Back to Aerth(e) - Again!

 As I creep ever so slowly toward the realization of my YouTube channel featuring live play recordings (more encounter-focused than full-on Critical Role-esque play sessions) I started thinking about the framework I wanted use for the game sessions. Which is a long-winded way of saying I started to think more about the campaign world.

The first sessions are going to be Dungeons & Dragons 5E affairs (but, gods willing, they will evolve into other editions of the game and - eventually - into other games all together). My original thought was to keep it straight-forward and set them in the Forgotten Realms. But the more I thought about that, the less I liked the idea. I really wanted to put more of my own spin on the story behind the games.

To that end, I decided to stick with my earlier concept of using my own, quarter-century-old campaign world: Aerth.

Aerth (now with an extra "e" at the end - for reasons) began life as a marker-and-colored-pencil creation on gray construction paper. The original names of several of the kingdoms were inspired by (read as: lifted whole-cloth from) the kingdoms from the awesome Milton Bradley board game, Dark Tower. The events and major characters were pulled from my own, older (early 1981 through 1991) campaigns set in my own version of Greyhawk, and later in my own take on the Forgotten Realms (in the form of a much-condensed setting placed on a continent call "Urth").

Aerth's history and legends grew as more games were played throughout the mid-1990s. A few years ago, I lifted most of this history and transplanted it back into Greyhawk for my more recent "Lord of the Pit" campaign. Many more (seriously) epic characters and their (unbelievably) dramatic tales were added to the setting in that Greyhawk-based campaign. But I've decided it's time to return all the characters, gods, and historical events back to the world on which they really belong.

This wasn't an easy decision, though. One of the driving factors behind my decision to set the Lord of the Pit campaign in Greyhawk was the inspiration I derive from looking at those beautiful maps. I knew I'd be able to remain more focused thanks to the amazing look and feel of Darlene's creation. My own Aerth map, though attractive, always bothered me, with its small size (letter size at 150dpi) and the huge amount of space wasted on the oceans and massive legend/title device.

I'd considered recreating the map at a larger size, but that was a daunting prospect. You see, the map - as I said - started life on a piece of construction paper. It then got scanned (at a not-great resolution) and updated to a more modern look, with texturing, colors, new iconography, the aforementioned legend, and gridlines. But I'd made several mistakes when creating the digital version of the map, including creating it at waaaay too low a resolution and embedding the square gridlines directly into the land and water shapes. (And square? What in the holy name of Darlene was I thinking?? Ugh.) And the map was bitmapped, not vector art, so even if I wanted to make it larger, I couldn't do so without it turning into a pixelated nightmare.

These mistakes all meant starting from, essentially, scratch.

So my Aerth map sat there in my Windows folders, mocking me every time we crossed paths. It taunted me with its squandered potential and dared me to open the Photoshop files so it could further humiliate me.

Until the day when I finally said: "Fuck it."

Yes, I'm almost positive that's what I uttered under my breath when I started opening the multiple Photoshop files and navigating through layer after unnamed, unsorted layer. It took hours of sifting through my past mistakes to start to get a sense of what I was in for. (The issues that crept in because of inherent limitations in the version of Photoshop I'd used way back when to create the first digital version of the map didn't help any, either.) Then many more hours were spent recreating, revising, and enhancing in an effort to get a product that preserved the best elements of the old Aerth, but which felt much more deserving of the name.

It's not 100% complete yet, but the improved Aerth - now Aerthe - map is close to being ready for actual play. And yes, it's finally the size it should always have been - 36" by 24" (at 300dpi). I'm waiting for the sample print of the poster to arrive for final analysis and study for possible further improvements - I was just too impatient to wait any longer to send it off for printing! With any luck, it will be deserving of continued play in the setting that's literally been under construction for 40(!) years.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

(Here's a sample of the map as it stands now. When it's finally complete, expect other options!)


  1. That's a decent map. Were all the mountains, etc. from scratch or did you use a particular source for art assets (to be in a similar style/look and feel)?

    My only real suggestion is to try adding a wee bit of yellow to your grid because out at sea, the whiteness of your background wipes out some of the hexes. A wee bit of colour would make it easier to see.

    I've got a lot of Profantasy's mapping stuff and I'm getting more GIMPy over the decades.

    I like the layer management in GIMP (which should be analogous to some Adobe products) and I tend to use a lot of hidden layers for planning (to map out political borders or geographic regions or tectonic plates and their movements, or winds/currents) that don't have to be all that neat, but they help inform the parts that we do see on the map.

    Keep up the good work. Also like the Aerthe name. My world has been kicking since 1987 and it's still something I develop more of as I go.

    1. Thanks, Lux Mentis!

      On the printed poster, the hexes are still quite visible, even on the lighter sections. But if I release an electronic version, I'll keep your suggestion in mind. (As mentioned above, the image here is just a sample WIP - it isn't the final version nor one I would suggest folks to try to make use of.)

      As for the mountains (and trees) I started with a clipart base, then used Illustrator to make my own using those clipart pieces as a guide. I used those as sprites, basically, by using them as a base for a Photoshop mixer brush. Then spent hours placing, erasing, replacing, etc., until I was happy with the result.

      Is your world online? I'd love to take a gander at it...


Post a Comment