Monday, April 06, 2009

The Pekulish Script

Most gamers I know seem to agree that Darlene's map of the Flanaess (the core region of the World of Greyhawk) is one of the best examples of fantasy cartography in the business. There are several reasons why Darlene's map stands out among the crowd of competitors. I want to share just one of those reasons today: the labels. All the labels on the map are hand-drawn. There's a unity of vision to them but unlike a map that relies on a font for the heavy lifting the labels have some interesting variety to them. This gives the Flanaess map a layer of depth and nuanced authenticity missing from many later computer-generated rivals.

I'm sure there's a technical term for the decorations on the W and Y on White Fanged Bay, but I don't know enough about calligraphy or fontography to say anything other than "Man, that looks cool." The upper case F that drops down low is a neat effect repeated on many other labels on the map.

That N has to be the greatest N in the history of the letter N. The E and R are neat, too.

See how the A in Uplands is nested in the L? You can't do that with a normal font. In many places Darlene also uses the same technique with the double L's in the word Hills:

But she's also not afraid to mix it up a little:

That double T is a pretty cool effect as well. Note also the tall L's in Little and the 'high hat' drop-down H.

The F nested in the O to make 'of' into a single glyph is a fun little trick.

You might want to click this one to see a larger version. Note how the two Ruins are essentially the same, but have minor differences, particularly in the R's and S's.

While I love the J and the Y here, this is the one label on the map I have trouble reading on a casual pass. Is that 'Jeklea Bay' or 'Jerlea Bay'? In fact, I tend to see it as 'Jerklea Bay', the Bay of Jerks.

I love how the A and Y intertwine here. Those hooked E's appear nowhere else on the map.

Lots of interations between letters here. My eye first picks up the R and the C up to no good, but then scans over to the menage a trois of the D, J, and N. Kinky.

This is the only place on the map where N and E are combined into a single character.

I like how the L and K poke up above the rest of the letters. Also check out the two O's. They're clearly not identical but clearly the same letter. That's gives a sort of organic feel to the word that a normal computer font doesn't produce.

Notice the differences between the initial A in Azure and the final A in Sea. Also, that Z rocks on toast. Zorro wouldn't hesitate to use that puppy.

The Axewood is a tiny little no-account forest on the map. I had to blow up the scan to even show you the label. But Darlene takes the time to do something different; that double hook E appears nowhere else on the map. That's an act of love, I think.


  1. As an illustrator, with a graphic design degree and a lot of typography classes under my belt, this post made my day!

  2. Awesome post - brings back memories! I remember thinking that the "blackmoor" label looked much more rounded than all of the others - as if was somehow a different place entirely.

  3. An excellent post -- and a reminder of how much artistry has been lost as technology has advanced.

  4. I'm sure there's a technical term for the decorations on the W and Y

    Curlicues IIRC.

    The Darlene map was probably my first introduction to the beauty of majuscule script. The typography on the topography really added to the conceit that the entire WoG set was the recovered work of an Oeridian(?) sage.

  5. Beautiful details.
    Thanks for posting.

  6. THose bits, look beautiful. I've heard of this map, but never seen it. Anyone know of an online version?

  7. Anonymous9:31 AM

    Online at:
    Below the newified version are links to the left and right originals.

  8. Anonymous9:33 AM

    D'oh. Here's a real link.

    Note to self: always preview before posting...

  9. Anonymous9:35 AM

    It's very interesting to me that you posted this now. I've been working on putting together a decent map for my campaign and went to the Greyhawk maps for inspiration on how to make it look the way I envision it.

    I've spent a fair amount of time looking over how the labels are made and how they're placed. Great stuff.

  10. Anonymous10:20 AM

    Great post, Jeff!

  11. Very inspiring! Thanks for the post.

  12. Nice analysis! Stylish details can make a huge difference. I haven't made a hand-drawn map in a long time, but I have looked over something I completed on the computer, and felt it looked a little too mechanical.

  13. An excellent post -- and a reminder of how much artistry has been lost as technology has advanced.

    It technically possible just a pain in the ass to do compared to using a well designed font.

    Also if you are using a Wacom style drawing TABLET then a lot of hand drawing technique are easily transferable to the computer. The Wacom TABLET work like pen and paper especially if you have one with a pressure sensitive pen.

    Doesn't take away from Darlene's artistry. I appreciate the effort involved considering what I went through hand drawing my old Wilderlands maps in the late 80's.

  14. Yeah, this is a sweet map. It recalls the Tolkienish maps amongst many other classics. The combined letterforms that you liked are usually called ligatures, and the descending characters can often be found in fonts that have "old style" variants.

    Hand-lettering and calligraphy were the things that got me interested in graphic design many years ago. But hand-drawn maps are the ultimate in gamer-geek fun as far as I'm concerned. Thanks for posting!

  15. Some brilliant observations there. The map is a beautiful object. I wonder what ratio of DMs would prefer to use it or develop their own campaign map. I would prefer to gaze at Darlene's map during a session but that's a lot of freedom to give up as a DM.

  16. How can you look at that map and not want to either play there or run a game there????

  17. It is possible to do some of this with fonts, without adding or changing any inherent attributes beyond some OpenType fiddling (alternate characters, ligatures, etc.) Even then, with a tablet, if working in Photoshop, it's possible to add on extra layers to manually fancy up the typeface used.

    Though I do steadfastly disagree with James' comment regarding "lost artistry." The artistic flair and design considerations might be a bit more subtle, but they're there. Consider Helvetica. Most people see it everyday in signs, office paper, etc. It's so commonplace today that most consider it "bland." But print out the alphabet at 72pt or greater and really look at it. Think of all the considerations, theory, and manipulations went into all those letterforms. Bland to some, perhaps.

  18. reminds me very much of the "Divine Right" and "Knights of Camelot" boardgame maps/boards. excellent stuff...wish i still had my DR map, as it's be fun for an RPG campaign.

  19. Post of the week, Jeff. Terrific.