Mapping Out the Games
RPG Cartographer, Cecil Howe was kind enough to answer a few questions.
I've been a big fan of computer RPGs since I was a little guy. My folks talked about D&D a lot when I was younger, but I didn't really get into tabletop stuff that long ago. I found a Fighting Fantasy book, Forest of Doom, in a used book store and have been hooked since. I think I was 22 or so, and I was on the road a lot for work and I would play that book in the car by myself.
How long have you been drawing?
I got forced to take an art class early on in high school, having never cared about drawing before then and have loved it ever since. In college I studied art education, but I left halfway through and moved across the country for the job I had at the time. I took a break from art stuff for a bit and I feel like I am just now getting back into the swing of it all.
What inspired you to become an RPG cartographer?
I've been in love with level design and writing for games since I can remember. When I was in middle school and high school I played this game called Graal Online. Just from screwing around with the level editor and showing it off on the forums, the developers gave me the opportunity to put a level up on their "next gen" server Graal 2001. It was a dojo and a garden and I got to make a bunch of fake Japanese graphics for the thing.
When they launched their "next next gen" server Graal Kingdoms, I got attached to the project and did level design and some animation design and stuff like naming towns and areas. Some of it may still be around the servers. When Neverwinter Nights came out I abandoned Graal Online and probably invested a brazillion hours in the toolset making levels and adventures But I made sure that the dialog tree only gave idiot choices for players with an intelligence under 9.
Then I got a girlfriend. So the nerdery stopped. But when I got into pen and paper RPGs I immediately got back into level design, and I guess cartography is a natural extension of my love of level design.
That was a long and dumb way to answer that question. I apologize, dear readers.
Can you tell us about some of your recent map work?
Absolutely! One of my more recent maps was for an adventure released less than a week ago. It is an undead desert adventure called ‘Tombs Of The Desolation’ and it was written by Robert J. Schwalb for his game Shadow Of The Demon Lord. For this one I snipped a piece of parchment paper in half, soaked it in some brown stuff like coffee and tea and then dried it in the oven. I learned that secret technique in second grade. Then I painted on it, drew on it with markers and pens and colored pencils, then loaded it up in GIMP to mess with the colors a bit.
Currently on my desk is a nearly complete commission for David McGrogan (the babe that wrote the immensely popular Yoon-Suin) and his upcoming zine The Peridot. The picture is an early cell phone picture of the thing. I will also be collaborating with Autarch on their newest Kickstarter success “Lairs & Encounters” for the Adventurer Conqueror King System. The first one of those maps should be floating around the internet any day now and the book will be around Spring time this year.
I also got the super cool opportunity to draw some maps for an Ed Greenwood adventure. The adventure was a stretch goal from the Shadow Of The Demon Lord Kickstarter campaign; Schwalb asked if I wanted to try and do a map for this adventure even though it didn’t really need one. Of course I said yes and instead of doing a cohesive map of attached shapes, I did individual rooms to drop in with the text of the book. A couple of sleepless nights in between holidays were spent on that piece, and the adventure will be around for purchase sometime towards the end of this month or early February.
What does the future hold?
A lot. A lot, a lot. 2016 is going to be seriously busy year for me. Some time in the spring I will be launching a book full of never before seen maps for use at the table. After that I’ll try and release a spell book. I’ll also continue cranking out as many commissions as land in my inbox. Don’t hold me to any of that though, I drink a lot of beer.
Where can people learn about your work?
Well, I have a website that I only update when I get emails reminding me to pay the hosting bill. That’s www.swordpeddler.com. I also post a lot of things to a tumblr blog, www.swordpeddler.tumblr.com. I use tumblr to post sketches and studies, whereas the big site is for news and (mostly) finished things.
You can always look me up on Google+ as well!