Sunday, November 6, 2022

Class: Cartographer

 Might & Magic I may be the perfect game for someone like me. To clarify, it is perfectly suited to someone who loves drawing maps, loves making careful notes, loves playing with a sheaf of pages by the keyboard that need to be referred to constantly.

One of the best things about playing this game as an artist is that I can bring my interests to the experience. When drawing maps I am thinking of ways to make them look nice, or inventing simple ways to draw icons for things I want to highlight. When making notes I am using my skills in round hand calligraphy to invest in the theme of a sprawling fantasy RPG. It’s the kind of game that requires me to pull equipment out of my drawer in order to play. Some might say that’s how an adventure should be.

But best of all, I’m actually doing something. Cartography and chronicling is a massive part of this game, perhaps a good half of it, and the game is well set up with neatly divided maps and careful orienteering tools to aid in your mapmaking. Every map is the same size and shares a coordinate system. The world map that comes with the game has features shown on it that you will actually encounter, so when you see that sector E-4 has the “Perilous Peaks”, you know that you can name that sector of your map that. The presence of a sea monster or a giant scorpion on the map similarly warns the attentive player: here be danger.

There is plenty of danger, too. As is to be expected, one must use heroic might and powerful magic to overcome the various opponents in the game. But combat in RPGs is never amazing for me. There’s usually too much of it, it’s usually either too simple or too complex, and mostly I appreciate its presence as a way of making the exploration varied, tense and challenging. I like having to protect myself from fire against dragons, or use turn undead on skeletons. But I can get that in any game.

The true challenge, the true wonder of this experience is the exploration - I consider exploration as a vital form of gameplay, that complements gameplay like combat, puzzle solving and resource gathering. Finding stuff feels great, and Might & Magic I has me poring over my maps, looking for clues in the structure of dungeons or studying the layout of features to work out mazes (which are wonderful to solve when you’re drawing every single square in a grid out clearly anyway). There are jokes, tricks, puzzles, traps and patterns hidden in these maps, and it’s a joy to uncover them, to mark them out, square by square, and to unravel the secrets of this world. Better than waggling some imaginary sword in some virtualisation of a combat experience, better than picking spells that obviously counter the spells of my opponents (and let’s face it, game magic is usually so elemental, so rule bound), here I’m genuinely interacting with the game world, line by line.

My party of adventurers are knights, clerics, sorcerers. But without me, their trusty surveyor and scribe, there’s no way they can prevail. I’ve never felt more important in a game.


DanVzare said...

I love the Might and Magic series, especially how it mixes High Fantasy with Sci-Fi. Something that a lot of people seem to take issue with nowadays for some reason.

Ben304 said...

That's something many older RPGs seem to do, and it's very charming to me. Ultima, Wizardry, Might & Magic, Albion - many of these classic titles do it quite comfortably and it feels completely natural. Notably, Gene Wolfe's Solar Cycle series do something quite similar, very successfully. But I agree that I don't see this so often in the modern works that I am familiar with.