roleplaying games, Worldbuilding

The joy of maps

A few days ago, I posted an interesting image. Pulled from an interesting Google Maps extension called, the image shows, roughly, what New York City would look like under 70 meters of water. 70 meters is not a depth chosen at random, it’s roughly the amount of sea level rise that would occur if both of the Antarctic Ice Sheets completely melted, an event that while quite unlikely given current projections, fits perfectly with the Black Swan narrative that produces the conflict and hasty action which is perfect for a game setting.

There’s two parts of this which makes it perfect for writing. First is the implications of a world where this event happened. If you zoom out on this map, the Eastern Seaboard is decimated. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC are all underwater. Delaware, the entire state, ceases to exist. Two thirds of New Jersey is just gone. The amount of population displacement that would occur in the event that an ice shelf broke off, that is to say if this level of water came rushing in over the course of weeks and months instead of decades and centuries, would destabilize every coastal country and by extension the world’s economy. What’s excellent about this (for the story, not if it were to happen) is that disasters breed opportunists…there’s no better backdrop for someone to propose something as crazy, expensive, and frankly stupid as a massive planned floating city adjacent to the largest lost population centers. It also sets up a great backdrop for the combination of corruption, desperation, and massive surges of capital that make a corporation-centric Cyberpunk game so damn interesting.

So we’re off to a good start. The second part which is so great for writing is the micro details of the New York map. Due to the relative hilliness of Long Island and Connecticut, as well as the interesting river/ocean geography of the greater New York area, using the FloodMap layer produces a really neat map. There’s a sizable island left of Long Island, a strip of former Jersey City, and the top of Staten Island is above the water too. Add in a large number of buildings in New York that are taller than 60 meters, and man, what a setting. I’m going to have to write some custom moves for The Sprawl around SCUBA gear and underwater fighting, but that’s just going to make this pop even more.

A map, especially in our days of satellite imagery and highly accurate surveying, is merely a depiction of landforms. But the shape of the land is so vital in how humans organize themselves that any map, be it real or imagined, can spark some incredible creativity. With this simple visualization layer, an entire storyline and city idea came to me, as well as numerous ideas I likely wouldn’t have had if I didn’t have the image. I now have the basis for a campaign that is sure to be quite different than any other Cyberpunk game I’ve run, and hopefully quite a bit of fun as well.



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