I’m a sucker for a map

Die Zehn

Die Zehn (Photo credit: gringer)

During a particularly boring day during my two long years in a mundane job, I happened to sit next door to a colleague who was idly doodling in his sketchbook. It was obviously a map of some kind of underground complex with passageways and doors. When I asked him about it, he immediately clammed up and it took some persistent cajoling to get him to explain what it was.

“It’s for a game” he said curtly.

“What sort of game?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

“I can’t explain – if you really must know, you’ll have to come and play.”

So I did – and boy, am I glad I did. The game was Dungeons and Dragons and the first thing handed to me was a sheet of paper. On one side was a picture of a medieval figure complete with armour and sword. The other side was jam-packed with statistics. The second thing handed to me was a handful of polyhedral dice.

As I studied the character sheet, struggling to make head nor tail of all the statistics, my new friend told me not to worry about it and drew my attention to the table where he drew a map of an inn. He asked me where I wanted to be. Something in his tone told me that something was about to happen, so I chose to stand over by the window. He told me that the other patrons were looking at me strangely, so reluctantly, I took my place at a table.

A D&D game session in progress

A D&D game session in progress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It wasn’t long before a wolf came bursting through the wall and I became locked in mortal combat rolling dice like fury. The whole evening zipped by and at the end, I was desperate to play again. That evening was nearly a quarter of a century ago and yet I remember it in vivid detail. I have played role-playing games ever since.

I like every aspect of them. I love discovering new worlds and exploring amazing stories. The fact that many of these experiences play out over long campaigns of play make them an immensely satisfying experience. The things I like most though, are the maps. I am a very visual person and I find a map transports me to where the action is. Without a map, I struggle to take in what’s happening. I have a great collection of maps I’ve built up over the years and I’m always reluctant to throw them away.

So, am I still in touch with the friend that introduced me to the hobby. No, unfortunately, he was put away for attempted murder but that’s another story. I will always owe a debt to him for all the new worlds he introduced me to.

Daisywheels, golfballs, thermals and lasers

From wikipedia commons.

From wikipedia commons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If anyone ever had a Sinclair Spectrum, they probably remember the little ZX printer designed to be plugged into the back. Designed like an electric toilet roll dispenser, it used a roll of silver thermal paper. Inside, little pins literally burned into the thermal paper to leave behind (sort of) recognisable print. The poor thing used to get tired and slow down towards the end of a large print job and you almost ended up feeling sorry for it.

If the print was difficult to read when first produced, the fading over time meant that it was totally unreadable after a few days. Those in the know used to spray their printouts with hairspray to extend their longevity.

When I started work, there was one printer to rule them all. A dirty great big behemoth of a printer connected to the mainframe. Almost all processing happened overnight because it cost less and any output from that processing went not to a screen, but onto paper; tons of it. I don’t know how these printers used to work, but they were lightning fast and the paper was warm with a distinctive smell. All the screens in the building were dumb terminals so there was no concept of local printers.

As and when PCs started to appear, people wanted to print things which meant they needed a printer. The first such devices were dot matrix printers. Brutally mechanical affairs, they used a print head made up of a matrix of hammers which formed the print by bashing through an ink soaked ribbon onto the paper. If that sounds noisy and slow, they were. Each agonising line of print sounded like a mini machine gun.

The print quality was awful and if your printer happened to be more than 12 months old, the pins had a nasty habit of getting misaligned which made the text barely readable.

Daisywheel printers had a radial print head with characters on the end of spokes. When these struck the paper through the ribbon, a whole character came out. Golf ball printers worked the same way, only the characters were all stuck onto a small ball. These cut down on the noise and the print quality improved enormously, but they were limited to a single font.

Nowadays with inkjet and laser printers coupled with ever more sophisticated software, there is almost no limit to what can be printed at low cost, but they are restricted to two dimensional paper.

With 3D printing, which is widely used in industry, layers of material are laid down according to a digital blueprint in order to construct a physical object. Suddenly, almost anything can be manufactured one piece at a time if you have the right kit. The printers are tumbling in price, so it won’t be long before there are no limits on what you can create in your own home.