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:

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