Cartography? Please help, my brains are running out of my ears.

I’ve seen many contradicting versions of how Cartography is supposed to work. All told by people who seem sure they’ve got it right followed by a number of posts agreeing with them. So I did a lot of reading. I meditated. Then I got drunk and talked to my bartender. After I sobered up I took some acid and talked to my preacher. Then I climbed a mountain and ran into a Buddhist monk. Went to a rave and with love in my heart talked to my Rabbi. I’ve taken some Xanax and I’m ready to talk to a psychiatrist. After all that, me brains seem to be leaking out of me ears.

So here is what I THINK I know already, please correct me if I’m wrong:

  1. If I’m a cartographer for the group, I’m automatically mapping every room by just jotting down a name for the location (e.g. the sarcophagus room) and maybe a brief description (for information die).

  2. Then at some point I think "eh, better get out my protractor and my mini-abacus and make sure this baby adds up (i.e. roll a test). This can be in or out of camp

  3. If the test is successful, the map is good from the last successful test (or beginning of the adventure) to this point. If I’m on this part of the map that has been successfully tested I can Marry Poppins my fanny back to the beginning of the map.

  4. However, the gm has discretion (with the admonition to be careful about squashing the cartographer skill) to stop you along the way if there is a new obstacle or there is an old obstacle on the path that doesn’t make fictional sense to bypass. For example, my cleric made a super lucky roll to turn the dungeon level boss (a Horned Demon). The GM wasn’t too happy but compromised by saying the Demon was going to be stunned long enough for us to get away safely (dropping through a hole in the ground to the next level). But he was going to hold his ground and would be waiting for us whether we use Cartographer or not…seemed fair enough to me. Plus the damn thing (see what I did there) was made of gold; so, um, yeah.

Here are my questions:
Given the above is true, what exactly happens if I fail?
The book says “If you fail your Cartographer test and the GM imposes a twist, then your map is inaccurate. He may invoke a location based Twist such as arriving at the wrong location”

  1. Is it accurate to say this means there will definitely be a twist and your map is definitely inaccurate?

  2. Is it accurate to say the Location based twist is an Optional / ADDITIONAL twist that the GM can add at hers or his discretion?

  3. Assuming 2 is true then what is the criteria that the GM uses to decide whether or not to implement this extra twist? And, what happens if the players never uses the map again or makes their way back to the last good map check to “get back on the map”, does that mean the optional location-based twist is off the table?

  4. Can I head back to my last good map check and restart mapping from there on?

  5. Can I start a new map knowing that the furthest I can get back to on that map is the point where I failed the check and then I’ll have to find my way from this new start to a point that was on the old map to be “back on the [orginal] map”?

  6. Is there a literal translation for the number 42 (Douglas Adams fans?)?

I would be super stoked if a member of the BW staff could come and help me shore up this leaky brain of mine.

with an accurate map you no longer need to make a test to travel to any location on your map, meaning you don’t have to test Pathfinder. You don’t bypass obstacles like a 100’ cliff, and the steep Dungeoneering Ob test to climb it, just because you have some Parchment with ink on it.

Thanks for responding mistrlittlejeans but, this does not answer a single one of my questions. I mean no disrespect by pointing this out but I don’t want anyone who may have answers to think I’m all good now

If you fail your roll and the GM initiates a twist rather than giving you a condition, than your map is not trustworthy. A failed cartography roll generates twists or conditions just like any other roll, but no matter what the GM chooses as a twist, you failed the cartography roll, so those areas are not mapped accurately in some way. You can’t reliably Mary poppins to any of the of the areas you failed to map accurately. My assumption is that if you try to use the map, the GM calls for a test and is free to offer a condition or a twist on that roll, including a location based twist like arriving at the wrong place.

The question about mapping new areas is a good one. You don’t have to pass a test to get between any successfully mapped areas, but is that still true if you have to cross an unsuccessfully mapped area between them? I’d think the GM would have the opportunity to impose a test there, but I’m not 100% sure.

Also, you can not go back to an earlier map. Your character probably does not even know the map (or part of it) is now wrong, and he has only that one map to rely on. The only way to get a correct map is passing the next Cartographer test.

Thanks for your responses guys.

So Bobo you said this: “Also, you can not go back to an earlier map.”

Are you saying that if I map from point a to point b and pass a cartography test. Then map from point B to point c and fail a cartography test that I can’t simply go back to point b and be back “On the map”. I thought that test was to verify the accuracy of the map to that point? Are you sure about this? If so, I assume that either you’re BW staff or you got it from a thread on here that a BW staff member commented on. I say this because I have a hard time seeing what your saying by reading the rules as written. (FYI, as a software architect and system engineer, I find Torchbearer to be a work of beauty. I feel like the rest of the book makes total sense but the explanation given in the book for Cartographer seems a bit anemic for such core and unique rule).

You create the map by making the cartographer test, you don’t verify it. You don’t have a map (at least of the latest locations you explored) until you make that test – you only have the list of locations the mapper logged.

If you fail the test and the GM invokes the relevant twist, your map is wrong. You cannot say ‘“This map is not good enough”, throw it away and get an older map out in order to bypass problems – the wrong map is a twist that will lead to obstacles and you have to deal with them, until you draw a better map with a succesful test.

This is my preferred way of handling this in play: The mapper tests, and I as the GM draw him a little map of the known parts of the dungeon. If he explores some more and passes another test, I add to that map. Now, if he fails the test, I draw him a map that is wrong – hilariously wrong, if possible, and everybody at the table knows it is wrong. After that, every time the party tries to travel through the bad sections of the map, it’s a good opportunity for me to drop a “wandering monster” or some other twist in their way. If they only move through a section that has been correctly mapped, they can do so without problems, but the bad sections will definitely lead to interesting times.

Whether testing means “creating a map” or “verifying a map you’ve been drawing as you go” has no mechanical difference as far as I can tell. The issue is what happens when you fail. However, because I’m ocd like that, I’m going to point you to the wording of the rule on page 157: “As the Cartographer explores, he draws the map”. Now, I’ll grant it goes on to say “During the game you need not and should not draw a map, instead list the locations and features you have visited”. I’m guessing that’s the part that’s got you confused. However, if you look carefully, the first part refers to the “Cartographer” which is your character and the second part refers to “you”, which is the player. I could, of course, be wrong about the author’s intention here as it’s complicated and not explicit. I would love it if one of the BW staff would chime in and set us straight.

As for you’re preferred way of handling this: Very interesting homebrew ruling but I’m interested in the actual rule at this point.

If I’m reading you correctly, you’re describing a situation where every time you test your map (or “create your map”) you take a chance on making the map you’ve already “tested” (or “created”) invalid. That interpretation doesn’t actually make any sense to me and here is why: Strategically, under your interpretation, there is never any reason for me to test a map until I am ready to use it to travel. Can you explain to me why it would ever be to my benefit to test (“create”) a map before I’m ready to travel?

Again, I would absolutely love it if a BW staff would come and set the record straight on this. I have seen so many interpretations here and across the internet about how cartography works and they’re all absolutely sure their way is “correct”.

You create the map at the table; it’s a meta-game thing. It can be a checkmark next to a list of location names, a quick diagram or an actual map, that’s totally up to you. But there is no map you as a player can actually make use of until you make that cartographer test during a camp phase. And if you fail that test, the GM can decide to stick you with a twist that somehow involves what’s shown on the map. You can correct the map with a later test. That’s all there is to it, really.

How you this works in the fiction is also mostly up to you. If the mapper’s list of locations is an actual map he needs to verify or if it just exists in his memory and needs to be committed to paper later does not matter, as long as it makes sense and respects the rules. You will need to find something that works for you and your group.

As to why you would draw a map in increments – the size of the mapped area is part of the factors for the cartographer test. Also, a cartographer test is usually a camp activity and will require a check, so you cannot always draw a map on the fly when you want it.

If that sounds too confused to you, then I guess you’ll have to wait for Thor or Luke.

How we do it (Thor’s group).

I make a Cartographer test to map from Skogenby to the Three Squires. I succeed. I write down in the margins of my character sheet, “Map from Skokenby to the Three Squires.” As long as I have my skill tools, I have the map. I make a map from Three Squires to our camp. I fail. The map is incorrect. I cannot use it to get back to Three Squires (or I can try and may get lost). Later, someone wants to buy my map. I sell it, giving me +1D of cash. I no longer have a map. Whatever. I could make a map from memory, having first-hand knowledge (lower ob).

Thanks Jared. So, if I understand you correctly, in your given example you have two maps. From A. Skokenby to three squires and B. From Three squires to your camp. The first Test succeeds so Map A is good. The second test fails so map B is bad. If you try to use map B to get back to Three squires you may get lost.

My main question is: when you finally manage to get Back to Three Squires, can you use Map A to get back to Skokenby?

My stretch goal is: If I’m at the camp in your example, can I start a third map from Camp to “Big Bad Scary room”? And, if that test passes can I use it to get from “Big Bad Scary room” back to camp?

Yep and yep. When you fail a Cartographer test and there’s a twist where your map is wrong, just X out that route. Following it will get you lost. But the remainder is fine. Transcribing a map from an existing one could introduce errors where there were none (another Cartographer test!).

Boom! Thanks Jared. I am set.

Great game by the way. I’m just getting started but I love the way it feels.