Heroquest Battlemap #5: Melar’s Maze

I felt much better this weekend than as I did last weekend, and so making the next Dungeondraft version of the Heroquest quest map went much more smoothly than it did last time. I also found a much better version of the Heroquest manual on the Hasbro site that allowed me to have a greater resolution of the US map version than before, which was quite nice to have. It’s great to see that this project is also providing the main benefit that I had hoped it would: as I’m making more maps, I’m getting more and more comfortable with the software and I’m learning new tricks every map that I make.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

Once again, the US version of the same quest map just has so much more danger to it, both in monsters and trap placement. There are some sneaky changes, though; for example, looking at the central room, the NL version is actually a little rougher because there the monsters can fully engage the players, whereas in the US version the table placement means there’s only two 1-on-1 fights going on in that room. Regardless, what’s really helpful about the US map is the increased level of detail that helps give some more structure to the environment as a whole. An interesting switch, though, is that the new version now calls what was previously the “Gargoyle” in the US version the “Abomination”, which brings it closer to what the Dutch version used, namely “het Gedrocht“.

The “maze” aspect of the quest mostly seems to be brought through by the long, winding hallway around the map. It’s interesting, though, that if the players choose to go right from the start but skip the hallway, they run straight to the final boss with no interruption. most of the dungeon, actually, seems to be a distraction from the direct goal. I suspect that is a main reason why the doors were placed where they are: to lure the players in to taking the long way around. However, this is called the heart of the maze, so I think narratively we can imagine the players have actually passed most of the maze already and are in the last parts of it.

So fact, though, the setup gives us quite a lot to work from already: the centre of a large, winding maze brings to my mind underground dungeons and dark hallways. To me, that clearly themes this dungeon. For once, the inclusion of that ever-so-traditional torture rack isn’t that strange in the setting. Given that Melar is termed a wizard, and there’s an alchemy table in one of the rooms, I can also imagine this is a place of magical study. That would fit with the central room having two bookcases and a table, as that’s probably a library.

An interesting point of note is the room with a monster labelled “B” in the map. This is supposed to be an interesting trap for the players as there is a large statue of a gargoyle in the room that doesn’t turn intoaa monster until the players open the door to the next room (which also has two traps behind it—how mean!). It would be quite odd if this was the only statue in the place, so I figured that there will likely have to be some more status in areas and certainly more in this room.

Information from the flavor text

The flavor texts of both the NL and US versions are fairly similar this time, with no real ambiguity between the two, sadly (I do love it when I can twist an intended meaning).

A larger version of the US text

Melar’s Maze

Long ago, the wizard Melar crafted a talisman that increased the magical knowledge of the wearer. He always held the talisman close to him for fear of evil thieves. It is said that he left this talisman in his laboratory in the middle of his maze. The Maze is guarded by all manner of magical sentries and traps, and it is rumored that ghosts of those who died searching for the talisman wander the halls.

My translation of the Dutch version of the text.

This flavor text provides the prompt that this is apparently a laboratory, with the US version specifying that it’s underground. Interestingly enough, the US version suggests that Melar specifically feared that Zargon would seek out the amulet, though the NL version does not attribute the threat to Morcar but just “evil thieves”. The US version just suggests that there are traps and monsters, whereas the Dutch version speaks of “sentries and traps”. There’s an interesting difference between “monster” and “sentry”, as the former is just any opposition and might suggest that the maze has fallen into disrepair and is occupied by whatever came next. I chose the Dutch interpretation of “sentry”, as it suggests a more active and intentional guarding of the place (suggesting that it was also still maintained to some degree).

The major difference is an addition in the NL version that speaks of ghosts wandering the halls—the ghosts of all those that foolishly sought out the amulet (I mean, unlike the new fools that will be questing for it now). To me, that completes the image of this place being dark, dank, and oppressed. I liked the idea of Melar being a character that has passed on long ago, yet his legacy lives on for so long that adherents still occupy his maze waiting for his return. Slowly, over time, regardless of whether Melar was good or evil, his maze certainly turned to a place of evil.

Translating into a final map

Based on the reading above, I knew I wanted to have the map be an underground dungeon-like structure that was in good upkeep. Fortunately, the Crosshead Studios Assets that I use come with a nice-looking dungeon wall that gives a sense of depth to the place. While I chose this to be the outside walls, I wanted a flatter inside wall to clearly delineate the two. One downside of that which I’m not too sure how to ameliorate yet is that the two walls don’t connect well at corners. While I can absolutely live with the intersetion of two walls at 90 degrees, the corner interation looks off. I could twist them to meet at 45 degrees, but to me that gives an odd twist to the rooms. Perhaps next time, I’ll look into placing an additional stone feature on top to obscure the meeting point.

Thematically speaking, I wanted the map to be a display of wealth; after all, this was the laboratory at the centre of his maze. So, I dedicated some of the rooms to display statues, paintings, and rugs. Similarly, the room at the centre I wanted to be open and luxurious. When I was that there was a pipe organ in the asset pack, well, how could I not put that right there? How classical, to have your main enemy play dramatic organ music as you approach the final room! Furthermore, I tried to use some chandeliers to emphasize the sheer luxury of the place.

I learned how to work shadows a little better, so the shadows for the walls are less oppressive but present enough to make them pop out of the map visually. Similarly, I toned down the transparency of regular shadows for objects so I could layer them more carefully. I tried to keep the pooling of shadows for larger objects that are in corners, or taller structures such as the little cabinat of jars in the alchemical laboratory with the magical circle.

Another thing that went much better on this map was my use of layers. For the past maps, I consistently messed that up as I either kept mostly everything on the same layer or at some point switched to the “above wall” layer and would forget to switch back. This time, everything is consistently layered, with objects on top of others (such as the things on top of tables) being on a layer higher than the others. This has allowed me to create more specified layers of objects, such as the chandeliers on top of everything else, or a shadow below the frame on the rack yet on top of the rack itself.

I think, overall, I reached a happy medium of having objects in rooms yet not having them be overfilled. For some rooms I think that worked out incredibly well, such as the bathing room at the top-left: it’s sparse but clearly communicates what it is and what’s happening. For other rooms, such as the kitchen in the bottom right, I think it looks too static. On the one hand, it made sense to keep a central walkway empty (you’d need it to walk from one door to the next, or go from the table to the stove) but it also pushed most of the objects to two parallel lines around the central walkway.

A final thing that still needs improvement that I don’t know how to handle well is incorporating a secret door directly. I think it worked really well behind the throne, because the throne itself mostly obscures the door. However, clearly, in the bathroom in the middle, the secret door is not secret in the slightest. I did enjoy that room, because it’s so out-of-place: having facilities in a place isn’t that strange but why would there be a skeleton there? Of all place you could pass away, the bathroom is it!? Also, I greatly enjoyed making the place with the secret door the bathroom. I mean, who’d figure that that’s where this wise wizard would put such a secret?

In any case, below you can find the version of the map without lighting applied:

The version of the map without lighting effects

My preferred version, however, is the very dark version:

The version of the map as I imagine it: dark, dank, and foreboding

I figured out a trick I’m quite happy with with the fireplace in the kitchen at the bottom right: the fireplace itself wasn’t set to block light, because I needed the fire to be on top of that. However, I realized I could put an invisible wall on top of it and set that to block light and, voilá! It works quite nicely. Next time, I’ll make sure to move the wall back a little on the corner, as light wouldn’t bend off exactly that straight but for now it’s a nice touch. I think it will also work quite nicely on tables in the future, when I want to have the tablelegs block light but not the top itself necessarily.

For a full-sized version of this map, the version I posted over in Reddit is available:

Burning France: Session 4

Last night was the fourth session of my Burning Wheel campaign, “Burning France”, which was also the last session of the first story arc, which I have retroactively dubbed “The Cleansing of Avignon-sur-Chantre”. For a write-up of what led us here, you can refer to my post about Session 3. I ran into a slight snag writing the blog post this time, as my players had already deleted their finished Beliefs, so I couldn’t refer back to them! Time for me to keep better track of those in the future!

The Story

The group heads out into the forest north of Avignon-sur-Chantre to handle the nobles camped out there. The trio decide to approach the group openly and warmly, carrying a cart of food. Benoit takes the lead and suavely greets people, leading the group to the centre of the little encampment. Having arrived there,  Joseph, the son of the deposed Noble of Avignon, greets the group, and Geoffrey sits him down for a picnic to try and sway his opinion. In discussion, it becomes clear that Joseph has a strong disregard for those he deems as lesser, and he accuses the villagers of having stolen the house his family has held for generations. Meanwhile, Bertrand is fuming at having to deal with this vile noble, and we cut back to a week earlier to when Bertrand and Geoffrey were investigating Joseph. Bertrand uncovers the vile truth of his family: they made (and still make) their money by selling off villagers to slavers.

Back in the present, the trio execute the plan we didn’t even know they had: Benoit convinces the professional workers there to leave for Avignon by reminding them of their awful surroundings and that they can do much better than care for spoiled landowners. Meanwhile, Geoffrey distracts Joseph while Bertrand gets on a soapbox to address the crowd of bourgeouisie. The horrible truth of Joseph’s family tradition of slave trade is brought out into the open, and the gathered people leave in disgust. A heavy rain starts falling down as Joseph stands there shocked and stunned by his sudden and immense turn of fortune. Bertrand, seeing his opening, steps up without hesitation and plunges his dagger into the young boy’s heart, to demonstrate to Benoit how a true zealot deals with the nobility. As the pair walks off into the rain, leaving the crumpled body of the boy to bleed out into the mud, Geoffrey takes a moment to look down at it and, without speaking, tosses an apple on top of the corpse and walks away.

The Session

This session was quite an interesting one. I had read up on the rules for Duel of Wits and Fight! in expectation of the conflict with the nobles going somewhere in that direction. I made sure to read up on rules for sneaking in case my players wanted to make this some stealthy assassination attempt. I’d even briefly scouted through the Range and Cover rules to see if they would be relevant at some point. Given that one of the players has the Arson skill, I even read up on fires and burning materials.Now, I figured that the players would try to solve this diplomatically, so that went as expected, but what I wasn’t expecting was the players deciding to dig up the dirtiest, most horrible family secret they could to use as a weapon in a conflict.

What was quite interesting about this session is that when we had to reference the rules this time, it wasn’t particularly to find out how the rules worked but rather to find out what would be the most interesting rules. We could have made the rumor gathering an extended test with multiple characters to shine a spotlight on that but in the end we chose to make a single test with a help action. However, since it was the most disgusting secret around that would without fail turn his fellow bourgeouisie against Joseph, we set the test at Ob 4. As a consequence of potential failure, I set that Bertrand would instead discover a horrible secret about his own family instead – what stakes! Miraculously, with a B4 skill, the players threw everything they had against it and leveraged out a success! Well, while I figured this might have been a good Duel of Wits opportunity with two speakers going head to head to win the minds of the crowd, I felt like this was too good of a thing to overrule with a potential Duel of Wits loss.

I’m happy that when I asked at the end of the session whether the players wanted to continue (potentially with different characters, a different story, or even a different game system), they all wanted to continue to see where all this goes.

Overall Impression

I’m quite happy with how the session went. We were all a little beat by this week but still managed to make it into an entertaining session. On top of that, we were all quite more comfortable with the system and it felt like it was less “in the way” as it has been at times in the past when we needed to get used to it. Now, our interactions with the system served to encourage and stimulate roleplay.

I think this first arc has really set an interesting tone to the world. We’ve only just begun to see who these characters are and what they are about. In essence, this feels like the pilot episodes to our show, and now that the stage has been set we can take it places. I very much look forward to seeing where we head off to next!

Heroquest Battlemap #4: Prince Magnus’ Gold

This week was a tough one to make the next Dungeondraft map of a Heroquest adventure. On Thursday, I started feeling poorly, and I pretty much spent all weekend drained of energy. Aside from being covered in blankets and cats while binge-watching things that didn’t need much attention, I went to work whenever I reached a little oasis of energy. In the end, I think I can do better than what I’ve produced but making the map has taught me a good deal once more, so I don’t regret making it. On top of that, I’m reminding myself that it’s more important to make a thing than it is to not make it.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

As I’ve started to get used to, the US versions of the Heroquest maps just seem to have more detail in them. Aside from the fact that they consistently have more monsters in the entire map, the NL versions just seem to leave out objects for some reason. Most of the rooms in the rop of the map in the NL version just don’t have any objects, even though they were absolutely available as items in the box set.

This map is essentially a large spiral to the central room, which to me gives it something of an organic feel—after all, who would design a building like this when you could be far more efficient about it? On top of that, there’s some odd hallways that lead nowhere that reinforce that organic feel for me. So, this might be a cave, or perhaps temple ruins that have been retaken by nature, or something along those lines.

The Dutch map, being so empty of detail, makes for a very tough basis for interpretation. There’s just a sequence of rooms, one of which has a table in it. There seems to me little rhyme or reason to it. The US map also has an empty room or two, but there is more purpose there. After the first generic “room with a table” in the bottom left, we seem to reach a more consistent area. There’s a room with a torture rack across the hall from a very small room with a trap outside. To me, immediately that seems like a little jail cell to keep your future torture victims. Past an empty room, there’s a little cabinet in a room with a secret door. What better place to keep a secret door than behind some crates in a storage room? The secret door gives entrance to the true inner sanctum: a place with a hearth (so, less likely to be a cave), and then the treasure room with a whole pile of monsters.

The entire thing reads like a pretty standard encounter of a gang of monsters that have a hideout somewhere that you have to battle through.

Information from the flavor text

This time, the NL and US versions of the text actually largely agree:

A larger version of the US flavor text

Prince Magnus’s Gold

Three treasure chests have been stolen while being transported to the King. A reward of 200 gold pieces has been issued for the person who returns the chests with all the gold. The perpetrators are suspected of being a gang of Orcs hiding in the Black Mountains. They are led by Gulthor, a Chaos Warrior.

My translation of the Dutch version of the text.

Aside from the Dutch text being a little more individualistic than the US text, and the US text offering a higher reward (along with the usual King vs Emperor difference, the stories are pretty much the same. The Dutch version offers a little doubt (they are “suspected” of being the thieves, whereas the English text knows for sure).

So, we have clarity on the nature of the map, at least: this is in the Black Mountains. I’ve been wanting to do a cave map for a while, as I’ve just not done these before and it seems like an interesting new style to try out. On top of that, for the previous two maps regarding Orcs, I made structured war camps for rounded characters. This time, let’s lean in to the “lair” aspect described in the US text and make it a thieves’ hideout.

Before moving on to the mapping itself, I wanted to comment on a funny little difference in the quest instructions: the US version simply provides the instruction that players cannot take the gold for themselves—it’s just not a move they can make. The Dutch version, on the other hand, states that if a player comes up with the idea of taking the gold for themselves, they can never become a True Hero. How harsh! Sure, you can continue risking your life throughout all these murder quests we send you on, but we won’t give you a medal at the end!

Translation into a final map

A main thing I wanted to practice with this map was making a cave encounter. I’ve not made one before, so it was interesting to try and work out how to do this exactly. Dungeondraft does have a cave building feature but that can be a little tricky to use. On top of that, it fits the very specific Dungeondraft aesthetic, which doesn’t match with the Crosshead assets that I’m using for this.

I struggled with quite a few things in making this map. Firstly, the terrain was tricky to get right. I wanted to have a dark dirt cover the floors but the only dirt I have was quite light colored. So, in the end, I had to turn on soft blending of terrains and layer two rocky terrains together with the dirt, after which I covered it with a 25% opacity black pattern tile to darken it. I’m not too happy with how it turned out but it does work.

The second thing that was quite educational was using paths to make the walls of the cave. Crosshead assets offer about half a dozen different cliff and cave path tools, including a set of three that are increasingly dark so that you can layer them. It took quite some fiddling with the pathing tool to try and get these paths working correctly so that I ended up with roughly the right size to all the rooms and they looked like they connected naturally.

Once I layed them all out, I realized it would have been much nicer to use the three layers of the pathed cliffs to make three depths of the cave. I could have used the top layer in the first two rooms and switched over halfway in the south hallway, then had the rooms on the left with two path layers to indicate one level down, switching over to the third layer after the secret door in the storage to indicate the sanctum sanctorum being at the bottom. However, at that point, I’d already spent quite some time working out all these paths and I wasn’t keen on redoing everything with my woozy head.

So, moving on with what I had, I decided on two key words for a style for this map: sparse and askew. This is a gang of orcs hiding away in a set of caves, so they won’t have too much around. Moreover, they’re probably on the run, so they don’t have much going for them. Probably, they steal what they can, sell things off when they can, and stay on the move as much as they can. Based on that, I decided those empty rooms were mostly barracks, that their storage wasn’t very full, and that most things they had were either stolen goods or things easy to take on the move.

The only things that makes this odd is the inclusion of a torture room and a prison, though I guess the gang also does kidnappings where needed, and the inclusion of a furnace in the map. In hindsight, I think I should have put down a grill there rather than a full furnace. Not only is it absolutely crazy to have a full furnace in a cave system (where does that smoke go?! Where’s the smoke stack?), if this is a gang on the move, then how are they taking along a furnace? Well, I’ll chalk that one down to feeling poorly and not being on the ball.

In any case, without further ado, my considerations led me to the following map:

The small version of Prince Magnus’ Gold

Maybe one day I’ll go back to this and make a better version.

EDIT 2022.03.01: A few people have been asking for a higher-resolution version of this map, so I’ve uploaded a whole set to /r/heroquest along with all the others, which you can find below:

Heroquest Battlemap #3: The Orc Lord’s Stronghold

Well, I guess making Dungeondraft maps of Heroquest adventures is going to be a regular thing! This time, the differences between the Dutch and UK texts were quite big, and that was really interesting. Moreover, I keep seeing people making both day and nighttime versions of their maps, so I figured I’d give that a go as well. It’s been another educational process, that’s for sure! I’ll keep to the same post structure for consistency, as it’s been working for me so far.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

A first glance at both versions of the map gives a couple of hints as to what kind of structure we can imagine here. However, once again there are some minor changes made between the US and EU versions that puzzle me. Below are both maps side-by-side for reference.

As you can see, aside from the greater number of monsters in the US version, the second room’s table is placed centrally in the US map. Secondly, there’s a pit trap next to the chest in the final room; however, in the Dutch version the final chest itself is trapped, so that is fairly equivalent. I did notice, interestingly enough, that the EU version uses the cave-in map tile for both cave-ins as well as dungeon walls but it appears the US version had a dedicated wall tile. Now that should help distinguish the two a little more in the future!

A larger view of the Dutch version of the map.

The order of the rooms in the map seem a little curious to me, however. The top right is an entry hallway, which makes sense, but then it leads directly into what appears to be a dining room, given that there is a big old hearth in the next room over (suggesting that might be a kitchen). Another interpretation could be that it’s a guard room followed by a barracks but then I’d wonder where these people get their food! Let alone that such a prominent table in a guard room seems a little counter-intuitive. I’d have placed some smaller tables and some weapon racks there to enable people to respond swiftly. So, let’s say it’s a dining room followed by a kitchen.

Down the hallway and around the corner we then find an armory. That makes sense to me: you’d want a good place to store weaponry but have it a little out of the way so that invaders don’t just take all your weapons the second they get in. Across the hall from what we’ve now deemed the kitche nis a separate set of rooms. A small entry way, a sizeable room with a cabinet, an empty room, and finally Ulag’s room followed by a small treasury. To me, these really seem connected into a solid little living area. In fact, the first thought that pops to my mind is an office space: a little hallway, a waiting room, some offices, and then the boss’ office with attached private facilities (though I haven’t yet added lavatories to my maps).

So, this time, the map is quite evocative—hooray! The main question is how to flavor this map. Is this a dungeon? A cave? An old, decayed temple the orcs are squatting in? There’s plenty of options, though I’d argue the structure of the rooms suggest a measure of intentionality. For a good prompt, I next turned to the flavor text.

Information from the flavor text

Oh, what lovely deviations we see between the texts this time! Have a gander at both below:

As before, I’ll provide a quick translation of the Dutch version:

The Stronghold of the Orc-General

Prince Magnus has given the order to find and kill the Orc-General Ulag, as he was responsible for the kidnapping of Sir Ragnar. Whomever kills Ulag will be rewarded with 100 gold coins. If you find treasures in Ulag’s stronghold, you may keep these.

My translation of the Dutch original flavor text.

And here is a more legible version of the English text:

A larger version of the US flavor text

Like last time, the Dutch version assumes Sir Ragnar was “kidnapped” rather than “imprisoned” (or “captured”, in the previous map), and again the “Orc Warlord” is called “Ork-Veldheer“, which could equally be “general”, “commander”, or “warlord”.

This time, however, the English version uses quite biased language to push the players. The Orc Warlord is in a “lair” (though later referred to as a “stronghold”), a place for wild animals or criminals, and the players are asked to seek out and “destroy” him, again reducing Ulag to an animal (euthanizing rabid or stray animals is sometimes referred to as “destroying” as well). So, essentially, one of then fourteen quests Mentor has set to put the adventurers on the path to become true Heroes is basically a revenge killing. You know, I’m less surprised now that Zargon/Morcar, Mentor’s previous pupil, turned to evil.

The Dutch version has some interesting differences. Unlike the US text, the Dutch version consistently refers to the place where Ulag is as a “vesting“, which is a fortification, keep, or stronghold. Give n that the word “stronghold” is also used in the US version in-text, I’ve chosen to take that as the canon interpretation. This works well given my previous map, where I also chose to make the map into a warcamp rather than an underground dungeon. Making this map into an above-ground, constructed area would be consistent.

I also noticed a smaller thing in the text, which doesn’t specifically affect the mapmaking proces but I thought was funny to include at this point. The English version points out that “any treasure found . . . may be kept by the finder alone”, setting up some manner of PvP sentiment to the game; the Dutch text, on the other hand, just states that if you find treasures in there, you can keep these. Essentially, you just get permission to loot the place as you execute the Prince’s plans. I wonder why the US version chose to introduce that little PvP aspect here.

Either way, regardless of that little side-note, I now had enough information to create the final maps.

Translation into a final map

Knowing that I wanted to make this map into an above-ground structure, and that this was supposed to be the stronghold of a general, I wanted a stone structure this time. Strongholds or keeps are usually built on fortifiable places, so I figured a nice cliff-side structure would be quite a nice view. As well, earlier I’d remarked that the map seemed to consist of two separate structures (dining & armory versus offices), so I figured that the hallway would be an outside space. Seeing as how I chose to put the structure on the side of a cliff, a parapet with crenellated walls functioning as a balcony seemed quite suitable.

This time, I had to resist the urge to go far off-map. The original map doesn’t have any barracks or places for bathrooms, which makes me wonder whether they just do their business out on the parapet and sleep under tables! I chose to assume that this was just the keep, and there’d be some more rooms down the pathway to the north. Alternatively, I could have added a stairwell down at the bottom right of that hallway, and suggested a second level that would have had plenty of space for whatever practicalities are needed.

Given how often I see maps posted in a daytime and nighttime version, I wanted to try my hand at the same thing to see how that would affect the map. Below are small versions of the map for a quick comparison:

It’s intersting how the daylight version looks flat and muted in its colors compared to the nighttime version, which is more lively with its various colors of light and lighting conditions. However, in setting up the nighttime version, I did run into some challenges that I don’t quite know how to solve yet. Dungeondraft mostly deals well with light and blocking light, as the light is kept clearly within each room and yet allowed to shine through windows. However, there are some moments where I would want some shadow casting, such as in the room in the bottom left. The chairs in front of the fireplace would trail some shadow behind them, but the standard “block light” option in Dungeondraft either has them fully lit or fully darkened (compare to the objects in the little workplace at the top-right).Just before uploading, I was editing up the windows in the nighttime version, as they were blowing light. I notice that during that editing, I moved some of the shadows to the desk at the bottom right.

The solution, I think, would be to later more and more shadows behind the objects manually. At that point, though, I wonder if I should rather learn how to do some post-processing in a separate program like Gimp. While layering shadows in Dungeondraft would work, these would also only be soft shadows. The reason is that the “shadows” I use in Dungeondraft, Krager’s Shadow & Light Pack, are actually just little (parts of) circles with various transparencies and fall-off that you can color. Hard shadows, like those that should be cast from the tablelegs in the dining room, for instance, wouldn’t be possible with these.

This time, I also tried to create more depth in the map as a whole. I tried to create three separate levels in there: the water level below, a ground level for most of the map, and a cliff level that the keep itself is situated on. I added small shadows and bits of moss on certain parts of the cliff asset I used to defined the rock outcropping in the hopes of making more depth to that image. Overall, I think that made the cliff pop a little more, and I’m happy with how that worked out.

A slightly larger version of the daytime map.

The great thing about this map was that more and more became clear as I was building it. After finishing the upper area of the stronghold, the lower area suddenly started becoming more of a story: there was the small hallway where visitors would be checked, followed by a little waiting room. Beyond the waiting room would be a private discussion area for individual talks; of course, you’d want that to be a little impressive, so there’s paintings on the wall, a statue in the corner, and a big moose-head on the wall to emphasize his hunting prowess. Finally, there’s the study with a big meeting room ready to go (agenda’s laid out, and breadsticks provided). The more I constructed this, the more alive the map became.

A slightly larger version of the nighttime map.

The dark version of the map, by contrast, almost looks cozy. Particularly that room on the bottom-left looks like a place where Ulag would invite his confidants for a late-night talk over a good cup of tea. That little table and chair that I’d idly put in the upper-right room suddenly is a calm spot where the night sentry reads a book during the quiet hours. The parapet turns from a bleak little passageway to a place to huddle by the fire as you stare wistfully out at the lake.

I’ve learned a lot from making this map, and I’m quite pleased with the outcome. If you’d like to see a full-sized version of the map, you can find this over at the Reddit post I made about it:

Burning Wheel: Foundry VTT Compendiums

I have been enjoying playing Burning Wheel on Foundry Virtual Tabletop tremendously. Not only because the game is going well and I enjoy hanging out with my friends but also because of the really useful features of Foundry VTT. A major component of running Burning Wheel on there has been StasTserk’s system plugin for Foundry, that automates quite a bit about running the game. However, a major feature that’s missing by design from his plugin is Foundry Compendiums that contain the Skills, Traits, Lifepaths, and so on needed to run Burning Wheel. He’s made the explicit choice not to include these, as his project is free and has unofficial status.

Some anonymous person at one point coded a whole set of these Compendiums into Foundry, and a zip file of this has been shared on the Burning Wheel Discord that had all the Common Skills and Common Traits and two of the Settings but lacked a set of other things. To me, getting the Skills and Traits in there would have been the bulk of the work and that was a main thing preventing me from doing it myself. However, with that wonderful start (thank you, unknown person!), I decided to take up the work from here and add the other Settings and missing features bit-by-bit. Given that it was also a little tricky to install initially, thanks to the help of a kind fellow who goes by Agolp on Github, we now have a module that can be installed via its Manifest URL!

You can find the files and installation instructions on the GitHub page, as well as a way to file issues in case you discover something that needs adding or changing. The project is only halfway through so far, but I’d say it’s in a workable state for average play. The things that are still missing now are more niche things, like Monstrous Lifepaths, Traits, and Skills, and so on. I hope this helps you get started with Burning Wheel on FoundryVTT!

The Foundry BW Compendium is available on FoundryVTT and can be updated from there as well! How cool is that?
The current list of compendiums available in FoundryVTT

Heroquest Battlemap #2: The Rescue of Sir Ragnar

I enjoyed making a Dungeondraft version of the first map of Heroquest so much that I figured I’d do the same to the second map. So, I dusted off my old manual once again, and went to prepare. Since the procedure I used making the last battlemap went so well, I figured to follow the same procedure this time around as well.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

This time around, I wanted to not only reference the original Dutch version of the map from my manual, but I also found a map of the UK version to compare it to. Below you can find both for your reference.

Curiously enough, the UK version of the map contains more monsters than the Dutch version. I wonder what prompted that change? Fortunately, though, for our concerns, we’re not placing monsters on the map, so we can ignore that aspect of it, although we could have it inform our ideas of the room functions.

Speaking of that, there seems to be less of a cohesive concept in this map. For one, the UK version has a torture chamber in the staircase room, for some reason. Is that really where you’d put your prisoner: right next to their opportunity to escape? I suppose that is a torture all of its own, though! Five rooms on this map are just plain empty, which doesn’t help us much to interpret any other functionality from it. That little room right next to Sir Ragnar’s room is obvious enough: a small room with a person right next to a cell? That’d be the jailer. Apparently, though, he had to be hidden away; to me, that implies that they’re expecting somebody to come and get him. The other rooms are rather plain purpose: two rooms with a table, one with a bookcase. Not much to go on at all, really.

So, with the maps not giving us much to work with, let’s hope that the flavor text gives us some more clues!

Information from the flavor text

Much like last time, the flavor text varies a little between the two language versions. In case you can read Dutch, below you can find both versions side-by-side.

This time, the differences in flavor text are minor. The Dutch version changes “emperor” to “king”, and “captured” to “kidnapped”.

Given that it’s more likely that you don’t speak Dutch, however, below I’ve translated the Dutch version of the text:

The Rescue of Sir Ragnar,

One of the strongest King’s Knights, Sir Ragnar, has been kidnapped. He is being held prisoner by Ulag, the Orc General. Ye must find Sir Ragnar and bring him to safety. Prince Magnus will pay the rescuer 200 pieces of gold. The reward may be shared by various adventurers but if Sir Ragnar is killed during the escape, no reward will be paid.

My translation of the Dutch original flavor text.

There’s not too much crucial difference here. The Dutch version offers a little less money (probably to offset the lower number of monsters?), and makes Sir Ragnar a knight of the King rather than the Emperor—not much issue there at all. The most interesting difference here, really, is that the English version of the text states that Sir Ragnar has been “captured” whereas the Dutch version states he is “kidnapped”. A capture would happen during a battle situation; i.e. Sir Ragnar is a prisoner of war. If he’s “kidnapped”, that would mean some miscreants snuck up on him and took him in the most underhanded manner. Interestingly enough, the UK version also shows more uncertainty: there is “reason to believe” Ulag has him, whereas the Dutch version is far more firm, stating “he is held prisoner” by Ulag. I guess there must have been some kind of hostage note in the Dutch version?

A final interesting concept is that the Dutch version calls Ulag an “Ork-veldheer“. “Veldheer“, like so many Dutch words, is a compound of two words, “Veld“, meaning “field”, and “heer“, which means “gentleman”, “noble”, “lord”, and so on. “Veldheer” can mean both “General” as well as “Warlord”—the choice of translation is mostly spin, I suppose (like choosing between “terrorist” and “freedom fighter”). I chose to translate it as “general” just because I prefer to read against the grain here. Clearly, traditional fantasy encourages us to think of orcs as inherently violent and criminal, so I prefer to read it in a more noble light to see what that does to our interpretation.

Either way, to me the UK version of the story is far more interesting. Not only does a simple kidnapping job remove all agency from Sir Ragnar, it also once more paints whomever you’re fighting against in the darkest light possible. The Dutch version’s antagonist is called “Morcar” (as opposed to the UK version’s “Zargon”) but both version’s helpful narrator is called “Mentor”; now, given how the Dutch version keeps sending the players into such black-and-white situations that seem far more dubious on further consideration, I prefer to read the little “M.” signature on the bottom of the Dutch flavor text as though Morcar and Mentor are the same person here, and the player characters are the victims of a long con here.

Translation into a final map

So, taking my cues from the UK version of the flavor text, Sir Ragnar has been captured by an Orc general. That means that there must have been a recent battle, and given that this band of four heroes is sent to rescue him then he’s probably not underneath Mount Doom in the middle of enemy territory being tortured for his secrets. More liklely, he’ll be somewhere close to the field of battle before being sent onwards.

So, rather than interpret the map as being another dungeon mined out below the earth, I’ll choose to interpet it as a warcamp close to battle. Your average warcamp will just be army tents of various kinds and surrounded by piles of camp followers (merchants of various ilk that seek profit from the army). However, let’s assume that this war that’s been going on between the orcs and the Emperor’s forces has been going on for quite a while. That means that the camp will likely develop some more semi-permanent structures. A palisade, some wooden buildings, and so on. That gives us some more to work with!

As a secondary reason, I’ve made a few underground maps now and those usually end up being dark with torchlight flickering here and there, and that’s great to do but I also want to practice some more outside scenes as well. So, I chose to make this an open structure, in daylight, with some more natural views in sight. The only thing left at that point, then, is to give some more purpose to the individual rooms.

If this is some manner of prisoner facility for a high-ranking prisoner, we have some more prompts to work with. There will have to be guards, and they’ll have to sleep somewhere, so a guard barracks it is. Guard need to eat, so there’ll be a dining room, and there’ll be downtime, so as well a relaxing chamber. Given that this is some kind of high-priority prisoner that warrants being hidden in this space, there’ll be an additional guard chamber, and most likely this will house some other choice treasures. Lastly, you don’t just leave a high-placed prisoner alone—you’ll have a top person on-site to deal with him. So, the last room I wanted to reserve as an office for a high-ranking individual.

A tricky thing to consider was where to put the entrance, as the original map assumes everything to be an underground dungeon and placed the entrance right in the middle. Making this an outside area means that becomes impossible. So, I had to make the choice to shift that a little up and to the left, and making that a gap in a palisade. While I could also kept the central room as a full-on room, it seemed more interesting to me to make that a central courtyard. So, I made it a much more open space to reflect the more semi-permanent feeling I wanted to give the map.

The last intersting problem I had to deal with was how to handle the secret door entrance to the dungeon area in the bottom left. Dungeondraft doesn’t particularly have any secret door assets, though the Crosshead Studios assets I’m using does have one secret door for a stone environment. The standard option that gets recommended frequently is two make two versions of the same map, where one has just a regular wall and one is opened to show a passage. For example, this post on Reddit:

However, I wanted the map to tell the story in one go rather than have this. I considered potentially making a door in the wall and then layering over another wall with only very slight opacity. That way, there is a wall there, but if players look very carefully they could see the outline of a door in it. That would be kind of a metagame way for the players to discover. However, I ended up choosing a much more direct version: just literally put the door in and put something in front of it that would block vision. Then, when used in a tabletop enviroment, that would form its own logical secret door. On top of that, given that this is a semi-permanent structure, this also seems the most logical way of doing this.

Knowing these crucial points, I now translated the prompts from the manual into this final form:

The small version of my Dungeondraft map

A larger version of this map can be found on the Reddit post I made about this below:

Burning France: Session 3

Yesterday, we ran the third session of my “Burning France” Burning Wheel game. The write-up of session two can be found here. Our game is really starting to get going, and this session was more action-packed than the previous two!

The Story

Our recent fumble is a problem; the people of Avignon must be convinced of the righteousness of our deeds.

Bertrand’s Third Belief

We last left Bertrand and Benoit at the scene of a crime, where the now-murdered guard captain Matthieu had alerted the entire guardhouse with his dying cry. Benoit legged it at top speed, beating out the guards rushing out from the guardhouse with B5 Speed (+1 Fork) vs B4 Speed, rolling a magical 6s vs 3s. Meanwhile, Bertrand did his best to deceive the guards, saying he came to investigate the strange noises. Rolling B3 Falsehood (+1 Persona) versus the guards’ B4 Perception, it ends up in a tie with 3s vs 3s. Bertrand, however, relies on his good luck, and swings +1s success (Fate reroll). The guard are convinced that nothing serious is amiss.

The next morning, Bertrand and Geoffrey head to the guard house to try and sway the loyalty of the guards now that their captain is gone. (Duel of Wits).

Elisa employs the guard; we work for Elisa, so you work for us. We are certain the nobles did it, and they should be seen as the main threat.

Statement of Purpose Bertrand & Geoffrey, Body of Argument 7

Thank you for your kind donation of money; however, the guard will remain independent with regards to this murder case. Please leave us to it.

Statement of Purpose Guards, Body of Argument 4

The guards, initially trying to brush them off with a standard spiel, get turned around when they find their guests agreeing with them Obfuscate B3 Falsehood 2s vs Point B4 Persuasion 1s; not only that, Bertrand and Geoffrey manage to redirect their attention to the nobles hiding out in the forest: clearly, given that they were just about to close a deal with the captain, the nobles must surely have killed him Point B3 Falsehood (+1 Help, +1 Oratory) 4s vs Rebuttal B4 Persuasion 0s defend & 1s attack. Who can withstand such ruthless logic? The guards, thoroughly convinced of this evidence, agree to make the nobles their prime suspects.

My companions are a liability for me. I must act in their best interests, even if they disagree.

Those who resent you are dangerous, and should be scared into obedience or destroyed.

Geoffrey’s First and Third Beliefs

Meanwhile, Benoit has been spending time with Elisa to find out how he can help her. She admits to being overwhelmed by her new responsibilities, and worries that the village’s food supply will not last because crop yields have apparently been falling for a while. There are a myriad of tiny problems besetting the village: farmers not using proper techniques, others are not cooperating, others are full-on fighting. Benoit and Elisa end up spending the afternoon touring the village, making an index of all of these issues B3 Farming (+2 FoRK Trouble-wise, Foraging) 3s. He encourages Elisa to take the lead in this, seeking to empower her through his experience.

Now that everyone is equal, we should all be able to shape our lives according to our own wishes.

Benoit’s First Belief

The trio meet back up with Léonce, the woodsman B2 Circles (+1 Golden Boy reputation, +1 Named Contact) 1s vs Ob 1, who was asked to scout of the location of the nobles. He informs them that he easily found them, spotting about a dozen people and counting about three or four hired muscle among them. Rather than looking to set up a counter-revolution, they seemed instead to be struggling to make due. The trio decides to let them simmer in their misery for a week or so before showing up with food and supplies to try and sway the nobles back peacefully.

We must find the deposed nobles and their sympathizers and make sure they don’t stage a counter-revolution.

Benoit’s Third Belief

During that time, Bertrand decides to rewrite his manifesto to sway the new revolutionaries to accept new leadership (namely: his); sadly, with a B3 Write (+1 Persona, +2 Fork Rule of Law & Philosophy), 2s vs Ob4 the final product does not end up being as good as Bertrand believes it to be, and it will net him a +1Ob in future tests. Benoit has a look at the developments among the farmers, and with a graduated test B3 Farming (+1 FoRK Trouble-wise, +1 FoRK Rumor-wise) 3s he notices that it is going quite well indeed. With some hard work on his side, not just the crops but the mood in the village is also doing better, making the whole place more homely. Lastly, Geoffrey wishes to get back into his old business, and decides to advertise the intimate services offered by his husband and wife, as well as set up a rudimentary spy network through them. Sadly, as it turns out, villages are more tightly knit than cities are, and the spouses of his new customers are not happy at all that he has started up business B2 Haggling (+1 FoRK Protitute-wise, +1 FoRK Persuasion), 1s vs Ob3.

Meting out justice is what’s required, but is it not justice to be considered first among many?

Bertrand’s First Belief

With that, time enough has passed for our trio to prepare to head into the forest and finally confront the nobles.

The Session

During this session, everything really started flowing much more naturally and easily. I’m getting the sense that the players are starting to get a good grip on who their characters are and what they want to do with them, and the Beliefs are coming into play more and more. It was quite satisfying to run this session, and I was impressed that with this increased clarity, I actually had almost no prep time for this evening.

Being more on point gave us the opportunity as well to engage in a Duel of Wits, as we got into our first difference of opinion in the conflict with the guards. While it was a little involved to try running this, it was also over before I realized it. I tried to give my players a decent hint at what the guards were going to do, and I’m happy that my players picked up on exactly that. Roleplaying the interaction worked relatively nicely, and I think once we get some more familiarity with this conflict resolution system, we can use it more naturally as well.

One thing that I slipped with this session was clearly laying out the risks of failure for rolls. I think this started with me neglecting to specifically ask after and confirm Task and Intent, and therefore forgetting to set consequences. Fortunately, it didn’t cause any issues but it’s a thing I should keep an eye out on.

Overall Impression

I’m really happy with where we’re going with this game. Every session I get more ideas of where to go as the fiction now starts writing itself. I’m also getting more comfortable setting Obstacles on the fly and estimating relative difficulty for Tests. One thing that I need to work on is a bit of time management. I was well on time for most of the session but near the end I wanted to have a little vignette to skip time before the next session, which ended up costing us much more time than I figured it would have. As a result, we again couldn’t do Belief workshopping at the end of the session as we should. Well, something to focus on next time!

Heroquest Battlemap #1: The Trial

A few days ago, I was talking with two of my brothers about game nights, and we reminisced about how we used to play Heroquest back in the early ’90s, when my brother got the game for Sinterklaas. I recalled that I still actually have the manuals for that game, even though the original gameboard may be molding away in our parents’ garage. Leafing through those booklets was a wonderful nostalgic trip and even though I didn’t realize it at the time, this was probably my first tabletop RPG-like experience.

Interpreting maps and making decisions

Figure 1: A scan of the map from the first quest in the Heroquest manual. This is the copy that my brother got for Christmas back in 1989, so it’s the original Dutch version.

As I saw that classic, lovely look of the maps presented in the booklet, I got motivated to see if I could work these out in Dungeondraft into a full battlemap. After all, it’s already a grid-based map that was meant for combat, right? Plus, having the concept of the dungeon and the basic design already worked out allowed me to focus fully on trying to create the map itself and working with the program, rather than also having to work out what to make to begin with. Given that I’m not running an RPG that uses battlemaps right now, any battlemap I’ve made has been somewhat divorced from purpose, which has made it all the more difficult to make it. Now, that purpose would be built in.

I did have to make some decisions, however. As you can see in the map above, part of the board is blocked off (which happens in almost every Heroquest map) with the “fallen rock” tile. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean a collapse—that tile is simply the only tool in the Heroquest toolbox to block off a map, as there was no “wall” tile. So, firstly, I decided that the fallen rocks tiles on the right side of the map were probably meant to just limit space. The top-left tile, though, was a bit of a mystery: why would anybody build a hallway to nowhere? So, I decided that this hallway would end in a collapse. Probably, there used to be a room there at some point, but it’s just no longer accessible.

The other decisions were less easy to make, however. Due to the simple nature of the boardgame, there’s little detail to these maps. Some rooms indicate some purpose (a room with a weapons rack will likely be an armory, a room with two bookcases will be a library) but there’s even a room with just two Orcs around a table—what is that supposed to be? There’s two rooms there that have nothing in them but monsters. Mechanically, of course, they’re just bags-of-hitpoints roadblocks for the player characters but for a map, we’ll need a little more. Fortunately, each map comes with a little flavor text.

Information from the flavor text

Figure 2: A scan of the original text of the quest. My brother got the game for Sinterklaas in 1989, so this is the original Dutch printing of the manual. The A-D items below the flavor text are map prompts on for treasures and monster details.

The Trial

Friends, ye have learned well. The time for your first trial has come. Travel from here to the east and find your way to the cellars of Verag, a horrible monstrosity. The tomb of Fellmarg is guarded in these cellars. This test is hard and some of you may not return from it . . . They who survive will continue their training here. This, friends, is your first step towards Super Hero . . . Tread that road carefully.

The Dutch flavor text to the first quest, my translation

Now, this has a really interesting contrast with the official UK version of that same flavor text:

The Trial

You have learned well, my friends. Now has come the time of your first trial. You must first enter the catacombs which contain Fellmarg’s Tomb. you must seek out and destroy Verag, a foul Gargoyle who hides in the catacombs. This Quest is not easy and you must work together in order to survive. This is your first step on the road to becoming true Heroes. Tread carefully my friends.

The official UK version of the same flavor text

The Dutch version differs quite interestingly from the UK version. The UK version clearly indicates that these are catacombs, and that Verag has hidden away in them; hence, the heroes are sent to clean out these catacombs. The Dutch version, however, does not call this a catacomb (“catacombe“) but a cellar (“kelder“), and makes Verag the owner of them. What a twist! Interestingly enough, the Dutch version also doesn’t actually instruct the heroes to do anything. Go there, and do what? I wonder why these choices were made but I’ll happily make use of the increased ambiguity here! Aside from the introduction of the English phrase “Super Hero” in the Dutch text rather than using “ware Helden” for “true Heroes”, there’s only one interesting difference to me.

In Dutch Verag is called a “gedrocht“, which translates to “freak” or “monstrosity”, whereas in the English version he’s a gargoyle. In Dutch, gargoyle is “waterspuwer” (as you can imagine, “water spewer/spitter” if translated literally into English), and refers almost purely to the gothic architectural feature—i.e., a grotesque that is fitted with a spout to move water away from roofs. It’s understandable to me that an alternative word would have to be found, because a “waterspuwer” just wasn’t a common monster in the Dutch fantasy scene. “Freak” or “monstrosity” certain flavored the text, though, and gives the translation an interesting twist.

Translating it into a new map

Because the Dutch translation offers so much more ambiguity, I chose to creatively interpret that text over sticking close to the UK version. Now to use that flavoring to start making some definitive decisions.

We know that “the tomb of Fellmarg is guarded in these cellars”, which means that the players are asked to enter a religious site and murder all the inhabitants. I’m starting to have some doubts on whether this Mentor (the absent character who canonically provides the flavor text) is a good guy after all. Looking again at the original map above, I suddenly see that there’s a library at the bottom right, there’s an orc reading a religious text on the left, with a set of people in rooms leading up to a tomb. There’s also a study at the bottom of the map. This is just some kind of temple-like structure! The Dutch text mentions that it’s “guarded”, not “desecrated”, “despoiled” or “ruined”, so we’re not even dealing with a monster invasion but a people honoring one of their dead. The only odd thing is that torture chamber at the bottom left—what is it even doing in the map and how does it fit with the rest of the rooms? It’s almost like the people making this map were lost in making a cool temple, then realized that it had to be an evil place, so they just figured: let’s put a torture room in there. See? Evil things. So, you know. It’s okay to kill these people.

So, with these decisions made, I could start on translating this basic map into a full version. Based on my reading of the flavor text, I chose to make it an underground kind of structure, and one that was relatively homely as well, as to me a cellar sounds like it’s underneath a home or an inn. Furthermore, since the tomb of Fellmarg is guarded here, I figured it would be something like a pilgrimage site for them, so there would be something of a religious bent to part of the map aside from just a guardpost. I did decide to keep the torture chamber in there because I wanted to stay true to the original map. Additionally, it does form an interesting and odd contrast: on the one hand, our sympathies should lie with the people guarding this tomb but on the other hand, what were they doing with that chamber?

That ruined hallway turned out to inspire what I think is a really interesting feature of the map. I knew I wanted to have a cave-in there to block the way and I also had that empty room right next to it that I needed to figure out a purpose for. I decided that the cave-in was the result of some flooding and decided to have that water spill over from outside the map into that room. Before you know it, those four connected rooms suddenly had a purpose: the first room is a prayer room with the religious text, next up a pilgrim may cleanse themselves at the pool before proceeding to the antechamber, and finally the dark and quiet tomb of Fellmarg. Each room successively also has lower light conditions, starting with the perfectly lit room, a low fire in the room of ablutions, low-smouldering braziers in the antechamber, ending in the dark and quiet tomb of Fellmarg.

With a clear image of what I wanted to create, I now set to work mapping this thing out in Dungeondraft, and I’m quite happy with the final result. I made the scene dark, to emphase the gloomy nature of the cellar, added some small lights and experimented with different light colors using yellow, orange, and red lights and differing intensities to highlight parts of the scene. What went less well is that in my inexperience, I really messed up with the object layers, and had to fumble and rework several parts to make sure that items would lie on top of tables, that the fountain was underneath the water and so on. All in all, though, I think it’s become an interesting map that is nicely filled and believable.

I’m not sure how to properly make a full-sized version available, but either way below you can find a small version:

Figure 3: my Dungeondraft version of The Trial, which I’ve named “The Cellars of Verag”, as that’s what the location is called in the manual.
EDIT 2021.01.07: I’ve uploaded a larger version of the map in a Reddit post I made