Walking out of Quarantine

This post is a look at the hobby side of Maps & More (the “More” part), specifically my love of hiking.

The Lahn river at Buchenau

I’m standing on a bridge across the river Lahn in unseasonably warm February sunshine. Ahead of me are the next two sections of the Lahn hiking trail (Lahnwanderweg), about 30km through the river valley and the hills around it. Normally that is not a big deal for me, but today is different, as so many things currently are.

14 days ago I suddenly lost my sense of smell, which turned the slight cold symptoms I had into something much more menacing. 11 days ago I received a call from my doctor that I was Covid-positive and that I was confined to my apartment for the next 10 days. 2 days ago the public health office called for a short interview and concluded that my quarantine could end as planned. Yesterday I did a short but brisk walk and felt fine.

But a lingering doubt remains. While I only had mild symptoms, they were spread out over the two weeks and my sense of smell has not fully returned. How will it affect my overall fitness? There are more than enough reports of lingering side effects.

Trail signage is good.

So today is a test. There are several points on the walk where I can quit, and make my way back to my car here in Buchenau, but the plan is to make it all the way to Marburg and take the train from there. We’ll see how it goes.

The morning mist that obscured most of the hour-long drive to my starting point has largely cleared, but it is still far from the 14°C we are supposed to get today. I’m wrapped into several layers of clothing, but it is warm enough I don’t have to bother about gloves or a hat. The red LW sign of the trail points me out of the village and up into the hills above the Lahn, getting my blood pumping properly.

Past B&Bs and holiday apartments I slip into the woods and on the crest above I get my first beautiful view over Buchenau below.

Parts of the path are still covered in snow and sometimes ice, but I make good time up unto the first hill of the day: Hohenfels. Here the remains of two small medieval castles are hidden among the trees. Only a few tumbling stones, rough embankments and some cellar holes are visible, but the site is well described through signs and explanations. I can easily imagine their strategic importance above the trade roads along the Lahn.

Being at such high spot means of course I have to go down again, sacrificing precious altitude I have gained already. I know I do have a bit more climbing ahead of me today, but I can be quite a miser if it comes to altitude.

The next hill is the Rimberg, the highest point of today’s walk, crowned by a tower with supposedly magnificent views. But before I can verify that, I have to get there. I do feel good, get a spring in my step, and prepare to fall into the rhythm of the walk … whoosh, suddenly my feet go flying on the wet and slippery grass. Miraculously I manage to catch myself with only one hand on the ground. Alright, take it slowly!

On the way from Hohenfels to the Rimberg.

In the shadow of the Roßberg and the Rimberg the ice and snow on the path gets heavier and I slow even further as I navigate the treacherous ground underfoot. The last incline towards the viewing tower atop the Rimberg is especially difficult and I’m wondering whether the full 30km will be feasible under these conditions.

But the wonderful views from the Rimberg distract me from these doubts and I have time to rest on the platform. Nobody else is around and the sky is as clear as it can be on such a warm winter’s day (meaning not very).

To the east I can clearly see Caldern, the next village on my itinerary, and the Lahn valley stretching away.

Caldern and the Lahn valley ahead

As I watch, two buzzards rise from the trees and begin circling, slowly making their way east into the valley. I take a deep breath, put away my flask of hot tea, shoulder my pack and follow them, just so much more awkwardly along the ground.

At first the trail is still difficult with ice and snow, but it gets better as I get lower into the valley and near Caldern. With the two buzzards still circling overhead I reach the small village with its prominent church tower welcoming me.

Here I can decide whether I want to continue or already catch a train back. What do my legs say? Well, they complain a bit about the awkward and slippery paths. What if it continues that way? But the next stretch is down here in the valley and the highest point for today is already behind me. So be quiet, you legs, onward we go.

I cross the Lahn behind Caldern and turn onto a tarmac bike path across the fields. On other days I might have complained about this stretch as “boring”, but today it is a welcome opportunity to straighten my wobbly legs after balancing across the ice.

I shift into “automatic” mode and a good hour later I reach Sterzhausen, the next opportunity for quitting for today. I realize I’m a bit tired now, after a little more than half the route, but not so much that I can’t imagine finishing it.

The choice is now between calling it a day and returning half-satisfied or going on and returning really knackered. Is that even a choice on a day hike? Of course I must go on!

Leaving Sterzhausen behind

So I climb up again, to cut across the hills and avoid the large loop that the Lahn does around Cölbe. Here near Marbug and its suburbs a few more people are on the paths, dog-walkers, cyclists, joggers and afternoon walkers, but its still less than I expected on such a sunny Saturday. As I crest the hill I get to see Cölbe and touch on the outskirts of Wehrda, but then divert into the forest again to approach Marburg from the wooded hills in the west.

Cölbe (left) and Wehrda (right)
Elisabethkirche in Marburg

While the height of these last hills is less than the Rimberg early this morning, the ups and downs are quite steep and I’m now feeling my legs. I curse myself a little bit for my ambitious hiking plans, the the feeling vanishes as quickly as it came when I spot the twin spires of the St. Elisabeth Church in the evening light ahead, and the castle silhouetted against the sky on the ridge to my right.

I manage to slowly trundle into the bustling university town of Marburg (one of the oldest in Germany) with the setting sun, pretty much on time for the train back Buchenau.

Putting on the mask after a day of breathing the fresh air is a bit annoying, but nothing I can’t handle for the half hour journey on public transport. I gladly sink into the train seat, feeling tired but accomplished after 30km and seven and a half hours walking.

I’m very happy and feeling lucky that I was able to do this so shortly after my Covid-19 illness, but I’m also acutely aware that not everyone out there is as lucky. My hear goes out to all those more strongly affected. I hope you all recover as well as I was able and you soon get to do your favorite activities again!

The route and height map from Buchenau to Marburg.

More images from the walk can be found here.

Map Commission: Irth

The World of Irth
Detail – the Nation of Ryld

Here is another map commission I did recently: The southern continent of the world of Irth. It’s the setting for a private tabletop role-playing game and had only a few specifications. It was to be a continent on the southern hemisphere of a world, roughly similar in size to Australia, with a land-bridge to a polar continent.

I fired up Fractal Terrains 3, fiddled the settings and cycled through random worlds until I found something that roughly matched the requirements. I then went in and edited the world to add the land bridge and smooth out some wrinkles.

My customer was very happy with the initial layout and wanted to keep the whole world for future development. No problem with that and so I went ahead and took the desired continent out of FT3 into Campaign Cartographer 3+. I used the Mike Schley overland style to flesh it out somewhat, but the general brief was to only show the nation of Ryld and leave the rest relatively blank to be fleshed out by the owner. The ocean labels are basically just placeholders for future “real” names.

As a little extra I included the FT3 world in the map in the final version of the map to show the location of the continent in relation to the rest of the world.

The FT3 world map

Map Commission: Studio Draconis

Zodiac Legion Map

Creating maps for computer games usually pose their own challenges, especially if they must serve tactical or strategic gameplay purposes. In this commission for the game Zodiac Legion by Studio Draconis, the brief was to create about a hundred distinct regions that fan out in four major areas from a central hub.

Regions needed be clearly associated with a terrain as well, and the terrain types were to be fairly evenly spread across the map.

While those conditions make it hard to create a “realistic” looking map in actual geographical terms, the checkerboard effect of terrains still makes for a pleasing variety on the map.

For this map I used the Herwin Wielink overland style in Campaign Cartographer 3+. The shown result is completely done within CC3+, no Photoshop post production involved.

Map Commission: High Magic & Low Cunning

Cave map for the first epic-tier battle against the Orc Lord's minions.

Cave map for the first epic-tier battle against the Orc Lord’s minions [Copyright 2016: Pelgrane Press].

One of my largest commission in recent years was a series of maps for Pelgrane Press’ 13th Age role-playing game. Their Battle Scenes line provides ready-to-play encounters tied to the iconic powers of the Dragon Empire setting, and for the first issue “High Magic & Low Cunning” I created maps for the Orc Lord, Prince of Thieves and High Druid encounters.

You can grab sneak previews of “Rafting Razoredge Gorge”, the three adventurer-tier Orc Lord encounters and maps from these places on the web:

1. The introduction and Battle 1: Catch of the Day are available from Pelgrane Press directly.
2. Battle 2: Zip-Lines and Wardrums can be download from Six Feats Under.
3. EnWorld has Battle 3: Razordedge Orc Camp

The maps are included in black and white in the book and as hi-res pdfs with the download, but they are also available separately in gorgeous color print in the “Map Folio” for High Magic & Low Cunning.

PrinceOfShadows

Where does this stone door in the hillside lead? One thing is certain: It is connected to the Prince of Shadows [Copyright 2016: Pelgrane Press].

And now Pelgrane is working on the second installment in the series: The Crown Commands. I am providing maps for the Lich King series of encounters.

Map Commission: Realms of Alamaze

Road to AlamazeRecently I’ve revisited a very old commission of mine, one of my very first in fact. Back then I produced several maps for a series of PbEM games by Rich McDowell, author of Alamaze. Rick needed a map for a newer game/scenario done, and I was happy to break out Mike Schley’s overland style for CC3+ to give the game board a new treatment.

Click the map image for a larger version of the PbeM game map for Road to Alamaze – Centauria. You can find more information on the game here.

The square grid of the game board necessitates a block-ish design and it’s fun to still try to give it a natural feeling. For example the original draft did not include any rivers (as they have no game effect), but the landscape feels much more real with some included. I’m very happy with how the map turned out, and hope the players will have many hours of PbeM fun with it.

Battlemap: Temple of the Sea

Here is another battle map from our 13th Age game: The Temple of the Sea.

Our heroes traced a series of out of control temple guardians back to the new temple of Poseidon at the docks in Drakkenhall. With the sea rolling in and out of the temple, up to their bellies in the surf (or higher in the case of the gnome), they faced the temple’s high priestess, a sahuagin necromancer and his 4 zombie servants, plus the animated statue of Poseidon in an epic showdown.
Sea Temple
Click on the map to load the full-size version of the image, ready for A1 printing at 150dpi.

The “Brocken”

Here’s a little tidbit from our current rpg campaign (Gumshoe – Ashen Stars).

After an unfortunate series of events around the Acheron Translight Snarl our crew’s trusty Runner-class ship, the “Jolly Jumper” is no more. While narrowly escaping from the D’Jellar anomaly a pilot error resulted in a fatally flawed exit vector from the snarled translight corridor. The lasers barely managed to escape in the ship’s shuttle and had to watch their beloved home break up into a billion pieces.

But as the saying goes, “true lasers are never long without a ship” and an opportunity presented itself, involving a Bleed-wide warrant, a high-level Combine operative, an anti-piracy operation, a staged prison escape and a conveniently-parked Hauler-class starship.

Brocken - Hauler-class vessel
So the laser crew finds itself in the possession of the “Brocken”. A bit worn, the paint scratched in many places, it is still a translight-worthy laser vessel which holds the promise of a better future.

Haulers are the less-than-glamorous, slow and sturdy workhorses of the Bleed nowadays. Designed to carry a maximum of cargo, they provide the surviving worlds of the Bleed with much-needed resources that are not locally available. The image shows the main deck with its six massive cargo bays, the cut-down engine room and the richly furnished “boardroom” which is used to conduct business meetings. The full deck plans for this ship-class are found in the “Accretion Disc” companion for Ashen Stars and were drawn by yours truly with the Cosmographer 3 add-on to CC3.

Iron Dragon Rail Station

Chicago Iron Dragon StationFor an upcoming Deadlands: Reloaded game I mapped a fictional railway station, loosely modeled on a historical one built in 1881 (and later replaced by Chicago’s famous Union Station). The map can be used for other quasi-historical games (e.g. any Cthulhu or Pulp-genre game) where a medium-sized railway station is needed.

I first created a Baedeker-style floorplan of the station, using Campaign Cartographer 3 and its “1930s Travel Guide” style from the Annual Vol 5. It is fairly simple and painless to print, so it makes a great reference map. You can download the CC3 version of the map.

Then I went ahead and from the entrance hall section created a detailed battle mat with (Dungeon Designer 3 and Symbol Set 2) for use with miniatures.
Chicago Iron Dragon Rail Station Battle Mat

The battle mat prints on A1 size paper and you can download it here in a variety of formats:

Mapping for Ashen Stars

Ashen Starts - The BleedAshen Stars is a wonderful space opera rpg by Pelgrane Press, based on the GUMSHOE system. I had the pleasure to create the game’s published setting map (a part of the Galaxy called “The Bleed”) based on a sketch by Robin D. Laws.

Lately I got to revisit the setting when, after play-testing the upcoming Terra Nova adventure, Simon asked me to create a simple black and white diagram of the adventure’s featured luxury liner. You can see the result below (the color background was added for web display). While the exact layout of the ship isn’t important for the story, the relative position of the important locations is, and the map shows those.

Terra Nova