The Cartography of Dreamland   7 comments

I love maps of fantastic places–the places we dream about, the places we read about.  Every fantasy novel should include a map–maybe more than one.  It can be terrific when an artist and a writer can work together to make that kind of cartography happen.

Long before I created Tunnels and Trolls I was reading and trying to write some fantasy, and making up the maps to go with it.  While searching through my backroom recently, I found a bunch of my old maps–maps that I personally drew.  I am not known as an artist, and there’s a good reason for that.  The stick figure drawings of Order of the Stick look like the work of Michaelangelo compared to my work, but still, I contend that anyone can draw basic fantasy maps if they’ll just try.  Here are some of my trials.

The first map you see above is my version of the Dreamland of Lord Dunsany.  The river that runs down the center is clearly the Yann (Idle Days Along the Yann is imho Lord Dunsany’s all-time finest fantasy), with additions from other little known fantasy authors like Janes Branch Cabell.  It’s a continent perfect for writing heroic fantasty fiction.  There are mountains, plains, swamps, deserts, forests, rivers, and seas–any environment you can imagine for fantasy.  There are Cities of Light and Cities of Darkness.  It’s a place where dragons and fairies will be equally at home.  Some of the ideas from this map carried over into other maps and fictions that I did.

The earliest Tunnels and Trolls map

Before I ever had an inkling that my life would be bound up with imaginary characters delving imaginary dungeons in imaginary lands, I was trying to write fantasy is a mode that mixed the styles of Robert E. Howard and Lord Dunsany.  Fantasy places shoud have great evocative names.  If you study this map you will find the city of Khosht, a place of ruins called Khazan-Tharothat, and other names that might sound familiar to T & T players.  Wherever you see the little hammer/pickaxe symbols was a stronghold of the Dwarves.  The Elves, of course lived in the forests.  And Men lived in the cities. I wasn’t gaming yet, but my inner dream cartography was beginning to take shape.

My conception of the Dying Earth lands written about by Jack Vance.


Some books just begged for maps, and yet the authors didn’t supply them.  Once such book was The Dying Earth by Jack Vance.   Vance wrote a series of picaresque short stories back in the early 50s of the adventures of certain rogues and magicians at the end of time.  Magic and monsters are everywhere.  He introduced a rogue named Cugel the Clever who was a slap in the teeth to all the pure heroics of medieval romance.  To a young would-be writer, Cugel was the embodiment of all that was clever and original.  Talk about your forgotten writers of fantasy.  Jack Vance outshone both Howard and Tolkien in his imaginative fantasies, and the only person even in the same league with him as a writer was Fritz Leiber, who gave us the Grey Mouser and Fafhrd.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was the 20th century's greatest creator of unknown lands.


Before I got interested in Robert E. Howard’s Conan, my all-time favorite author was Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan.  Tarzan was my god, my ideal.  The best Tarzan novel ever was Tarzan the Terrible which took the Ape-man to the lost land of Pal-ul-Don, where dinosaurs and pteranodons and ape-men with prehensile tales still roamed the landscape.  Burroughs never gave us a map.  I made my own from his description in the books.

A lot of my early maps were heavily influenced by the map of Europe and Africa.


I drew this map after writing my first Howard-esque swords and sorcery story called “Some Legends Should Remain Forgotten.  At the time the writer I most admired was Fritz Leiber, closely followed by Robert E. Howard.  My story told the tale of two adventurers named Vyrre Veredans, Prince of Ispahan (Spain) and Shang the Barbarian–a Conanesque character from the Caydonian Isles (Britain), who travelled to the ruined city of Mandrikor to rescue the last surviving princess of the Mandrake race (read Melnibone’ for that one–oh yes, I was heavily under the influence of Michael Moorcock’s Elric at the time.)  I wrote two stories for this series, and I still like them–derivative as they are.  I wanted to do swords and sorcery, and I was doing it with all my might back then.

Traces of old Celtic myth, along with Egyptian, and my own love of invented names.


Note the lack of mountains, trees, rivers and even cities.  This is my earliest invented map, I think, and I was obsessed with the idea of islands, especially an archipelago that looked like a dragon when seen from above.  I think I might have been under the influence of Ursula Leguin’s “Wizard of Earthsea” books when I created this map.

This is another map of the world of Shang and Vyrre.


I think this map precedes the previous one.  Obviously, I threw it together in a hurry one day–with all my favorite influences jostling for positions on the map.  It’s almost a pure mixture of Howard and Lovecraft, but look closely and you’ll see traces o Greece and Persia as well.  Does this look like Europe to you, with the Bay of Mandrikor being the Black Sea?

This blog has been a hodge-podge, a journey down Memory Lane for me.  I might have rearranged it to show earlier to later–some of these on the lined paper go back to when I was in high school in the 60s, but I didn’t.  The pleasure should be in just looking at the maps, letting the exotic names and land forms carry your imagination off into dreamlands of your own mind.  It would be sweet, wouldn’t it, to find a really good artist out there in Internet Land who could take these scribblings and turn them into really good maps of my early dream worlds. 

Back in the day I used to doodle fantasy maps.  Maybe I could go back to that.


Posted December 6, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

7 responses to “The Cartography of Dreamland

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  1. i think everyone should try map making at one time or another. and every book should come with a fantasy map. the hardest part about making a fantasy map is coming up with an original name for the places. although you seem to have no trouble with it trollgod

    arrdhann trrelish
  2. oh and i would love to see your ‘official map’ of trollworld. i think it only helps the setting the more information you make of it. Marc Miller said the same thing when he was making traveller.
    That was the only downside to the 7.5 edition of tnt. i just felt like the map wasn’t official because it wasn’t the trollgods version

    arrdhann trrelish
  3. When I was a kid, I set a fantasy world — including map — on the planet Venus. “The United Republic Of Venus”. Interestingly, this was a scientifically accurate venus, all 900-degrees-Fahrenheit and 92-Earth-atmospheres of it. (The “Republic” was subterranean, with a, uhm, “depressure” dome for easier egress to the surface aboveground.) Alas, the map has been long lost to the mists of time. 😦

  4. Fantastic! I wish I’d kept the maps I made as a boy when I first got into D&D.

  5. Those are great! Very usable in-game for RPGing.

  6. Map making builds your imagination. You can create something out of nothing.

  7. This was great. Awesome.

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