By Ayobami Leeman Kessler
There is a rather special phenomena that occurs in the brain when handed a writing implement and a piece of graph paper. Without bidding, the mind begins to play with patterns and if faced with a tedious math class, by the end of the hour, the sheet will be absolutely filled with designs. Explain to the young brain that they can use these tools to create worlds and something even more electrifying happens.
My first encounter with tabletop gaming came from the usual source: Older Siblings. My own brothers had their smattering of books, most of which survived burning by overzealous missionaries but it wasn’t until the older brother of one of my classmates started running us through games and dungeons of his own devising that I saw the magic that could be summoned on that flat rectangle of uniform grids. Soon, I was taking friends through encounters with mazes and monsters of my own, all of us lost in the worlds and secrets scratched onto those pages. It was an introduction to a world of wonder I still try to dip into.
With that auspicious beginning, it is no surprise that I have come to adore the work of Dyson Logos, a veteran gamer whose website, Dyson’s Dodecahedron is a treasure trove of beautifully designed dungeons and maps along with other gaming ephemera. I first discovered Dyson’s work through a clever dungeon-making tool called How To Host a Dungeon. In it, you would procedurally create a dungeon through dice rolls, random charts, and mechanics designed to logically create a flourishing monstrous ecosystem. By the end of the experience, you would have a completely fleshed out dungeon to run players through and a colourful history that lent weight and fullness to the setting, all in just a bit over an hour.
While that was a fun tool to play with, the real gems of the site are his maps. Hand drawn and then usually scanned with the grids erased, Dyson’s maps are simple, clean, and evocative, varying in size from a simple tomb to a sprawling metropolis. There are hundreds of them on offer, each unique and easily slotted into any game. The settings and mechanics are left vague and open to the end users’ interpretation for added ease.
Part of Dyson’s brilliance is his restrained descriptive hand. These are not Gygaxian monstrosities spilling out into every available space and bubbling with all sorts of baroque descriptions of doom. Instead. he creates these quiet, skeletal maps that invite you to decide just what populates them and how. Whatever descriptions he offers are just enough to whet the appetite to find out more or can be easily erased and a whole new explanation can be invented. Often they are given just a paragraph or two of backstory to give you an idea of just what the structure is or what’s become of it or how he might have used it in a game but more often than not, the shape and the layout tell just as much of a story and the maps quickly draw you in and have you fill in the blank spots with your own imagination.
Dyson’s maps can be found on his website for free but he supports his work through Patreon and by selling collections of his maps, the Dodecahedron 2015 Cartographic Review being one I just recent acquired and thoroughly recommend.