Exploring the world is one of the things that draws me to virtual worlds, whether they be MMOs or single player games. I also really like crafting, to the extent that I usually take up all crafting professions in MMOs, even if it requires rolling up a bunch of alts. While juggling possible crafting professions that haven’t been explored or implemented in other games, I came up with the idea of a crafting profession that could appeal to explorers. Hence Cartography.

In my mind, Cartography would work similarly to how the world map works in World of Warcraft. As you explore the world, you gain cartography experience, and you uncover the world map. Once you uncover the entirety of a zone (in a zoned game) or a certain area, you would gain the ability to ‘draw’ a map of the area, using ink and papyrus. You would then be able to draw maps and sell them to others. Maps would be items that non-cartographers would click in order to add them to their own world map. Without these, either players would not have access to the map, and thus would have to rely on their own navigation skills and landmarks strewn around the world, or would have access to very rough maps that show only settlements and major roads. This way, travel between settlements (the ‘known world’) would not be hindered, but travelling off the beaten path would be potentially dangerous.

The first obvious problem I can come up with when implementing this crafting profession is scope. As soon as the cartographer has fully explored the world, they stop gaining experience from exploration, and are unable to grow further in their craft. The basically have nothing left to do but make maps and sell them.

To overcome this, I would introduce treasure maps. Treasure maps would be item drops from monsters, treasure chests, etc, and would require a certain amount of cartography skill to use – ‘decipher’. It would be not unlike the rogue’s lockpicking ability in World of Warcraft, where a player can trade the map to a cartographer in the ‘will not be traded’ slot, and the cartographer uses one of the Cartography-related skills to ‘unlock’ the map, allowing the other player to use it, placing a notation on their world map with the location of the chest. Of course, if that player doesn’t have a cartographer’s map showing that location, the notation could very well appear in the middle of the ‘here be monsters’ part of the map, so the cartographer might very well be able to make an upsale if they happen to be able to draw maps of that particular location in the world. Alternately, the player who finds the map might be able to sell the cartographer the map if they aren’t particularly interested in treasure hunting, creating a good possibility for bi-directional cash-flow or even barter. Once the location of the treasure has been pinpointed, it would either be a matter of having a spade tool that can be used at the location to unearth the treasure, or have a clickable instanced mound of earth that only the player with the notation can interact with.

Another thing that could be done to make the skill have a little more of a tail would be to have crafted maps not be automatically finished with one application of the mapmaking skill (I don’t think I have explained elsewhere that I see crafting skills as ‘classes’, in that there isn’t a single skill associated with a single profession, but rather a set of skills that would work similarly to weapon skills, ie they increase with use, with soft caps that increase each time the crafter ‘levels up’ their profession, or maybe the crafter’s level is an aggregate calculated from the average level of each of the skills that comprise the ‘class’).

So, at lower levels, the player might use their “craft X map” recipe, and get a partially finished map of X, and then further applications of the skill (and consumption of associated materials) work towards completing the unfinished product. Since each application of the skill gives varying amounts of experience depending on level of success, this can be balanced in such a way as to actually reduce how many crafted goods are flowing into the market, and creating ‘costs’ for crafters in the way of materials. Since the amount of completion per application of the skill/recipe is random, but increases with skill/level, easier recipes are easier to make at higher levels, but the difference required might be significant. In fact, it can be balanced in such a way that by the time a crafter is able to make an item with a single set of materials, the recipe is no longer the ideal way to gain experience.