To be honest, I rarely think about the cartographer of the maps I use in my games. Partially because the publishers rarely promote the individual cartographer, instead relying more so on branding their name.
However, Jonathan Roberts, is one of those artists that should get billing above the publisher’s name. Roberts is the artist of the Fantastic Maps series, a series of maps that have rejuvenated the 2-d map PDF market.
Ever since 0ones stopped publishing realistic battlemaps, the market has been skim on quality detail maps. Roberts Fantastic Maps were introduced in early 2009, and despite the inexpensive price, are some of the most intricately detailed maps to be released in some time.
Because of the similar high quality of each of the map products, this review will cover the entire series released so far.
The Fantastic Maps series is reminiscent of well made fantasy anime. With thick layers of color displayed in a somewhat whimsical quality. The pixels jump off the page, looking sometimes like hills and layers are actually there. Each PDF contains a color and black and white version of the map, and the map broken down into separate pieces that can be reassembled later on. The full scale of each map is roughly 20’ by 30’. As of this review, there have been six maps released so far, each as diverse as the previous:
The Glass Balcony is a map of a shear balcony overlooking a body of water with islands dancing around it. The refreshing blues used to create the water make this an ideal map for an interesting aqua encounter.
The Lone Island in the Sky has a massive tree holding up a patch of grassing land. However, it seems to work better as an open tree trunk that descends into a pit of unknown. The smoky texture that surrounds the tree is distracting, however, the crisp lines in the bark add to the character of the map.
The Leafless Wood is one of those maps that should be a staple in your map collection. Used for wilderness encounters, it’s a lot darker than the Glass Balcony and has a more serious tone. It is a very versatile map. You can use it for a track through a forest, or use it for river encounters.
The Mire of Lost souls is another possible staple for parties that travel through swamp lands a lot. Roberts tends to do water very well, as yet another version of water shows a series of murky greens and thick oil like blues. This map can feel quite dull when compared to the others.
Getting away from the generic maps, Black Sky Butte presents a massive alter that raises 100s of feat into the air. The surface of the alter is nicely done with cryptic writing and stars about, though it is uneven in places. The most permissive thing about this map is the impression of height.
The latest Map is the Ice temple and my favorite. A dragon frozen in ice over a large chasm embanked by snow. The layers of whites and blues to distinguish snow and ice bring out all the detail in this map.
For the Digital DM
Each map contains a black and white and a color version, which makes it slightly more difficult than other products when mass extracting the images. The large image included in the PDF is not scale, so you will have to place each individual piece. It would be nice if a high resolution single map was included.
For the Standard DM
Rich colors don’t come cheap and if you want to catch the detail you’re going to be pouring some extra funds into ink.
The Iron Word
For less than a buck, you can not beat adding one of these maps to any order you make. I am not going to tell Mr. Roberts that we are in a recession nor that his maps are of equal quality to high end-map products at only a fraction of the cost. Instead, I recommend purchasing these great steals and giving your player an engrossing game play experience.