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Thread: {WIP} Map of Edo Period Japan for Vagabonds

  1. #1

    Wip {WIP} Map of Edo Period Japan for Vagabonds

    Hello Cartographer's Guild! My name is Nicholas. A while back, I posted a thread in "Map Requests", asking for a talented cartographer to make a beautiful map for me and my team. We are based in Texas and Japan, and belong to a group of papermakers, developers, roleplayers, and historians. With our powers combined, we are creating a tabletop, pen&paper roleplaying experience set in Edo period Japan.

    For most of my team, it's a part-time job. For me and Maiko (our current expert in Japanese linguistics and folktales), it's a full-time affair. I myself am a scholar of Japanese papermaking and book arts (and that comes with historical research into the Edo period itself) -- I have received a master's degree in these art forms, and continue to strive to learn more about them. So, I come from a traditional, hands-on approach to making artwork. Digital is not my forte. That is why I wanted someone to help me out. But, I was looking for someone who shared my "traditional" approach and concept. The artist we ended up picking is the Guild's very own Schwarzkreuz.

    This thread will be a development diary of sorts (combined with my blog). Maiko is from Japan (and still lives there, but is currently studying abroad for a master's program in the states), and I myself have lived there, and the two of us have conducted extensive field research into our project. We've traveled to a lot of different places and have met some interesting people.

    As such, the map is not a modern, satellite-perfect portrayal of Japan. Instead, it is an attempt to create Japan as citizens under the Tokugawa Shogunate might have seen Japan. Placement of cities and roads, etc. has been key for us, and we deciphered an older script of Japanese (sometimes with a lot of headaches). But all in all, it's been a great experience so far. Additionally, since our game is actually set in an alternate, fantastic version of the Edo period, we wanted to convey a "fantasy" feel, but also one that is intrinsically tied to Japanese mythology, folktales, and aesthetics/Edo period culture.

    Schwarzkreuz is doing the artwork, and he can elaborate on that. For now, I will give you our progress on the conceptual side:

    1.) We started with a map from the Tokyo National Museum historical archives. It is dated from the Edo period.

    2.) Schwarzkreuz traced an outline of the map using a sumi brush stroke. It turned out beautifully. With this outline, Maiko and I were able to go through and begin deciphering the map itself, finding where things go. This was harder than it seems -- the map is definitely "off" compared to modern representations, or Meiji period colonial representations. Additionally, Japan has a modern history of rerouting rivers. Often, Edo period rivers were in slightly different places than their modern counterparts. We had to account for this. Luckily, we had visited many archives while in Japan and were able to get a few samples.

    3.) Because travel is so important to our game, we mapped out the entire Tōkaidō and Nakasendō (two major foot highways during the Edo period). We mapped out every station, but our final map will only include "major" post station settlements. We will also include some minor roads, but not many stations on these roads.

    4.) I am in the process of making sheets of Japanese paper (washi) to scan and be used for textures on the map. This is my washi making process, which I have studied now for several years. You can read about it here, if you are interested. I will be posting updates on this. We will also be using scans from papers from the makers I know in Japan, since we will also be printing on their paper.

    5.) I am also in the process of making color fields by doing mokuhanga (Japanese woodblock printing), which I am also somewhat experienced in. So, I am going to print color fields onto my handmade paper using the same techniques ukiyo-e artists like Hiroshige and Hokusai used. After making these blocks, I will scan and send to Schwarzkreuz, who, like with the washi, will incorporate them into the map.

    6.) Maiko, who is an artist from Japan currently working to get her Master's in Fine Art, also happens to be exceptional at calligraphy. She will be doing some Japanese calligraphy for the compass symbols, and will be writing a lot of the names in English (but using sumi brush calligraphy ... and making it kind of intentionally "messy" to capture our "Vagabonds" feel). We are going to scan these and put them on the map as labels.

    The final map will come in both digital versions, poster versions (printed on normal poster paper), and deluxe versions, which will be archival-printed on actual handmade washi from a maker we know in Japan (large size). Therefore, the map you see below is not the full resolution version. We are also making this an illustrative map, rather than a political map. We hope, in the near future, to make an entire atlas of maps relating to Edo period Japan, including zoomed-in art versions of the major highways, maps of regions, and maps of cities/shrine complexes/etc.

    Again, I will let Schwarzkreuz go into more detail on the visual stuff. He has done some great work for us already, and we are excited to all be working together.

    I look forward to keeping this development diary on these boards, and to your comments/suggestions/whatever. If you're interested in the game itself, check out my signature. We finally started a blog, but the project itself has been in the works for 7+ years. We are expecting the core rulebook to be fully edited and ready to print by early 2014 (the map, hopefully much earlier than that ).

    - Nick

    (Below is the original version [sized down] of the map from the Tokyo National Museum historical archives. The second image is some of the crazy stuff we are doing, mapping out the locations on that map [some of which are labeled, others which we have to "find" through careful observation].)
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  2. #2
    Guild Artisan Eilathen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2007


    Holy c...! Very cool! Colour me extremely interested!
    Care to talk system for a bit? I'm a long time roleplayer with an interest for game-mechanics.

    And good choice for cartographer! SK is very talented! I'm sure the map will be awesome
    I'm trapped in Darkness,
    Still I reach out for the Stars

  3. #3

  4. #4
    Professional Artist Facebook Connected Schwarzkreuz's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2011


    After an interesting time spend on research and testing, I am sure this will be one of my best maps, when its done.
    When more elements of the Map are done, I will adding more detailed postings about the processes used on this map.

  5. #5


    Quote Originally Posted by Arsheesh
    Sounds like a wonderful project, I'll definitely be keeping my eye on this.

    Quote Originally Posted by Eilathen View Post
    Holy c...! Very cool! Colour me extremely interested!
    Care to talk system for a bit? I'm a long time roleplayer with an interest for game-mechanics.

    And good choice for cartographer! SK is very talented! I'm sure the map will be awesome
    Glad to have you interested. Actually, public playtesting will be open hopefully around the end of October. We are having roleplaying groups around the world try it out using a small pamphlet of rules and setting guidelines. You can always sign up for that (and I plan on posting about it on RPG-specific boards). But to be brief and conceptual about it: it is my belief that, if a game is to take place in such a specific setting, that it deserves its own ruleset. We are not using existing systems, but are making one that is tied to our setting and storyline.

    I would say we are far more influenced/inspired by the relatively recent "Fate" than D&D/L5R or GURPS. For example, our system does not have attribute scores in the traditional sense, and we like using descriptors instead of numbers. It's a lot about characters and their flaws, and using those flaws to do interesting things (or overcoming them). We do give the GM considerable leeway, depending on the kind of game she wants to organize -- but overall, the system is catered to creating dynamic, intriguing characters/situations, and not "invincible katana-wielding samurai of destruction" or "fireball-breathing monks of magic". Essentially, our system reflects our concept.

    - Nick

  6. #6


    Update: October 19, 2013

    An update from my side of things. I am working on my batch of washi (handmade Japanese paper) so that SK can create textures with the scanned result. These textures will be used in the digital and poster versions, while the archival-printed version will be on large sheets of sized washi (so the ink doesn't bleed). I want people who receive the digital and poster versions to still have something special, which is why I am going through these lengths to provide an accurate and pleasing texture.

    Below you will see two photographs (+1 image). The first one is of a process called chiri tori. We cooked the kozo bark with a wood-fired stove and rinsed the bark thoroughly. After that, we had to pick the little imperfections out of each strand of bark. This is the essence of chiri tori. For this map texture, I want something light-colored and without speckles, so all of the remnants of the outer layer of bark needed to be removed (so, brown bits being removed from the lighter, "purer" bits). Each strand of bark had to be run through the bucket of water, kept wet, and then purified. I used tweezers for the stubborn pieces, my fingers for the others. It's finally gotten a bit cold here in north Texas, so the water kept nice and cool (which is what you want to avoid bacterial growth).

    The second photograph is the beating process. After I picked the bark of the imperfections, I began to beat it with a handmade wooden mallet (as shown). The photograph displays the beating process well-in. Before that, they were essentially the shape of stripped bark strands. The cooking made them softer and removed the decaying properties. For this paper, I have beaten the fiber for a few hours (with my mallet and my speed -- this can be done in a much shorter time in more well-equipped Japanese studios). I do not think I will beat it any more after this photograph was taken.

    The image next to the photographs is our progress in documenting locations on this old map. Maiko and I have been swimming in pools of books and old maps, figuring out locations and specific roads. Sometimes the names on this old map have an added syllable or two, which we always look into. It was common during the Edo period for one location to be called something by the people living on one side of the road, and called something completely different from people living on the other side. Geographic features, like mountains, are usually obvious and easy, though we are attempting to give mountains and rivers their period-specific names, and not their modern names (most of them are the same, but some are not). We hope to get this old map completely deciphered by the end of the weekend.

    - Nick
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    Last edited by tinyaltar; 10-19-2013 at 02:07 PM.

  7. #7


    Hello again everyone! It's been a while since the last update. Schwarzkreuz is hard at work on the map. Maiko and I finished our outline of the old Japanese map a few weeks ago, and we finally have a few of our larger sheets of washi prepared. We are going to take them to a large format scanner and get digital versions to SK as soon as possible for textures.

    I am attaching a small version of our final outline, so you can at least see how much went into it. It isn't visually spectacular.

    SK continues to make exceptional progress. We have been very happy working with him, and have enjoyed his attention to detail. He is essentially drawing the entire landscape by hand. We are going for a mix of ukiyo-e colors and simple line work -- it isn't any "one" traditional style, but more like a mix of several (and then, of course, SK's own handdrawn style mixed in). Some parts of it are illustrator-y/painterly, while others are more woodblock print. It's been fun watching this style develop. I am attaching a few shots, which SK authorized me to post. I'm sure he'd appreciate your rep, if you deem it worthy.

    None of the colors are finalized here, by the way. Coloring will come after the line work. SK was also tinkering with some traditional Japanese patterns for the water (seikaiha is the name of the waves pattern shown in one of these pics). Also still to come are settlements and roads. So obviously, this firmly remains a WIP.

    On the Vagabonds front itself: we are accepting playtest groups currently, so if any of you play tabletop roleplaying games and want to participate in our international playtest, don't hesitate to let me know.

    - Nick
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  8. #8


    A more complete sample of progress, courtesy of Schwarzkreuz.
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  9. #9
    Community Leader Guild Donor Ilanthar's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2010


    Well, I have to say that I like where this is going! It already looks very promising.

  10. #10


    Here we go! A huge update. First of all, some progression shots:

    Stage 1: The map from the Tokyo National Museum historical archives + concept notes.

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    Stage 2: Research + began outlining + concept solidification. Edo period-style border added.

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    Stage 3: Finished outline.

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    Stage 4: Outline drawing begins.

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    Stage 5: Brushwork outline finished.

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    Stage 6: Color base added.

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    Stage 7: Landmass tones added. Coastal outlines added. River colors altered.

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    Stage 8: Colors, shades, and other details added to geographic features. Woodblock (ukiyo-e) gradient added. Weather gradient added. Handmade washi paper texture added.

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    Stage 9: Gradient perfected, roads added.

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    Stage 10: Adding icons now.

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    That's where we are now, more or less. Very close to finishing. It's been a long and arduous journey, but I am extremely happy with the result. Collaborating with SK has been incredibly rewarding for both myself and Maiko.

    The photoshop file football has been tossed to me now. I'm going to tinker with icons and move locations to where they need to be. And then, of course, Maiko's hand-written labels will be important. We are not going to include all of the settlements that we outlined. Most, but not all. Icons will be separated into population sizes (cities), major Shinto shrines, and major Buddhist temples. More temples and shrines than what are shown on the outline will be included. I'd also like to figure out some way to elegantly inform viewers which towns have castles. Perhaps a simple square or diamond enveloping the dot?

    Also, my handmade washi really altered the color of the water. We might have to play with that so it is a little less "lime" colored. There also appear to be some repeating artifacts in the paper ... perhaps a leftover from the texture we were using beforehand. The texture of the main handmade washi gives the overall background a subtle and beautiful boost.

    I will post the finished map when it's ready. We are working on this while putting the finishing touches on parts of our PDF playtest packet (which is basically the rough draft of our core rulebook), so there's a lot going on. Any general comments or suggestions would be much appreciated!

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