Inuit Tactile Maps

Maps tell us where we are and how to get where we’re going. Sometimes, the top-down, bird’s-eye-view style of map we are most used to today is not the most helpful tool for achieving that goal. Anyone who’s had to orient themselves in a strange landscape with a traditional map knows the frustration of trying to match the visible landmarks and shapes of the terrain to the lines and symbols of the map. There are also plenty of places where pulling out a flat paper map would be impractical.

From Greenland comes a different approach to mapping. These drawings show two carved wooden maps of the coastline around the eastern Greenland settlement of Sermiligaaq that were sold to Danish explorers by a local named Kunit in the 1880s.

These small carvings, known as the Ammassalik wooden maps, represent the shapes of the coastline. The narrower map represents a string of islands; the wider one records a stretch of the mainland coastline and is read in a continuous stretch up one side and down the other. They are small enough to be held inside a mitten so that a traveler paddling down the coast by kayak could feel their way along from one bay to the next.

Just another example of how human ingenuity finds different solutions to similar problems.

Image: Drawing of the Ammassalik maps via Wikimedia

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.


Medieval Fantasy City Generator

Creating medieval(esque) city maps just got a lot easier: Oleg Dolya (watabou) made an automated generator to do it.

Medieval Fantasy City Generator Small

Choose size of city with the click of a button, and color scheme and line or shading types from the options. You can export the image either as png or svg. Unfortunately the ward names (temple, merchant, crafts, etc.) aren’t saved on the exported map, though.

Watabou also built a 3d-visualiser to support Medieval Fantasy City Generator called Toy Town. Although I haven’t played with that, it sounds like both should be a great help to storytellers—unless you enjoy the process with paper and pen, of course!

Found via N.K. Jemisin on Twitter.

Image: screenshot from a map created by Eppu Jensen with Medieval Fantasy City Generator by watabou

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Major Roman Roads Subway Map Style

A very, very cool map of major Roman roads done in subway map style:

Shasha Trubetskoy roman_roads_24_jun

Made by Sasha Trubetskoy, statistics major and designer, artist, and geography and data nerd.

Really fascinating! I know there were also some Roman roadworks running at least partially across the land from east to west along Hadrian’s Wall in Britain, but I don’t know whether there ever was a complete major road there.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Generating Secondary World Maps with Pasta

Remember Uncharted Atlas, the online tool to autogenerate fantasy world maps with? If that feels too convoluted or restrictive, there’s also a quick low-tech solution. Tumblr user ohemult describes how to make maps with pasta (and expletives):

Tumblr ohemult Mapping3


(I find that ohemult’s instructions work best if I imagine Samuel L. Jackson reading them as his Pulp Fiction character.)

Visit Tumblr for the full write-up. Found via

Image by ohemult via Tumblr

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

New Research Resource: Gigantic Online Picture Map of London

The London Picture Archive is a gigantic, free online photo map of the city’s past. The project has been nicknamed Collage.

Collage The London Picture Archive

Managed by London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), the map is made with over 250,000 photos, prints, maps, and drawings from the collections of LMA and Guildhall Art Gallery. Visitors can search by street name, or browse featured galleries and subjects. From the description of Collage:

“The images provide an extraordinary record of London and its people from the fifteenth century to the present day. The whole of Greater London is covered, as are the adjoining counties. Some of the many highlights include photographs of Victorian London; the sixteenth century ‘Agas’ map of London; Hollar’s stunning panorama from 1647; beautifully designed twentieth century posters for London’s tramways; the Cross and Tibbs photographs of Second World War damage to the City of London and the collections formerly held at the Guildhall Print Room. We regularly add new content from the LMA collections and, in particular, continue to develop descriptions and subject tags for the very large London County Council Photograph Library.”

I’ve only poked around for a short time, but for general purposes Collage looks like an endless source of images. For more specific searches it may not do quite so well. It certainly appears to be a worthwhile source for historical or historically inspired worldbuilding.

Image: screencap of Collage home page by Eppu Jensen

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna

Autogenerating Fantasy World Maps with Uncharted Atlas

Autogenerating fantasy world maps is now possible with an incredible online tool coded by Martin O’Leary.

Uncharted Atlas Map
An autogenerated map for a fantasy world, including slopes, borders, coastlines, rivers, cities, and territories, created with Uncharted Atlas. Coding by Martin O’Leary

Currently mainly existing to feed material to the Uncharted Atlas twitterbot, the tool and its code are available for others as well.

Says O’Leary:

“I wanted to make maps that look like something you’d find at the back of one of the cheap paperback fantasy novels of my youth. I always had a fascination with these imagined worlds, which were often much more interesting than whatever luke-warm sub-Tolkien tale they were attached to.

“At the same time, I wanted to play with terrain generation with a physical basis. There are loads of articles on the internet which describe terrain generation, and they almost all use some variation on a fractal noise approach, either directly (by adding layers of noise functions), or indirectly (e.g. through midpoint displacement). These methods produce lots of fine detail, but the large-scale structure always looks a bit off. Features are attached in random ways, with no thought to the processes which form landscapes. I wanted to try something a little bit different.”

Uncharted Atlas also generates names for cities, towns, and regions with a separate bit of code, following a set of consistent rules. For an explanation of how it works and to try your own hand at it, see the terrain notes and language notes.

As a user, I’d like to see a way to connect several of these individual maps into a larger unity, but that’s getting ahead of things—just having a free tool like this is fantastic. 🙂 Kudos!

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Travel: Water

160516junkTraveling over land is familiar. Many of us do it every day (even if we don’t do it as part of an army or with pack animals), but travel over water, though vital to the modern economy, isn’t part of daily life for most of us. Sometimes, though, the characters in your stories or games need to ride a raft downriver, strike out across the ocean in an outrigger canoe, or hoist the sails of a ship of the line. In this installment of the travel series, we look at types of pre-industrial water transport, the speeds and distances ships can travel, how much cargo ships can carry, and what it takes to make a successful voyage over water.


Ship speeds are conventionally measured in knots, equivalent to 1 nautical mile (1.151 statute miles or 1.852 km) per hour. 1 km/h is equal to 0.54 knots. In this post, I have given all speeds in terms of km/h for consistency with the other travel posts.

Types of transport

There are many different types of watercraft, from one-person rafts to massive cargo ships, but one essential way of distinguishing them is by means of propulsion. Pre-modern vessels had four basic options for propulsion: current, wind, paddles/oars, or draft.

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Do-It-Yourself Fantasy Place Name Generator

Writing a fantasy story or role-playing scenario? Need to come up with names for towns, rivers, mountain ranges and so on, but tired of thinking up new names all the time? Here’s a handy technique I use. It takes a little work up front, but then it makes coming up with new names really easy.

The thing about place names is: when you dig down deep into their meaning, they’re usually really obvious and descriptive. It’s only time and language change that obscures their meaning.

Look at a map of Europe and you’ll find Copenhagen (“merchant harbor”) and Dublin (“black pool”). In Asia there’s Shanghai (“above the sea”) and Samarkand (“stone fortress”). The same applies to the native names anywhere else in the world. In places that have experienced substantial colonization, the conquerors often imported old names that didn’t relate to the landscape (New York, Wellington), but in other cases the new names given by colonizers were just as descriptive (Cape Town, Salt Lake City).

The reasons for this naming pattern are fairly straightforward. If you live in a landscape where there are several rivers, but only one of them is muddy, or plenty of mountains, but there’s a big one with no trees on top, when you need to refer to that river or that mountain, you’re likely to say: “the black river” or “the bald mountain.” From there it’s only a short step to calling them “Black River” and “Bald Mountain”. As time goes on and language changes, place names tend to become fossilized and preserve older variants and meanings that the rest of the language has left behind.

So, put these facts to work for you. When you’re setting up your map, generate a list of place name elements and then you can quickly combine them to make new names for whatever you need.

Here’s how it works:

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