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

4 thoughts on “Heroquest Battlemap #1: The Trial”

  1. Interesting to see the differences in translation. I think a large factor could be that HeroQuest was sold in traditional toy shops and not specialist hobby shops. My guess would be that meant the Dutch distributor used their regular board game translators, which might not have been completely up to par with fantasy game terminology. (I also think that those games sold in toy shops were a major factor in getting fantasy gaming off the ground. For a lot of people my age, their first fantasy games were Oog Des Meesters and HeroQuest, which they got as a gift from their parents — parents who would normally not go to specialty shops (if those even existed at that time)).

    I quite like the map! If you want to share it to a wider audience, you could upload it to your site and just link to the full file, or maybe upload it to an image hosting site like imgur. It deserves getting more attention.

    1. Thank you for the kind words! I think I’d prefer hosting it myself for sure; it’ll give me a greater degree of direct control over the file. I have actually been wondering about self-hosting the site at this point, since I do have a server up and running in any case. That way, I can also more affordably expand drive space without having to deal with monthly fees beyond power costs.

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