Friday, 3 May 2013

Fin de Siecle Maps of Britain and Outdoor Adventuring; Or, Yet Another Post About Wilderness Maps

I can't remember how I came across this (it may have been through somebody on Google+ - has there ever been a more serendipitous age than the one we live in?), but the National Library of Scotland has a website where you can overlay a Google map of the UK (and Belgium for some reason) with a collection of old maps spanning roughly 1750 - 1950. As well as old fashioned Ordinance Survey type generalist maps, there are also maps showing rainfall levels, locations of coal fields, geology, and railway lines. You can even fade the overlay to compare and contrast the old with the current. It's my new favourite toy.

As you may have guessed if you've been reading this blog, maps are a bit of an obsession of mine. More particularly, thinking about the use of maps in RPGs is a bit of an obsession of mine - certainly in recent months. Indeed, I'm sort of coming around to the view that 95% of the reason why I am in this hobby is that it gives me some justification for drawing, thinking about, or just gazing blankly at, various types of cartography.

We humans are signally pathetic at finding ways to emulate the sheer complexity of the geography around us. If you sat me down with a paper and pencil I could come up with an interesting looking map, I'm sure, but it wouldn't come close to matching this:

Or this:

Or this:

Let alone this:

The world out there is vast and unfathomable; there is a richness out there in its landscape alone which is impossible for us to emulate. 

I use real world maps quite a bit in my games, by simply taking the contours of the land and changing names, climate, and so on. But this tool is something else; I may never both creating another hexmap ever again. Why would you when you can print out something as beautiful, useful and interesting as these?