A (welcome) distraction appears

14 May
A (welcome) distraction appears

An impromptu adventure

So my friend Dustin is running/very recently ran a single-session DnD campaign titled “East of Enuillo” in a Wild-East-West-fantasy hybrid so crazy it just might work and sure to disrupt all worldbuilding efforts for DnD across the world hereon out.


Man, I should’ve joined in on this one

Part of this campaign design involved construction of a pretty cool map. By his permission I got it here:

large old paper or parchment background texture

And yes, it features El Dorado. The map is adapted from Walter Raleigh’s actual map, which bizarrely is well-suited for a DnD campaign. So the map itself features two scripts: the cartographer’s script in the bottom left, and the map owner’s scrawl in the interior. The only trouble is the writing as is looks pretty clearly typeset (how about that Chiller font!), and it would be nice to have them look a bit more authentic. We thought, what if I practised a bit of calligraphy for it! Although I’ve recently been concentrating on Roman and italic lettering in the effort to learn technique properly, a bit of fun couldn’t go amiss.

The first point is that the two scripts should look distinct. The cartographer’s script might appear hand-written, but it should be clear, legible, and look at least somewhat official. So for the calligraphy here, there were a number of options:

edge (2)

Top two: a kind of Gothic rotunda with Roman capitals, but it didn’t know what character to take.  Middle: Bloody uncial with those obnoxious all-caps. At least that O isn’t the problem child anymore, this time it’s the infuriatingly similar D. Bottom left: italic. Bottom right: Gothic textura, which I’ve not tried before. How about that munted ‘a’?

The map owner, on the other hand, is a foreign businessman whose script should look suitably different. At first I thought of trying some lowercase insular, with its dropped n’s and clublike ascenders, while looking reasonably suitable for a fantasy setting.

insular (3)

It has its charms, but then I tried Gothic cursive, which nailed what we were trying to achieve.

shadows (2)

mountains (3)

dorado (3).jpg

Bolded for emphasis!

The best contrast to this was probably the uncial or textura for the cartographer’s script, so Dustin and I went for that. There was one last step though: the writing on the map was much smaller! So I practised going to smaller nibs and smaller sizes:

smaller (2).jpg

That was not overly easy, and of course there’s a limit to how much you can shrink the text, but I’m pretty happy with it. Finally, all that was left was applying it to the map!


Now with new lettering!

I had a real blast doing this, experimenting with these scripts I’d barely touched before reminded me of why I started learning calligraphy. Sometimes it’s good to get away from the slow, careful practice and just do something different. Props again to Dustin for the work he put into designing this map. (Those moon symbols are particularly mysterious.)

And italics

One of the cool things about calligraphy is while it can be discouraging how bad your efforts are, a bit of practice can provide noticeable improvements, or least improved confidence. In the case of italics, I found out last week (despite actually being told this by my Margaret Shepherd book and then ignoring it) that italics can be practised every day with a regular pen. A broad nib is, it turns out, not necessary to learn the correct counter shapes and forms to write the text. Also, italics are best practised at small sizes because getting the shapes right is a matter of fine hand movements, not broad arm control. These two together mean that I’ve been able to practise during my day while writing on other things. I can prioritize the letter forms I need to learn (usually a’s, e’s, o’s, n’s and b’s, since most other forms are just variations on these) according to what I’m doing.


This helps me tackle quotes with a bit more confidence.

fear (2).jpg

Dune’s Litany Against Fear, smudge notwithstanding

The aim is not perfection in itself but getting my hand used to the spirit of the letters. I do think I have a fair way still to go before I’ll be able to write really good italics repeatably, but I feel happy enough with all this that I can move onto (regular!) gothic to expand my basic repertoire a bit more.



1 Comment

Posted by on May 14, 2017 in Calligraphy


One response to “A (welcome) distraction appears

  1. Dustin Summy

    March 1, 2018 at 2:15 am

    This is still awesome, thanks!

    Link to the adventure:

    Unfortunately I don’t have a high enough quality photo of your version of the map so I couldn’t include it.



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