, which takes the action to another part of the world, giving you a new map. For example, in book 4, The Chasm of Doom, the action moves south of the map above and we get this new beautiful map:

Notice the overlap between the two maps, particularly “the Wildlands” and the city of Ragadorn. Some books allowed you to return to cities you had been to before, and rewarded you if you had played the previous books.

Although the Lone Wolf books didn’t do this, I remember reading/playing another set of books like this that had an added twist related to the map: the stories were very non-linear and you could go anywhere on the map at any time. But if you wandered off the borders of one book’s map, it would send you to another book entirely to explore that area. In that way you could go back and forth between books, chasing down plots and adventures that were both contained in a single book, and others that were spread across several. If any of you remember what those books were, post it in the comments!

Descent: The Road to Legend
Computer games are not the only interactive fantasy experiences to contain maps. In recent years I’ve convinced my brother and a few of my poker buddies to play a complex board game called Descent: Journeys in the Dark. It’s basically an elaborate dungeon-crawl game with pieces to represent the heroes and monsters, much like the old Hero’s Quest and Dungeon! games were back in the day. Perhaps we’ll talk about it in more depth another time, but for now our focus is on one of the game’s expansion packs, The Road to Legend.

RTL essentially adds campaign rules to the base game, and provides things like plot cards (my favorite is the Curses! Foiled Again! card), and an overland map. This map, shown below, reveals dozens of cities and dungeons connected by an intricate network of roads, waterways, and “secret paths.” The game’s producers, Fantasy Flight Games, have done an outstanding job of creating an interesting country for the heroes in the game to roam around in.

Here’s a zoom-in of part of the map:

In terms of the game itself, everything is already laid out in front of you. I mean, the “secret” paths aren’t so secret if they’re highlighted in red, right? What I love about this map though is how you can spend time looking at it, trying to puzzle out a strategy. Just a few months ago I found myself up late one night, scrutinizing the details of the landscape. If the heroes are up in the far north near, say, Greyhaven, how can they get to the city of Forge before the Overlord (a kind of antagonistic Dungeon Master that the heroes compete against) razes it to the ground? Or, is it worth going to one of the “Legendary Areas” at the expense of the Overlord prolonging several sieges? What do the “Secret Masters” teach?

The mystery in this type of game map lies not in what’s presented to you per se, but rather in the potential of the manner to which you explore it. Every game session will be different, and therefore, each story told will be a new, unique adventure.

Geocaching
Now, at last, at the end of all things, or… at least, the end of our journey though this myriad of landscapes and fantasy settings, I’d like to bring us back somewhat to the land of reality. Because, in truth, there are still real-life adventures to be had in our everyday lives.

There’s an excellent chance, especially if you’re reading this somewhere in the United States, that you are within a mile or less of a hidden “treasure.” In order to find it, all you need is an internet connection and (ideally) a GPS unit. I’m talking of course, about, Geocaching.

If I do a search on my address or zip code on Geocaching.com, I can view a Google map of all the “caches” near me. Look how many showed near my house in a suburb outside of Sacramento, California:

For each one of these caches, you can download their coordinates to a GPS unit (such as this one, for example) or a GPS-enabled phone such as the iPhone. There’s a specific Geocaching application in the iTunes store if you’re interested. The app is much cheaper than a dedicated GPS unit, although the iPhone isn’t as accurate to as many feet as a dedicated GPS is.

Wondering what’s inside these little treasure troves? Well, it varies. Typically you might find something similar to a concealed Tupperware container containing some little trinkets other people have left behind, along with a log-book that you can sign. Other, more hard-to-reach caches supposedly tend to have more exciting contents. You won’t know what one contains until you get there. In one particular caching adventure I undertook with my brother, we followed a Lord of the Rings-themed series of caches. The map we followed led us to a location that provided clues to decipher a second waypoint, and that one, in turn, led us to the final destination.

So when you need a little break from poring over printed maps, and want to get a little more Vitamin D, pick up or borrow a GPS-enabled device and follow its maps to a nearby cache of interest.

What you’ll find is a lesson that permeates every map ever illustrated, in any medium: that the excitement and wonder they provide is embedded in the potential of the journeys they invite you to take.

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