Saturday, January 23, 2021


 This post is about the MAPS of Through Ultan's Door. It's a glimpse into some of the wonderful cartography in this upcoming trio of zines. It also tells you a little something about how I collaborate when things are going well.

The zine uses detachable covers with maps printed on the interior of sturdy cardstock covers that can stand up like little screens. Gus L has done all the cartography for the zine from the very beginning. His maps grace the interior cover of Through Ultan's Door 1 & 2. For issue 3, I sent Gus a pointcrawl map of the sewer river that just had a series of circles with words in them connected by a single line, along a capsule summary of each point. It was like a child's scrawl. Check out  this psychedelic, three-dimensional map, Gus came back with, which will be reproduced on the interior of the cover of Through Ultan's Door 3 Part I

One thing Gus said when he sent the map is: "You're obviously going to need to write the harbor up as a bigger site." To which I replied, "Yes, I will."  Truth be told, in fact, it's in part by staring at this map and thinking how my text could live up to this cartography that we ended up having a double issue for Through Ultan's Door 3. I thought, "I have to do this map justice."

My collaboration with artists works that way too. Once I have a working relationship and trust with an artist, I say, "Here's the text I'm hoping you'll illustrate. Here are some visual references. But actually what I'm most interested in is how YOU will imagine it. I'll rewrite the text to match what you draw." Zyan, in its published form, is an aesthetic collaboration. 

Next, take a look at Gus' delicious cartography for the wreck of the Verdant Purveyor, the base of operation for the Regulators of the Black Hand, dread sewer pirates led by Free Hand Hesock. It is reproduced on the interior of the cover of Gus' companion module Beneath the Moss Courts. He dreamed up the Verdant Purveyor and wrote the accompanying text, so this is all his vision. (Note: the area numbers haven't been added yet on this version of the map.)

This map has none of the slickness of contemporary digital maps. It is not a battle map. Rather, it's intended as an aid to be used at the table (physical or virtual) in describing the rooms for play in the theater of mind. Look at how lovely the exploded design is, with each deck and their inter-relations so clearly illustrated, and so much visual information about the contents right on the map. 

What is most striking though about Gus' maps is the way they bring alive and vividly evoke the sense of place. Note those decorative, weird, elegant sewer reeds reaching upwards, and the shattered, water-filled lower deck, or the weird repurposed rooms, like the one with a pentagram on the floor.  I have always thought that even without the keys, you could design great adventures just by staring at Gus' maps and letting your imagination roam guided by sense of place his maps conjure. 

You can learn more here about what, besides these maps, will appear in double-issue 3 and Beneath the Moss Courts. A pre-launch page for Through Ultan's Door 3 is now up on Kickstarter. If you are interested in following along with the Kickstarter and getting an announcement when it launches on Monday February 2nd, please click on this link:

In closing, here is the cover of Beneath the Moss Courts. This illustration of the wreck of the Verdant Purveyor is by Huargo. Obviously. 


  1. Salivating for these.

    I'm biased in a sense, but hand-drawn maps > digital maps for me for a lot of situations.

  2. Typo on the top line of the cover?