Friday, August 22, 2014

Navigating a Fantasy World with Google

I was looking at some paintings this morning by British artists working during the Victorian period. The painting below was painted by Richard Parkes Bonington in 1826. It depicts the Rialto in Venice.

From this great blog

Since the Rialto is a landmark, I decided to have a look on GoogleEarth ...

Not the same angle, of course, but close enough. This got me wondering how useful it would be to use GoogleEarth's street view for fantasy gaming. I've used it in the past for a Mystery Men! game, mostly to stage a chase and fight in Chicago IL. That was set in the 1960's, so not so far in the past that the modern cityscape wasn't close enough to use "as-is".

This section of Venice has some nice alleyways that appear to be "walkable" in GoogleEarth, and the buildings don't seem terribly different from 1826, when the above painting was painted. It makes me think that by picking an old city, and jumping into the old part of that city - the part that's been kept "oldey-timey" for the tourists - you might be able to turn it into a fantasy city and navigate players through using random encounters and random building tables, and a few set pieces, to facilitate play and give them a better reference point when fights break out or cut purses nab their gold and a chase ensues.

Some other cityscapes that might prove useful ...

Carcasonne, France - be sure to have your adventurers stay at the Best Western Hotel le Donjon.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Ghent, Belgium

Prague, Czech Republic

Siena, Italy

Unfortunately, many cities outside of Europe don't have street views available, such as Algiers' famous Casbah. You can at least use the street maps, though, and supplement it with old paintings.

You can also use real world landscapes from GoogleEarth for wilderness exploration to provide something more visually stimulating than a simple hex containing a landscape symbol. The NOD hexcrawls use 6-mile hexes. Below, a roughly 7-mile wide chunk of the Himalayas.

Much better than a hex with a triangle in it, don't you think?

You can zoom in as you play and, depending on the resolution of an area, have a better understanding of the path that has to be taken, and maybe find a convenient spot for a dwarf village or red dragon lair. The pictures can give the players a better understanding of what they're going through.

You're walking up a narrow defile. The ground is covered with gravel and boulders, and the slopes tower above you on either side. Strange noises echo down the defile ...

And what about random weather? Well, why not just use today's forecast? How is this bit of the Himalayas doing today? Rainy, fairly warm (well, when this post was written, anyways).

Just a few ideas for leveraging modern technology for better tabletop gaming. If you have any tips and tricks, please wax poetic in the comments, or toss in a link to a blog article you wrote.


  1. Try this! A Hex Grid overlay for Google Earth via the Autarch forums:

  2. There are imaginary weather generators by climate zone too. I make up one year of weather at a time.

  3. Google street view (in country) is great for seeing what vegetation, terrain looks like in different climates. Mountainous Italy, lake and pine filled Finland. It's really cool.

  4. Hi John... is the start of a blog from earlier this year where I was playing about with googlemaps as an adventure aid in a slightly different way. is probably the important bit. I hope it's accessible.

    In other news I must send you some more Strange New World stuff, sorry been a bit lax there!

    1. Why thank you, I rather like it. I can't seem to persuade anyone to join me in mapping some fantasy equivalents of the rest of the world around it however. I think I was in part at least inspired to do it by your work with Kepler 22B. I figured if you could lead the task of co-operatively mapping a new planet, how much easier would it be for me to provide the opportunity to map a new one?

      Which brings me back to Strange New World. I had forgotten that the last thing I sent you - which is here - - used satellite images from googlemaps for the images of the ground-surface.

      The first is from the Essex Marshes, the second from the Carmargue. Just because I was sure I could find marshland in those places that didn't have roads and electricity pylons, where I could place settlements of intelligent lizard-people.

      I rotated them 180 degrees, as of course Sector G-9 is in the Southern Hemisphere and I needed the shadows on the south side of the features. But if you squint hard you can maybe make out the upside-down '(c) google images 2012' or whatever it is in there.


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