Maps, Off the Beaten Paths

As I refocus my writing efforts on gaming once again, I was struck by the title of an e-mail from Google+ in my inbox this week… “Getting Lost – Regarding the issue of maps…” Though I was unable to actually click through to the post (not sure if it was deleted or what, but a sad 404 robot greeted me at the other end of the link), the subject alone seemed to tickle something in the back of my brain.

And I asked one of those questions that lead me to strange places… What is a map?

Pretty open ended. No guideposts. So let’s ramble a bit and see where it leads us. defines a map as “a representation, usually on a flat surface, as of the features of an area of the earth or a portion of the heavens, showing them in their respective forms, sizes, and relationships according to some convention of representation: a map of Canada.”

Dollar Photo ClubGreat. So we have a few key characteristics floating around in there… a flat representation of some area relating forms, sizes, and relationships. The “convention of representation” would relate to a particular iconography. Even before we approach it from the gaming or story point of view, we have some ideas to explore.

If you look at a map physically, it can take many forms. Many in stories show up as old, hidden, or discarded pieces of paper or canvas, drawn on stones in the dark, or hidden within the pieces of a puzzle. But literally it can be anything that offers a description of an area – whether visually through topography, landmarks, or “X marks the spot.”

A few ideas come immediately to mind.

  • A crumpled napkin with a few key landmarks, a dotted line, and an X, as drawn by some old explorer in a bar.
  • Clues to the location of a hidden temple woven into the stanzas of an old hymn or children’s rhyme.
  • Part of an old canvas map, folded and faded, passed from pirate captain to pirate captain showing a hidden cove.
  • A faded mural detailing the different prayer stations focused on unique aspects of the faith.
  • A series of fantastical illustrations of the world of faerie complete with hidden hints on how to get there.
  • An aquarium with live fish and a bottom landscape mirroring the position of a shipwreck rumored to contain kingly riches.
  • A wall mural that details an event historical or religious significance that only becomes a map when you look through a particular lens or jewel.
  • A huge political and geographical canvas map used by military figures to plan operations and position troops and supplies.
  • A series of statues scattered across a vast plain that only render into a functional map to a mysterious location when viewed from above.

I think we get caught up in the traditional idea of maps, but there are so many more possibilities to explore. Let’s open our minds a bit and see what we come up with!

Have any great ideas? Share them in the comments!

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