Heroquest Battlemap #10: The Castle of Mystery

This week’s Dungeondraft Heroquest map was quite a challenge. I felt as though I was hamstrung by the nature of the map, as I couldn’t use my usual methods to form a larger whole. So, it turned out to be quite an educational exercise!

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

This week’s map is downright barren; what a challenge! A set of loose rooms with no particular flavor to them, and only a few numbers to indicate random connections based on a die-roll. Oof!

Our only information is that the players’ starting point is at the bottom left in Room 2/12, the chest marked “A” in the NL version and “B” in the US version in Room 8 is their goal, and that’s about it. The US version has an additional treasure in Room 10, marked “A”, which is a ring held by one of the monsters there.

Normally, this is where I would try to glean information from the composition of the map to see if there are natural or logical flows of architecture or use. Now, though, all we know is that the rooms are randomly connected. I have to say, I was drawing a blank here! Since the only thing I could think of is that the rooms might as well have been floating in space, I figured to make them literally do that. So, I know the background will be space or chaos but what does that make the rooms?

Information from the flavor text

The two texts are largely the same, though there’s a few interesting diferences this time, thankfully.

The Dutch version calls the map Het Toverkasteel“, meaning “The Magical Castle”, which has somewhat ephemeral connotations to it. It’s a word you’d use in a fairy tale to describe the giants’ castle up in the clouds or the dark castle or the evil witch. I like the US version’s naming, though; “The Castle of Mystery” suggests that, in principle, it’s a normal castle, except it baffles the mind of all who enter. What is this castle? Who built it? Why is it there? To me, that is much more evocative and grounded than the NL naming.

A larger version of the US text

The Magic Castle

Long ago, the insane wizard Ollar found the entrance to a gold mine. With his magical powers, he built a magical castle on top of the mine to protect the gold. The castle is provided with many magical portals and is guarded by a set of monsters who are trapped in time. Can ye find the entrance? Others have gone before you but all their attempts were thwarted by the castle.

As far as the flavor text itself, though, I prefer the NL interpretation of what happened here. The US version is quite matter-of-fact: Ollar, a wizard, finds a gold mine, decides to build a castle on top of it, and traps some monsters in a magical portal maze at the bottom to protect the source of his wealth. What a capitalist! The NL version, by contrast, wastes no time in labelling Ollar as an “insane” wizard. In Dutch, “Waanzinnig” actually might mean either “mentally disturbed” or “incredibly good” (in the US sense of “crazy good”), but in the adjectival form used in the Dutch text it’s clear that the pejorative sense is meant. It’s connected to the more medical term “waanzin“, indicating “a state of delusion” and is related to “waanbeeld” (directly meaning “delusion”).

While the US version states that it’s only the lower chambers that has many magical doors, the NL version suggests the entire castle is a maze of portals. Coupled with the wizard being identified as disturbed in some manner, I decided that the rooms should likely be a very curious mix of locations. The monsters are said to be “trapped in time”, so I decided that the rooms themselves should be trapped in time as well. What if the portals didn’t just transfer you through space but also through time?

Now I had a better view of what I would do. There’d be only two rooms in the “now”: the starting point and the mine. The other rooms would be links to different points of time in the same geographical space. Once I’d decided this, I took a little inspiration from the NES classic Chrono Trigger and decided I wanted rooms ranging from neolithic to post-apocalyptic times. Finally, something to go with!

Translating into a final map

In one way, this map was somewhat easy, as I had some separate rooms that could each be their own thing. On the other hand, that made the map incredibly complex as well. I couldn’t rely on my usual methodology of making sense of the structure as a whole, or indicating some environmental storytelling in the relationship between spaces. I was just limited to single rooms and what I could do in there. On the one hand, I wanted to make filled spaces but on the other hand the more I would fill a space the less useful it would be for players to move around in. Given how much more claustrophic these spaces would already be, I chose to keep the rooms relatively sparse, so as not to overload the players.

I picked some distinct and contrasting themes for every room. I knew I wanted a lava room to suggest a more primordial period, and I’d want to contrast that with a fully frozen-over room to suggest the final days of the planet. There’d have to be a room of the castle at its height, so a clean little throne room, as well as a room of the castle in its decline. That tiny little room, I felt would be amazing for an unsettling scene: a single chair, a table, and a book is all that accompanies a single person trapped forever in a tiny room. An unopened crate sits across from that chair; perhaps the prisoner felt it more interesting to have a mystery there, so that the room had at least some possibility in it?

To distribute the other rooms, I looked at the inhabitants. There were rooms with zombies, mummies, and skeletons, so they seemed perfect for the apocalyptic rooms. The skeletons, having lost all their semblance of life, would go into the frozen apocalypse. I’d decided the room with the mummy would be the old, decayed castle, whereas the room with the zombies would be a flooded, overgrown space.

By contrast, the rooms with the orcs I wanted to reserve for the more primordeal times. They’re in the lava room, representing the oldest time period; the jungle room, for the early life; and also the central room, which is the more settled time before the castle was built.

All in all, I think the map works, though it certainly was the toughest to build. I think for the map to work out in play, backstory would have to be hinted at by the referee to bring home the reasoning behind the maps.

The final map for this dungeon. I tried to emphasize the difference in the rooms with various lighting options, though it’s interesting to see that in the small map this doesn’t come out as well.

A larger version of this map is available over on the Reddit post I made about this:

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