Monday, July 28, 2014

[Throwback Thursday] Rhadamanthia and the World of the Wilderlands

The very first campaign setting I ever encountered was the “Continental Map” in the Expert module X1: Isle of Dread, with the snippet of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in the Expert Rule Book. I thought it was very interesting and, in time, with the further development of the setting in the B and X Modules and the Gazetteer series, fell quite thoroughly in love with it. From the first I always was eager to see more of what the world, later called Mystara, had to offer, as there were always mysterious lands and realms just beyond the next border.

With the Wilderlands, which was the first campaign setting I actually ever played in, I wasn't merely interested in what lay beyond the original 18 maps; I was thoroughly obsessed with finding out! Sadly, unlike Mystara, which continued to be developed for years, the development and expansion of the Wilderlands ended abruptly with the closing of Judges Guild. And for a long time, all that fans had was speculation on what might have been, what could have been, what should have been. And then, finally, decades later, Bob Bledsaw re-appeared on the scene.

Then at conventions we’d hear heard wonderful tales of the lands beyond the Wilderlands, of the Great Glacier in the North, the Kingdom of Karak in the East, the Demon Empires in the South, and the Giant Kingdoms in the West. Being an inveterate cartographer, of course, I always requested, nay, demanded even, some sort of cartographic expansion of the Wilderlands and the lands thereabouts. It was not until later, after the Necromancer Games release and before I started up AGP, that I was able to convince Bob that there was a demand to see more of the world of the Wilderlands. Together we would work on taking the notes and ideas he had built up over the years and make them into something concrete.

One fine September, I started receiving simple envelopes packed with folded sheets of paper. Altogether nine envelopes containing 25 maps, each a standard-sized sheet of paper, the top half a hand-drawn map half the size of the Wilderlands, the other half filled with notes and details on the locations found on the map. For two weeks thereafter every day was like Christmas, wondering if a new map would show up in the mailbox. I still have the envelopes they were sent in; the ripped state indicates the excitement each held, and my foolishness in not handling the envelope carefully, lest I damage the maps. Fate was in my favor, though, and none were ever damaged. Each time I would open the envelope, pull out the maps and notes, and sit for hours pouring over them, the first person to see put in writing and map the hitherto unreleased ideas of the original creator of the City State and the Wilderlands.

Slowly, over time, I scanned and pieced together the maps while discussing and expanding the various elements with Bob in person, over the phone, and via e-mail. By the time we finally got the map in a position that felt fairly complete for the scale intended, I had already started AGP, and worked with Peter Bradley to take over from my primitive Paint-based scribbling and turn the map into something beautiful and useful. Unfortunately, Bob never lived to see the final version of the map; it was literally completed mere days before he passed away in 2008. I was, however, able to bring copies of the preliminary print to his family at his funeral.

With the work I did with Bob on the Rhadamanthia Map, I was able, to ensure that his vision of the wider world of the Wilderlands was not lost when he passed. One thing I learned while working with him was his great tendency toward puns and impish humor, a characteristic I have found endemic to the great designers. For example, one day while we were talking, I asked him about the Skullie Amazons in far-eastern Karak. I thought, naturally, that they perhaps worshiped skulls and wore skull-based clothing, etc. But no; he’d named them on a lark; he said that as they were “red-haired, smart, and dangerous,” he’d decided to name them in honor of Dana Scully, the character from the X-Files. I did my “We Are Not Amused” look at the phone, which did not help at all, and all he did was chuckle at me in amusement with my high-falootin’ assumptions about what was and was not fantasy.

It was a sense of amusement that pervades all his earlier work, if you look for it. One of my favorite bits in the entirety of the Guide to the City State is the tale told by Flustag the Cavalryman in the Lancer’s Club, “He also is fond of relating his encounter with barbarians in the frozen wastelands… tapped in a boxed canyon, two against 100; charged two against 100; cutting blindly until exhausted, two against 100... and finally winning, we all agreed… they were the meanest two barbarians we ever faced!”

That’s the kind of sense of humor that created the City State and the Wilderlands.

Thereafter, I went on to publish the companion tome for the Map of Rhadamanthia, the Guide to the World of the Wilderlands. Intended as an introduction to Rhadamanthia and the Wilderlands, it details 14 of the 15 Districts, each the size of the Wilderlands, and also details the Wilderlands proper, the central district, by breaking it down into its 18 Regions. In retrospect, a product completely at the other end of the spectrum from the original Wilderlands products, which provided the lowest-level of information and allowed the Judge to determine the great and campaign-spanning elements. But then, it was designed to showcase both what Bob had created and the direction I was going with my own version of the Wilderlands, the Wilderlands of High Adventure.

Of the material therein that pertains to Rhadamanthia and the wider lands around the Wilderlands, 90% is Bob’s work, with 10% my own additions, alterations, and interpretations. Any mistakes are my own.

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