Another week, another Heroquest battlemap made in Dungeondraft! It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been doing this for over two months now but I’m happy that I’ve kept up with it. Every single map is helping me improve my skills.
Interpreting the maps and making decisions
This time around, the maps are mostly similar and once again rather sparsely filled. As far as composition goes, this one might be a bit tricky because there’s so much empty space to the top-right of the map. I suppose it could be a prompt to start learning some post-processing, even if it is just to crop the map purely to the active area. However, I think I’ll leave that skill to learn later and rather will end up using some text to fill that space or otherwise some fun little ground elements like skeletons hidden in the dirt.
As has become common, the US map has a few extra monsters on it; what’s more unusual is that it also has a complete extra room behind a hidden door! Mark C indicates that that trapped chest contains an Elixir of Life; so, essentially, the addition of this room involves two sources of resource investment (HP loss to a trap and/or to a monster) and one resource recovery (the elixir), making it a net zero room.
What is interesting about this map is that the players start in the room marked “A” at the bottom-right of the map. With three doors visible, all peopled by a bunch of monsters, it feels a little trolly that the real door is the hidden door in room A. It’s clear that the designers wanted quite some resources sapped just at the start so that the rest of the retreat would become more of a scramble. In the US version, even if the players were to directly run to the exit, they’d still face six monsters (compared to only three in the NL version).
None of the rooms here suggest a clear intended purpose other than this being a trap followed by a gauntlet. I could see the grouping of four rooms at the bottom right as sharing a function, and the grouping at the bottom-left as well. The bottom-left set has a fireplace and a table in the grouping, so that might be a food area. The top-left grouping seems more of a general entrance or introductory area.
Even though there’s little to the content of the rooms itself to give me indications of what to do with this map, figuring out groupings like this at least help me try to form some indication of what I want to do here. Still, with such a bare map, I’ll absolutely need the flavor text for more input.
Information from the flavor text
The two texts pretty much agree on what happened: the players are led through an underground structure by a guide who betrays them by abandoning them in the dark surrounded by enemies.
There’s only minor differences in the NL and US versions: the structure is either a maze or a dungeon, there are dark corridors but perhaps also dim pathways, and the US version makes sure to emphasize that there is a stairwell that represents safety.
Race Against Time
A guide has bought you to an underground dungeon that legends say hides a great secret. He has led you through dark passages and past dim pathways and now ye stand in a room with three doors. Suddenly, the guide extinguishes his torch and ye hear him laugh in the black darkness. “Farewell, my heroes,” he mockingly calls out as he disappears. Ye have been trapped! Escape, or die in this forgotten hole.My translation of the Dutch version of the text
What is interesting to me is that the players are guided into this structure by a guide with a torch. So, apparently, they would have seen the route here. If that is the case, then how come the players would assume there is only a room with three doors if the only actual exit is a secret door they must have come through to get in? Moreover, if they came in through the stairwell, why wouldn’t they know the route back? Let’s just chalk it up to the Heroes being a little complacement and depending too much on the guide; I guess that’s why the US version chose to call it a maze, so that we may assume that the Heroes got lost.
In any case, we now have a number of prompts for our map: it’s underground, a dungeon or a maze, there’s dark passages (and potentially dim pathways), and it’s a dark, forgotten hole. All of this speaks of neglect to me. So, perhaps this is a map of a long-abandoned dungeon. I like the idea, because the map itself is called “Race Against Time”, and theming the map around a long-abandoned and decayed dungeon seems quite fitting for that—this dungeon lost that race.
A dim and dark map is a bit of a challenge for me. I love the idea of it being pitch-black but that only works well for use in a VTT. If it’s just the visual of a map itself, then having it dark just obscures things. Normally, I’d add a bunch of torches and lights but that wouldn’t make sense for an abandoned set of ruins. This is a place where a bunch of monsters have set up an ambush for the players, so it should be mostly empty. The only means to deal with it would be to keep it dim rather than fully dark.
Translating into a final map
This map was quite a challenge because I’d set myself the idea of having an abandoned and ruined underground structure. Normally, I tend to go far with decorating rooms and setting up their uses, and working on a little storytelling through the environment. This time, though, I would have to be quite barebones with it. On top of that, the Crosshead Studios assets I use don’t have too many broken items in them. It would’ve been nice to include some knocked-over bookcases and so on but I’d have to improve a little.
This time around, the fill in the map would have to come from sets of rubble and plantlife, as well as smudges, dirt, and holes. A few areas I chose to put some more intact items but very quickly that already seemed in too good a shape for this long-abandoned place. What I ended up doing was scaling down a lot of full-sized bushes to almost miniature size to suggest they are slowly growing based on what little light they can get. Fortunately, there were a few fern-like plants in the pack that would make sense in low-light conditions.
The other thing I wanted to make sure to try out was some different lighting options. So far, I’ve been using the standard few lights (a three-tiered wavy light, a standard light, and a fuzzy light) but Krager’s Shadow and Light Pack comes with quite a few more options. So, I figured I wanted to have spots of light in the map to indicate holes in the ceiling, as well as a beam of light or two to vary things up. It would also make sense for those to be there, as the plants would need some light to grow! Overall, I like the final effect, though I think I can improve on those little spots of light and particularly the light streaming in from the stairwell.
In any case, with a little experimentation, I came to this final map:
As usual, I have a larger version of this map available over on Reddit: