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.

Heroquest Battlemap #10: The Castle of Mystery

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

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

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

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

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

Information from the flavor text

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

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

A larger version of the US text

The Magic Castle

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

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

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

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

Translating into a final map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Heroquest Battlemap #9: Race Against Time

Another week, another Heroquest battlemap made in Dungeondraft! It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been doing this for over two months now but I’m happy that I’ve kept up with it. Every single map is helping me improve my skills.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

This time around, the maps are mostly similar and once again rather sparsely filled. As far as composition goes, this one might be a bit tricky because there’s so much empty space to the top-right of the map. I suppose it could be a prompt to start learning some post-processing, even if it is just to crop the map purely to the active area. However, I think I’ll leave that skill to learn later and rather will end up using some text to fill that space or otherwise some fun little ground elements like skeletons hidden in the dirt.

As has become common, the US map has a few extra monsters on it; what’s more unusual is that it also has a complete extra room behind a hidden door! Mark C indicates that that trapped chest contains an Elixir of Life; so, essentially, the addition of this room involves two sources of resource investment (HP loss to a trap and/or to a monster) and one resource recovery (the elixir), making it a net zero room.

What is interesting about this map is that the players start in the room marked “A” at the bottom-right of the map. With three doors visible, all peopled by a bunch of monsters, it feels a little trolly that the real door is the hidden door in room A. It’s clear that the designers wanted quite some resources sapped just at the start so that the rest of the retreat would become more of a scramble. In the US version, even if the players were to directly run to the exit, they’d still face six monsters (compared to only three in the NL version).

None of the rooms here suggest a clear intended purpose other than this being a trap followed by a gauntlet. I could see the grouping of four rooms at the bottom right as sharing a function, and the grouping at the bottom-left as well. The bottom-left set has a fireplace and a table in the grouping, so that might be a food area. The top-left grouping seems more of a general entrance or introductory area.

Even though there’s little to the content of the rooms itself to give me indications of what to do with this map, figuring out groupings like this at least help me try to form some indication of what I want to do here. Still, with such a bare map, I’ll absolutely need the flavor text for more input.

Information from the flavor text

The two texts pretty much agree on what happened: the players are led through an underground structure by a guide who betrays them by abandoning them in the dark surrounded by enemies.

There’s only minor differences in the NL and US versions: the structure is either a maze or a dungeon, there are dark corridors but perhaps also dim pathways, and the US version makes sure to emphasize that there is a stairwell that represents safety.

A larger version of the US text

Race Against Time

A guide has bought you to an underground dungeon that legends say hides a great secret. He has led you through dark passages and past dim pathways and now ye stand in a room with three doors. Suddenly, the guide extinguishes his torch and ye hear him laugh in the black darkness. “Farewell, my heroes,” he mockingly calls out as he disappears. Ye have been trapped! Escape, or die in this forgotten hole.

My translation of the Dutch version of the text

What is interesting to me is that the players are guided into this structure by a guide with a torch. So, apparently, they would have seen the route here. If that is the case, then how come the players would assume there is only a room with three doors if the only actual exit is a secret door they must have come through to get in? Moreover, if they came in through the stairwell, why wouldn’t they know the route back? Let’s just chalk it up to the Heroes being a little complacement and depending too much on the guide; I guess that’s why the US version chose to call it a maze, so that we may assume that the Heroes got lost.

In any case, we now have a number of prompts for our map: it’s underground, a dungeon or a maze, there’s dark passages (and potentially dim pathways), and it’s a dark, forgotten hole. All of this speaks of neglect to me. So, perhaps this is a map of a long-abandoned dungeon. I like the idea, because the map itself is called “Race Against Time”, and theming the map around a long-abandoned and decayed dungeon seems quite fitting for that—this dungeon lost that race.

A dim and dark map is a bit of a challenge for me. I love the idea of it being pitch-black but that only works well for use in a VTT. If it’s just the visual of a map itself, then having it dark just obscures things. Normally, I’d add a bunch of torches and lights but that wouldn’t make sense for an abandoned set of ruins. This is a place where a bunch of monsters have set up an ambush for the players, so it should be mostly empty. The only means to deal with it would be to keep it dim rather than fully dark.

Translating into a final map

This map was quite a challenge because I’d set myself the idea of having an abandoned and ruined underground structure. Normally, I tend to go far with decorating rooms and setting up their uses, and working on a little storytelling through the environment. This time, though, I would have to be quite barebones with it. On top of that, the Crosshead Studios assets I use don’t have too many broken items in them. It would’ve been nice to include some knocked-over bookcases and so on but I’d have to improve a little.

This time around, the fill in the map would have to come from sets of rubble and plantlife, as well as smudges, dirt, and holes. A few areas I chose to put some more intact items but very quickly that already seemed in too good a shape for this long-abandoned place. What I ended up doing was scaling down a lot of full-sized bushes to almost miniature size to suggest they are slowly growing based on what little light they can get. Fortunately, there were a few fern-like plants in the pack that would make sense in low-light conditions.

The other thing I wanted to make sure to try out was some different lighting options. So far, I’ve been using the standard few lights (a three-tiered wavy light, a standard light, and a fuzzy light) but Krager’s Shadow and Light Pack comes with quite a few more options. So, I figured I wanted to have spots of light in the map to indicate holes in the ceiling, as well as a beam of light or two to vary things up. It would also make sense for those to be there, as the plants would need some light to grow! Overall, I like the final effect, though I think I can improve on those little spots of light and particularly the light streaming in from the stairwell.

In any case, with a little experimentation, I came to this final map:

The final map for this dungeon. Since there are few lighting effects, I kept the map relatively light. However, I picture the map as being quite dark with a few beams of light from the surface, through pockets and gaps eroded away over time.

As usual, I have a larger version of this map available over on Reddit:

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

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:

Heroquest Battlemap #7: The Lost Wizard

This week’s Heroquest map is my favorite of the ones I’ve done so far. Quite early one, I got some inspiration on how to approach it, and everything started rolling from there. I’ve become familiar enough with Dungeondraft that the process of making the map itself is taking less and less time, leaving more time for the design process itself.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

It stopped being a surprise that the maps are similar in outline but that the US version consistently has more traps, monsters, and details. What is quite interesting about the map this time, however, is that hallways are much less prominent in the overall design. Frequently, the ratio of hallway to room is quite high but now there just seems to be the central hallway between the two sides of the map and the little hallway at the bottom. Somehow, when I saw this, my mind immediately started reading this as a dirt pathway between three buildings. I think it might have been that central rectangular walkway, because it just reminds me so much of a gravel path around an inner courtyard or little park.

Once I’d made the choice of seeing this as three sets of buildings with an outside area, the rest of the ideas started flowing quickly. I was interested in making a little natural area in the center there, as though it was a little contemplative park for our lost wizard to think about his project. Either it would be a dwelling in a city or a more remote little estate. However, given that the map is called “The Lost Wizard”, it would seem a little odd if the building was just in a city. So, I made the call to have it be a little more remote: this would be the place that the wizard goes to for their more dangerous experiments or when they needed a little quiet time to mull things over.

Information from the flavor text

I realized the other day why I keep seeing some interesting differences with the new US flavor text compared to the style of the old flavor text. Apparently, in 1997 Milton Bradley (now Hasbro) let their trademark on Heroquest lapse, and since then that trademark has been bought and sold several times as companies changed, split up, merged, and so on. Long story short, the trademark for the remake was bought back by Hasbro from Chaosium but Chaosium still owns the Games Workshop licenses, so all the Warhammer branding had to be removed. That’s why my original manual will say things like “Chaos wizardry” whereas the new version changed that to “Dread magic”.

A larger version of the US text

The Stone Hunter

Karlen, the King’s personal wizard, has disappeared. The king fears that he’s been murdered or has succombed by the temptations of Chaos wizardry. Ye must find out what happened to Karlen and, if he’s still alive, bring him to safety. Upon your return, ye will each receive 100 gold coins.

My translation of the Dutch version of the text

There are some interesting little differences in the texts. For one, the English version prepares the players for the idea that the wizard is dead—all they have to do is find out what happened to Wardoz the wizard. The Dutch version, however, suggests that there’s a possibility that the players would have to escort Karlen the wizard back. It’s an interesting callback to the second mission, The Rescue of Sir Ragnar, where the players had to escort Sir Ragnar back to the circular staircase.

The most interesting difference to me, though, is that the English name is “The Lost Wizard” but the Dutch name is “De Stenen Jager“, i.e. “The Stone Hunter”. The Dutch map notes only explain that all the Chaos Warriors are made out of stone but there’s no other mention of stone things. If the focus of the map is the wizard, then why call it “The Stone Hunter”? The map notes for the US version of the map make it a little more clear: the storage room at the bottom left contains an unidentified potion, which turns anybody who drinks it into a stone statue (though they come back to life five turns later). That suggests that the wizard must have been experimenting with ways to make warriors more durable; hence, there are four stone guardians in the central pathway and that one stone potion in storage (a failed experiment, perhaps)?

This helped me flavor my idea for the map much more. Apparently, this wizard was interested in stone and stoneskin potions. So, I decided to have stone be a central feature: stone walls and pathways, along with multiple stone statues around the place. Furthermore, given that I know that the wizard is no longer alive but actually a zombie, that suggests to me that in their experiments something went horribly wrong as they tried something on themselves. So, the final room with Wardoz/Karlen will have a little sign of trouble and his study will be messy and broken.

Translating into a final map

Crosshead Studios had just released their Studio Ghibli pack, which I wanted to make sure to apply. In particular, their grass assets, water assets, trees, and shrubs have come out really nicely. Together with my usual application of Krager’s Shadow & Light Pack, these assets really make the map come alive. I learned some little tricks with the shadows to make things pop: for example, the little stairway down in the bottom-left building is a standard asset from Crosshead that I layered over some of Krager’s shadows to emphasize the steps, making it pop a little more. Similarly, those two bridges across the water in the middle are pathways from Crosshead that I used shadows on the two ends of to create the illusion of them arching upwards.

Having decided that there were three blocks of buildings helped me theme each one for a different purpose. The top left, being two large rooms attached to the entrance, became an entry building where the wizard could welcome their guests. In contrast, the building in the bottom left was more of a personal quarters, so I designed it to be much less grandiose and more practical. In my previous maps, for instance, I made more extensive kitchens but int his case I figured a little table and a small stove would be enough. I also put in just a small round wooden table for a meal for one; after all, if you come here to isolate yourself from others to think, you’re not likely to invite guests. For the bedroom, I loved the idea of a large, luxurious bed, and fortunately Crosshead had a double bed with loads of pillows that seemed perfect!

The bottom-right area was an interesting addition. For one, it was so separate from the structure on the left, so it seemed to deserve special status to begin with. Secondly, that was where the wizard had met their end, so it seemed sensible that this would be a full laboratory area. Since it was already separated from the quarters to the left, I figured to increase that distance by adding a water feature in the middle. I was on the fence about whether I should add a bench for somebody to sit and think, but in retrospect I liked it as a place to pace around and think.

Where the left-most buildings were fairly static (aside from the foreshadowing with the fallen chair in the kitchen), I decided that I wanted the right-most area to look pretty active. So, the study that forms the entry to the workshop, I wanted broken and messy. Books litter the floor with a broken table in the middle. Perhaps the now-zombified wizard rambled in there and wrecked the place, or perhaps he was frantic before he rushed to the lab proper to conduct his experiment. Similarly, I liked the idea of a magic circle with a clear blood spatter/explosion and a trail leading off to show something went seriously wrong here. The last area, functionally speaking, is only a place for the players to find some equipment. I was torn between making this a standard treasure room (which seemed to make little sense to me) and a stoneworking/masonry workshop, given that the wizard seemed to have an obsession with stone. However, since the players are to find a suit of armor here, having that be a stoneworking shop seemed odd to me. So, perhaps the wizard just had an enchanting business on the side to make money.

The last fun new experiment in this map was the wall and roofed areas surrounding the estate. In principle, the Heroquest maps are built onto a dungeon-map framework, so they’re all square and assume straight, natural barriers. In this case, since I wanted it out in the open, I needed to find a reasonable explanation for the limitation. In this case, I decided to make it a walled estate; after all, the wizard performs some dangerous experiments here, so it’d be good to keep prying eyes away! In principle, there was nothing to stop me from making the wall curve around the building to the right; however, that would make the whole area look more natural than I wanted it to look. As I wanted to emphasize the stone theme of the wizard’s buildings as well as contrast it to the nature in the “empty” part of the map in the upper-right (I guess the negative space, gameplay-wise?), I decided to keep to the orthogonal nature of the walls. The added benefit is that this creates a number of spaces where the red roofing goes in the right, contrasting it strongly with the green of the greens. I think that will draw the eye to the right of the map, and given that the players enter on the left, that creates a natural flow for the eye to follow.

I am incredibly pleased with how this map came out. There’s some environmental storytelling here, there’s nature, there’s structures. All in all, it looks very lively!

This time, I only made a light version of this map without a nighttime version with fire effects. The main reason was that the wizard has been lost for a while, so there’d be nobody there to light fires. While I think in play it would actually be great to go through the map in the dark (a zombie adventure with dark rooms leading into scary surprises? Awesome!), for displaying the map I think a light version is best.

As always, a full-sized version of this map can be found on the Reddit post about the map:

Wonderdraft Progress

I was looking up some earlier versions of my map of Occitania and I was struck by the massive difference between my first version and my latest version.

For my first version, I was happy to have a land, and a reasonable looking shoreline.

The first map of Occitania

My latest version, though, pops with color and character. The hills, mountains, and forests really feature well, and the slowly increasing number of labels creates a better sense of a world.

The latest map of Occitania

It’s so nice to just look back and take stock to see how my skills have advanced. It makes me excited to see what I can do with more practice!

Heroquest Battlemap #6: Legacy of the Orc General

This week, the Heroquest map came out really well, and I’m quite pleased with the result. I’ve applied some of the lessons about pathing and layers in Dungeondraft from last time, and that really helped me create a sense of several layers of depth. On top of that, I had an idea to try something new, and I really enjoy the way it came out. So, without further ado, here’s this week’s map design process!

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

The two maps are, as usual, largely the same, with the US map featuring more monsters, traps, and room items. There’s a really interesting difference in the two maps, though: the NL map has Grak placed in the main conference room in the middle, whereas the US map has him in the exit room. To be honest, just game mechanically, the latter makes more sense to me, as he then functions like a final boss to the level. On top of that, in the NL version, the players could walk down the hall, open the first door they see, and immediately face the main antagonist! That’s quite a shock.

For once, the NL version doesn’t shy away from using the torture rack item in the top-right room, so that’s a fresh change. Following up on last week’s map, it’s clear now that it’s the Fimir monster model that’s consistently replaced by the Abomination model. Other interesting additions are the bottom left room in the US version getting a fireplace, and the top-left room now getting a weapons rack added to indicate where the players’ weapons will be.

Overall, the theme of the map seems pretty consistent: this is a dungeon, with a torture room to extract information, and some manner of central meeting place. There’s a storage room top-left, what looks like a kitchen bottom-left, and some kind of generic room bottom-right. The empty room bottom-center is a bit of a mystery still, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Overall, an map that fits an easy theme.

For some reason, though, this week, I really felt like making a mountain-top map. Perhaps it was the Prince Magnus’ Gold map that spoke of the Black Mountains location, or just that I’ve been playing Skyrim lately but I wanted to have snow-covered peaks in my map this time. So, I flipped the idea of a dungeon: rather than have it be deep in the earth, I put it on the top of a mountain—equally as inaccessible and foreboding.

Information from the flavor text

As was the case last time, this time the NL and US flavor texts actually fully agree:

A larger version of the US text

The Legacy of the Orc General

Grak, the repulsive child of Ulag, has sworn to avenge his murdered father. After months of searching, he tracked you down, ambushed you, and has taken you captive in his dungeons while he wracks his brain to think up a horrible punishment for you. While the guard is sleeping, you manage to pick the lock of your cell with a ratbone. Ye must find your equipment and escape.

My translation of the Dutch version of the text.

While I chose the word “repulsive”, it could easily have been “foul”; similarly, “child” and “offspring” is more a choice of flavoring than exact meaning. In considering the translation, I did come to appreciate the Dutch word “weerzinwekkend“. The Dutch word “zin“, in this context, indications “desire”, “appetite” or “intention”. “Weer“, in the adverbial sense, is a contraction of “weder“, meaning “again”, “back” or rather in the older Germanic sense “against”. Lastly, “wekken“, in this case, is derived from “opwekken“: “to generate” or “to create”. So, as a word “weerzinwekkend“, translated overly literally, would mean “to generate a sense of distaste against itself”. Wow, what a word!

Philology aside, we can deduce a number of things from this text. Firstly, Grak has “dungeons”, so likely he has an established settlement (compared to, for example, Prince Magnus’ Gold, where the Orcs were just hiding in some mountains). Furthermore, this is a place where he can calm his mind and decide on things; after all, this is where he took the heroes to determine their punishment. So, the area itself is likely quiet or restorative, and there’ll be places to consider, discuss, and contemplate.

Potentially, that reference to Grak having to work out a proper punishment might even give some meaning to that odd space at the top-right of the map. Regardless of where the map is set, that large surrounding walkway makes little sence, as it leads nowhere and there are quicker routes to get to each room. So, perhaps, if we’re putting this all on a mountain top, that is the edge of a mountain where Grak might throw down prisoners as a means of execution!

Translating into a final map

Taking some cues from Prince Magnus’ Gold map, I knew I wanted to layer some pathed cliff assets from Crosshead create the peaks, and use Krager’s Shadow & Light Pack to create a sense of depth. The key to make it work this time was to ensure that I was carefully apply consistent layers from the start. I had to decide which was my core level, which areas were lower, and which higher. I decided that the elements to the lower-left of the map would be higher up on the mountain, and since I liked the idea of the execution place on the top-right, that means the top-right of the map would have to be “lower”. While, by necessity, the Heroquest map format would result in a bit of a square-looking mountain, I’m still quite happy with how that looks overall.

Given that this is a mountain-top feature, I assumed that stone would be the most used building resource. After all, you’re already generating your main resource just by clearing the space to build your structures. So, I decided on stone tiled pathing to represent Heroquest‘s hallways. Moreover, all the rooms would be stone-walled. In retrospect, since this is a snow-capped mountain, I realize this would make every place be quite cold, so I should have focused on creating a source of warmth in each room. Currently, the cell, bedroom, dining room, and study lack such a feature. Well, let’s chalk that up to Orcs being hardy and not caring much about the wellfare of their prisoners!

Another element that I wanted to put back into my maps is the creation of little environmental narratives just to add detail. So, in the kitchen in the lower-left of the map, for example, you can see some sacks of trash to the south, with a dirty line back to some muddy boots, next to a mop. I figured that somebody just took out the trash, which leaked, and got a mop ready to clean everything up again. In the little depression at the bottom-right, I wanted to hide some bones, as though people disposed of former prisoners there. Below the grate in the torture room, more bones can be found, as though somebody was locked there. Lastly, the rickety bridge at the top of the map has a snapped chain hanging on both sides of that ravine. Perhaps that’s a sign of neglect, or perhaps Grak has decided that’s a great place to throw people down to the forest far, far below.

All these details leave me a little conflicted. The light version of rhe map shows these details most clearly:

The version of the map without lighting effects

However, as always, I like the darker, night-time version of the map, as I love the contrast of blues and reds with fires. It just makes the map really pop for me:

My preferred version of the map, with lighting effects

I’ve started experimenting a little with more map-wide light coloring, such as trying a slight orange tone to create an autumn feeling or perhaps a late-afternoon sun. I’ve hit some nice notes, and will look forward to experimenting more with that. Ether way, below you cna compare the two quickly:

Full-sized versions of these maps can be found on a post I made on Reddit about this:

So, which version of the map do you prefer—the dark or the light version?

Heroquest Battlemap #5: Melar’s Maze

I felt much better this weekend than as I did last weekend, and so making the next Dungeondraft version of the Heroquest quest map went much more smoothly than it did last time. I also found a much better version of the Heroquest manual on the Hasbro site that allowed me to have a greater resolution of the US map version than before, which was quite nice to have. It’s great to see that this project is also providing the main benefit that I had hoped it would: as I’m making more maps, I’m getting more and more comfortable with the software and I’m learning new tricks every map that I make.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

Once again, the US version of the same quest map just has so much more danger to it, both in monsters and trap placement. There are some sneaky changes, though; for example, looking at the central room, the NL version is actually a little rougher because there the monsters can fully engage the players, whereas in the US version the table placement means there’s only two 1-on-1 fights going on in that room. Regardless, what’s really helpful about the US map is the increased level of detail that helps give some more structure to the environment as a whole. An interesting switch, though, is that the new version now calls what was previously the “Gargoyle” in the US version the “Abomination”, which brings it closer to what the Dutch version used, namely “het Gedrocht“.

The “maze” aspect of the quest mostly seems to be brought through by the long, winding hallway around the map. It’s interesting, though, that if the players choose to go right from the start but skip the hallway, they run straight to the final boss with no interruption. most of the dungeon, actually, seems to be a distraction from the direct goal. I suspect that is a main reason why the doors were placed where they are: to lure the players in to taking the long way around. However, this is called the heart of the maze, so I think narratively we can imagine the players have actually passed most of the maze already and are in the last parts of it.

So fact, though, the setup gives us quite a lot to work from already: the centre of a large, winding maze brings to my mind underground dungeons and dark hallways. To me, that clearly themes this dungeon. For once, the inclusion of that ever-so-traditional torture rack isn’t that strange in the setting. Given that Melar is termed a wizard, and there’s an alchemy table in one of the rooms, I can also imagine this is a place of magical study. That would fit with the central room having two bookcases and a table, as that’s probably a library.

An interesting point of note is the room with a monster labelled “B” in the map. This is supposed to be an interesting trap for the players as there is a large statue of a gargoyle in the room that doesn’t turn intoaa monster until the players open the door to the next room (which also has two traps behind it—how mean!). It would be quite odd if this was the only statue in the place, so I figured that there will likely have to be some more status in areas and certainly more in this room.

Information from the flavor text

The flavor texts of both the NL and US versions are fairly similar this time, with no real ambiguity between the two, sadly (I do love it when I can twist an intended meaning).

A larger version of the US text

Melar’s Maze

Long ago, the wizard Melar crafted a talisman that increased the magical knowledge of the wearer. He always held the talisman close to him for fear of evil thieves. It is said that he left this talisman in his laboratory in the middle of his maze. The Maze is guarded by all manner of magical sentries and traps, and it is rumored that ghosts of those who died searching for the talisman wander the halls.

My translation of the Dutch version of the text.

This flavor text provides the prompt that this is apparently a laboratory, with the US version specifying that it’s underground. Interestingly enough, the US version suggests that Melar specifically feared that Zargon would seek out the amulet, though the NL version does not attribute the threat to Morcar but just “evil thieves”. The US version just suggests that there are traps and monsters, whereas the Dutch version speaks of “sentries and traps”. There’s an interesting difference between “monster” and “sentry”, as the former is just any opposition and might suggest that the maze has fallen into disrepair and is occupied by whatever came next. I chose the Dutch interpretation of “sentry”, as it suggests a more active and intentional guarding of the place (suggesting that it was also still maintained to some degree).

The major difference is an addition in the NL version that speaks of ghosts wandering the halls—the ghosts of all those that foolishly sought out the amulet (I mean, unlike the new fools that will be questing for it now). To me, that completes the image of this place being dark, dank, and oppressed. I liked the idea of Melar being a character that has passed on long ago, yet his legacy lives on for so long that adherents still occupy his maze waiting for his return. Slowly, over time, regardless of whether Melar was good or evil, his maze certainly turned to a place of evil.

Translating into a final map

Based on the reading above, I knew I wanted to have the map be an underground dungeon-like structure that was in good upkeep. Fortunately, the Crosshead Studios Assets that I use come with a nice-looking dungeon wall that gives a sense of depth to the place. While I chose this to be the outside walls, I wanted a flatter inside wall to clearly delineate the two. One downside of that which I’m not too sure how to ameliorate yet is that the two walls don’t connect well at corners. While I can absolutely live with the intersetion of two walls at 90 degrees, the corner interation looks off. I could twist them to meet at 45 degrees, but to me that gives an odd twist to the rooms. Perhaps next time, I’ll look into placing an additional stone feature on top to obscure the meeting point.

Thematically speaking, I wanted the map to be a display of wealth; after all, this was the laboratory at the centre of his maze. So, I dedicated some of the rooms to display statues, paintings, and rugs. Similarly, the room at the centre I wanted to be open and luxurious. When I was that there was a pipe organ in the asset pack, well, how could I not put that right there? How classical, to have your main enemy play dramatic organ music as you approach the final room! Furthermore, I tried to use some chandeliers to emphasize the sheer luxury of the place.

I learned how to work shadows a little better, so the shadows for the walls are less oppressive but present enough to make them pop out of the map visually. Similarly, I toned down the transparency of regular shadows for objects so I could layer them more carefully. I tried to keep the pooling of shadows for larger objects that are in corners, or taller structures such as the little cabinat of jars in the alchemical laboratory with the magical circle.

Another thing that went much better on this map was my use of layers. For the past maps, I consistently messed that up as I either kept mostly everything on the same layer or at some point switched to the “above wall” layer and would forget to switch back. This time, everything is consistently layered, with objects on top of others (such as the things on top of tables) being on a layer higher than the others. This has allowed me to create more specified layers of objects, such as the chandeliers on top of everything else, or a shadow below the frame on the rack yet on top of the rack itself.

I think, overall, I reached a happy medium of having objects in rooms yet not having them be overfilled. For some rooms I think that worked out incredibly well, such as the bathing room at the top-left: it’s sparse but clearly communicates what it is and what’s happening. For other rooms, such as the kitchen in the bottom right, I think it looks too static. On the one hand, it made sense to keep a central walkway empty (you’d need it to walk from one door to the next, or go from the table to the stove) but it also pushed most of the objects to two parallel lines around the central walkway.

A final thing that still needs improvement that I don’t know how to handle well is incorporating a secret door directly. I think it worked really well behind the throne, because the throne itself mostly obscures the door. However, clearly, in the bathroom in the middle, the secret door is not secret in the slightest. I did enjoy that room, because it’s so out-of-place: having facilities in a place isn’t that strange but why would there be a skeleton there? Of all place you could pass away, the bathroom is it!? Also, I greatly enjoyed making the place with the secret door the bathroom. I mean, who’d figure that that’s where this wise wizard would put such a secret?

In any case, below you can find the version of the map without lighting applied:

The version of the map without lighting effects

My preferred version, however, is the very dark version:

The version of the map as I imagine it: dark, dank, and foreboding

I figured out a trick I’m quite happy with with the fireplace in the kitchen at the bottom right: the fireplace itself wasn’t set to block light, because I needed the fire to be on top of that. However, I realized I could put an invisible wall on top of it and set that to block light and, voilá! It works quite nicely. Next time, I’ll make sure to move the wall back a little on the corner, as light wouldn’t bend off exactly that straight but for now it’s a nice touch. I think it will also work quite nicely on tables in the future, when I want to have the tablelegs block light but not the top itself necessarily.

For a full-sized version of this map, the version I posted over in Reddit is available: