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All Over the Map
A Dungeons & Dragons adventure that leans heavily into open-world formats and revels in exploration undoubtedly requires the services of skilled surveyors and cartographers. The surveyor's job is to collect geographical data, including creating, defining, or reestablishing regional boundaries and kingdoms. As practitioners of the science and art of map making, cartographers are responsible for transcribing the surveyor's data and marking essential locations. That said, the roles and responsibilities of map makers can go far beyond ink and parchment.
Perhaps most importantly and most obviously, a cartographer is responsible for creating accurate world maps. Their detailed work can include everything from the layout of the land and sea to the location of important landmarks, such as towns, cities, dungeons, and even unknown or untraveled areas. Without an accurate map, the adventuring party may find themselves lost or unable to navigate their way to their destination. Like most skilled tradespeople, cartographers can have varied skill levels and experience, but a good one will ensure their work is accurate, legible, and easy to understand.
Beyond basic land masses and the boundaries of various domains, a cartographer is also responsible for marking essential locations on the map. These detailed indications may include anything from the known site of a powerful artifact, the entrance to a dangerous cavern, or an uncharted or mysterious region lost to time. This information can be invaluable to the adventuring party, helping them better visualize their surroundings, plan their travel routes, and prepare for the upcoming challenges of their quests.
Off the Chart
Another valuable role of cartographers and surveyors is to provide helpful information about the world. The data they collect could provide insight into different peoples, their varied cultures, and critical historical events that have shaped the surrounding kingdoms. This knowledge can help the adventuring party understand the world they are exploring, allowing them to make informed decisions about their next steps.
Customization is another crucial aspect of cartography in Dungeons & Dragons. Like all merchants, map makers are usually willing to work closely with their customers to create custom maps and locations that fit the adventurer's needs. Whether from the party's research, gossip and rumor, or instruction from a knowledgeable NPC, players can have any number of customized indicators added to their maps. Allowing players to interact with the cartographer this way can create a more engaging and immersive experience.
The repair and maintenance of maps is also an essential aspect of cartography. Whether a significant world event adjusts a kingdom's boundary or rouch treatment causes the map to become damaged or destroyed, it is the responsibility of the cartographer to ensure repair or replacement. From scratches and tears to restoring missing sections, the skill of a cartographer can be vital.
Still, finding a good, trustworthy map-maker can be challenging despite the apparent necessity. Most cartographers must seek patronage due to the high cost of travel and specialized tools, and patrons with the money to fund such endeavors are often wealthy nobility. Such dependency places most cartographers in large cities at the mercy of their sometimes less-than-altruistic investors. It's not uncommon for noblemen to attempt to alter the borders of a map as a sly way of acquiring a larger territory.