Sunday, October 25, 2015

Issues in Mapping Paraguay

Paraguay is the first map I've added to my game world that is south of the Equator.  This became the first problem I had to manage in mapping the region, because it meant having to figure out the dimensions of the sheet map in reverse.  I'll explain.

In choosing a map projection that would work best with a hex-design, I went with the world viewed from the two poles.  I've explained this before regarding mapmaking, but giving a quick explanation, the world is like two sides of a hexagonal coin, the top and the bottom.  I don't have an image of the world depicted as a hexagram (more's the pity) so I'll have to show two circles instead:

This means that the distortion is greatest towards the Equator . . . but I solve this problem by having the inhabitants of the planet dwell in an illusionary haze that supposes that the world is a sphere and that the universe acts in accordance with that supposed truth.  It is important to always remember, this is my D&D world, not a pure representation of any so-called 'real world' that may exist elsewhere.

Because I've been mapping in the northern hemisphere, I'm used to designing my maps leading away from the north pole, thus managing the distortion the hex-map creates habitually with this in mind.  To map a portion of the southern hemisphere, I had to reverse my thinking and design the maps leading towards the south pole, since I did not want to turn the map upside down in representing it (we're used to having north be generally at the top of the map, even in the southern hemisphere).  This actually gave me a headache.  It is difficult to explain why - since I can't express the problem fully in my own mind.  Let's just say it made it hard to determine the exact shape of the sheet maps regarding that 60-degree turn that happens as one circumnavigates my hex-map world (see the mapmaking link above).  Thankfully, Paraguay was not on a parallel that required that turn.

Once figuring it out, however, I began laying out the hex elevation details for the necessary maps.  In a close-up view of either this new map on the wiki or this one, there are little numbers in the corner of every hex.  This is the elevation in feet above sea level for that hex (though there are variances within the hex that I have to imagine, though that isn't important right now).  If the number is in italics, then this indicates the highest habitated elevation in the hex (not the highest point, just the highest point at which people live).  Numbers not in italics represent the lowest elevation.

In making any map, I have to start by diligently placing these numbers in every hex.  Initially, every hex is tagged with the lowest elevation; the black circles on the maps linked above indicate that these hexes do not contain rivers and that the numbers should be altered from highest to lowest.  The difference this makes gives a good indication of the elevation changes from hex to hex, aiding in the maps representing the world.

The more information I have regarding elevations, the more precise I can plot the course of the rivers.  With Paraguay, the plan was to determine the basin of rivers that ultimately drain into the region - the Parana River from the east, the Paraguay River from the north and the much smaller Pilcomayo River from the west, among other smaller tributaries.  To do this, I needed to know where the continental divide existed between the Paraguay-Parana basin and the Amazon basin, to the north.

This proved difficult, because much of central South America is empty.  Very, very empty.

Google Earth helps with this.  I could tell from images that most of the Amazon basin leading up to the heights of central Mato Grosso is full of hills and low mountains.  I could then speculate that the dividing country between the river basins was mostly hilly jungle - human access is dependent upon river travel.  Therefore, virtually anything for which I don't have data (meaning there are no habitations there) could be counted as inaccessible higher altitude jungle.

This is a bit obscure.  Let me show the size of the Paraguay-Parana basin by showing the dimensions of what I needed to lay out in order to determine it:

Looking at it in one piece for the first time (I've been looking at it in seven sections), it actually looks smaller than I supposed. Ah well.  It still makes the largest river basin system I've mapped, so that's something.

The scattering of green hexes across the top of the map are those hexes for which I have no information for the latitude/longitude of that hex.  The hex is therefore colored to either be a highland (dark green) or a lowland valley (light green) in accordance with the vegetation.  The greenish-brown hexes in the Paraguay map on the previous post indicate a Chaco vegetation, what's called a xerophytic open forest (on this post, it is similar to the image for 'Di - caatinga,' except that it's much flatter and much wetter).  The darker green hexes represent a galleria-type forest, a mix of tall grass and jungle trees, a sort of dense savanna.  South Mato Grosso and all of Mato Grosso do Sul provinces correspond to that circular area of pink-orange (the upper Paraguay basin), something I'm pointing out because mato grosso in Portuguese means "thick bush."

Steadily, with Google Earth, the data I could use from the hexes I did have information for and a little fudging here and there (it is my world, remember; I can fudge if I need to), I did get the various limits of each basin (Pilcomayo, Paraguay, Parana, etc) worked out.  After that, it was just a matter of calculating the river sizes and drawing the rivers out.  Well, sort of.

See, I felt I had to plot some of the towns in Mato Grosso and eastern Bolivia in order to get those rivers properly placed (a bit more information helps).  Brazil was easier, the upper Parana valley is well inhabited.  Plotting towns means investigating towns, researching their origin and establishing their political backgrounds.

Now, I absolutely wanted a Spanish/Portuguese presence in South America, so I felt that any town that was founded before 1650 had to exist, regardless of the circumstances.  1650, incidentally, is the historical year on which my world is based - and there are many Spanish colonies founded before that year.  None of them, however, happen to be in Mato Grosso . . . or eastern Bolivia and western Paraguay.  Or eastern Paraguay, for that matter.

In Part II of this post, I will write about what I did about that.  Making a map of Paraguay isn't enough.  Some considerable thought has to be applied to what lives there.


JB said...

Great stuff. Asuncion (the main Spanish settlement in Paraguay and the Paraguayan capitol) was a pretty influential/powerful town in South America in the 17th century. If your players were willing to set sail to South America, it could certainly open up whole new realms of adventure (lots of supernatural mojo and monsters in the Chaco, not to mention lost temples and whatnot stashed in the jungles of Brazil and the mountains of Bolivia).

Of course, you'd probably need to map east to Uruguay.
; )

My compliments, Alexis (and my thanks)...your work really is amazing.

Randal Glyph said...


I saw your comment on B/X Blackrazor, (9/10/15 "A Different Paradigm,") regarding both Arneson and Gygax, and it sounds right on the money to me. Hopefully, this isn't too off topic, but I wasn't sure where else to ask.

"All right. Let's put on a shelf that in all probability these "letters" from these people are memoirs and therefore full of probable fabrications, particularly given that both these men were sued by about thirty fellow players and students in Chicago in the 70s who couldn't prove their case in court. We'll accept that history is made by the winners - who in 2004 can make up any story they like."

"Gygax, for all his failings, stole the right ideas."

All of that sounds true, and I'd like to read deeper. I can't find any mention of this student lawsuit against Gygax or Arneson, on either the internet, or in Jon Peterson's history of D&D, "Playing at the World."

Is there a specific source you are quoting, or a site to read more specifics on this information?
Thanks for any pointers with this.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Remember this is the 1970s and regards students making the game for themselves. Apart from physical records of a suit, if they still exist (they would be in Chicago), I have no way to ever check the story.

What I have is two reliable sources, both of those thirty. One was very instrumental in teaching me the game. I met these people separately, a long time ago.

This is why I believe the Arneson and Gygax myth is bullshit.

Randal Glyph said...

The more I read about both Arneson or Gygax, the more I become convinced that both of them were taking credit for too many of other people's ideas.

I find it boggling that so many people latch onto these guys for hero worship, and claims of brilliant game design, when they were clearly both hacks. Yeah, some of each of their ideas were pretty good. But most of the ideas needed to be overhauled and completely redone. Very little of the necessary starting over and fixing of the rules from scratch ever seems to have been done, though. And a revision of the rules from OD&D to AD&D would have been the perfect time to do just that.

Arneson had some good insights into combining other people's previously publicized ideas. Like the published accounts of the previous fantasy wargaming of Tony Bath's "Hyboria" and the "Tolkia" campaigns, into inspiration for the broad outlines of Arneson's own fantasy variant, Blackmoor.

Arneson wasn't the first to use single player = single character, either. That may have been Tony Bath, again, or even earlier, in 1937, by Harry Otto Fisher, who quickly had Fritz Leiber adding to his unpublished Lankhmar role-playing board game. This was 37 years! before OD&D reached the market in 1974. In my book, Fisher is the true inventor of the earliest iterations of Role-playing games, and fantasy role-playing games. With Fritz Leiber as his junior partner.

And Gygax claiming to be "Father of the Game..." How can Gygax state this with a straight face and no one calls him on it? Since Arneson had to teach Gygax what role-playing was about, by using the existing sketchy game rules for Blackmoor....

Single-PC fantasy role-playing was being done in Blackmoor, before Gygax even knew about the concept. Gygax admits as much. You can't claim to be father of something like a concept of all table top role-playing games and the computer games that derived from it (like Gygax has claimed) when role-playing pre-existed your knowledge and involvement in it.

Color me cynical about either of those guys, and sour on most of the hero worship directed at them. Like you said, the myths are bullshit.

Rob Kuntz has had some interesting inside dirt on actual events and personalities from back in the day. Kuntz revealed lots of details in a 51 minute youtube interview with Martin Brown of Grognard Games. "Rob Kuntz: Conversations, Part I."

If you learned gaming from 2 of the 30 that sued these guys, then I'm sure anything from their accounts would make for some fascinating reading.

Alexis Smolensk said...

This is very much my belief also, Randal. Consider the proliferation of role-playing as part of psychology therapy throughout the 1950s and 60s, combined with the rise of gaming research by think tanks like the Rand Corporation, both of which were present staples on the average American campus at the time these guys were beginning their educations. The idea that they "invented" these ideas in a vacuum only shows how little the average modern gamer understands about academic culture in the late 60s and 70s.

That is the crux of this issue: players today do not understand what influences OUTSIDE these 'gamers' messing around with ideas together circa 1972. They attended classes, saw films, heard discussions and were effectively inculcated into a culture that was seeing 'role-playing' as a solution to many of society's social and military ills, mixed into a cold-war culture where 'thinking' through a battle plan was becoming vastly more important than actually fighting. For fuck's sake, the game was invented during the Vietnam war - by boys who were avoiding that war through academic achievement. But none of that matters to the modern pundit, who is barely aware that most of the events going on in 1972-74 actually occurred.