Wednesday, 6 October 2010

the phantom isles

From the voyages of Maelduin and St. Brendan to the Crocker Land Expedition, islands observed then lost to later travellers persist. While sailors are cast as unreliable witnesses and prone to tall tales, phantom islands persist in adventure stories even where the world is mostly known. In some cases it may be a simple case of mistaken navigation, where a fog bank or sand bar is mistaken for something more substantial.

Other circumstances have fantastic explanations like the leviathans of old; the Old English Fastitocalon mentioned by Tolkien in Tom Bombadil or the zaratan catalogued in Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings and later in al-Qadim. Others may be wreathed in enchanted mist like Hy-Brasil, set to appear when the stars are right. Though that phrase may indicate a seagoing encounter with a more horrific outcome of course.

All are opportunities for adventures. Misplaced navigation may take an expedition into a new world. Yet other errors are introduced by map makers, intended to flatter the courtly patrons of expeditions or deceive the gullible. When these maps hold promises of wealth or new lands, adventurers are drawn like moths to flame. And in many of the worlds we explore, there be dragons.


  1. I think phantom islands and other aprocyphal places have a lot of game uses. There can be places of dubious accuracy on maps that player's see leading to adventure--whether or not they find the intended destination or not. Two, I that at least for my World of the City setting, I'm placing a lot of places that wound up being fantasies in our world on the map as actual places.

  2. There's a ton of hooks that suggest themselves - the fantastic made real is what we're all about.

    The fake map plot is something which I'm a bit ambivalent about but having an island show up that's previously uncharted - that's interesting.


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