Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Best: Wainwright's Pictorial Guide

Continuing my irregular series on the Best and Worst things I've ever seen in RPG products, it's time for another "Best" post (despite the fact that the "Worst" posts get twice as many hits!).

This time I move from an actual RPG product to one that should be an RPG product. One that every RPG product should aspire to be like. One that is a work of art to behold, is of eminent practicality both for planning adventures and when you're having them, and is inspirational when you just pick it up to read it. I am, of course, talking about the Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, written by
This series of seven volumes published between 1955 and 1966 details all 214 fells of the Lake District, dedicating a chapter to each. It is thoroughly comprehensive, starting with an overview of the fell, followed by all routes of ascent, points of interest, the summit and the views, and all ridge routes to other nearby tops.

It threw typographical conventions to the wind, and is entirely written in pen and ink. This enables AW to freely mix text and maps and illustrations. Each ascent route is given a dedicated page, which the author describes as
"The routes of ascent…are depicted by diagrams that do not pretend to strict accuracy: they are neither plans nor elevations; in fact, there is deliberate distortion in order to show detail clearly: usually they are represented as viewed from imaginary ‘space-stations'."
The resultant map-come-route descriptions are incredibly easy to use in practice. There's no back and forth between the map and the route description; everything you need is to hand where you need it.

AW self published the first volume in 1955, paying for 2000 copies. For thirteen years he worked on his labour of love at a rate of one page per day.

What particularly appealed to me was that you could climb one hill using one route (often with variations), then link together summits with the ridge routes, descending back to the start; thus discovering your own route.  Definitely no rail-roading here!

All my childhood holidays were spent in the hills, most of them in the Lake District, and those mostly "climbing the Wainwrights". When I met starting dating my wife in 1990 we set about climbing them all together, which took us until 1996 (we had no car and were living in the south of England so it took a while). When we married in 1994 we did his "Coast to Coast Walk" as our honeymoon. We still have the bug - we spent the week before last in a cottage in Eskdale with my parents and our three children, still finding new routes to try and hidden spaces to discover.

If only every RPG product was as great to look at, inspirational to read, easy to prep, and easy to use in play as this.

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