X Marks the Spot
26th February 2007
When Hal Mangold contacted me to draft some maps for The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, I was hesitant. Cartography, like all of my rpg work, is my hobby, albeit one I get paid for; so I only accept jobs I really like. In Freeport’s case, my hesitancy was born of ignorance: I’d never read the setting before, so was unsure if I wanted to be involved.
So I popped over to Google and did a little rooting around the ‘net to see what the whole Freeport thing was all about. To say I liked what I read would understate my initial impression. Any setting that has reviewers claiming it successfully merges the best qualities of D&D, WFRP, and Call of Cthulhu with pirates and high adventure deserves attention and it certainly got mine. So I mailed Hal and gave my assent: I would do his maps.
Before I begin any new cartography project, the first thing I do is research the area to be mapped. In this case, the first thing I had to do was I read the new book, so I knew Freeport back to front. Once I devoured that, I then read all the previously published material so I could make sure the new map wouldn’t contradict older sources, and I could get a deeper understanding of the setting. As I’m sure you are aware, Green Ronin have been busy since Freeport: The City of Adventure was released in 2002, so there was a lot to read. But, read it I did, taking notes as I worked my way through it all. Finally, with this done, I reread my brief, and started to plan how I would organise the work.
Hal wanted two colour, two-page spreads. The first spread was to depict the city of Freeport itself. The second spread was to detail the Serpent’s Teeth and the Continent. So, I decided to do Freeport first.
What was clear from all the Freeport maps I’d seen was that previous depictions of the city hadn’t been entirely faithful to the textual descriptions. I intended to resolve this. So if the text said a district had many tight streets, I decided I would map many tight streets. If the text described a building 100-foot wide, I would map the building at exactly that size into the city. Of course, this caused many problems, as this level of accuracy hadn’t been employed with the cartography for Freeport in the past, but I was determined to make it work.
So, with the initial research done, I got started. First, I read over my notes and pored over previous maps of the city and the various locations found within it. Then I drew some sketches incorporating all that material. This done, I then reread the text and compared it to what I’d drawn, making adjustments where necessary. I then read all the old books again to check for contradictions (where this was important—after all, the city has been changed a great deal by fire, war, extreme weather, and the like). This took a long, long time, and I encountered many issues as I tried to make everything work. Fortunately, Rob Schwalb stepped up to support me here, and answered any questions I had regarding conflicting sources or potential problems. Soon, after a great deal of patience from Rob (as I said, I sent him a lot of questions), he had resolved all my concerns, and everything was in place on the map. All I needed to do now was draw it.
I chose an overhead plan for the map to make it easy to reference and use, and to mirror the previous maps of the city. To match the tone of the setting, I drew the map as if it were on faded parchment, and worked with a fairly muted palate. One of the largest issues of this colour choice was making the special locations stand out from the surrounding city. To resolve this, I decided to mark all the special locations in one colour, and to mark the other buildings in another. This really made the locations pop out, and also gave an accurate view of how big (or small) some of those locations were. Soon, all of the many hundreds of buildings were drawn, coloured, and shaded, and all that remained were the details and labels. So, I added these, drawing scrolls, trees, stones, roads, borders, or whatever was necessary to get it all in place, and finished off with the compass (an anchor covered in seaweed sporting a skull with an eye-patch – nice!).
One down, one to go.
The second spread had far less material to reference, so, in comparison to the first map, required little research. For the Serpent’s Teeth part of the map, I again went for a plan of the area mapped, which allowed me to show a miniaturised version of the Freeport city map (which was nice, as it really grounded the city into the surrounding area). This map was very easy to plan, as the text described the area very well, and previous maps gave a good indication of the shapes entailed. So I immediately set to work drawing the islands and surrounding coral reefs. There is not much to comment upon here, barring that it was really fun to draw (especially the dormant volcano of Mount A’Val, and the compass—a ship’s wheel with a serpent entwined through it).
The Continent was a completely different matter. The only reference map I had was a basic hand sketch from Chris Pramas, and it had few details, so he gave me a great deal of latitude to make the map work. So I got to work making the sketch map look pretty, adding rivers where they would naturally drain, and placing major locations and roads as hinted by the text. I kept in constant contact with Chris throughout this process, and requested extra details from him where I felt it was required (names of seas, rivers, forests, passes, and the like). Out of the three, this map was the fastest to draw, as I didn’t have to constantly double-check the references to ensure there were no contradictions (after all, this is the first time the Continent has ever been mapped). It was also the most fun, as I had a far freer hand.
Eventually, with both maps of the second spread completed, I added the scroll details at the bottom of each for the keys and inset maps, and I took care to ensure the scrolls followed the same format as the scrolls from the Freeport map, granting all three some shared elements. I then added a border similar to the Freeport map (but with ship’s wheels in the corners, not little skull and crossbones), further strengthening the ties between the maps. Lastly, I added important ship routes to the Continent map. These not only provided some extra, useful detail, they also helped the aesthetics of the double-page spread, allowing the Continent map to better balance the Serpent’s Teeth map.
With that done, I was finished, and sent the maps to Hal, Rob, and Chris to have a look over; fortunately, they loved them.
Soon, you will get to see the maps, too (or, perhaps, you already have). I think they represent some of my best published work to date, and I feel they really help bring the Freeport setting to life. Indeed, having completed them, I’m preparing my first campaign in Freeport already.