Save vs. Obscurity
August 18, 2009 10:08 AM   Subscribe

The Play-Generated Map and Document Archive: finally providing a place to put all those odd doodles, detailed maps, and character sketches that come out of your weekly gaming sessions.

Complete with artistic interpretations of characters named "Stedfast," meticulously organized campaign notes, and anonymous stains, the archive takes the approach that gaming ephemera is a kind of folk art, and thus seeks to preserve it while some of it is still available in its original form. The site is almost completely user-generated, with materials scanned in and organized by donor. Click the "random image" link a few times, get nostalgic, and then come share gaming stories.
posted by Scattercat (28 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Holy shit.
posted by cortex at 10:15 AM on August 18, 2009


I keep a small, meticulously color-coded moleskine-knockoff notebook for my dungeoneering notes. Some of the Alex Schroder maps (like this one) look like what I generally sketch up; a tiny, tiny diagram (reminiscent of the real-life cave maps I loved to look at as a kid), marked up with all kinds of notes in every available adjacent space on the page.

This is really fun to look at! Thanks, scattercat!
posted by kaibutsu at 10:20 AM on August 18, 2009

Seriously, this is fantastic. As nerd folklore/folk artifacts go, this sort of thing is something you're only really exposed to locally, so being able to collect and look through maps and notes and sketches from a broad net of gamers is just really exciting.

I'm paging through one set at random, the David Maclouth folder, and you can see the presumed* evolution over time of his dungeon layout sensibilities, starting with deeply cluttered complexes, moving out to sparser but more featured layouts later in the set. Later still there's glimmers of less cardinal-focused, room-packed designs, though he's still prone to complicated designs even as their elements get more interesting and varied.

That last one seriously looks like the terraforming complex from Aliens.
posted by cortex at 10:28 AM on August 18, 2009

*the uploads are not in any way dated by default, so I'm only assuming that he sorted this stuff roughly chronologically before uploading it.
posted by cortex at 10:29 AM on August 18, 2009

Any site which permits random users to upload arbitrary images will soon be infested with child porn.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:31 AM on August 18, 2009

Very nice stuff here. Some of my brother's work is featured here (as I suspected). He told me last year that these were being compiled.

I need to send him a link to this. Wonder if he is still at GenCon?
posted by zerobyproxy at 10:32 AM on August 18, 2009

"I, Silverleaf, do hereby leave all treasurure[sic] to my younger brother, Goldenrod."

Teehee - "Goldenrod".
posted by NailsTheCat at 10:37 AM on August 18, 2009

I've thrown out boxes and stacks of notebooks crammed full of papers like these. I had no idea I was destroying folk art.

This really makes me incredibly grateful, though, for the advances that gaming has made since my early days. I remember typing up huge lists of adversaries for the party, sitting with ruler and mechanical pencil sketching out dungeons on graph paper, and creating pseudo-random terrain maps by hand. Nowadays, I have character generation software, I keep all my campaign creation notes on a wiki, and I use a CAD program for mapping. A session that used to take days to prepare can now take me less than an hour.

It doesn't produce folk art, though. Unless the sessions themselves are folk art. Which I've always suspected they might be.
posted by MrVisible at 10:46 AM on August 18, 2009

More highlights from MacLouth:

- flirtations with three dimensions
- minimalism with natural waterways?
- David McLouth is a son of a bitch.
posted by cortex at 10:47 AM on August 18, 2009

This, by the way, is what happens when you listen to your wife and go over to ask why the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art has a booth at GenCon. I think they were really happy that anyone was even paying attention to them at all. They looked lonely.

(Especially being right next to several booths doing six or seven demos at once and one row over from the guy who traces porn stills, draws in bone armor, and then puts price stickers over the exposed nipples in a vague nod to decency.)

I just wish that A) I kept more notes instead of running stuff off the cuff and B) I'd saved some of the frankly awesome sketches people have made over the years. (Once, running an Aberrant game in which my wife was playing Dr. Faustus, a demon-summoner, she made reference to using an ice demon to keep her drink cold in the tropical heat. This prompted our resident artist to draw a tiny imp clutching a frigid mug, shivering and muttering, "I hate my job." That's the sort of stuff that ends up chucked away, and Plagmada has made me regret that now.)
posted by Scattercat at 10:57 AM on August 18, 2009

Oh, and that terraforming complex is the image they put on the back of their little promo postcards which they were handing out. (And also custom d6's with the website etched around the 1 pip, in your choice of round-corner or sharp-edge die shape.)
posted by Scattercat at 11:01 AM on August 18, 2009

This is really cool. I still haven't completely cleaned out all my old RPG stuff...perhaps I shall go through and see if I have any folk art in my drawers.
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:12 AM on August 18, 2009

What? We just use a wiki.
posted by absalom at 11:21 AM on August 18, 2009

I've already connected the scanner for firstborn's giraffe efforts, so I might as well find some old RPG notes as well. I just wonder how embarrased I'll be looking at them now, 10-15 years after I stopped playing.
posted by Harald74 at 11:21 AM on August 18, 2009

Finally, a place on the internet to upload anonymous stains.
posted by DU at 11:48 AM on August 18, 2009

This is my buddy's project. I provided some of the first donations, which have been exhibited, but have fallen through the "posting crack" so far. Sadly, most of my stuff was relatively recent as most of my really old gaming gunk seems to have gotten the old heave ho at some point in the past 20 years after being left at one of my parents' places.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:06 PM on August 18, 2009

The site's author also put out this site.
posted by zerobyproxy at 2:15 PM on August 18, 2009

Hi folks, I'm Tim Hutchings, the guy who organizes the PlaGMaDA project. One of your fellow members suggested that you might enjoy having me stop to answer questions. Though I'm a little late to the party, I place myself at your service.

and: zerobyproxy, the site is someone else entirely. There is a PlaGMaDA page on the handmaps site, but only because our missions share some aspects.
posted by ozark1 at 2:49 PM on August 18, 2009

Does this mean we get to call you "MetaFilter's own Tim Hutchings" from now on?
posted by Scattercat at 3:30 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oops! Bad intel from my brother (or he spoke into my trick ear). Great work on your material ozark1!
posted by zerobyproxy at 3:30 PM on August 18, 2009

scattercat: If Metafilter wants to "own me", I expect cigarettes and chocolate EVERY DAY. Then you can call me whatever you want.

zerobyproxy: It's an easy mistake, one I often make myself.
posted by ozark1 at 3:32 PM on August 18, 2009

Heya, Tim! I'm curious, what's the pipeline like for further uploads to the site? I love what's up so far but I'm wondering if there's more expected on the way, and whether there's any general guidelines or limits to folks bringing new material to the site.
posted by cortex at 4:29 PM on August 18, 2009

I made my own share of silly Star Fleet Battles ships, but this one is like a 50th level Fighter/Cleric/MU.
posted by fleacircus at 8:35 PM on August 18, 2009

Well, that's another slight misrepresentation of what's goin' on with the archive. Part of the conceit of the archive is that it's just that, an archive and not a photo gallery. The real emphasis is on getting people to donate actual real paperwork and not just upload stuff to a gallery.

The reason for this is:

1. The purpose of the archive is to preserve and interpret, this means getting the stuff and ultimately finding a long term repository. I've been communicating with several universities who are very interested in receiving the collection when I am through developing it. The ready interest has inspired me to shoot for bigger game.
Just as important, exhibitions are curated out of the collection - something that can't happen if the originals are in a box in a basement. So far this year, exhibitions have been staged at the U of Wisconsin and the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Other exhibitions are shaping up for next year, including one show traveling around Europe.
It's best to think of the website as a tool for viewing the collection, not the collection itself. That said, uploads should be 180dpi jpgs. Send a couple to and impress upon me your earnestness, then I'll set up a gallery for you.

2. And most important: No one ever actually scans anything to upload it. I've had eighty million people say "Oh cool! I'll scan these and upload them" or "Neat-o, I'll scan these first and then send them along". Never happened. Not once. Scanning a lot of stuff sucks, I learned to do it while playing Xplorers or whatever that flash Catan knock-off is.

I do, by the way, reimburse for shipping.

Most gamers are hoarders and there's nothing wrong with that. I understand not wanting to give up stuff which represents a lot of good memories. The counter to that is that by donating you are trading a box mildewing in a basement for a searchable database of all your stuff, which will exist on the internet and where ever you download it for forever. That's not an argument I push though because I understand that some things are precious.

Instead, I point to you, the gamer who appreciates how important this stuff is, and ask you to pick up the phone and contact your old gaming friends who don't play anymore. The folks with kids who might clean out their spare room to make more room for their spawn, the people who stopped playing when the went to college, etc; these are the folks who might, at any moment, throw away stuff the archive collects. And remember, when they throw away THEIR notes their throwing away your memories too.

Impress upon these friends that there is a happy hunting ground for their old game notes, maps, binders of crap, etc.

For duty and humanity,

tim h
posted by ozark1 at 8:43 PM on August 18, 2009

Strange, I haven't spotted any hex maps yet. Did no one else use them?
posted by NailsTheCat at 8:48 PM on August 18, 2009

Well, that's another slight misrepresentation of what's goin' on with the archive. Part of the conceit of the archive is that it's just that, an archive and not a photo gallery. The real emphasis is on getting people to donate actual real paperwork and not just upload stuff to a gallery.

Ah, interesting. On the one hand, I think that's an admirable kind of purity of mission, and as a sort of museum/archive thing it makes a lot of sense. On the other hand...

Most gamers are hoarders and there's nothing wrong with that. I understand not wanting to give up stuff which represents a lot of good memories.

Which goes beyond the mildewing-basement thing to the more personal issue that these aren't just things to be hoarded in abstract but concrete artifacts of good memories. A character sheet or a map sketch isn't quite a family photo, but it's closer to that than maybe such a request for transfer of custody reflects.

Which is not to say I'm not down with the idea, but I can see it being a hard sell. A sale worth making when possible, I think, because most of these things by and large do rot and I see immense value in the proper curation of them. And there's nothing to stop a gamer from taking archival-quality scans of his own stuff before sending the original along, surely.

But still, that's a big trust gap to overcome. You need not just a website but evangelists to cross that bridge effectively, I think, in the vast majority of cases, and that may be difficult to manage.

I think it's a fascinating project and I hope for the best. I was never much of a gamer, more of a meta-gamer and observer, but I'd be happy to donate what little material I might have sitting around if I can dig it out. Whether I could convince my more hardcore friends to outright donate the original their own notes and sheets and such, I have no idea.
posted by cortex at 11:10 PM on August 18, 2009

Part of the conceit of the archive is that it's just that, an archive and not a photo gallery.

This is me politely screaming "PUT EVERYTHING ONLINE GODAMMIT".
posted by fleacircus at 3:32 AM on August 19, 2009


There are a lot of factors to overcome with collecting for the archive, and you nailed a good number of them there. I'm in for the long haul, though, and hope that the folks who keep their stuff now will bequest it to the archive when they are old and failing.


I had repeated conversations at Gen Con in which gamers, new and old, described a gaming buddy passing away and the family destroying a life time of adventure embodied in the individual's paperwork. It was heartbreaking.

And you're right, hex maps are sorely underrepresented. I suspect that's because hex paper was hard to get during the years best represented by the archive in its current state.


90% of the archive is online, excepting two donation batches which I pulled off to recategorize and two recent sheaves of donations that have yet to be scanned. For something to NOT be put online means it is incredibly redundant and fails to expand on the collection any further.
posted by ozark1 at 7:10 AM on August 19, 2009

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