Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Under Hill

I've been required to do a fair bit of travelling recently. A bit of flying (I love landscapes from above), and a lot of driving. Though New Zealand varies region by region, and certainly it's not the postcasrd travelogue recent movies have CG-ed up, there are parts of this country that are gorgeous in their mute simplicity.

As a young Simian I would travel the main highway to Dunedin with my parents when visiting family down there, and from the back set of our car I'd watch the contryside change as we travelled further south, becoming hillier, greener, the low slopes and mrangeds alternately withdrawing and approaching as we wound our way through places with evocative names: Blueskin Bay, the Kilmog Hill, Pigeon Flat, Flagstaff . As I grew older and took books with me for the journey these places would become proxies for Tolkein's Middle Earth locations: Weathertop, Amon Hen, the Dead Marshes, the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood.

Kilmog Hill by Ian@NZFlickr

For me, reading has always been a very visual experience. I'm unable to follow a story unless I can build a picture of it in my mind, with locations, casting (for want of a better term) and so forth. I've no idea if this is normal, but it's been the habit of a lifetime. Similarly, my Dungeons & Dragons experiences were also visual, and informed by the same landscapes I travelled though at the time. Travelling through the lower rolling countryside of the Kapiti Coast and lower Manawatu, Rotorua's Waioekea Gorge, and the Rimutaka incline brings back those fancies of a younger me, head full of roleplaying and fantasy scenarios. What armies of goblins and unspeakable creatures lurked inside those emerald grassy domes carved by rivers and wind?

Landscape plays a part in roleplaying, but I'm interested to know how much this matters to players from different locales. I was of course extremely fortunate to have literally just outside town the countryside that would become Peter Jackson's Middle Earth (and no, I've not yet made it to Matamata/Hobbiton!), but did city-locked Inner Birmingham and Greater Manchester players of my generation plant themselves in fantasy worlds built from their surroundings? Did the experience of players in the US work the landscapes seen from their bedroom and car windows into the same sweeping prairies and cliff and pine tree panoramas that the likes of Larry Elmore made a career painting into the rulebooks I lost myself in?

Answers on a postcard. Really.


  1. I think you mean Flag Swamp. I had a few friends who went to Flag Swamp school, and it's where we ran our Cross Country race each year. Ugh. It was well named.

  2. Ah, trusty Mister G!

    Flag Swamp... now there's a name for the roadside, too. But no, definitely not there. I must to Google, because you're right - pigeon Flat isn't uite the [ace I'm thinking of. It's at the bottom of a big dip post-Kilmpg going north, but before Waitati. Marked by lots of bleached dead trees poking out of a valley on the left, and an overbridge before you clear the valley floor. I wrote a song about that spot. It was a rubbish song, but the spot's still great.

  3. Oh yeah, I know that spot well. That is Pigeon Flat I think. I was always fascinated by the little quarry machine that was up from there, a chute for transferring truck-to-truck without negotiating the steep roads.

  4. Hah - yes, of course! That's definitely in the memory bank for the same reason. Was that what it was for? Crikey. Cheers! :)