Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An ImagiNation...with Scope Creep

Scope Creep: When a project of modest proportions (or any planned proportions, for that matter) takes on a life of its own and becomes bigger than planned...and bigger...and bigger.

But I am jumping ahead.

Most of my wargaming is a solo endeavor, but to keep things interesting, and to make for a better story when blogging about my solo games, I often try to frame those games in the context of some manufactured "campaign". These generally peter out after a few games because I lose interest in trying to fit what I am playing into a historical context, with proper map references, time lines, etc. I probably shouldn't get hung up over this stuff, but I do.

One of the things that has always intrigued me, and seems much more prevalent amongst our English wargaming brethren, is the idea of an ImagiNation; a fictional place, maybe or maybe not linked to reality in some way, but set in a specific time period from a technological standpoint. From browsing the web, ImagiNations set in "Europe-ish" during the Seven Years War period seem especially abundant. Seven Years War figures and rules are used, but the places and people are made up. Sometimes they are "near" Austria or Prussia, sometimes not. This gives great leeway in letting your creativity run as rampant as you want. So that's the intriguing part. I suppose liking this kind of idea is the same thing that made me always want to be the dungeon master when playing D&D back in the late 1970's and early '80's. Drawing maps. Imagining worlds. Writing history instead of reading it.

I have considered doing something along these lines for a while now, but finally decided that I would scribble down a few ideas on setting up a modest little imaginary world in which I could use my medieval armies from time to time.

Things began harmlessly enough. I would need a small kingdom, or part of a kingdom, which would need some neighboring areas to interact (and fight) with. My first sketch map of such a realm, on the back of a piece of scrap paper, was simple enough. A semicircle represented the edge of our new "home" kingdom. Adjacent to that border were a few different adjoining areas, exact content to be decided later. A few bits of terrain were sketched in. A basis of an initial storyline was imagined.

Having made a few simple sketches, I began to wonder what kind of mapping software (free if possible) might be out there for creating simple hex-based maps. Within moments of a first Google search, I was looking at a website for a product called Hexographer. It has a free version and a pay version, and the free version seemed to have all the functionality I was looking for, and the samples shown were nice looking "retro" style maps that would fit the bill perfectly.

Within minutes I had downloaded the free version, and in less than an hour, I had created the core of the little map below; a border area of two neighboring realms.
A small border area with two antagonists

But Hexographer was so easy to use, and so fun to play with, that over the course of another couple hours I had expanded a good bit beyond my original border area. After all, I couldn't help but wonder what the rest of those two kingdoms looked like, and who their other neighbors were. After all, they had to fit into the larger world somehow, right? So the map started to expand. And more of the world began to take very loose shape in my mind.
Two kingdoms take shape...

And that area had to fit into an even bigger picture, right? Where were their borders, and who could other antagonists be? Oceans needed to be somewhere. Which makes for coast lines. You need water. And some crude attempt at realistic geography should be attempted. And the geography in turn would dictate where rivers would run. And rivers and mountains and other terrain determine where the trade routes would be, and where cities would grow, and where borders might reasonably end up. Along with thoughts on who were enemies of who, and where the historical allies might be. And what the current situation might be on day one of this new land. Yikes.
...and the world grows some more

Which brings us back to scope creep. In maybe a half a dozen hours in little bits and pieces over the past week and a half, I have gone from a very simple pencil sketch doodle on the back of a sheet of scrap paper to a sketch outline of a much much larger world, one quarter (the northeast quadrant) of which is shown in the final map above. All because I found Hexographer, and had fun playing around with it. Once the creating started, it became very hard to stop. Not that I tried all that hard to stop.

What comes next? I don't know. Maybe I'll figure that out when I am done drawing more maps and writing more history in my head.


  1. What do all the symbols mean?

  2. I used a very limited selection of the very wide range of terrain types and symbols available. I used castles and towers for large and smaller castles and forts, a larger and smaller town symbol for cities and towns. Black lines for major roads (solid lines) and minor roads (dashed lines). Red solid or dashed lines for political boundaries. Woods are heavy or light, and depending on the little symbols, either hardwood, evergreen or mixed. Mountains can be snow capped for bigger or regular for smaller. Hills can be brownish for more rugged or greenish for more rolling hills. Grasslands are either greener or more yellow depending on more fertile grazing lands vs open or less fertile grasslands. Plain white is nondescript, plain green is fertile land, and green with brown lines is fertile farmland. Or at least that is what I have toyed around with thus far.