FAR WEST Cartography Notes
On November 14th 2011, after several months of preparation and hard work, the first Far West map was completed and approved. It was a long, arduous process, but the final results made it all worthwhile.
My name is Andrew Law, and I have the honor of being the cartographer for Far West. If you want to know a little more about me, go check the Bios page.
I can’t fully express my excitement at being involved with this project. For me, it’s the very definition of cool. Western, Wuxia, and a sprinkling of Steampunk, Far West is a sublime merging that emerges with a fresh, new whole that’s really exciting. T.S. and Gareth may be surprised that the Kickstarter broke records and scored an impressive 986% of its initial target, but I’m not. Really, what’s not to like about kung-fu cowboys with clockwork legs? On airships? Fighting dragons? Nothing, of course.
So, when I was tentatively contacted in July ’11 by T.S. Luikart, he didn’t need to do much persuading to sign me up for cartography work. I immediately fell in love with the setting, and couldn’t agree to join the project fast enough. However, I found creating the first map of the Far West wasn’t going to be quite as easy as I’d originally expected.
Put simply, maps exist to provide information about an area in pictorial form. Obviously, this requires details to be depicted. However, the Far West setting is, at the time of writing, mostly uncharted — later, its players and contributors will be expanding as the setting matures. This means that only a few, very important locations are currently known, with the rest of the huge area an empty expanse, pregnant with possibility, but mostly unrevealed.
How the hell was I going to map a big empty space in a fashion that did justice to the awesome setting?
Fortunately, T.S. and Gareth came to the rescue with an answer. They presented me with Amble, a Wandering Star artist with a fierce love for the untamed Far West, keen to record the majesty and beauty he had encountered during his long wanderings through those troubled lands. They suggested the first map could be presented as one of his works. Yes, by necessity it would be devoid of many geographical details, but this could be justified by the artist’s ignorance (he can’t have travelled everywhere—the Far West is huge!), and would leave lots of space for artistic flourishes and ‘Here Be Dragons’-style icons. So, they wanted a map with few important locations, but lots of arty bits in between, all drawn by an itinerant inhabitant of the Far West.
I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was time to start drawing.
Initially, I planned a watercolor and ink style map, drawing heavily upon Chinese art for inspiration. Unsurprisingly, it looked very Chinese as I drew it, which wasn’t what I wanted. Far West is a mash-up, after all. So, I then tried something more akin to a Wild Bill Hickok poster, but with some Chinese elements. That was pretty cool, but far too stylized and sensational, and not how I imagined Amble drawing. So, I chucked both sketches out the window and started again. This time, I drew upon some of the colors and stylings of Rick Hershey’s art, but influenced by both Chinese and American maps from the appropriate eras. As I drew some hills, this seemed to work better, so I ran with it. Soon, I’d drawn all the mountains of the Eagles’ Claws, the trees of the Sea of Spears, the flat tops of the Thousand Mesas, the undulating hills of the Rolling Steppes, the watery expanse of the Shining Mirror, and all the rest, and everything was slowly beginning to fall into place. Sure, it didn’t really look Chinese, and it didn’t really look American, but, it did look right. So, I labeled that all up with some hand-drawn text, then pressed on.
Next, it was time to get a little more arty. First came the animals. I wanted to show off some of the fauna the Far West had to offer, and was particularly looking forward to drawing a dragon and a Thunderbird, as these were unique to the setting. I had to ask T.S. for references for these, and I was sent the most awesome reference sketch I have received, ever (it was for the dragon). You should all persuade T.S. to post it online for your delectation. It is pure gold.
Anyway, once the animals were mostly finished, it was time to fill up the remaining blank areas with the sights Amble the Cartographer has witnessed on his travels across the Far West. This was the fun bit. Traction Engines, giant clockwork robots, camel-riding cowboys, dragon-trains, steam mills, paddle steamer/junks, airships, and more. These were an absolute joy to add, and greatly added to the character of the map.
Once the map was mostly full, it was time to add the finishing sections: the title plate, compass, and scale. This was all progressing wonderfully, but then my Wacom tablet (the digital art pad I draw with) broke. I still had two weeks until my deadline, so I was hardly panicking, but it wasn’t ideal! Amazon came to the (£360!) rescue and a tablet arrived a week later. Half-panicked that I only had a week left, I finished the map quickly and mailed T.S. and Gareth to inform them we were all done. They, meanwhile, were in the depths of creating new, exciting Far West material, so it was agreed that it was worthwhile waiting for that to be finished before finalizing the map, granting me some extra time to add some more details. Given I’d lost a week of work, I couldn’t have been happier.
I used the time to good effect, and drew a new title plate in the corner. The original was all text with a pretty patterned border. I’d originally planned something more ambitious, but ran out of time because of my broken tablet. With that impediment removed, I redrew the whole thing, this time drawing a log surrounded by Far West goodies (a cog, fan, pistol, flowers, trail cat, etc.). I also drew three butterflies into the image. Butterflies are a symbol of the Wandering Stars, and Amble, in particular, uses three butterflies as his personal stamp (which can be seen in the title plate between the chrysanthemums and the trail cat), so it was good to reinforce that imagery. I was far happier with this, and feel it really brings the whole map together as a piece of art.
That done, I then added a border, which helped pull the whole image together. I particularly enjoyed drawing the corner images, primarily as it was fun drawing a dragon and thunderbird in a different style to their more realistic partners on the map, and it was good to include the two moons on the map (something I’d intended to do from the beginning, but, again, had to drop because of the last week).
As I finished this, T.S. contacted me with all the new material he had written, so I added a few more extras drawn from this, including the robotic deputy of Whiskey Baddow, the Spiderweb of Sedoa, and the opal mines of Drywater, and then took a moment to review what I had.
The map looked good. But, the more I looked at it, the more I felt it didn’t look quite good enough. So, I tinkered a little more—tidying some details, and fading the edges a little to give it the appearance of use— but something still wasn’t quite right. So, I went to bed to think on it.
The next afternoon, after picking up my daughters from school, the answer came to me. My eldest handed me a sponsor form for a charity event at the school. She’d folded it up to fit in her pocket. I unfolded it and smiled at what I saw. Fold lines! That’s what the map needed! That evening, I set to work drawing fold lines on to the map. It worked perfectly; it made the image look more real, more used. I also tried adding a bullet hole or two, and some blood splatters, but that was too messy, and detracted from the map itself, so I discarded them. After taking a moment to survey the work, I concluded I was happy.
So, I sent the finished map to Gareth and T.S. for approval. Fortunately, they loved it. I spent a few days after that twiddling with a few details (river names, the sword beside the compass, updating the Chinese (thanks to Tom McGrenery for proofreading!) and similar), and finally we all agreed the map was finished.
Phew! Time to relax.
But, I was still super-enthused, so I carried on a little further, and drew a quick self-portrait of myself as if I were Amble (with three butterflies added to support that, and his stamp used in the corner). I drew upon Rick’s styling again, and it was surprisingly fun to draw, and helped bring the whole project to a nice conclusion. Amble and I had finished our map. The self-portrait accompanies this article.
So, where can you, the marvelous fans of Far West, find this map?
Besides the wallpaper presented below and on the downloads page here at the Far West website, it will be used as a double-page spread on the inside leaves of the Far West RPG book, and printed as a limited edition poster for all you Kickstarter backers that pledged $65 or more. In addition, a hi-res digital copy suitable for multi-page printing is available for purchase at RPGNow, for $1.99 (All Kickstarter backers receive a complimentary copy of this digital version, as promised).
I hope you all enjoy owning it as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Beyond all that, if you have any questions, post them in the comments below and I’ll endeavor to answer them where I can.
Looking forward to chatting to you all,
15th November 2011
Download the Official Far West Map Wallpaper here: