Heroquest Battlemap #7: The Lost Wizard

This week’s Heroquest map is my favorite of the ones I’ve done so far. Quite early one, I got some inspiration on how to approach it, and everything started rolling from there. I’ve become familiar enough with Dungeondraft that the process of making the map itself is taking less and less time, leaving more time for the design process itself.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

It stopped being a surprise that the maps are similar in outline but that the US version consistently has more traps, monsters, and details. What is quite interesting about the map this time, however, is that hallways are much less prominent in the overall design. Frequently, the ratio of hallway to room is quite high but now there just seems to be the central hallway between the two sides of the map and the little hallway at the bottom. Somehow, when I saw this, my mind immediately started reading this as a dirt pathway between three buildings. I think it might have been that central rectangular walkway, because it just reminds me so much of a gravel path around an inner courtyard or little park.

Once I’d made the choice of seeing this as three sets of buildings with an outside area, the rest of the ideas started flowing quickly. I was interested in making a little natural area in the center there, as though it was a little contemplative park for our lost wizard to think about his project. Either it would be a dwelling in a city or a more remote little estate. However, given that the map is called “The Lost Wizard”, it would seem a little odd if the building was just in a city. So, I made the call to have it be a little more remote: this would be the place that the wizard goes to for their more dangerous experiments or when they needed a little quiet time to mull things over.

Information from the flavor text

I realized the other day why I keep seeing some interesting differences with the new US flavor text compared to the style of the old flavor text. Apparently, in 1997 Milton Bradley (now Hasbro) let their trademark on Heroquest lapse, and since then that trademark has been bought and sold several times as companies changed, split up, merged, and so on. Long story short, the trademark for the remake was bought back by Hasbro from Chaosium but Chaosium still owns the Games Workshop licenses, so all the Warhammer branding had to be removed. That’s why my original manual will say things like “Chaos wizardry” whereas the new version changed that to “Dread magic”.

A larger version of the US text

The Stone Hunter

Karlen, the King’s personal wizard, has disappeared. The king fears that he’s been murdered or has succombed by the temptations of Chaos wizardry. Ye must find out what happened to Karlen and, if he’s still alive, bring him to safety. Upon your return, ye will each receive 100 gold coins.

My translation of the Dutch version of the text

There are some interesting little differences in the texts. For one, the English version prepares the players for the idea that the wizard is dead—all they have to do is find out what happened to Wardoz the wizard. The Dutch version, however, suggests that there’s a possibility that the players would have to escort Karlen the wizard back. It’s an interesting callback to the second mission, The Rescue of Sir Ragnar, where the players had to escort Sir Ragnar back to the circular staircase.

The most interesting difference to me, though, is that the English name is “The Lost Wizard” but the Dutch name is “De Stenen Jager“, i.e. “The Stone Hunter”. The Dutch map notes only explain that all the Chaos Warriors are made out of stone but there’s no other mention of stone things. If the focus of the map is the wizard, then why call it “The Stone Hunter”? The map notes for the US version of the map make it a little more clear: the storage room at the bottom left contains an unidentified potion, which turns anybody who drinks it into a stone statue (though they come back to life five turns later). That suggests that the wizard must have been experimenting with ways to make warriors more durable; hence, there are four stone guardians in the central pathway and that one stone potion in storage (a failed experiment, perhaps)?

This helped me flavor my idea for the map much more. Apparently, this wizard was interested in stone and stoneskin potions. So, I decided to have stone be a central feature: stone walls and pathways, along with multiple stone statues around the place. Furthermore, given that I know that the wizard is no longer alive but actually a zombie, that suggests to me that in their experiments something went horribly wrong as they tried something on themselves. So, the final room with Wardoz/Karlen will have a little sign of trouble and his study will be messy and broken.

Translating into a final map

Crosshead Studios had just released their Studio Ghibli pack, which I wanted to make sure to apply. In particular, their grass assets, water assets, trees, and shrubs have come out really nicely. Together with my usual application of Krager’s Shadow & Light Pack, these assets really make the map come alive. I learned some little tricks with the shadows to make things pop: for example, the little stairway down in the bottom-left building is a standard asset from Crosshead that I layered over some of Krager’s shadows to emphasize the steps, making it pop a little more. Similarly, those two bridges across the water in the middle are pathways from Crosshead that I used shadows on the two ends of to create the illusion of them arching upwards.

Having decided that there were three blocks of buildings helped me theme each one for a different purpose. The top left, being two large rooms attached to the entrance, became an entry building where the wizard could welcome their guests. In contrast, the building in the bottom left was more of a personal quarters, so I designed it to be much less grandiose and more practical. In my previous maps, for instance, I made more extensive kitchens but int his case I figured a little table and a small stove would be enough. I also put in just a small round wooden table for a meal for one; after all, if you come here to isolate yourself from others to think, you’re not likely to invite guests. For the bedroom, I loved the idea of a large, luxurious bed, and fortunately Crosshead had a double bed with loads of pillows that seemed perfect!

The bottom-right area was an interesting addition. For one, it was so separate from the structure on the left, so it seemed to deserve special status to begin with. Secondly, that was where the wizard had met their end, so it seemed sensible that this would be a full laboratory area. Since it was already separated from the quarters to the left, I figured to increase that distance by adding a water feature in the middle. I was on the fence about whether I should add a bench for somebody to sit and think, but in retrospect I liked it as a place to pace around and think.

Where the left-most buildings were fairly static (aside from the foreshadowing with the fallen chair in the kitchen), I decided that I wanted the right-most area to look pretty active. So, the study that forms the entry to the workshop, I wanted broken and messy. Books litter the floor with a broken table in the middle. Perhaps the now-zombified wizard rambled in there and wrecked the place, or perhaps he was frantic before he rushed to the lab proper to conduct his experiment. Similarly, I liked the idea of a magic circle with a clear blood spatter/explosion and a trail leading off to show something went seriously wrong here. The last area, functionally speaking, is only a place for the players to find some equipment. I was torn between making this a standard treasure room (which seemed to make little sense to me) and a stoneworking/masonry workshop, given that the wizard seemed to have an obsession with stone. However, since the players are to find a suit of armor here, having that be a stoneworking shop seemed odd to me. So, perhaps the wizard just had an enchanting business on the side to make money.

The last fun new experiment in this map was the wall and roofed areas surrounding the estate. In principle, the Heroquest maps are built onto a dungeon-map framework, so they’re all square and assume straight, natural barriers. In this case, since I wanted it out in the open, I needed to find a reasonable explanation for the limitation. In this case, I decided to make it a walled estate; after all, the wizard performs some dangerous experiments here, so it’d be good to keep prying eyes away! In principle, there was nothing to stop me from making the wall curve around the building to the right; however, that would make the whole area look more natural than I wanted it to look. As I wanted to emphasize the stone theme of the wizard’s buildings as well as contrast it to the nature in the “empty” part of the map in the upper-right (I guess the negative space, gameplay-wise?), I decided to keep to the orthogonal nature of the walls. The added benefit is that this creates a number of spaces where the red roofing goes in the right, contrasting it strongly with the green of the greens. I think that will draw the eye to the right of the map, and given that the players enter on the left, that creates a natural flow for the eye to follow.

I am incredibly pleased with how this map came out. There’s some environmental storytelling here, there’s nature, there’s structures. All in all, it looks very lively!

This time, I only made a light version of this map without a nighttime version with fire effects. The main reason was that the wizard has been lost for a while, so there’d be nobody there to light fires. While I think in play it would actually be great to go through the map in the dark (a zombie adventure with dark rooms leading into scary surprises? Awesome!), for displaying the map I think a light version is best.

As always, a full-sized version of this map can be found on the Reddit post about the map:

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