I love real-world maps. There’s just so much you can do with them.
In the mid-80s, I was part of a very short-lived play-by-mail game set in a a post-apocalyptic future. Each player controlled a tribe in a future Britain. On joining the game, you were sent a tiny square of 1:25,000 OS map. Mine was on a moor somewhere in the north of England, crossed by a line of electricity pylons.
The idea that everywhere on the Ordnance Survey map had a parallel in this game world blew my mind. It had that feeling of endlessness that was part of so many of my childhood fantasies. And anyone could get hold of the maps, but until you’d explored them in the game world you could only imagine what part of that future territory they represented.
When I started writing my Peakrill campaign last year, I stole this idea. My campaign is set in a fictional Peak District, and so the OS maps of the Peak District form part of my source material. I’m redrawing the maps, partly to simplify them, partly for the pure pleasure of drawing maps. But I could just as well have used the originals. Old maps are even nicer than the modern ones, and there are some great out-of-copyright OS maps available on Open Street Map.
Maps can also be a great source of inspiration for naming things. One of my favourite writers, M John Harrison, does this often, especially in his Viriconium books (I have written before about how much the naming of things in Viriconium has affected me). I only recently realised that Canna Moidart, some time Queen of the city, is a place in Scotland.
Almost all of my D&D characters have been named after places in the Peak District – notably Bleaklow and more recently Bolsterstone. Harrison himself had a character called The Youlgrave in, I think, Viriconium Nights – named for the Derbyshire Peak town.
The map may not be the territory, but nor is it merely a single-function object. What other uses do you put real-world maps to in your RPGs?