Strange Truths – Inuit Cartography

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Maps have always been a passion of mine. They fascinate me and I love to make, adore and study them. The weirder the map though, the better. The Inuit people of Greenland have made some pretty weird maps. Carved of driftwood and made to fit inside a mitten, they are tactile maps which allow a traveler to navigate by running their fingers across the carved surfaces. They use them to map the coastal waters of their home in surprisingly high fidelity. How cool is that, right?

It’s a cool piece of thought-meat to chew over, folks, and if you’re like me you are always looking for new and better stuff to insert as flavor text and local color into your analog gaming setting. So start thinking of maps as cultural artifacts as well as practical ones. What does a map tell you about the map makers? What do they value? Are maps art to them as much as navigational aids? Or are they purely functional tools. Perhaps your gnomes make clockwork maps that tick and tock revealing new locations. Maybe your dwarves carve them into coins. The Orcs tattoo them on slaves for safekeeping. The elves could weave them out of magic within the ageless minds of great and ancient elven sorcerer-navigators for the purpose of mapping the magical tides of the ever-changing Summerlands. Maybe the bird folk of Quarra-4 sing their maps, creating living maps that must be changed as the landmarks change. The chemical trail maps that the hydrogen breathing beings make deep in their gas giant homes mark the paths of nutrient rich cloud oases. What if that strange obelisk your brave astronauts found on that cold moon is a map readable only in the stark light of jumpspace…outside the ship. Maps, it seems, can come in all shapes and sizes and modes of thinking.

Worked Example – The Travel Stones
Campaign Setting: World Jumping, Secret History, Conspiracy
No one is certain where they first came from but once people started experimenting with them, they changed everything. The typical travel stone is a smooth-edged triangular rock carved with intricate spirals, lines and indentations that mark the clever loopholes that can be found in local space and time. Sometimes the carvings look Olmec, or Celtic or African or completely alien. But they all work the same. For those rare few who know the right breathing exercises and meditation techniques, the travel stone is a map between worlds. Hold it tightly and follow the routes it lays out with your finger tips and soon, very soon, you’ll find yourself walking along roads between worlds you can’t even imagine. Take a strangers hand and start traveling deeper and deeper between the walls of reality.

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    John Enfield

    Very interesting! Always a good idea to look to cultures in the real world for RPG inspiration. I’d not heard of these Innuit maps. I also really like your idea of Travel Stones. Very clever.

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