Heroquest Battlemap #12: The Witch-Lord’s Barrow

I skipped making one of these maps the last week, as I couldn’t really get into the groove of it. Fortunately, this weekend, I felt inspired to head back into this and create a new Heroquest Dungeondraft map I can feel proud of!

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

This time, the two maps are once again largely similar. A minor difference can be found in the top-right, where the US version includes a reason to actually go down that hallway by adding another fake door and a trap.

That little stone trap at the top-left is meant to cut off the heroes, so that they have to proceed through the map. This makes a lot of sense, as the central room, marked B, already has the item that the players are supposed to find , so there’d be little reason to proceed from there. The idea is that the players then keep exploring until they accidentally wake up the Witch Lord in D, which requires them to flee quickly. This sets up the next two adventures, combining all these into a final trilogy for the base game. Interestingly enough, if players were very careful, they could actually find the secret door in the central room, explore that hallway, find the two secret doors in the next two rooms, and escape without ever waking the Witch Lord!

Thematically, the map appears to be a decayed tomb set up just for the Witch Lord. Nearly all of the monsters involved are mummies, skeletons, or zombies, and there is little other purpose to the structure other than to lead to the tomb. Given that the Witch Lord was apparently such a fearful enemy, I’d wonder who would bother to set up such a tomb in honor of them. Particularly given the idea that the Witch Lord wakes up as soon as the heroes enter this room, you’d imagine that either an enemy would bury the Witch Lord so deep they could never be found or their allies would try to resurrect them as soon as possible!

The number of secret doors involved to get in and get out suggest that this might be set up by the Witch Lord enemies to contain them. Similarly the rooms at the top right have a number of traps set up, so clearly the people who built this didn’t particularly want people going through here. However, the rooms at the top right are now also closed already, so the place has probably fallen into massive disrepair and has been repurposed.

Particularly given that the Witch Lord’s actual tomb is hidden behind secret doors, I enjoy the idea that the top-left rooms have been used by people who had no idea that the Witch Lord was even here. Perhaps as a small hideaway or a rest area. The monsters here could then actually be just poor unfortunate souls who died here and were resurrected by the Witch Lord, powerful enough even in their torpor to awaken the dead.

That would flavor most of the map as being broken and decayed, with the top-left being repurposed at times. Given that the Witch Lord will have reanimated lost souls, it would be interesting if the bottom left could be a place of worship, as the reawakened corpses would tend to the Witch Lord until they wake once more.

All this provides some good hooks to hang a map from!

Information from the flavor text

This time around, the NL text has a bunch of additional information that isn’t found in the US text anymore. This may very well have been a licensing issue, with references to Games Workshop material spread throughout; however, I know too little of that to make the distinction.

An interesting difference between the NL and US version is in the word used to describe this place. The Dutch uses “Laatste Rustplaats” which translates to “Final Resting Place”—a common phrasing for a burial site, with the usual euphemistic connotations common to words connected to death. It’s a curious choice, as there is a more accurate Dutch word, namely “grafheuvel” (“grave-hill”). Barrows were quite common in the Netherlands from prehistoric times all the way up to Roman times, so historically it wouldn’t be that odd to use and thematically it would match the connotations of the word “barrow” far better: ancient, old, and mysterious.

In fact, the Netherlands has a large number of neolithic barrows, belonging to the tradition of hunebedden found in the Netherlands, north-west Germany, and Denmark. These are structures like dolmen, which would be a large cover stone on top of two supporting stones. Often, there´d be a barrow underneath these. The myth in the Netherlands is that these are constructed by huyne, a race of large giants. The likely reality, of course, is that these are large stones brought down from Scandinavia in the last ice age, which were then used as markers for burial sites. The Dutch word hunebed“, though, has a more quaint connotation than “barrow”, so I can understand why that would not be a preferred translation.

A Larger version of the US text

Barak Tor-Final Resting Place of the Witchmaster

There is a threat of war with the Orcs of the East and the King is trying to find allies to survive the possible battle. For this, he must find the ancient Star of the West, which was carried by legendary kings and by Rogar when, in centuries long past, he fought Morcar. Whomever finds the gemstone will be rewarded with 200 gold pieces. The diamond is located in Barak Tor, the last resting place of the Witchmaster. Better known as the King of the Dead and long since contained by the Ghost Blade. The Ghost Blade is the only weapon that can defeat him.

My translation of the NL text

As far as the texts themselves go, the Dutch text just adds some detail by mentioning somebody called Rogar who supposedly fought Morcar (Zargon in the US version). Also, unlike the US version, the Dutch version specifies that the Star of the West is a gemstone and specifically a diamond at that. I translated “heksenmeester” as “Witchmaster”, but “meester” could equally be translated “master” as well as “lord”, so there’s little change there. The Dutch word does imply that this is a ruler of witches, rather than one with mastery of witchcraft. Another new specification can be found in the Dutch, identifying the Witch Master as the “King of the Dead”. That epithet would explain the preponderance of undead in the map.

Either way, what the flavor text tells us is that this is an ancient structure. The word “barrow” suggests something neolithic in origin, and the Dutch text identifies the Star of the West as having been worn by kings of legend, which also suggest events of quite a long time ago. The proposed image of an old, decayed crypt seems to fit quite well, then.

Translating into a final map

I wanted to emphasize two key aspects in this map: firstly, I wanted there to be an overall sense of oppression and decay; and, secondly, I wanted to make sure that two areas were highlighted: the stairwell and the actual tomb. By emphasizing these two key features, I figure that the touchstones of the quest will really pop out.

I stuck to my earlier idea that the top-right would be a repurposed area. The first room shows evidence of a previous party that camped out here and were murdered in their sleep. The room in the middle, which used to be some manner of welcome area, leads to what has at a later point in time been repurposed as a speakeasy bar. I just loved the idea of some weird thieves’ gang or a group of hipsters deciding to build a secret bar in a tomb of horrible evil. Further in the secret areas, however, we see remains of a more serious settlement. The tomb has a waiting area, a place to perform ablutions to the right, and the tomb itself is clean and candle-lit (where do they get the candles? . . . magic). A ruined area after suggests this used to keep records, histories, or other such administration. Lastly, I imagined that the final room was the room of a warden or caretaker. Perhaps, at one point in history, the barrow was watched over by some cleric or monk, dedicated to discover a way to dispose of the Witch Lord for good?

Lighting-wise, I choose to overlay a dull grey darkness, to add to the oppressive feel. Only the stairwell shows a clear light from above, which should form a stark contrast to the rest of the dungeon (and a relief once seen again at the end!). Similarly, the tomb will really pop due to the lit candles surrounding it. The heroes only needed to recover a gemstone but suddenly they see a fully-lit catafalque? Such a bier would hopefully draw the players’ interest.

Aside from that, I wanted to make sure to place a lot of rubble throughout the map, along with a multitude of smudges and shadows to help darken sections. There are two very small details to be found in the maps, only with careful inspection at a zoomed-in level. Each location of secret doors actually has a very thin line on the floor to indicate the walls being moved, as a reward for an attentive player. Similarly, the spear traps actually have small pointed tips on the walls that a perceptive player might spot as a clue.

The final map for Barrow of the Witch Lord. I wanted it to look dark and oppressive, so I adjusted the light to a darkish grey.

The small map above may give a bit of an indication of the feel of the overall map, but I can recommend looking at the larger version in the Reddit post:

Watabou Hex Map Experiment #6

I’d made this map a while ago but hadn’t gotten around to posting about it yet. After a bit of repair of some things I forgot, I can now post this Wonderdraft remake of another Watabou Perilous Shores map.

The original Perilos Shores Generated Map

I liked the large format of this map, and the great number of trees on it. What would be a challenge is those dead trees, as I don’t have an asset for those yet. I ended up choosing to use regular trees but to color them a sickly brown to indicate dead trees. To create more variation, I also tried to color the other oaks with some yellows and reds to create a bit more of a fall look to the map as a whole.

The other thing that I’m practicing right now is making the labels look nicer. For the region label, I chose a Torchbearer style with orange lettering surrounded by a dark red outline, in a font that is reminiscent of that style as well. For the forests and mountains, I tried using a darker font with a light outline, and to vary with the sizes and spacing to indicate major and minor locations. Overall, I think it came out quite nicely, with lots of detail that doesn’t look to cluttered either.

My Wonderdraft version of the map

I uploaded both maps to imgur, so for large versions you should be able to click the maps themselves.

Heroquest Battlemap #11: The Bastion of Dread

While I’m still struggling to find a good way to make the full-sized versions of these maps available on this site, I went ahead and made the next Heroquest Dungeondraft map. Quest 11 is a happy return to a more cohesive map, as opposed to Quest 10‘s wacky concept.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

The NL and US maps this week are almost similar, which is quite surprising! Both the number of enemies as well as the number of traps are identical, which hasn’t happened much. In fact, nearly all details in the maps are the same, with the exception of the left-most hallway being slightly longer in the US version (probably for purely visual reasons).

The maps show an interesting division of labor. There are quite some goblins and orcs on the map, with a few chaos warriors. In most cases, the chaos warriors appear to be in some manner of adminstrative position: there is one near the throne in the center of the map; one in the mid-left next to an alchemy table; one to the right near a cabinet; and one next to the weapons rack. It seems like the chaos warriors here are the administrative or ruling arm of the map. The fimirs, by contrast, are only present in the top-left, in the two adjoining rooms next to the torture room. It seems that the fimirs, then, are used as some kind of muscle or police force. Lastly, the orcs and goblins are spread out throughout the map, so they appear to some form of working class in this structure.Information from the flavor text

This division of labor helps us establish themes for the individual structures. It seems like the three top-left rooms, then, are some manner of policing area. Torture chamber to interrogate prisoners, along with a room for a bailiff or reeve, next to a storage area. The bottom right appears to be a bit of a mix: weapons storage at the bottom-left, general storage top-left, and an empty room bottom-right of that cluster. Overall, I imagine this to be a workspace/storage mix, hence the need for both admin and workers. Lastly, the bottom-left appears to host most of the goblins and orcs. It makes sense, given that this is a bastion, that this is where most of the front-liners would be. So, probably, this is a guard room, entrance, along with rest area. The top-left of that little block would probably be a lieutenant or other such administrator. That, of course, leaves the central room for overall admin and control.

Overall, this map has a very strong organizational feel to me. It’s almost like a central office area to administrate a small municipality (well, aside from the torture chamber, I’d sincerely hope). Overall, I tend to enjoy humanizing these maps in any case, so it might be a fun thing to lean into for this map.

Information from the flavor text

The two texts are mostly the same, being an announcement of a bounty for the murder of multiple creatures in this defensive structure. As always, there are the slight differences due to the trademark change (Chaos versus Dread), but those are largely irrelevant.

There’s an interesting word difference between the NL and US version as to what this place should be called. The NL version uses the word “Bolwerk“, which is cognate with English “Bulwark”. In fact, the English “bulwark” comes from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German “bolwerk”, which is itself composed of “bole”, a word for tree trunks, and “work”, to indicate structures or constructions. This is an old word to indicate defensive structures like walls or ramparts. The US version, by contrast, uses “Bastion”, which is French in origin, coming from the Old French “bastille” meaning “fortress”.

A larger version of the US text

The Bulwark of Chaos

The eastern provinces are plagued by plundering Orcs and Kobolds. The King has ordered a group of brave heroes to journey there and destroy these robbers. The orcs are holed up in a strong underground fort, named The Bulwark of Chaos. They are led by a small group of Chaos Warriors. Ye must fight your way inside and kill all monsters that you meet. You will receive the following bounties for this: 10 gold pieces for any slain Kobold, 20 gold pieces for any slain Orc, 30 gold pieces for any slain Fimir or Chaos Warrior.

My translation of the NL text

The core meaning of both texts are pretty much identical: the King sends out adventurers to collect on a set of bounties placed on bandits’ heads. A curious difference, though, is that the US text makes sure to note that the bandits have allied themselves with Zargon, which should give an excuse as to why the heroes are fine to go out and murder all of them in cold blood. The NL text, however, makes no mention of alliance to Morcar. For the NL version, the heroes should just be motivated by pure greed and bloodlust. Yikes!

The text does confirm our interpretation of the map, as it explicitly lists that a group of Chaos/Dread Warriors lead the others. So, interestingly, while this is a group of bandits, they have a formalized administrative structure, as well as a fortified base of operations. So, unlike previous bands of roaming orcs that we’ve featured in maps, now we’re dealing with a far more militaristic operation. This will be good to translate into the final map!

Translating into a final map

I was very much looking forward to making this map, as there were so many good ideas to put in there. I loved the idea of on the one hand making this a militaristic operation and on the other hand humanizing it through some basic office features.

The militaristic nature of it can be seen in a few places: the group of rooms at the bottom-left are quite functional in nature: the entrance room is dark and defended, because the creatures of the dark will have the advantage over heroes sneaking in from above. There is a small guard room to the right, and a rest area to the left, to facilitate shifts. Similarly, the area on the bottom-right is functional and spartan: storage and organization form the key here. The top right is also filled with administrative items to emphasize the utility.

Each place, however, is also tinged with office life. The rooms on the botom-left have guards slacking off and playing cards in the middle room, and there’s some flags from somebody’s birthday party two months ago still hanging in the rest area (an office staple, that). The top-left area has a little roped-off waiting area where you have to register before being allowed to see the bailiff, who can interview you before you’re allowed in to the prison area. Similarly, the central room has some snacks laid out for all those late afternoon planning sessions in the throne room. Somebody has to prepare those snacks, so of course you’d have the kitchen nearby to the right.

Giving this little map some life has been tremendously fun by bringing in those little details. I also took some cues from previous map, and I laid in some stones and moss here and there to bring a little variation in the hallways to break up the monotony. The only thing I was wondering about was whether I should put torches in the hallways at regular distances, but when I thought about it I realized it would distract from the rooms themselves. On top of that, since most of the creatures in here would see fairly well in the dark, I figured it wouldn’t be that necessary.

The final map for The Bastion of Dread. I chose to keep it relatively dark to make the map feel more oppressive. I’m quite happy with the fun little details in this one!

It’d be a shame to miss all these little details, so for a larger version of this map, you can look at the Reddit post about it:

Watabou Hex Map Experiment #5

I’ve been continuing my Watabou Hex Map practice every other day or so, and I’m really pleased with the Wonderdraft tricks I’m learning from doing this. Perilous Shores gave me a basic outline of the Anthir Lakes, a region that is oppressed, dark, and dangerous. I took the prompts to really focus on creating a grungy, dirty-looking map.

I’m very happy with the dark, grungy nature of this map. It looks like a terrible place to live but a great place to adventure

The entire map is shaded with a brown tone, and I focused on getting greens in the map, including in the water tone, so that the two colors combined would create a gross-feeling tone to the map as awhole. Among all the places on this map with their dark themes, I love that the central village is called “Rabbitway”, a bizarrely friendly-sounding name.

Another aspect I enjoy about this map is the brown color I’ve given to the pines that were marked as dead trees on the Watabou map. Without having a dedicated dead tree asset, I think this was a nice compromise that ended up adding to the dark nature of the map as a whole.

Watabou Hex Map Experiment #4

I’ve made another Wonderdraft version of a Watabou Perilous Shore map. This time, setting it for a medium-sized land area with highland features. That resulted in the Bassland:

The original Perilous Shores generated map

Every time I’ve been doing this, I’ve gotten faster at the basics of map-making—experience paying off! Previously, I’d exported the Watabou map and worked with the .png file as a reference; this time, however, while I did export it, I kept the Watabou-generated map up as reference. This helped me discover a cool little feature in Perilous Shores: there are actually more named areas than the legend would suggest! By clicking around the map, I discovered that most little areas actually were named.

That gave me more opportunities to inidividually label mountains, forests, and a few mountain peaks directly, and experiment with the placement of titles like those. It was quite interesting working out what I would want different in naming a large mountain range such as the Mountains of Crosses versus a small range such as the Strong Ridge. On top of that, two peaks had individual names: the Hill of Stones and the Sand Peak. So that gave me three total types of mountainous areas to label differently. Another interesting challenge to explore is that the Outer Forest and the or Woods differ so massively in size, so their titling would have to be differentiated somehow. In the end, I made sure to use the same fonts and colors but differentiate in size, spacing, and outline thickness for clarity.

My Wonderdraft version of the map

A thing that I hadn’t figured out how to add comfortably to this composition is a compass rose. The map is so filled with elements that the only place to reasonably add it with some visibility was in the top-right corner just above the Dunes of Savage Fear and to the left of the Whispering Downs. However, that put it on such an odd spot in the map that it seemed disruptive rather than cohesive. As I’d already wanted to add the measurement to the bottom-left, I didn’t really have much other map real estate left to put it, so I ended up leaving it out altogether.

If you want to have a look at larger versions of these maps, you can take a peek at the Reddit post I made about it:

My post over on Reddit that has the larger version of these maps

If you have any suggestions for me, I’d love to hear them!

Watabou Hex Map Experiment #3

I’ve been enjoying making Watabou Perilous Shores maps into colored versions using Wonderdraft, so I figured to do another attempt. This time, Watabou gave me the map for Theron Lakes:

The Watabou original randomly generated map

A lovely little map with an interesting amount of marshlands, which is just perfect! I’ve been struggling with the look of marshlands, so having them aplenty will help me experiment with coloring.

A crucial thing I learned this time is how to properly overlay the hex grid. Last time, I wrote about having to resize the canvas and carefully moving around the image so that finally the hex grid would fit, because I couldn’t figure out how to move the grid. Well, as it turns out, you just click and drag with the grid tool selected to move the grid. Duh! So, fitting the grid to the right space was much, much easier this time.

I’m getting relatively practiced with making the maps themselves, so I’m quite pleased with how easily that goes. The coloring is quite interesting this time as well. The more I went on, the more I realized how grungy and dirty this area would be. It has so many marshlands that it’s a tough place to live in the first place, and then there’s towns like “Midyanglink Town” which sounds quite Lovecraftian but the main city is called “Suncaster City” to contrast this with. The longer I went on, the grungier I wanted to make the map look. So, this time, I applied a strong vignette, shifted the colors on the entire map a little to brown, and made the water color a bluish green. The end result is a sickly-looking area which looks quite oppressive to my eyes.

The one thing that I’d want to improve is the coloring of the oak trees: they just look a little too light green to me. However, the unofficial rule I’d put to myself is to accept these the way they are and move on. If I keep fiddling on the same map constantly, I’ll just get stuck on the one thing. In this case, I’d rather practice with as many varied maps as I can.

Well, without further ado, here’s my version of the Theron Lakes:

My Wonderdraft version of the map

Watabou Hex Map Experiment #2

Like I did on Monday, I wanted to experiment some more remarking a Perilous Shores map in Wonderdraft. After some rerolls, Perilous Shores gave me the following wonderful little hex map:

The Watabou Perilous Shores map

This time, I learned how to better fit an overlay image to the map and vice versa. For one, since Perilous Shores produces square maps, I just made the canvas square—easy win but quite worthwhile. Because both maps were the same shape, it was much easier now to rescale the overlay image to fit the canvas exactly, making it must easier to faithfully adapt the map compared to last time.

This did make me face a new issue, however: previously, all I did was adjust the size of the hexes in Wonderdraft to fit the overlay image, and then moved on from there. Now, however, since I was trying to exactly lay the overlay image on to the canvas, I couldn’t get the hexes to fit up neatly. The way Perilous Shores and Wonderdraft lay out the hex grids differs and I couldn’t find a setting to offset the grid in Wonderdraft, so I was left with a grid that I couldn’t match. Fortunately, I figured out that I could resize the canvas selectively (i.e. in specific directions), which ended up resolving the problem. What I ended up doing was resizing the hex grid in Wonderdraft until all the hexes were the same size as the Perilous Shores hexes, and then I lined both hex grids together, and just readjusted the canvas until it was the same size as well as the same position as the Perilous Shores overlay original. As a result, I could get a much more faithful recreation than I got on Monday.

Coloring remains something that I want to practice more with (hence this very exercise), and while I’m not fully there, I do feel I’m starting to move in the right direction. This time, the marshlands look far more accurate to me. The teal coloring of last time seemed quite out of place, and just using a darker green coloring portrays the same feeling but looks more natural to my eyes. I can imagine adjust it slightly with a blue to make it more marshy but I’m already pleased with this look.

Another thing that I think worked better was labelling the regions. What I changed was to make them more transparent but slighly larger than other labels. That way, they fade more into the background of the map, almost “sinking into” the terrain. For colors, I picked a similar color to the terrain itself but shifted the font a few shades lighter and the outline a few shades darker. The end result has it fit a little more into the map. It worked quite nicely on the marsh, though I think for the font on the mountains it came out a little off. This time I eyeballed it, so I think that next time I’ll use the dropper tool to have a more stable basis for the color.

Lastly, I chose to not differentiate the label for the village and the town but to introduce the difference in the dangerous location. As you can see, what I did was have settlement labels be white-on-black whereas the dangerous location is black-on-white. What I like about this is that the font is the same, making these places feel equivalent, yet the coloring suggests an inverted relationship. In retrospect, though, I do think next time I want to differentiate the villages and towns from each other to more clearly indicate size differences. That might also immediately help me signify the size of dangerous locations, if I keep that consistently inverted as well.

My recreation of the Perilous Shores map in Wonderdraft

I’m quite happy with how faithfully my map recreates the Perilous Shores map even down to the very placement of the trees themselves. I feel like it’s an important skill to be able to create an accurate representation of something else. When I can faithfully recreate these types of maps well, I suspect it will also help me create my own maps better.

Watabou Region Map Experiment

I wanted to get a little bit more experience making maps in Wonderdraft and particularly with coloring maps. I figured it would be easiest if I took a simple, small map to work on so I could really focus on the process of it. Fortunately, Watabou, over on itch.io, has a map generator called Perilous Shores that outputs wonderful old-school–style map:

The original map from Watabou Perilous Shores generator

I love the simplicity of a little hex map, and it gives a varied set of items to work with. So, I went to work in Wonderdraft to try and create a colored version of the same map:

The version I made in Wonderdraft

It’s a fun little look, and nice to get a map done quickly like this. I’m not too happy with the coloring, as the label color for the marsh looks off to me as well as the marsh coloring itself. However, the sea color works quite nicely, and I think the forest ground and sandy plains colors work quite well. I think the next thng that I want to look at testing more is the coloring for labels so make them look more natural and integrated with the map itself.

Heroquest Battlemap #8: The Fire Mage

I took a little break last week, as I have a holiday and wanted to spend a little bit more time away from the PC. This week, I’m back with a Heroquest map made in Dungeondraft, which is the eighth mission of the game: The Fire Mage.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

Surprising this time around is that even the US version of the map is incredibly spare. There’s almost nothing to fall back on to interpret the map! It goes without saying that the US version has more monsters and traps, but that tells us little in terms of working out the map itself.

This led me to quite the concundrum in trying to work out what to do. There’s some manner of study or laboratory in the middle, that’s for sure. The only other two rooms with an item have a single chest and a single table, which leaves us with very little information.

We can nevertheless glean some things from here. Firstly, the entryway being such a long hallway around the actual route even though a quick turn to the right would have been easier suggests a natural environment to me. If it were designed, there’d be little reason for such a long detour. Furthermore, Balor waits at the top left (and the notes tell us he teleports to the middle once the Heroes see him), so that seems to be some kind of parlor or reception room. Lastly, there’s a few dead ends on the map, further suggesting a natural origin to the map.

So, the large areas of unused space could be gaps, natural formations, water, or something of that ilk. However, given the number of dead ends that appear to have been paths at one point, I would sooner suspect this is a cave of some sort that has suffered some cave-ins that have ruined paths previously traverseable. So, tentatively, I’ll consider this a cave with a reception area at the top-left, which would suggest to me that the bottom-right may be a more personal space.

Information from the flavor text

As usual, I next turned to the flavor text in the hopes that this would help provide me with some more context to interpret the map.

This time, the two stories are pretty much the same. Most differences are probably caused by the lacking fantasy vocabulary in Dutch in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

A larger version of the US text

The Fire Mage

The Orcs of the Black Mountains use magical fire in their attacks. Balur, the Fire Mage, is suspected of helping them. Magical fire cannot harm him and the King’s wizards are unable to break his magical power. That is why ye have been chosen to enter his fortress deep underneath the Black Firemountains. The King will reward each of you with 150 gold coins for the eradication of Balur.

My translation of the Dutch version of the text

The text clinches the map themes for me: firstly, the setting should indeed be a cave, since Balor dwells far below the Dark/Black Mountains. Since he is a Fire Mage, and immune to all fire magics, I think it would be really interesting to make fire a repeating theme here. I haven’t taken the opportunity yet to work with the materials-menu in Dungeondraft and I know that lava is one of the available materials. So, it’ll be interesting to make that unused space in the map be lava.

We’d decided based on the overall map above that there were a few cave-ins blocking off standard routes, so that suggests that this level of the keep isn’t maintained all too well. So, that too would be fun to feature here. Lastly, we’re dealing with an apparently competent user of magic, so I think those traps on the map may be magical in nature: runes and glyphs and so on.

Translating into a final map

So far, I hadn’t really marked traps off on the maps, so I wanted to give that a try this time. Obviously, I didn’t want to give anything away necessarily, but at the very least there could be a little hint. So what I’ve done is placed little magical circles on the tiles that were marked for a trap. They should be easy to spot if a player is paying attention, which would encourage a more in-depth look at the map.

Working with the lava material in Dungeondraft was interesting, as it works pretty similar to the water tool. With both, I don’t feel fully in control of the shape I end up getting. On the one hand, that’s good, because I want to have natural and unusual shapes; on the other, however, I do want to have a reasonable expectation of what will happen when I use a tool. Nevertheless, I like the look of the lava so far. What I did need to do to really make it work was add high-intensity but low-range red colored light sources mixed with a low-intensity but high-range orange light on top of the lava. Adding those things together resulted in the lava itself being quite brightly lit yet the environment having an orange-reddish hue everywhere. I think the result looks absolutely sweltering.

The other lighting trick that I wanted to try out was to have various magical lights in the central room by using different colors for the candles. While you can see some purple in the bottom-right of that room, it didn’t really pop as much as I would have liked. That’ll certainly take some more experimentation.

The shadowing on the spiral staircase really worked out, though. In fact, it gives such a stark contrast that I think I may want to accent that a little less next time. Overall, I’ve been working on my use of paths more this time, adding little details such as a rope hanging from the winch in the starting room, the snapped bridge at the bottom, or the runner in the two top-left rooms.

The last lighting trick that I tried was to decrease the opacity of the environmental light. Before, I kept it at 255 and switched it to a dark blue, making the maps incredibly dark. This time, I kept the blue tone but I turned the opacity down to somewhere around 120 to just give everything a shadow. I think that turned out quite well, suggesting a darkness but keeping everything visible. A lighting trick that I didn’t get to apply was to try and darken various layers. This map has three layers of depth: the lava, the play area, and then the raised area above the map. Since the lava is a light source, I couldn’t shade that for being deeper; conversely, the raised area about the map is greyed out with dungeon texture, so that didn’t need additional work either. Hopefully, the next map will give me some more opportunity to work with various depths!

Either way, here is a small version of the map:

My version of the Heroquest map for The Fire Mage. I like how the lava seems to really sear and gives off a strong red glow. Moreover, those rocks at the top block the light in an interesting way, casting curious shadows.

For a larger version of this map, have a look at the Reddit post I made about this:

Burning France: Session 6

We had to shift last week’s Burning Wheel session to yesterday evening because last week Thursday just didn’t really work for everybody’s schedule. For me, it’s important that every player can attend the session because we’re running such a tightly-focused campaign. This time, I was extremely pleased that everybody was in, as our session really tied everybody together in an interesting manner. Last time, we’d set up our new story arc of our troupe returning to the city of Sompteux and discovering that Gerard, the de facto leader of their former insurrectionist group had started regular executions in the public square. Our team just managed to save Bernard, Benoit’s cousin, from the chopping block and escaped towards Bertrand’s villa outside the city walls.

Sompteux, the City of Splendor, capital of Occitania

The Story

As our trio settles down in PC Bertrand’s villa, they call Bernard & Cousin Bertrand, twin cousins of Benoit (minor relationship, other family) into the parlor to try to make some sense of things and find out what they’ve missed this past half year.

“I need to keep my head attached to my body, so I need to find out why Bernard was executed.”

Benoit’s Belief

Bernard proceeds to tell the team all about what’s been happening: after they left, the people of the city took to repairs and for a while everything seemed fine. It didn’t take too long, however, for factions to divide everybody once more, as arguments started about who should be in charge: the Collectivists favoring democratic state control, the Loyalists seeking to instate a royal heir to the throne, the Moderates seeking to establish parliamentary elections or, as the Anarchists would have it, for there to be no state power at all? Bernard started working for coin for one of these groups. Later on, Gerard started rising to power and prominence, and what started slowly with a person disappearing here or there slowly devolved into regular public executions where Gerard argued they kept the peace and fought the rot within. Bernard believes that is why he was grabbed and sentenced to death.

Geoffrey suspects there is more to this story, and digs in. Bernard avoid the topic with B0 Falsehood (BL B4 Will) as Geoffrey presses him to tell the whole truth with B2 Persuasion +1 help but sadly deflects the conversation to his cousin Benoit (3s vs 1s +1s fate reroll). He admits to Benoit that the reason he didn’t tell everything is that he feels ashamed to be working as a common thug for a local magistrate, Michel. The name sparks some memories for our group, as Geoffrey remembers he has dirt on the man (minor relationship, hateful/rival): Michel got a venereal disease from poxy Polly—something that Michel didn’t want his spouse to know about. Michel went to Geoffrey for help, and Geoffrey wisely kept all the paperwork for the healing ointment that he got the man.

PC Bertrand dug through his brain for rumors he heard about the man via a B2 Family Secret-wise, +3 Persona, +2 Help to find out what the noble gossip is about his true motivations (Ob 4). With 5s, Bertrand remembers Michel as a petty manipulator, who once tried to get Bertrand’s family estate condemned as a fire hazard in a power play. Bertrand knows him to be a powermonger; with the new information added, pieces start to fall into place and Bertrand realizes Michel is playing kingmaker: he’s actually working for the Loyalists trying to get an heir back on the throne!

As this comes out, the discussion gets heated. Benoit realizes that Gerard was right: Bernard was being executed as a Loyalist sympathizer! Bernard explains that the surrounding countries won’t sit still, and they need a monarchist ruler if Occitania is to remain free—he intends to head back out on the streets and fight for that! Geoffrey sees this for the bad plan it is, and says he will keep them there by force if necessary.

My companions are a liability for me. I must act in their best interests, even if they disagree.

Geoffrey’s Belief

Cousin Bertrand is highly offended, gets up from the sofa, and loudly tells Geoffrey he has no right to do this. If they wish to walk out, they will. At this point, PC Bertrand also shoots up from the sofa and gets in Cousin Bertrand’s face about it.

Bertrand’s actions will result in chaos, strife, and discontent; he and his must be stopped

Bertrand’s Belief

Benoit, seeing this escalation, realizes something must be done. He doesn’t want to see his cousins come to harm but he also cannot stand for them to put themselves in harm’s way. He feels they should move up north to Avignon-sur-Chantre for a while and lay low.

I must keep my allies safe.

Benoit’s Belief

With the debate running on a knife’s edge, we turn towards a Duel of Wits. Stating Their Case, Geoffrey proclaims: “You will do as I say, or I will hurt you!” (in harsh, graphic detail); the cousins, equally filled with vitriol, rebuke him: “We will walk out of here and do what we please—you have no say over me!”. Both end with a Body of Argument of 5 as they square up for the first exchange.

Geoffrey, in no uncertain terms, accuses them of being fools, as going out now while they just publicly embarassed the person who tried to execute them is the same as putting your own head on the chopping block (Incite B2 Intimitation, +2 FoRKs Knives & Extortion), with PC Bertrand laying out the facts (+1 Help Ugly Truth) and Benoit pleading them to listen as they’ve done so in the past (+1 Help Trouble-wise). The argument doesn’t land (4s vs Ob 4 Will), as the cousins insist this time it’s different. In fact, they follow up by calling the group hypocrits, as they argue for freedom while tyranically restricting that of the cousins (Incite BL B4 Will, +1 Help) but their clumsy argument falls flat (1s vs Ob 8 from BL B4 Will).

While Bernard & Cousin Bertrand try to appeal to Benoit’s family ties, arguing that blood should stick with blood (Avoid B4 Will, +1 Help), Benoit calmly and rationally lays out the facts for them (Stoic Trait): getting yourself killed helps nobody, no matter what your views. Being a Loyalist is downright wrong and nullifies everything they’ve worked for. He will not see them hurt, so the only thing to do is to hide away for a while to cool down (Point, B3 Will, +7 Advantage from failed Incite, +2 Help). Here, we mess up the rules (more on that in the next section) and conclude that Benoit’s roll (4s +1s Fate reroll) wins against the Cousins’ roll (2s). As a result, the Cousins are furious but have to cede defeat: they may not agree with our group but they can’t say that they’re wrong either. They stomp off to the servant’s quarters of the estate where they’ve agreed they will lay low for a few days until arrangements can be made.

Based on this, some of our characters have some new Beliefs:

“Michel’s silly antrics have gotten out of control, I will attempt to sway him to the right path.”

“Bertrand has threatened my life, I will nip this in the bud.”

Bertrand’s new Beliefs

“I must determine in Bertrand is able to manage to stress of power”

Geoffrey’s new Belief.

The Session

Mechanically, this session was a little tougher than before. I’m still not too comfortable with the Duel of Wits system, so we bungled things at times there. I suspect that also made things a little less enjoyable for one of my players, who prefers rules-light systems in any case, as we didn’t consistently apply the right methods. Furthermore, me and one of my players (who also has a copy of the books and has some experience as well) needed to reference some rules to get things going. The session also started off with some bookkeeping, as we realized we’d forgotten to account for Practice in the time we skipped before the previous session.

One thing that we messed up rules-wise was the end of the Duel of Wits. We had to roll Point vs Avoid but we accidentally applied the rules for Obfuscate and Incite to the roll; normally, the outcome of Point vs Avoid should be deducting— (Point successes – Avoid successes) from the Body of Argument of the other. We misread the special exception for Obfuscate and Incite, where the full roll applies, as applying to everything. So, in effect, we reduced the Cousins’ Body of Argument to 0 where we should have reduced it to 2. Given that both parties had a Dismiss action scheduled for the next Volley, we would certainly have ended up with a compromise rather than an all-out win for one side. Live and learn for the next one, however! We’ll let this one stand, and move on from here.

Aside from those mechanical issues, however, I was really pleased with this session. It felt like we really went into what Burning Wheel attempts to highlight. Every single one of the characters was tied into the scene in various ways: a family relationship, a sense of self-preservation, a personal gripe against the character—so much came into play at once! Every character had a Belief at stake in the argument, and we roleplayed to where we got to an important conflict that would significantly affect future events. At the same time, we set up more context for the world in future settings as well. Moreover, Artha was absolutely flowing in that session: the players poured in Fate and Persona to ensure their important rolls worked out, and equally so many of their actions were based on Beliefs, Traits, or Instincts, so got them back Fate and Persona as well.

On the one hand, the session was intensely zoomed-in as we spent two hours working out that one scene with the Cousins, yet at the same time there was a lot of world building happening because of it. Despite the struggles with the mechanics of Duel of Wits, the roleplaying of the encounter worked out and made sense as well. All the arguments flowed naturally, and the dice helped to determine the actual impact for the characters.

Overall Impression

In general, I’m really happy with how this session went. It was quite intense, and afterwards I felt a weird mix of being both pumped as well as drained from the experience. I would like to see if I can get a firmer grip of the mechanics on-the-spot, so I can help facilitate the experience for my players a bit better. I’d like that to be as smooth as possible so my players don’t have to worry about the rules as much and can keep focusing on the fiction. Nevertheless, as I wrote above, the session itself was quite interesting and engaging.

An aspect I really enjoyed from the GM’s side is how much our collaborative fiction is starting to write itself at this point. I didn’t need too much prep to work out what was going to happen here. Based no our previous sessions and our last session, I’d worked out some rough ideas of who’s around in the world and what they want, and that’s about it. The rest of the fiction comes out of the players working along in the world and seeing how all these things would clash.

Next week Thursday we already have our next regular session, so I look forward to seeing what that will end up giving us!