When it comes down to it, I’m a storyteller.
At least, I want to be a storyteller. The problem? Way too often, the stories that want to be told never leave my head. I daydream and I scheme. I write and rewrite in my mind and occasionally jot something down, but mostly I keep them all to myself. A lot of these stories and fragments of stories take the form of maps, scenarios, or other RPG-related ephemera, because these are the things—in part—from which my inner storyteller were formed. They boil in my skull-cauldron, festering and metastasizing. In a very real way (to me), they haunt my life.
Maps & Tales is my attempt to manifest the ghosts and exorcise them, to bring something new into the world rather than just consume. Please join me as I explore the nooks and crannies of my haunted mind-palace and see what I can dust off and bring back to life.
My name is Scott Elfstrom. By day I’m a clicky-tappy computer guy what makes software, and by night I do many other things. Mostly I’m a dad of two middle-schoolers and husband to a wife I adore. All three of them put up with my shenanigans, and I really can’t thank them enough for their support.
I’ve been into role-playing games, mostly Dungeons & Dragons, for a long time. I think I first picked up the Red Box Basic set sometime in the mid 1980s. Pretty sure it was from the shelves of either Sparky’s Toys or Waldenbooks. I clearly remember sitting on my bed and playing through (and mapping on my own graph paper!) the solo-play adventure included within that original player’s handbook. I role-played, to myself, the follow-up visit to the town to purchase more, better gear, then re-played the whole thing again. I was hooked. Of course I re-rolled if I did poorly. Of course I rounded up the gold I found to make sure I could afford the plate armor and two-handed sword. The rules didn’t matter as much as the story that was forming in my head.
After I got my fill of that, I quickly moved on to populating the empty castle map in the Dungeon Master’s Guide with my own menagerie of creepy crawlies. The second-and-deeper levels were particularly interesting to me, because I had to make them up; there were no maps except for what I scratched out on paper. It was the blank canvas of my imagination.
As years went on, I never really found a group to play with. Other kids were kind of interested, but somehow a group never really came together for me. But the stories…I still made up the stories. The adventures. The maps. Occasionally I would roll up my own party of characters and roll the dice, becoming my own Monty Haul DM1. Again, it wasn’t really about the dice rolls.
It wasn’t until college that I finally found a group to play D&D with. For three years or so we gathered on a near-weekly basis to fight and explore our way through whatever crazy things came to our DM’s mind2. I never really ran my own game there (although I tried), but I always filled in the blanks between sessions with my own daydreams. After college a new group formed, and the core of that group still plays to this day, when real life doesn’t intervene. I’ve mostly run published adventures with that crew, but I’ve always tried to put my own spin on those stories.
So here I am, trying to bring out more of these bits and pieces that have been rattling around in my head for most of my life. I think they deserve to have a life outside of me, outside my brainbox. I hope you agree.
As with any artist, a full accounting of my true influences would be extremely difficult to catalog. As I publish things, I intend to be forthcoming when I can remember where I found specific inspiration. Some general influences will be obvious, however, and I want to make sure that credit is given where it’s due.
These are all fairly recent influences, when I started to think about doing this sort of thing in a more public way.
- Dyson Logos
- I found this guy sometime last year, and he's been cranking out maps and their associated story hooks like crazy for many years. His hand-drawn maps are captivating, and I've learned a lot from just following his example while I try to find my own style.
- Fantastic Maps
- When it comes to maps with more richness and depth, I've tried to learn from this Jonathan Roberts at Fantastic Maps. He had some of the best tutorials I could find on how to make beautifully-rendered maps, with some really easy-to-follow tutorials. If you've seen some official maps from the Game of Thrones, you've probably seen his work.
- Mike Schley
- Some of my favorite official D&D products are filled with Mike Schley's maps. I have yet to produce anything that looks like what he can do, but I love his style!
Really, who hasn’t influenced my writing? I think that’s just the way it works. But here are some of my enduring inspirations.
- Stephen King
- It almost seems absurd to link to the master storyteller, but there it is. Of all the writers I've read, I think he was the first that I really paid attention to the how of the writing, and not just the story.
- Chris Perkins
- Dungeon Master to the Stars and principal story designer for Dungeons & Dragons. I think I've learned as much about designing for role-playing and storytelling in general from reading his work and watching him run a game as any other source.
- A podcast nominally about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Thankfully, screenwriters are people, so there is a tremendous amount of overlap between what interests them and what interests anyone, especially storytellers. Screenwriter hosts John August and Craig Mazin, week after week, cover a broad range of topics that often boil down to "how do I tell a better story". At least, that's what I get out of it.
- Tycho Brahe/Jerry Holkins/Ominifis Hereward Dran
- This man lives and breathes stories. It's just who he is. I don't know what world(s) exist in his brain, but when he makes them into words it's some kind of sorcery. The live stream D&D game over which he presides as dungeon master (Acquisitions Incorporated: The "C" Team, live every Thursday afternoon) is one show I never miss (although I usually consume the podcast version that comes out a few days later). The entire cast/party of that show, really, has a great chemistry and they collaborate for the best stories.
- James Abendroth
- I probably haven't told him this lately, but the dude is more prolific and productive in his writing than I have ever managed to be. I admire his _stick-to-it-iveness_ and I'm inspired to try and be as productive. Thanks, James, for being a great DM and a constant reminder that I need to get off my butt and make stuff.
I suppose the modern equivalent would be an “Oprah” DM. “You get a vorpal sword! You get a vorpal sword! You all get vorpal swords!” ↩
I’ll never forget the troll spores, the one-armed cleric with the dwarf throwing hammer for an arm, the demon’s giant eye looking through the portal at us (we thought we were being sneaky!), or the dragon-scale armor we were re-constructing through our quests. ↩
Maps & Tales is supported by patrons just like you.
I have been and will continue to release content here—free for personal use—on a regular basis for as long as I possibly can. When you become a patron through Patreon, you'll be helping me sustain this effort. You'll be helping me upgrade my tools and devote more of my personal time to creating high-quality content for your enjoyment. As thanks, I've got a few extra goodies for you, including exclusive content for patrons and custom maps—just for you!.