April A to Z – N is for Mr Nibbs – an interview with Steve Luxton

Hello gorgeous. Today we have fantasy cartographer, Steve Luxton talking about his Fighting Fantasy maps, new and old. If you want to hear more from Steve, he is regular contributor to the Advanced Fighting Fantasy forums and has his own blog. So check it out.
Here’s the inteview.
 
– Tell us about yourself.
The interview in FF#6 tells the story of how I got involved with GW and FF. Now I get to design my own maps what you see is my interpretation, or ideas being developed for consideration. I would like to see the new maps as detailed as the game-rules because they are both canon and need to work together.
 
– You have drawn maps for many Fighting Fantasy books and the original Advanced Fighting Fantasy books. Which titan map is your favourite?
I think it is Vault of the Vampire for the FF books. It’s got coffee in it and reminds me of my mother-in-law who comes from the Black Forest. Of the AFF work it would be something from Dungeoneer but I couldn’t say which. I enjoyed doing all of them, they all have little mistakes, and hopefully the next one will be better. That’s how it goes.
 
– You are mapping out the world of Titan. How is using all the myriad sources to make one map going?
Slowly, as you would expect, and real life keeps getting in the way. I am on familiar ground now and old memories come back sometimes. Most of the info used so far is in Titan and the original maps – it’s the bits which are missing that I need to work out. The canon material does not include the instructions in the original art brief so I have a few insights there.
A couple of years ago Steve Jackson said the new maps should be digital, so this project is mostly about creating a 3D mapping system that covers the entire planet and provides the basic data needed for digital modelling. The base model is generic so it works for other worlds.
The draft base maps of the continental maps showing terrains in colour are now available for fans to put stuff onto. That’s a low priority for me right now because anyone can do it from existing maps and it can be compiled later. Most of the mapping system has been fast-checked and works at different scales. Everything will be updatable and the map data is on separate layers so they can be mixed and matched to produce themed maps. The global map will show the complete surface of Titan, but there may be a couple of continents missing…
The continents that you can see are in good shape and project onto a globe which Steve Jackson says looks about right.  Now the global map of Titan works ok I can use other geometries to cross-check all kinds of things. 
Altitude mapping seems to work ok. Tying in references to given distances, travel times and terrain types means I can work out details for move rate modifiers. The new maps can take ground slope into account so what you measure on a flat paper map will not be the same distance on the ground. This might help explain the contradictions in distances.
The ocean currents are about right but need a review so dead reckoning, tidal drift and navigational errors can be worked in. The coastal flows and tidal rises are being improvised so coastal voyages can be estimated from references. That will depend on the type of ship hull, sailing rig, careening and cargo weight, which might get used as move rate modifiers if needed. All this means that parameters for variables are in place and working estimates are more reliable and precise.
It’s ridiculously over-detailed at the moment but will get stripped down to a few random tables later.
 
– Do you have a system for mapping out settlements? For example, do you make sure you have a certain proportion of big buildings, temples etc?
It depends how much detail is required. For a full plan every settlement and surrounding area is designed individually from the ground up. It needs to suit the region and the size of the population. I use an in-game PoV based on real world examples and how I role-play Mr Nibbs. It’s mostly down to architectural style, town planning experience and instinct. It is more of a check-list than a system.
The important thing is to decide why someone wanted to settle there in the first place and what was the first building actually for? This gives an idea of place and purpose which helps decide on the important buildings list – basically I create a custom randoms list for the settlement from various tables and choose from that to fill in the gaps.
For a quick layout I first look for FF maps and illustrations showing what the landscape looks like as that is the starting point. Anything with a building in is useful as it gives an idea of architectural style. The nearest mapped town might suggest an idea for layout. Each culture has its own style which makes it easier to visualise.
By the time the layout is sketched out I’ll have ideas for adventure hooks which tie the storyline to various locations, npc’s and special events which add local colour and make it distinctive.
If there is a lot of detail required it is often only in one or two places so I make sure there is housing for the population (lots of twisty alleys) and growing land for the farmland and timber (and goblins), then it’s taverns, guild workshops and markets (and major npc’s).
 
– What about wilderness? do you have a system for mapping natural terrain?
I generally use a medieval strip-mapping method and compile a randoms lists for the region. There are quite a few ways to approach wilderness mapping but choice depends on the type of terrain. With latitude and altitude the environments can be made more distinctive so you might be able to guess where you are on the planet by the landscape or vice-versa.
Generally, a fresh water source gets placed first and a small stream follows the ground contours, or vice versa, across the map. That’s the first route. I map to line-of-sight on either side of that, as a strip map. Then I decide on the top predator, place the lair and work down the food chain until I get to the grasses, moulds, diseases and afflictions.
For ruins, there may be some mentioned in canon but otherwise it’s caves, cairns and burial mounds which make good adventure hooks and more strip mapping. I usually choose a good defensive site and move some small humanoids in. They make tracks and trails and leave clues which can lead to more adventure hooks.
One idea is to produce a set of terrain profiles for each region on Titan. There might be profiles for uniquely adapted species of existing plants and animals, seasonal nomads, local tribes, etc.
 
– What are you working on at the moment?
For Titan I work on different projects at the same time so the ideas are linked and things generally fit together ok later on. I am learning to use geo-crafting software so there might be some prototype models later this year.
The Desert of Skulls map is the first of the new regional draft maps and will have mini-games to explain things. It is being modelled in 3D at the same time so they match… Getting the star charts aligned with the planet is off to another good start… Designing Caarth architecture and combining that with astronomical data for proportions and alignments… Lord Azzur’s Palace is being re-designed so it can be modelled in 3D as take-apart sections… Working up the Irritaria map and wondering where the left-over bits went…
 

What’s the future of Titan maps?

The plan is to finish the draft global map and star charts and get that presented for approval later this year. My personal want-to-do list includes Azzur’s Palace, Blacksand’s Undercity, and the Irritarian Empires.
At FFF2014 Steve Jackson mentioned a “Keeper of the Maps” but that could mean anything. Obviously, there is more to come and I think it has got to the point now where Titan needs a master map as an authors’ guide and general reference.

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