Today we have a fantastic behind-the-scenes look at Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn from the book’s cartographer, Andy Law! The city of Whitestone faced dark days during the events of Critical Role‘s first campaign, as explored in the recently-released animated series The Legend of Vox Machina. However, Tal’Dorei Reborn updates the continent by two decades, changing the city of Whitestone significantly! Let’s dive in to the process with cartographer Andy Law.
Hi, my name’s Andy Law. Amongst many other things, I’m an award-winning cartographer who’s been mapping all things fantasy, sci-fi, and horror for over three decades. My work has popped up all over the place, from Game of Thrones to Warhammer 40,000, from Call of Cthulhu to Dragon Age, and given just how much of a geeky fanboy I am, I could not adore my job more.
My Tal’Dorei Reborn tale all started on the 14th of January, 2021 when a mysterious email arrived in my inbox. James Haeck and Hannah Rose had a question for me: would I be interested in revisiting some maps I drafted a few years earlier? Given I’d only worked on a single project with James before—Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting—it was pretty obvious what they were really asking: Did I want to return to the realms of Critical Role?
Hell yes, I did!
So, even though I was snowed under with other work, I quickly found myself working on the all-new Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn. Fully committed to all the new cartography. And I could not have been happier.
By the end of the project, my maps would be featured on 15 of the 280 pages Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn, and would also be included as a giant fold-out poster. And, sure, that took a lot of work to complete, but it was 100% worth it.
So, now that the book’s released, I’d like to take you through the creation of one of the pieces that’s very close to my heart: Whitestone.
The first edition version of map, which I used to create the map of Whitestone for the original Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting, was based on a sketch Matthew Mercer sent to me back in 2017. It looked like this.
I was asked to take that map and update it to match the needs of the book.
With much of the map design work already in place, I quickly had a finished map ready for review. After some discussion with Matthew, we eventually had the image here for the original Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting.
That map shows what Whitestone looked like during the adventures of Vox Machina. But much has changed in Whitestone since it was first drafted. Twenty in-game years of expansion and ruin in equal measure, which meant the Tal’Dorei Reborn update required many new locations to be added and old locations revisited.
Obviously, the lead designers Matthew Mercer, Hannah Rose, and James Haeck had a lot to say on this.
We discussed Whitestone at length. I took notes, read the new text for the forthcoming book, and asked many questions. I was also sent an annotated map with suggestions for how best to update the city. It was a combination of production notes from Hannah and James, who both also served as art directors, and incorporating a host of extras added by Taliesin Jaffe, whose character Percy de Rolo hailed from Whitestone originally. He had lots to say on Whitestone for obvious Percy-based reasons. I’ll let you guess what notes he added…
That map was the foundation for the new version of Whitestone.
However, since there were several requests to add new sections to the south, I had concerns about the resized map fitting neatly on a page (I always check technical details like this before starting, just in case). That’s when Ivan Van Norman, the book’s producer, stepped in and decided, along with Hannah and James, that Whitestone deserved a full-page map. So, happy with that, I went to work.
Looking at the original map, it was clear that there was going to be a lot to add. To make that process as easy as possible, I stripped everything back to the basics. To do that, I rebuilt the line-drawing for the first map by removing the trees, color, and shade from the original. I then resized the map so it fit the portrait dimensions requested by James and Hannah. Doing that allowed me to survey the whole space I had available, transforming it from the first sketch below to the new shape of the city.
Now, before I continue, let’s immediately address a point many have noted when this map was first revealed in late 2021.
Are the city’s outer walls shaped like a heart on purpose?
To begin, that wasn’t the plan. But, as I slowly expanded southwards, and I was thinking of who was behind the city’s planning and expansion, it just fit. Like, perfectly. Percy’s gift of a heart-shaped city for love. No one without a bird’s eye view or an accurate map could ever notice that, but standing on the walls of Castle Whitestone, its shape would become clear as a wide vista below. A city rebuilt for love.
That design was left subtle enough, and it could certainly be claimed to be accidental. But that beating heart of Whitestone lay behind many of the decisions I made in the latter parts of mapping the southern sections of the city. I’m an old romantic at heart.
Now, with that all done, it was time to paint everything and make it match the original map in style, which was requested by Hannah and James. So, with a smile on my face, I set to. After a few days, and much tweaking, the final map was ready.
I pinged the final map over to Hannah and James, and soon it was being circulated around to everyone on the Darrington Press and Critical Role side.
Fortunately, everybody loved it, and it was time for me to move on to the next maps!
So, what do you think? Do you like how Whitestone has changed over the years? Are you happy to see Lord Trinket’s Public Park? Or the Heart of Whitestone? Share your thoughts on social media and ping me and the lovely folks at Darrington Press—we’d love to know what you think.
Andy Law is an award-winning games-designer, cartographer, author, editor, and illustrator, and CEO of Rookery Publications. Catch him on Inside the Rookery, a weekly streamed show offering a peek behind the curtain of game design, featuring a cornucopia of guests—writers, artists, developers, and more—from the worlds of gaming. Andy lives a delightful life of haggis and Irn Bru in Edinburgh, Scotland with his ever-gaming family and his super-floofy cat, Shadow.