Heroquest Battlemap #2: The Rescue of Sir Ragnar

I enjoyed making a Dungeondraft version of the first map of Heroquest so much that I figured I’d do the same to the second map. So, I dusted off my old manual once again, and went to prepare. Since the procedure I used making the last battlemap went so well, I figured to follow the same procedure this time around as well.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

This time around, I wanted to not only reference the original Dutch version of the map from my manual, but I also found a map of the UK version to compare it to. Below you can find both for your reference.

Curiously enough, the UK version of the map contains more monsters than the Dutch version. I wonder what prompted that change? Fortunately, though, for our concerns, we’re not placing monsters on the map, so we can ignore that aspect of it, although we could have it inform our ideas of the room functions.

Speaking of that, there seems to be less of a cohesive concept in this map. For one, the UK version has a torture chamber in the staircase room, for some reason. Is that really where you’d put your prisoner: right next to their opportunity to escape? I suppose that is a torture all of its own, though! Five rooms on this map are just plain empty, which doesn’t help us much to interpret any other functionality from it. That little room right next to Sir Ragnar’s room is obvious enough: a small room with a person right next to a cell? That’d be the jailer. Apparently, though, he had to be hidden away; to me, that implies that they’re expecting somebody to come and get him. The other rooms are rather plain purpose: two rooms with a table, one with a bookcase. Not much to go on at all, really.

So, with the maps not giving us much to work with, let’s hope that the flavor text gives us some more clues!

Information from the flavor text

Much like last time, the flavor text varies a little between the two language versions. In case you can read Dutch, below you can find both versions side-by-side.

This time, the differences in flavor text are minor. The Dutch version changes “emperor” to “king”, and “captured” to “kidnapped”.

Given that it’s more likely that you don’t speak Dutch, however, below I’ve translated the Dutch version of the text:

The Rescue of Sir Ragnar,

One of the strongest King’s Knights, Sir Ragnar, has been kidnapped. He is being held prisoner by Ulag, the Orc General. Ye must find Sir Ragnar and bring him to safety. Prince Magnus will pay the rescuer 200 pieces of gold. The reward may be shared by various adventurers but if Sir Ragnar is killed during the escape, no reward will be paid.

My translation of the Dutch original flavor text.

There’s not too much crucial difference here. The Dutch version offers a little less money (probably to offset the lower number of monsters?), and makes Sir Ragnar a knight of the King rather than the Emperor—not much issue there at all. The most interesting difference here, really, is that the English version of the text states that Sir Ragnar has been “captured” whereas the Dutch version states he is “kidnapped”. A capture would happen during a battle situation; i.e. Sir Ragnar is a prisoner of war. If he’s “kidnapped”, that would mean some miscreants snuck up on him and took him in the most underhanded manner. Interestingly enough, the UK version also shows more uncertainty: there is “reason to believe” Ulag has him, whereas the Dutch version is far more firm, stating “he is held prisoner” by Ulag. I guess there must have been some kind of hostage note in the Dutch version?

A final interesting concept is that the Dutch version calls Ulag an “Ork-veldheer“. “Veldheer“, like so many Dutch words, is a compound of two words, “Veld“, meaning “field”, and “heer“, which means “gentleman”, “noble”, “lord”, and so on. “Veldheer” can mean both “General” as well as “Warlord”—the choice of translation is mostly spin, I suppose (like choosing between “terrorist” and “freedom fighter”). I chose to translate it as “general” just because I prefer to read against the grain here. Clearly, traditional fantasy encourages us to think of orcs as inherently violent and criminal, so I prefer to read it in a more noble light to see what that does to our interpretation.

Either way, to me the UK version of the story is far more interesting. Not only does a simple kidnapping job remove all agency from Sir Ragnar, it also once more paints whomever you’re fighting against in the darkest light possible. The Dutch version’s antagonist is called “Morcar” (as opposed to the UK version’s “Zargon”) but both version’s helpful narrator is called “Mentor”; now, given how the Dutch version keeps sending the players into such black-and-white situations that seem far more dubious on further consideration, I prefer to read the little “M.” signature on the bottom of the Dutch flavor text as though Morcar and Mentor are the same person here, and the player characters are the victims of a long con here.

Translation into a final map

So, taking my cues from the UK version of the flavor text, Sir Ragnar has been captured by an Orc general. That means that there must have been a recent battle, and given that this band of four heroes is sent to rescue him then he’s probably not underneath Mount Doom in the middle of enemy territory being tortured for his secrets. More liklely, he’ll be somewhere close to the field of battle before being sent onwards.

So, rather than interpret the map as being another dungeon mined out below the earth, I’ll choose to interpet it as a warcamp close to battle. Your average warcamp will just be army tents of various kinds and surrounded by piles of camp followers (merchants of various ilk that seek profit from the army). However, let’s assume that this war that’s been going on between the orcs and the Emperor’s forces has been going on for quite a while. That means that the camp will likely develop some more semi-permanent structures. A palisade, some wooden buildings, and so on. That gives us some more to work with!

As a secondary reason, I’ve made a few underground maps now and those usually end up being dark with torchlight flickering here and there, and that’s great to do but I also want to practice some more outside scenes as well. So, I chose to make this an open structure, in daylight, with some more natural views in sight. The only thing left at that point, then, is to give some more purpose to the individual rooms.

If this is some manner of prisoner facility for a high-ranking prisoner, we have some more prompts to work with. There will have to be guards, and they’ll have to sleep somewhere, so a guard barracks it is. Guard need to eat, so there’ll be a dining room, and there’ll be downtime, so as well a relaxing chamber. Given that this is some kind of high-priority prisoner that warrants being hidden in this space, there’ll be an additional guard chamber, and most likely this will house some other choice treasures. Lastly, you don’t just leave a high-placed prisoner alone—you’ll have a top person on-site to deal with him. So, the last room I wanted to reserve as an office for a high-ranking individual.

A tricky thing to consider was where to put the entrance, as the original map assumes everything to be an underground dungeon and placed the entrance right in the middle. Making this an outside area means that becomes impossible. So, I had to make the choice to shift that a little up and to the left, and making that a gap in a palisade. While I could also kept the central room as a full-on room, it seemed more interesting to me to make that a central courtyard. So, I made it a much more open space to reflect the more semi-permanent feeling I wanted to give the map.

The last intersting problem I had to deal with was how to handle the secret door entrance to the dungeon area in the bottom left. Dungeondraft doesn’t particularly have any secret door assets, though the Crosshead Studios assets I’m using does have one secret door for a stone environment. The standard option that gets recommended frequently is two make two versions of the same map, where one has just a regular wall and one is opened to show a passage. For example, this post on Reddit:

However, I wanted the map to tell the story in one go rather than have this. I considered potentially making a door in the wall and then layering over another wall with only very slight opacity. That way, there is a wall there, but if players look very carefully they could see the outline of a door in it. That would be kind of a metagame way for the players to discover. However, I ended up choosing a much more direct version: just literally put the door in and put something in front of it that would block vision. Then, when used in a tabletop enviroment, that would form its own logical secret door. On top of that, given that this is a semi-permanent structure, this also seems the most logical way of doing this.

Knowing these crucial points, I now translated the prompts from the manual into this final form:

The small version of my Dungeondraft map

A larger version of this map can be found on the Reddit post I made about this below:

Heroquest Battlemap #1: The Trial

A few days ago, I was talking with two of my brothers about game nights, and we reminisced about how we used to play Heroquest back in the early ’90s, when my brother got the game for Sinterklaas. I recalled that I still actually have the manuals for that game, even though the original gameboard may be molding away in our parents’ garage. Leafing through those booklets was a wonderful nostalgic trip and even though I didn’t realize it at the time, this was probably my first tabletop RPG-like experience.

Interpreting maps and making decisions

Figure 1: A scan of the map from the first quest in the Heroquest manual. This is the copy that my brother got for Christmas back in 1989, so it’s the original Dutch version.

As I saw that classic, lovely look of the maps presented in the booklet, I got motivated to see if I could work these out in Dungeondraft into a full battlemap. After all, it’s already a grid-based map that was meant for combat, right? Plus, having the concept of the dungeon and the basic design already worked out allowed me to focus fully on trying to create the map itself and working with the program, rather than also having to work out what to make to begin with. Given that I’m not running an RPG that uses battlemaps right now, any battlemap I’ve made has been somewhat divorced from purpose, which has made it all the more difficult to make it. Now, that purpose would be built in.

I did have to make some decisions, however. As you can see in the map above, part of the board is blocked off (which happens in almost every Heroquest map) with the “fallen rock” tile. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean a collapse—that tile is simply the only tool in the Heroquest toolbox to block off a map, as there was no “wall” tile. So, firstly, I decided that the fallen rocks tiles on the right side of the map were probably meant to just limit space. The top-left tile, though, was a bit of a mystery: why would anybody build a hallway to nowhere? So, I decided that this hallway would end in a collapse. Probably, there used to be a room there at some point, but it’s just no longer accessible.

The other decisions were less easy to make, however. Due to the simple nature of the boardgame, there’s little detail to these maps. Some rooms indicate some purpose (a room with a weapons rack will likely be an armory, a room with two bookcases will be a library) but there’s even a room with just two Orcs around a table—what is that supposed to be? There’s two rooms there that have nothing in them but monsters. Mechanically, of course, they’re just bags-of-hitpoints roadblocks for the player characters but for a map, we’ll need a little more. Fortunately, each map comes with a little flavor text.

Information from the flavor text

Figure 2: A scan of the original text of the quest. My brother got the game for Sinterklaas in 1989, so this is the original Dutch printing of the manual. The A-D items below the flavor text are map prompts on for treasures and monster details.

The Trial

Friends, ye have learned well. The time for your first trial has come. Travel from here to the east and find your way to the cellars of Verag, a horrible monstrosity. The tomb of Fellmarg is guarded in these cellars. This test is hard and some of you may not return from it . . . They who survive will continue their training here. This, friends, is your first step towards Super Hero . . . Tread that road carefully.

The Dutch flavor text to the first quest, my translation

Now, this has a really interesting contrast with the official UK version of that same flavor text:

The Trial

You have learned well, my friends. Now has come the time of your first trial. You must first enter the catacombs which contain Fellmarg’s Tomb. you must seek out and destroy Verag, a foul Gargoyle who hides in the catacombs. This Quest is not easy and you must work together in order to survive. This is your first step on the road to becoming true Heroes. Tread carefully my friends.

The official UK version of the same flavor text

The Dutch version differs quite interestingly from the UK version. The UK version clearly indicates that these are catacombs, and that Verag has hidden away in them; hence, the heroes are sent to clean out these catacombs. The Dutch version, however, does not call this a catacomb (“catacombe“) but a cellar (“kelder“), and makes Verag the owner of them. What a twist! Interestingly enough, the Dutch version also doesn’t actually instruct the heroes to do anything. Go there, and do what? I wonder why these choices were made but I’ll happily make use of the increased ambiguity here! Aside from the introduction of the English phrase “Super Hero” in the Dutch text rather than using “ware Helden” for “true Heroes”, there’s only one interesting difference to me.

In Dutch Verag is called a “gedrocht“, which translates to “freak” or “monstrosity”, whereas in the English version he’s a gargoyle. In Dutch, gargoyle is “waterspuwer” (as you can imagine, “water spewer/spitter” if translated literally into English), and refers almost purely to the gothic architectural feature—i.e., a grotesque that is fitted with a spout to move water away from roofs. It’s understandable to me that an alternative word would have to be found, because a “waterspuwer” just wasn’t a common monster in the Dutch fantasy scene. “Freak” or “monstrosity” certain flavored the text, though, and gives the translation an interesting twist.

Translating it into a new map

Because the Dutch translation offers so much more ambiguity, I chose to creatively interpret that text over sticking close to the UK version. Now to use that flavoring to start making some definitive decisions.

We know that “the tomb of Fellmarg is guarded in these cellars”, which means that the players are asked to enter a religious site and murder all the inhabitants. I’m starting to have some doubts on whether this Mentor (the absent character who canonically provides the flavor text) is a good guy after all. Looking again at the original map above, I suddenly see that there’s a library at the bottom right, there’s an orc reading a religious text on the left, with a set of people in rooms leading up to a tomb. There’s also a study at the bottom of the map. This is just some kind of temple-like structure! The Dutch text mentions that it’s “guarded”, not “desecrated”, “despoiled” or “ruined”, so we’re not even dealing with a monster invasion but a people honoring one of their dead. The only odd thing is that torture chamber at the bottom left—what is it even doing in the map and how does it fit with the rest of the rooms? It’s almost like the people making this map were lost in making a cool temple, then realized that it had to be an evil place, so they just figured: let’s put a torture room in there. See? Evil things. So, you know. It’s okay to kill these people.

So, with these decisions made, I could start on translating this basic map into a full version. Based on my reading of the flavor text, I chose to make it an underground kind of structure, and one that was relatively homely as well, as to me a cellar sounds like it’s underneath a home or an inn. Furthermore, since the tomb of Fellmarg is guarded here, I figured it would be something like a pilgrimage site for them, so there would be something of a religious bent to part of the map aside from just a guardpost. I did decide to keep the torture chamber in there because I wanted to stay true to the original map. Additionally, it does form an interesting and odd contrast: on the one hand, our sympathies should lie with the people guarding this tomb but on the other hand, what were they doing with that chamber?

That ruined hallway turned out to inspire what I think is a really interesting feature of the map. I knew I wanted to have a cave-in there to block the way and I also had that empty room right next to it that I needed to figure out a purpose for. I decided that the cave-in was the result of some flooding and decided to have that water spill over from outside the map into that room. Before you know it, those four connected rooms suddenly had a purpose: the first room is a prayer room with the religious text, next up a pilgrim may cleanse themselves at the pool before proceeding to the antechamber, and finally the dark and quiet tomb of Fellmarg. Each room successively also has lower light conditions, starting with the perfectly lit room, a low fire in the room of ablutions, low-smouldering braziers in the antechamber, ending in the dark and quiet tomb of Fellmarg.

With a clear image of what I wanted to create, I now set to work mapping this thing out in Dungeondraft, and I’m quite happy with the final result. I made the scene dark, to emphase the gloomy nature of the cellar, added some small lights and experimented with different light colors using yellow, orange, and red lights and differing intensities to highlight parts of the scene. What went less well is that in my inexperience, I really messed up with the object layers, and had to fumble and rework several parts to make sure that items would lie on top of tables, that the fountain was underneath the water and so on. All in all, though, I think it’s become an interesting map that is nicely filled and believable.

I’m not sure how to properly make a full-sized version available, but either way below you can find a small version:

Figure 3: my Dungeondraft version of The Trial, which I’ve named “The Cellars of Verag”, as that’s what the location is called in the manual.
EDIT 2021.01.07: I’ve uploaded a larger version of the map in a Reddit post I made