RPGaDay 2022 #3

When were you introduced to RPGs?

RPGaDay prompt #3, from https://www.autocratik.com/2022/

Funnily enough, I actually answered this question back for RPGaDay 2022 #1 and touched back on that in a post from last year advocating for useless characters. Having told that story twice already, I don’t really think I can add anything to those posts beyond the comment that it was the original Baldur’s Gate from 1998 that got me interested in playing TTRPGs. it went from playing BG on the PC to buying some 3rd edition D&D books and playing campaigns with friends at the time, and ever since then TTRPGs have been in my life in some way or another.

I do miss those good old days of playing a roleplaying game around a table with friends, though.

RPGaDay 2022 #2

What is a great introductory RPG?

RPGaDay prompt #2, from https://www.autocratik.com/2022/

I think there’s no real answer to this question, to be honest. A good introduction heavily depends on what an individual person would like to get out of playing. It’d have to be something that gives a decent overview of what to expect but that also heavily depends on what you’d end up running. So, overall, I think a varied experience would present the best introduction: something gripping and drama-like, something with some heavy roleplay as well as some crunchy combat, but also moments of rules-light experiences. How else could somebody new to RPGs really form an opinion of what RPGs are?

So, really, I think the best introduction is playing many different one-shots and thinking about what you’ve played afterwards.

RPGaDay 2022 #1

I didn’t remember that it was already August 3rd, and of course RPGaDay would have already started! Time to do some catch-up, then. This year, the prompts are different from last year’s: before, they were one-word prompts to encourage a lot of variation in results but this year they are explicit questions.

The question for August 1st is:

Who would you like to introduce to RPGs?

RPGaDay prompt #1, from https://www.autocratik.com/2022/

I don’t have anybody specific in mind, really, as a person who I’d suspect would be in to playing TTRPGs. It would actually be cool to have a couple of colleagues who would be interested, as it’d be nice to get more in touch with them aside from work. However, to date I’ve not found anybody that seems interested or engaged with that kind of thing. Let’s hope that is a statement that deserves a “yet” at the end, though.

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.