Nodian Maps of Old

Back when I first started my NOD campaign (maybe around 2005/2006), I wasn’t making hex maps. I was making all sorts of other maps, though, in my capacity as a GIS manager at a real estate company. I was making those maps using a neat piece of software called MapInfo, and, having no other mapping resource and being a total geek, I decided to draw the maps for my new campaign world in MapInfo.

The advantage was that MapInfo maps are fully geocoded – i.e. they have real lat/long coordinates. For Nod, I began with a map of North America and then drew my continents (based on a projection of Earth many millions of years into the future) on top of it. From there, I slowly sculpted the shorelines, drew in woodlands, hills, mountains, deserts, etc.

Two full campaigns were run in the world, one set in Thule (then referred to as Og) and the other in Mu-Pan, and then I began the process of creating the hex crawl material for the gaming magazine. In the process, quite a few things changed – primarily in terms of the style of the world from Greyhawk-style nation state model to the “tiny-pockets-of-civilization-amidst-monster-infested-wilderness” model.

Anyhow – I was recently checking out those original maps, and thought folks might like to see them. They aren’t precisely the same scale (and I’m too lazy to include the scales), but they should give you an idea of what this big lump of fantasy world grew out of.

(As usual, click to embiggen)

It originally had more cities, towns and villages. The desert in the north is Yondo. The Tsanjan Plateau is based on the idea of Leng.
Originally called Og after the big river in the south (a sort of Nordic Amazon). Home of the first Nod campaign, an epic murder-mystery that taught me that I had players with absolutely no interest in solving murder mysteries. Fun nonetheless. Probably the next area I’ll cover with a hex crawl.

I’m considering cleaning these up (i.e. updating them) and using them in the NOD Companion.

Dragon by Dragon – December 1978 (21)

Just imagine all the spiffy Ronco products people were unwrapping on Christmas day in 1978! A few folks might have also been perusing the December 1978 Dragon magazine while they were waiting for Christmas lunch or dinner. Let’s see what it included …

First up, we have a groovy little advert from Ral Partha that would make a good elven army list or encounter list. Let’s make it random …

01-05. Wood Elf Archers (Longbow and Shortsword)
06-25. Wood Elf Infantry (Longbow and Longsword)
26-30. Woof Elf Cavalry (Lance)
31-50. Sea Elf Pikeman
51-60. High Elf Swordsmen
61-75. High Elf Spearmen
76-95. High Elf Cavalry (Two-Handed Swords)
96-100. Elfin Command Group – Elf Commander (5th level fighter/magic-user), Elf Lieutenant (3rd level fighter/magic-user)

First article this issue is a revisit of the Search for the Nile game. This is basically a response to the article in the last issue of The Dragon by the games creator.

Okay – have to share this next ad with everybody …

Next up, we have a neat little table of titles for powerful NPCs by Brian Blume. This one works like the old menus at Chinese restaurants – choose one bit from column 1, one from column 2, etc. Here are a couple examples:

The Lord Protector, His Most Distinguished Illustriousness, The Crown Prince Bob, the Incomparable Slaughterer of Dragons

The Guildmaster, Her All Triumphant Laduyship, Lady Cassandra, The Terrible Scythe of Honor

Kinda groovy – worth checking out. I’ll probably turn it into a random table and use it for Nod now and again.

Willie Callison now presents a Cure for the “Same-Old-Monster” Blues. Every long-time DM has gone through this. Mr. Callison’s suggestion is to look at the world around you and draw inspiration from nature. The giant snake, for example, can be described as any real species of snake – different types of attacks, different color patterns, etc. You get the idea.

Callison also provides the next article – Inflation in D&D. In 1978, inflation would have been foremost on people’s minds, and Willie complains about the lack of realism inherent in the D&D economy – i.e. too many gold pieces floating around. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really give any solutions to the problem. So, kind of a pointless article.

Prophet Proofing (or how to counter foretelling spells) by David Schroeder attempts to throw a monkey wrench into spells like clairvoyance, clairaudience, wizard eye, ESP and x-ray vision. I’m generally not a fan of ideas on how to screw up powers that players should rightly be able to exercise with the characters. I mean, a fighter with a high strength and two-handed sword sure does kill lots of orcs – shouldn’t there be a way to screw that up? Sneaky tricks are a good thing in D&D – keeps the players on their toes – but at the same time, the clever use of spells to overcome obstacles is one of the points of the game.

Sensible Sorcery is an article by Ronald Pehr that explores ways to make researching spells more difficult for magic-users. I think I’m detecting a theme in this article.

Robert Wagner (no, probably not him) now delivers a Boot Hill Encounter Chart. The chart is for town encounters, and is divided into two parts – Town till 8 p.m. and Town after 8 p.m. The early chart gives a 1 in 6 chance of an encounter, while the late chart gives a 2 in 6 chance. Early encounters include pickpockets, various job offers (a very good idea!), being shot at by 1 or 2 people, being mugged by 1 or 2 people, being falsely arrested or have 1 or 2 deputies after you. The late encounters include jealous husbands, being challenged to a gun fight, seeing a bank robbery, more job offers and being arrested by a U. S. Marshall (maybe this guy!). It’s a very good chart, and easily adaptable to a fantasy game or one set later than the Old West period.

Rod Stevens delivers Encounters with Personality. Here, he provides a few ideas on giving monsters and NPCs a bit of history and personality for encounters. Did DM’s actually not do this back in the day? Perhaps – old D&D had a few elements of wargame/boardgame to it back in the day, but articles like this show the progression to a more story-based game. A couple examples:

1. BLARG: Ftr. Cha/Evil. Hobgoblin. Blarg hates everything but ogres. These he emulates but they hate him.

3rd 20 5 16 7 7 6 8 6 +1 +1 shrt. sd.

8. CLARENCE LINDIR: Ftr. Law/Good. Human. He is a constable who is always accompanied by 11 other constables. He will do anything to make an arrest including arresting jaywalkers, people with water in wine skins, or anything else he can think of. He often makes up absurd charges. When in court he will then charge resisting arrest if the party didn’t come peacefully. Of the hundreds of arrests he has made, he has only gotten 2 convictions. The townspeople pointedly ignore him and call him “Clarence the Clown” behind his back.

1st 9 7 1 7 9 1 0 9 7 8 + 2 + 2 mace & spear

Next come the game reviews. Olympica is set in 2206, where a human colony on Mars is being conquered by a group mind called “The Web” (prescient in a way, huh?). One player controls the assault group being sent by the U. N., while the other player defends the Web generator from the assault.

Don Turnbull of Cambridge, England presents a section of his Greenlands Dungeon – The Hall of Mystery. It’s quite a long description, but it involves riddles (sort of), mirrors (one a mirror of opposition, the other of life trapping containing a succubus) and a host of monsters in rooms. I will share the map …

Gary Gygax pops in next with a strategy guide for Rail Baron. I’ve heard good things about this game (one wonders if it could have been used in concert with Boot Hill), but I’ve never played it. Since I haven’t played it, I won’t chime in on how good a guide it is, but it does look as though it’s quite thorough. In fact, I think it might be the longest article in the magazine.

A couple more game reviews follow. King Arthur’s Knights, which reviewer S. List describes as being similar to TSR’s DUNGEON. Players choose to be a knight errant, knight at arms or great knight, which increasing levels of power and obligations, as well as tougher victory conditions. The map was apparently gorgeous, the rules book 16 pages long and there were 11 decks of small cards. There are several Magic Places on the board, and on each one places a magic treasure and magic guardian.

Timothy Jones now presents some optional rules for DUNGEON. There are new characters (halfling, dwarf, cleric, thief and paladin), new prizes (including a bag of dung!) and new monsters (red dragons, blue or white dragons, witches, evil wizards and evil priests).

T. Watson then has a review of Tolkien’s Silmarillon. Watson describes it as the bible of Middle Earth, with the Valar as the angels, Melkor/Morgoth as Lucifer and the elves as the chosen people. Watson seems to like it, despite it being long and dry, but also seems to indicate that it’s for folks who really want to know more about the imaginary Middle Earth.

In James Ward’s Monty Strikes Back, we get another installment of gonzo dungeoneering done right. Here’s a sample:

“The three ancient white dragons guarding the door were no problem. It was just a matter of running in the chamber hasted and invisible and throwing three hold monsters at things. They didn’t have any treasure, they were just there to slow us down a bit. As we walked through the door ‘Monty gave his “evil” chuckle (which always meant we were in big trouble) and we were told that we were sliding down a sheet of glare ice. We wound up pinioned against a mass of ice spears and everybody but Freddie had taken damage. He then thought it would be a great idea to use his flaming power to melt the spears away. Ernie and I, knowing the horrors Monty could think up, tried to stop him but it was too late. We were hit from above by partially melted ice stalactites and again Freddie was the only one unhurt.”

This was my point about D&D once being something like a wargame/boardgame. The fun was in moving around the pieces, not telling their life stories.

And that’s it for December. The reviews were interesting, a few of the articles useful, but honestly not among the best issues I’ve read.

Enjoy your Saturday gang!

Drawing Dungeon Maps in Excel – A Quick Tutorial

Well, I think I just about have this whole mapping in Excel thing down, so why not share the techniques with everyone else. Quick note that I’m doing these maps with the latest, greatest versions of Excel and Paint and nothing else.


The first step is setting up your grid. In general, this involves eyeballing the fields into squares, and then adding a border to all of those squares using whatever color you like. In the example below, I’m using a light blue.


Now, I color in all of those squares with the same color blue, and then cut out the passages and chambers by changing those squares to “no color”, though I suppose coloring them white would work just as well.


At this stage, you can add in walls using thick lines (again, using the same color as above), doors (they’re just small rectangles), stairs (see below, took me a while to get these right), pillars, statues, etc. The newer versions of excel also allow you to freestyle draw shapes, which are good for irregular pools. For pools, I do a tight, white dot pattern over the blue. For chambers that are going to be natural caverns, just get the overall shape right at this stage.

The secret door is just an “S” (Arial 12 pt.) in a text box with no outline and no background.

The stairs are a long trapezoid, no outline, with a pattern of vertical lines or horizontal lines, depending on the direction the stairs face. Yeah, I’m kinda proud of figuring that one out – I originally tried drawing in the lines, but could never get the spacing correct.


To make the pointed room, I added a couple right triangle shapes of the blue color. I then add room numbers using Arial Narrow, 9 point. You can also add outlines of rounded shapes over rooms, coloring in the bits outside the outline in the next step.


We now highlight our map, hit CONTROL-C to copy, and open up MS Paint. In Paint, we paste in the map. If we want to turn any of our passages or chambers into tunnels or caverns, we just use the paintbrush (same color as background) to draw in the natural walls.

And, lo and behold, we have a workable dungeon map. It’s not perfect, and there are some limitations, but it’s not bad for using a couple pretty basic programs. Whether this will work with the Open Office version of Excel, I don’t know – I’d love to hear from somebody who tries it out.

Need Battle Maps?

So, a couple days ago, I got an email from the folks at letting me know about a Kickstarter project they have going to make some high quality battle maps. Now, I’m an old schooler, so my battle maps are usually in my head or constructed with such high-quality props as books, dice, bottle caps and pennies, but I looked at the Kickstarter page and must say I’m impressed with the artwork of their cartographer, Jared Blando.

So, for my “new school” readers and those old schoolers who dig nice-looking maps, you might think about throwing some dollars their way.

Holy Freaking Crud – Rome, In All It’s Cartographic Glory

Yeah – cheap little post today – have lots of real work (you know, the stuff I get paid for) going on that I need to address. In the meantime, I just stumbled across ORBIS, a mapping site that is trying to bring Imperial Rome into the 21st century.

I can’t help but think this would be a useful thing for folks running campaigns set in the Roman, or even post-Roman era. Hell, if you can’t find a way to use this in almost any fantasy campaign, there’s a really good chance you shouldn’t be running a campaign. If they could just integrate some wandering monster tables, we’d be all set.

I mean – you got travel times, routes, the freaking cost in silver pieces – you can choose donkey travel vs. wagons, military vs. civilian ships, the month of travel, the route, whether you want it cheap or fast. Astounding!

I might chime in later today with another Hell preview, and I’m still working on more monsters for Mother Goose & Goblins. I also hope to produce a small dungeon for it. Oh – and the Pars Fortuna dungeon – I need to work on that as well. Plenty to do!

For the Apocalypse Lover in You

Two links for the Mutant Futurists amongst you …


What would happen if your hometown was hit by an atomic bomb (or ICBM, if you prefer)? This is the site to find out. Pick the place and pick the yield, and let GoogleMaps do the rest. Also useful for dirty bomb-using terrorists in an Action X or Mystery Men! game.

Would have been very handy when I was doing Mutant Truckers.


This blog is all about images from the atomic age – lots of good material here. In particular, Mutant Futurists might like the plans to the missile base!



I’ve already found a few images there that will come in very handy when I produce Action X – in fact, some of the public domain finds I’ve acquired recently should make that a pretty groovy little product. Expect some previews in the coming months …


Most post-atomic war apocalypse games assume a higher level of technology from the ruined civilization of the past. How many use the wondrous technologies of the “retro-future” I wonder? Here are some images to inspire you, from an article at UltraSwank.







And check out this public domain film while you’re at it …