Here’s a kid with his coloring book. Except it isn’t.
Page after page shows nearly identical numbered hex sheets. The images shift
slightly- a few more walls, a river, a handful more tree icons. The kid doesn’t
care. He’s got a couple of colored pencils and two markers. He’s decided on his
color key, and he’ll remember it he tells himself so he doesn’t have to write
it down anywhere. These buildings have to be marked- that will flesh this out
and make these maps awesome. He writes down the names in block capitals: Vokora,
Jaerlawe, Penir-Souhl. This is just what he needs to take his game to the
next level…his players will travel to these places and know that each building
has a purpose.
And that’s how my maps book ended up filled in with four colors: dark green,
orange, vermillion red, and lime green.
FOR THE GUILD
In the late 70’s, early 80’s I had the fortune of having a decent gaming shop
within walking distance of my house. New things came out and I’d thumb through
them on the shelf. I bought a ton of stuff I read, a ton of stuff I didn’t
read, and much smaller pool of things I actually got to play. From the earliest
days I had a sense that the Judges Guild
material was…kind of crappy, to put it delicately. Mind you they started off
only a little behind other publishers, but pretty quickly dropped behind as
game lines improved. JG seemed to grab the coattails of whatever game was hot
that month. Some stuff was pretty cool- especially the various poster maps they
did and things like City
State of the World Emperor and The First
Fantasy Campaign. But other supplements fell apart on close inspection
IPSP / ISIS Official Map 7). But my sister (older by five years) bought
the supplements. I still remember her running me through the start of Thieves
of Fortress Badabaskor until she grew frustrated with me. I’d sneak
into her room and read the various ones she’d picked up.
And I bought some on my own, like the Village Book 1.
Judges Guild published a number of volumes in this series (Village Book 2, Castles Book 1).
These are saddle-stitched floppies, with no cover stock to speak of, more like
magazines than anything. VB1 clocks in at 64 pages on fairly see-through paper.
To offset that, the book’s printed entirely in grey ink. The cover image is
decent and signed “England,” those the artist(s) aren’t listed in the booklet.
The interior art- spot illustrations appear to be taken from some kind of high
school sketch book…maybe. A couple look like tracings but the two out of place
monster images ought to be doing an extended guitar solo. The font for most of
the book is classic Judges Guild, instantly identifiable, and echoing an
WELCOME TO DEAFKENNEL
The book opens with a fill-in reference chart for the maps which follow. Each
map can be assigned name, population, type, civilization, alignment, ruler
details, and resource. They can also be assigned a hex number, assuming that
GMs will be using these maps to flesh out a larger hex-crawl map. Pages 4-12 of
the book present a series of random tables for determining the characteristics
of the Village. Four pages cover naming it (combing a prefix and suffix). So my
village’s name is Deafkennel. Let’s see what else the tables generate for me:
Deafkennel has four wall sections (of a possible 72), made of wood, with a
thickness of 2’ and a height of 8’. These “stained” walls have nets on them. It
possesses 12 dirt streets, 6’ wide. Deafkennel has a population of 90 people,
giving it two shops. It is ruled by a dictatorship, indicating the highest
technology level. The two shops of the village are a Siege Engineer and a
Sanitation Station. Because Deafkennel is under a dictatorship, it has four
government works offices. These include a Tax office, an Odeum, a Village
meeting hall, and a Pantheon. That last is described in parenthesis as “several
Of course none of this is given any explanation, beyond a those few
parentheticals. For example, a city might have a Capital which is “a temple
dedicated to Arthur.” It might seem obscure, or it might drive gamers to go to
their dictionaries, an admirable aim. Of course the process is entirely random,
so my dirt-tracked village of 90 people could have just as easily had a
Naumachial or “place to hold mock sea battles.”
But the main part of the book, pages 13-60 presents the village maps. Each page
presents a numbered hex-map (they note SPI as the inventor of that in the
credits). Grey standard lines bound off a large hex section. Inside that they
present a village. Most of the drawings are fairly basic- a handful of
buildings, dotted lines for roads, crude shapes for bridges over rivers. Many
of the buildings are too tiny to annotate directly, so the DM would have to
number or color code things. Some maps have interesting details (like a
surrounding swamp or being set on an island). As crude and basic as they are,
the maps work. They set for me what I imagined a map ought to look like; most
maps I drew freehand bear a remarkable similarity to these.
WHY REVIEW THIS?
The maps also established the GM’s role for me. “This booklet is intended to
fill the need of any active campaign judge to populate a large area for his
fantasy role players.” I spent hours making maps for various games, from
nations to villages to dungeons. I figured out codes and filled in these
coloring books. When Cities
of Hârn came out, that was a revolution for me. Now I had the same tools,
but with larger maps, better defined, plus several versions (color, labeled,
unlabeled). Weirdly it wouldn’t be until years later that I’d actually start
examining my process- and realized that while I had all of these maps, I rarely
referred to them. Even maps of places and cities I ran in Bozisha-Dar,
Pavis, Rykel- I almost
never went to the map. Most of the time it didn’t matter, all I needed was a
relative and general sense.
But I still have a love for these books. On the one hand, they’re primitive and
the relic of another era. On the other I’ve seen recently people setting up and
running “hex-crawl” adventures. There’s a kind of board-game simplicity and
sandbox vibe to that. If you’re in the mood for nostalgia or want to set up a
game like that, Village Book 1 could be useful. It’s even better since
you can now buy it as a pdf and work with those in an art program.