Applying Theory: GIMP-y Professional Maps

Real quick post. In a previous post, I mentioned how incredibly awesome the Cartographer’s Guild is. Well, on their site they have an entire forum dedicated to people writing up tutorials for guys like me (read: clueless with image editing software), walking through the process step by step to create some awesome maps. In that earlier post, I showed you what a few hours with GIMP and a tutorial can get you.

Well, shortly after that, my inherent lazy GM-ness kicked in and I started thinking– if I could do as well as I did starting completely from scratch, how awesome a map could I make if I piggyback off the greatness of someone else?!?! And so I did. I had been looking for a map to use for my Tales of Brittanis game that has recently started up, and I found it. I had stolen the name Istivin from the Greyhawk setting ages ago and have always wanted to use it, especially because of the Adventure Arc that Paizo put out back in the paper-magazine days: Touch of the Abyss, Shadow of the Abyss, and Wrath of the Abyss respectively (twisted and molded for my own campaign, of course). I have always loved the name “Istivin” and the general history of the region, but can’t really use the specifics of the history and the like.

So I pulled my usual GM trick: I stole brazenly and twisted it to work for my campaign. I took the most awesome city map I know of– The City of Greyhawk— reversed it, flipped it upside down, and then used this tutorial (see post #25 and the next couple past it)  to erase the stuff I didn’t want and re-label a great deal of the locations. I even remembered to flip-flop the compass rose. The product was the map you see below– a very nice map intended for home game use. It’s not professional quality, but I’m not going for that. I’m going for something useful for my campaign that saves me as a GM time and in the process inspires me to learn/create/write more NPCs, locations, and background for my game. In particular, the fact that Istivin (by which I mean MY Istivin) is set up the slope of one gigantic hill and is partitioned into several distinct districts travelling upward toward the Castle was key for me determining the feel of the city. Note that if you look on the eastern border of the nation of Albion (royal blue outline) here, you can see the placement of my version of Istivin. Below is the beginning of my writeup of my version of Istivin. Note: We’re playing a fantasy mashup of Legends of Anglerre and the Dresden Files versions of the FATE 3.0 rules, so when you see “Aspect” below, it’s an actual, crunchy bit the players and NPCs can use to their advantage or I as GM can use to MY advantage.

Edit: Apparently WordPress is being stupid and won’t let me upload my version of the Istivin map. Instead, you can see it HERE. For the record, modifying this map for my campaign took me LESS THAN 30 MINUTES, start to finish.

On the Easternmost borders of the Princedom of Albion lies the city of Istivin, known as the City of Shadows. It is a city that has been ravaged by war, and poisoned by the crush of would-be nobles holding dubious or outright false claims on ravaged manors and overgrown fields. It is a city on the edge of civilization, staring deep into the darkness of the savage wild and keeping an eye ever northward to the twisted, blasted lands of the Waste. Istivin is a city divided; the Baron of Istivin hasn’t been seen in public for months and the wife who rules in his absence is rumored to treat with dark powers. Merchants and the workers struggle against each other incessantly for political power, a city-wide threat on the verge of turning the populace on itself. The Sarcosi family, led by the charismatic and utterly ruthless “Lady” Lorelai Sarcosi, have both their fingers and their blood money in every aspect of the city. Istivin is on the brink of disaster, whether from outside her walls or from her own inner demons.

Istivin lies on the easternmost edge of the land of Albion, sitting on the banks of the White River. Many folk travel to Istivin by water as the overland routes, lucrative though they might be to those carrying trade, are perilous and fraught with danger. From the river, Istivin isn’t much to look at; both the North Docks and the South are some of the worst parts of the city, reeking of fish and the stench of poverty. Castle Kingsbridge sits on the top of a high hill, and looms ominously over the rest of the city which sits on a long slope leading up to the castle itself. The city is divided into ten separate districts, each with their own color and feel. These districts are separated by age, income level, politics and sometimes just the side of the street one lives on. Still, the rivalries between some of the denizens can border on violent in the best of times, and occasionally spills into outright bloodshed, especially among the “noble houses” of Istivin and the regions around it. Living on the frontier has made these people hard in ways their softer cousins on the interior of the civilized lands are not. Life tends to come cheap in this frontier city, and the enemies of a major House often end up bleeding their life into the gutters of Istivin’s streets.

Istivin’s History

Founded just after the Tiberian Empire finished their consolidation of Brittanis, Istivin began not as a city but as a woman. A powerful war-witch named Alyshara Istivin traveled along with the armies of general Honoria Brittania during the conquest of this region; at some point during the fight, Alyshara wearied of battle and asked to retire. Honoria gave her a governorship and she chose to secure the eastern frontier. Perhaps because of Alyshara’s decision of where to place her castle, and perhaps because of the inherent wildness of the lands across the White River, Istivin has always marked the eastern border of civilization; attempts have been made with limited success to carve trade roads to the dwarven lands and the kingdom of Malagant but they have met with precious little success. The land between is, truly, infested with monsters—both those that sneak through the mountains from the blasted lands of the north and those whose tribes lair in the Swordlands.

For many years after its founding, Istivin experienced spectacular growth, expanding down the hill upon which Castle Kingsbridge (then simply called “the castle”) in several expansions that can be seen today in the multiple walls and gates leading down the hill northward. Each gate was, at one point, the main exterior gate of the city. It maintained its status as the furthest reaches of Imperial control for most of the Tiberian Occupation, and many times it was used as a place to send those who needed to disappear but couldn’t be killed outright. Rumors persist to this day of dungeons under the castle specifically designed to house spellcasting prisoners or to hide artifacts of immense power.

Because of its crossroad geography and the natural abundance of the mines and forests nearby, Istivin has always been a city that thrives on trade; the rulers of the city have remained largely content to live off of the mines, shipping and lumber that flow through the city. Maintaining access to the natural resources has often meant cutting through goblinoid tribes and groups of monstrosities from the Waste, and once or twice each decade those forces try to conquer or destroy the city itself. Istivin is a city constantly watching the river that is its lifeblood—watching for the ships that carry trade through the city, and watching the banks for invaders.

Recent History

The Tiberian army retreating from Brittanis went very hard for the city of Istivin. Perched on the edge of the Swordlands as it is, when the Empire pulled out, the people of Istivin lost their ability to defend themselves as well. Istivin had been where the Empire sent their new, green Legions because they knew that the troops would see action and the weak would be culled from the strong in the fighting there. Suddenly, though, there were no Legions to guard the city walls, and Istivin was ripe for the plucking.

Shortly after many Free Dwarf refugees had come to settle in the outskirts of the city, they brought warning to Istivin of a savage horde of mutated, aberrant humanoids gathering to attack the undefended city. Soon after, contact with the outlying dwarven communities across the river ceased altogether. The few knights and men at arms of Lord Callan Ashbourne moved against the threatening incursion but failed to anticipate the speed and ferocity with which the assault would come. The Lord’s unprepared and undermanned border forts buckled under the fierce assault, and many of their surviving soldiers fleeing to the city proper. All contact with friendly forces across the White River stopped as the horde moved towards the city, blanketing the wilderness with their spies and patrols as the forces of the aberrant horde marched for Istivin. Overmatched and unprepared, Lord Ashbourne ordered a complete evacuation; after standing unconquered for hundreds of years, Istivin had fallen.

Humbled, Lord Ashbourne fled to the city of Eboracum, home of his liege-lord Riordan MacGregor, the duke of Northold. In his pride, Ashbourne had not credited the horde with the speed and ferocity which rumor had given them and MacGregor had not received word in time to gather a force sufficient to defend his border. The Duke promoted Ashbourne to the title of Baron and installed hi at the head of a mighty army of reclamation and sent him back eastward to reclaim the city that would become the heart of his barony. When the blooded army hacked its way through the twisted, cannibalistic, mutated humanoids of the horde, they discovered that Istivin had not been razed to the ground like the settlements east of the River White—instead the liberators found an entirely abandoned city, devoid of any sign of the aberrant horde now named as “darkspawn”. The city’s ancient buildings remained wholly intact, almost pristine in their preservation. A puzzled Ashbourne secured his city and resumed rulership, then set about the task of pushing the darkspawn back across the White River.

Within two years, the whole of the Barony of Ashbourne had been reclaimed, but true peace never came. A shadow of dread and disquiet had fallen over Ashbourne’s city. Tempers flared more easily, and deadly accidents happen with regularity. Foul nightmares haunt the sleep of those with even a touch of magical ability, and many mages in the city have gone mad over the past decade. A group calling itself The Chantry has taken up residence, espousing the evils of arcane magic and the inherent corruption it brings to mankind.

Other citizens vanished altogether, never to be seen again. After the death of Callas Ashbourne, his son Devon took up his father’s mantle and ruled the city for a time but the strands of power slipped through his fingers one by one. Then, just over a year ago, the Baron himself disappeared entirely with no explanation given by his wife Moira who took up the reins of power until her son Jon Ashbourne attains his majority.

In the vacuum of power left by Baron Ashbourne’s strong hand, other factions in the city began maneuvering for influence over the city. A consortium of merchant interests calling themselves the Iron Circle banded together and attempt to force their mercantile and financial interests over the populace, opposed by the workers and crafters who stand to lose most from the alliance of merchants. Noble houses scheme and plot to advance their fortunes, both from within the city walls and from their estates outside the city proper. Some squabble amongst themselves, saying the Ashbournes should be ousted and new Baron appointed by Duke MacGregor… others who call themselves Loyalists support the current ruler, absent though he may be. They may not like it, but Moira rules with the legitimate authority of the law and deserves the respect and fealty of the people of the Barony of Ashbourne. Finally, a new force is rising in the underworld of Istivin. A woman named Lorelai Sarcosi has over the last two years consolidated a hold on some of the criminal activities in Istivin and is thirsty for more. She schemes night and day to bring all the criminal activity in the city under her control. Her forces blackmail, strongarm and occasionally outright kill those nobles or merchants who get in their way; if she attains control of the entirety of Istivin’s criminal goings-on, who knows what she will do next.

Rival factions and the shadow of a long-past war loom over the city of Istivin. It’s no wonder the place is nicknamed the City of shadows, as it stand perched to tumble into civil war, chaos and bloodshed at any moment should the delicate balance of power be shifted one way or another.

City Overview

Theme: A City Battling Decay

Theme Aspect: Decay and Corruption

  • A battle rages for the soul of the city of Istivin. It’s defenders are few and far between, their resources low and their hope almost extinguished. It seems as if the city is rotting from the inside out, and despite the efforts of the Baroness and the Nightwatch (those members of the City Watch who fight against corruption instead of profiting from it), the city slides a little further into darkness every day. Rival gangs compete for control of the streets while the Sarcosi family attempts to bring all of the criminals under her auspices. Buildings lay abandoned or inhabited by squatters, especially in the poor sections of the city. Bodies in the streets aren’t common, but they’re not a rarity either. This isn’t to say that there aren’t good cops: there are. And there are many nobles, especially those who are from Baron Callas’ era, who believe in the city and its potential. There are people in the trenches pushing back against the tide of darkness that threatens the city, because the city is worth fighting for. They just need help, and a lot of it.

Threat: Allies, Rivals, and Enemies

Threat Aspect: There’s a Storm Comin’

  • The city stands on the brink of chaos. The Baron is missing, his wife holds power by the barest of threads. Nobles of ancient lineage and those for whom the ink on their forged patents of nobility is barely fry—all compete and maneuver for power. The merchants walk the razor’s edge of civility with the workers and crafters, each expecting the other to strike first. Crime runs rampant and Lorelia Sarcosi is building herself an empire under Istivin’s streets. In a later age, we’d say “This place is a powderkeg”. And it is, just waiting for the right spark to set the whole city aflame.

Theme/Theme Aspect: The City of Shadows

Istivin has always been known as The City of Shadows. Originally this was because the city’s location on the slope of a huge hill put part of the city in darkness long before the sun had actually set. Since the Darkspawn War, however, the nickname has become far more literal. A psychic shadow hangs over the city; only those attuned to the supernatural can sense it’s overt presence, but the effects of its power are obvious. A sense of dread and bitterness seems to pervade the atmosphere. Good will between neighbors seems to disappear, and tempers flare into violence far more quickly than they should. Greedy nobles and con artists started to grab up titles and lands lost during the way, contributing to the overall tension. Now, mysterious deaths and accidents occur with increasing regularity. Incidences of madness developing in previously-healthy citizens are on the rise, and the asylum in the forest to the west of the city is almost full to bursting. Many people have disappeared in the night—even the ruler of the city himself. The streets of the city are nearly deserted after dark; the citizens feel something is wrong with their city, but they don’t consciously recognize it.

Next Time on the Action Point:

Turn your NPCs into Movie Stars!!

This entry was posted in Applying Theory, Brittanis, GM Advice, Maps & Mapping, Worldbuilding. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Applying Theory: GIMP-y Professional Maps

  1. That map looks amazing! And thank you very much good sir for hint to check out Cartographer’s Guild.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Applying Theory: GIMP-y Professional Maps « The Action Point --

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