Review: The City of Carse from Midkemia Press

I recently started a discussion asking about suggestions for prepared towns that were complete enough to be useful while being generic enough to see use in most situations.  A few hours into the responses and someone suggested Carse.

Wow, I could remember CARSE!  I remember seeing it on game store shelves – it has a cream or yellowish cover and always came in a plastic bag.  I never bought it, though I considered it many times.  Anyhow, it made me wonder what had become of Midkemia Press (the company that produced it) so I started searching with Google.

Ah yeah, the DIGITAL 3rd Edition

And I was surprised to see Midkemia Press still in existence!  Wow, they were converting their products over to digital (i.e. PDF with JPG images) and Carse was available for $5.  Heck yes!  I ponied up $9 and got Carse bundled with their CITIES ENCOUNTERS source book.

The products were mailed to me and I was a bit surprised – Steve Abrams, one of the original authors, had taken the high-road in conversions and had really cleaned up the source.  As a result, the text is super crisp and clearly more than just an OCR attempt.

Click on the text to see how clear and readable it is

The PDF is 94 pages long, with the first 66 pages being dedicated to the City of Carse.  Every building on the map – and there are lots of them – has a note or entry.  Some are undetailed (i.e. RESIDENCE with no further information), but most have several sentences of descriptive text.

There are gobs of loosely hinted at adventure hooks, taverns to carouse, things to buy and discover, and in general it is a comfortable, well-considered fantasy burg that should be easy and effective to add to any adventure or campaign.  It also has a sizable portion of the community living outside the the city walls, another nod towards realistic design which I like.

The product comes with a large image that once was the map which was placed out where players could see it.  It is not annotated.  The descriptive text also contains portions of the map and so the GM can navigate the town privately.  With electronic products, this perhaps makes a bit less sense these days, but it does lead to the town being neatly segmented in pieces that make finding an indexed item fairly quick.

The map is clean and easy to navigate

I’ll eventually be converting Carse over to Fantasy Grounds and, for me at least, this will completely flatten out the problem of locating the text for a building.  Because I will be doing this, it makes me doubly appreciative of the cleaned up text since it will copy and paste without the typical OCR errors.

Did Carse survive the test of time?  Absolutely!  For $5, it is a steal – adding a town to a campaign for the price of a Big Mac is a crazy good deal.


Gaming Terminology: Obscure mapping terms

I’ve been a fan of maps and mapping for a very long time.  I have had a huge collection of 15-minute maps dating from the late 1800’s and into the early 1950s for many years.  I have acquired quite a few of the avaiable Sanborn insurance maps for the many small communities around where I live.  Basically, I love cartography and any excuse to own an old map is good enough for me.

Recently I have discovered some embarrassing failings in my own knowledge about the words used to describe a map.  For instance, what would you call this?

I searched on ‘cartography terms’ and failed to find it.

I drew this, but at the time I didn’t even know what to call it.

It is inserted into the upper-right hand corner of a map to add some illustrative beauty to it.  But what does one call it?  I mentally thought of it as an artsy-wingding, but when you actually create one, it does make you more curious.  I searched on ‘cartography terms’ and failed to find it.  It isn’t any better when you search on ‘parts of a map.’  I eventually gave up and never found a good word to describe what I’d drawn.

map_art_labA few weeks later and completely by accident, I stumbled across the answer in a book named ‘Map Art Lab’ which details over 50 art projects related to maps and mapping.  Because these sort of additions are artistic in nature, the authors had managed to find and share the term.

Artistic mapping flourishes held away from the map are called cartouches.  It sounds like car-tooshes when pronounced.

Generally this is limited to an authors or publishers shield or badge, but might also extend to peripheral artwork away from the map, such as strange sea beasts in bodies of water or 4 windy corners.   The introductory image is an example of a cartouche.

Artistic mapping flourishes are called cartouches

As long as we are on the subject, I know of another rarely used cartographer’s term.  Most professional maps have a border going all the way around the cartography.  These are called ‘neatlines,’ presumably because they keep the map neat looking.  I’ve occasionally seen the neatline made so that it contained scale markings, making it doubly-useful, but usually they are merely decorative.


Gaming Terminology – Thorp, Hamlet, Village

I’ve always been a bit amused by some of the words that were selected early in the life of RPGs to act as ways to describe things that really were not very different.  But because they were adopted early, they’ve remained.

In this case, the words in question define the size of a village, but they should do a bit more than that.  I will make some suggestions that I’ve not seen used.

Thorp or Thorpe

A thorp is the smallest form of village and it should be used to refer to settlements that are 20-49 people in size. There is no government and possibly no businesses, with the reason for nearness often being the most basic one – the members of the budding village are family.  Common extensions for these places include -thorp, -thorpe, -porp, -dorf, and -dorp.


A hamlet is a step upwards from a Thorp, with a population of  50-199 good people.  There are still no government buildings, but a business or two are likely and several clans of folk are almost certainly living here.  Common extensions for places this size include -heim, -ham, -heem.


A true village almost certainly has a fundamental government and at least one religious structure.  The government might be as small as a mayor or it might have a small council.  A larger village might have a sheriff to keep the peace.  The village might own land, such as a communal marketplace or a place for caravans and other visitors to camp for the night.

Places of this type are not as clannish or suspicious as the smaller villages.

Villages will have 200 to 1999 people.  Common naming extensions for places this size include -stead, -place, -ville, -vale.

Closing Thoughts

Fantasy worlds are not safe places.  Thorps and Hamlets should be more common in patrolled or civilized lands, but uncommon to rare where things like goblins, orc, gnolls, and trolls would find small settlements easy targets.  Still, places have to grow, so new settlements will sprout up where there is safety and money to be made.

Places often retain the extension on their names, so it is possible for towns or even cities to carry the name given to a thorp or hamlet.

These small places should not be especially tolerant of new comers, especially those of clearly different races.  Superstition and ignorance should combine to make the less traveled villagers difficult to be around unless the place is near a larger place such as a town or city.

Protection for these small settlements will come from the larger regional government.  Particularly troublesome regions might have a temporary garrison in or near larger or strategically important villages.

Coincidentally, almost all random population systems will break things down further into 3 categories of town (small, medium, large) and into 3 categories of cities (small, medium, large).  There are no special words for each category, which makes the thorp/hamlet/village system feel like the start of an unfinished word search or something.

I’d break with the trips format and go with Burg / Town / City / Metropolis for the remaining descriptors.  Using some term that requires a google search isn’t what I would want.

As a small aside, in medieval France, a settlement of any size was considered a city if it contained a Cathedral.  Just a thought, that perhaps the names of places could reflect some important societal goal which in turn would give other some expectation about the organization and strength of will of the inhabitants.


A Judges Guild Story

Back in ’70s, I was a big, big fan of Judges Guild materials.  They produced incredibly cool stuff at a reasonable price point AND they were located within driving distance of my home.  Not that I ever drove there, but it was still inspiring to know that a smallish mid-west town was cranking out D&D materials.

At the time, I fancied myself as being a pen and ink artist and sent a few sketches off to Judges Guild along with a SASE and a letter asking them to please consider my artwork.  Being a kid of 17 years, I also called a couple of times and probably made a general ass of myself.  I think that the arrangement was that Mr. Bledsaw would mail me a check and a copy of whatever the artwork appeared in. There wasn’t much money in it, but getting D&D materials for a little ink and time seemed like a good deal – plus it got me published.

Well, I never heard back.  I moved later in the year and then life happened and I sort of forgot all about it.

Cover Judges Guild Journal 14 1979

Fast forward 35 years….  I am on the Board Game Geek and decided to type my name in when searching for credits.  To my surprise,  my name pops up as having been an author for Judges Guild Journal #14 on page 25.   Well, I had no recollection of writing anything for them, so I decided maybe it was another Tim Kilgore.  Heck, there is even a Pro-Wrestling Tim Kilgore…

Another year goes by – it is 2016 and I am DMing D&D again.  I decided that I had to know for sure and used ebay to get a copy of the Judges Guild Journal #14.  I turn to page 25 and as I turn the page a big old grin comes to my mug unbidden – right there was 2 pieces of art that I’d not seen since I mailed it in 1979.


I actually laughed and smiled for a good five minutes – it was just so nice to see these again.  They aren’t awesome – but they are mine and it just sort of took me back to a time and place, refreshing my recollection of who I once was.

I suppose that moving probably interfered with me getting anything from Judges Guild.  And while it took a long time for me to know about it, I do have to say that it is pretty cool to have made the cut and to have been published by Judges Guild.

I think that Mr. Bledsaw knew that it was a big deal to me and he included my full signature – which he had to pull from the letter I had sent – and having done that, it allowed someone to create an entry for me as an author on the Board Game Geek website.  If he’d not been so kind, I’d never have never found it.


Project Benchmark – Tarantis with Walls


This is a landmark moment in a long project – Tarantis now has walls!

Today I finished the temple section and then started working on the walls.  I eventually got about 60% around the town and then had to do something else, so I started ‘humanizing’ the map.

What do I mean by humanizing?  Well, the original map was very much laid out on a grid and has a machine-feel to it as a result.  I simply took a great deal of the town off of the grid and this makes it more friendly, more natural to the human eye.  How?  Well, I basically just rotated groups of buildings by 1 to 3 degrees then shifted them as needed so the roads continued to work.

As I built the walls, I was also careful to make sure that the lines were off at angles and also shifted the watch towers back toward the center of town so they would not provide cover to enemies.  I also constructed rounded gates and all 4 city gates use the same basic format.

It felt great to finally close the wall!  I immediately stopped working on it – I’d been going a bit longer than I should, wanting to get it finished.  I still have a long way to go before the project is done, sometimes the work itself encourages you and should help keep me working on it.


Wilderlands Map 6: Tarantis conversion completed

Using Necromancer Games / Judge’s Guild Wilderness of High Fantasy product, I converted Map 6 (Tarantis) to work inside Fantasy Grounds from Smiteworks.  I probably need to convert 2 or 3 more maps in order to run a campaign, but it is a good start.

Here is a peek of how busy the Fantasy Grounds map is when fully linked to data:

Every red pin links to the text for the location

Since I don’t have print concerns, I also took the time to reformat the text for the towns and military outposts:

A snippet of original text that becomes…
Text formating improves the readability of the provided information.

While I was about it, I also made the lists of locations a bit more valuable:


As you can see, the names of settlements stand out and I added population information.  The text shown here is what appears when the mouse hovers over a pin on the map, so loading it with a little extra information seemed like a good idea.

I also got another little side project with a random encounter table done and I will talk about that a bit later.  Finishing the overland map for Tarantis now has me eager to get the town proper converted.