Heroquest Battlemap #3: The Orc Lord’s Stronghold

Well, I guess making Dungeondraft maps of Heroquest adventures is going to be a regular thing! This time, the differences between the Dutch and UK texts were quite big, and that was really interesting. Moreover, I keep seeing people making both day and nighttime versions of their maps, so I figured I’d give that a go as well. It’s been another educational process, that’s for sure! I’ll keep to the same post structure for consistency, as it’s been working for me so far.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

A first glance at both versions of the map gives a couple of hints as to what kind of structure we can imagine here. However, once again there are some minor changes made between the US and EU versions that puzzle me. Below are both maps side-by-side for reference.

As you can see, aside from the greater number of monsters in the US version, the second room’s table is placed centrally in the US map. Secondly, there’s a pit trap next to the chest in the final room; however, in the Dutch version the final chest itself is trapped, so that is fairly equivalent. I did notice, interestingly enough, that the EU version uses the cave-in map tile for both cave-ins as well as dungeon walls but it appears the US version had a dedicated wall tile. Now that should help distinguish the two a little more in the future!

A larger view of the Dutch version of the map.

The order of the rooms in the map seem a little curious to me, however. The top right is an entry hallway, which makes sense, but then it leads directly into what appears to be a dining room, given that there is a big old hearth in the next room over (suggesting that might be a kitchen). Another interpretation could be that it’s a guard room followed by a barracks but then I’d wonder where these people get their food! Let alone that such a prominent table in a guard room seems a little counter-intuitive. I’d have placed some smaller tables and some weapon racks there to enable people to respond swiftly. So, let’s say it’s a dining room followed by a kitchen.

Down the hallway and around the corner we then find an armory. That makes sense to me: you’d want a good place to store weaponry but have it a little out of the way so that invaders don’t just take all your weapons the second they get in. Across the hall from what we’ve now deemed the kitche nis a separate set of rooms. A small entry way, a sizeable room with a cabinet, an empty room, and finally Ulag’s room followed by a small treasury. To me, these really seem connected into a solid little living area. In fact, the first thought that pops to my mind is an office space: a little hallway, a waiting room, some offices, and then the boss’ office with attached private facilities (though I haven’t yet added lavatories to my maps).

So, this time, the map is quite evocative—hooray! The main question is how to flavor this map. Is this a dungeon? A cave? An old, decayed temple the orcs are squatting in? There’s plenty of options, though I’d argue the structure of the rooms suggest a measure of intentionality. For a good prompt, I next turned to the flavor text.

Information from the flavor text

Oh, what lovely deviations we see between the texts this time! Have a gander at both below:

As before, I’ll provide a quick translation of the Dutch version:

The Stronghold of the Orc-General

Prince Magnus has given the order to find and kill the Orc-General Ulag, as he was responsible for the kidnapping of Sir Ragnar. Whomever kills Ulag will be rewarded with 100 gold coins. If you find treasures in Ulag’s stronghold, you may keep these.

My translation of the Dutch original flavor text.

And here is a more legible version of the English text:

A larger version of the US flavor text

Like last time, the Dutch version assumes Sir Ragnar was “kidnapped” rather than “imprisoned” (or “captured”, in the previous map), and again the “Orc Warlord” is called “Ork-Veldheer“, which could equally be “general”, “commander”, or “warlord”.

This time, however, the English version uses quite biased language to push the players. The Orc Warlord is in a “lair” (though later referred to as a “stronghold”), a place for wild animals or criminals, and the players are asked to seek out and “destroy” him, again reducing Ulag to an animal (euthanizing rabid or stray animals is sometimes referred to as “destroying” as well). So, essentially, one of then fourteen quests Mentor has set to put the adventurers on the path to become true Heroes is basically a revenge killing. You know, I’m less surprised now that Zargon/Morcar, Mentor’s previous pupil, turned to evil.

The Dutch version has some interesting differences. Unlike the US text, the Dutch version consistently refers to the place where Ulag is as a “vesting“, which is a fortification, keep, or stronghold. Give n that the word “stronghold” is also used in the US version in-text, I’ve chosen to take that as the canon interpretation. This works well given my previous map, where I also chose to make the map into a warcamp rather than an underground dungeon. Making this map into an above-ground, constructed area would be consistent.

I also noticed a smaller thing in the text, which doesn’t specifically affect the mapmaking proces but I thought was funny to include at this point. The English version points out that “any treasure found . . . may be kept by the finder alone”, setting up some manner of PvP sentiment to the game; the Dutch text, on the other hand, just states that if you find treasures in there, you can keep these. Essentially, you just get permission to loot the place as you execute the Prince’s plans. I wonder why the US version chose to introduce that little PvP aspect here.

Either way, regardless of that little side-note, I now had enough information to create the final maps.

Translation into a final map

Knowing that I wanted to make this map into an above-ground structure, and that this was supposed to be the stronghold of a general, I wanted a stone structure this time. Strongholds or keeps are usually built on fortifiable places, so I figured a nice cliff-side structure would be quite a nice view. As well, earlier I’d remarked that the map seemed to consist of two separate structures (dining & armory versus offices), so I figured that the hallway would be an outside space. Seeing as how I chose to put the structure on the side of a cliff, a parapet with crenellated walls functioning as a balcony seemed quite suitable.

This time, I had to resist the urge to go far off-map. The original map doesn’t have any barracks or places for bathrooms, which makes me wonder whether they just do their business out on the parapet and sleep under tables! I chose to assume that this was just the keep, and there’d be some more rooms down the pathway to the north. Alternatively, I could have added a stairwell down at the bottom right of that hallway, and suggested a second level that would have had plenty of space for whatever practicalities are needed.

Given how often I see maps posted in a daytime and nighttime version, I wanted to try my hand at the same thing to see how that would affect the map. Below are small versions of the map for a quick comparison:

It’s intersting how the daylight version looks flat and muted in its colors compared to the nighttime version, which is more lively with its various colors of light and lighting conditions. However, in setting up the nighttime version, I did run into some challenges that I don’t quite know how to solve yet. Dungeondraft mostly deals well with light and blocking light, as the light is kept clearly within each room and yet allowed to shine through windows. However, there are some moments where I would want some shadow casting, such as in the room in the bottom left. The chairs in front of the fireplace would trail some shadow behind them, but the standard “block light” option in Dungeondraft either has them fully lit or fully darkened (compare to the objects in the little workplace at the top-right).Just before uploading, I was editing up the windows in the nighttime version, as they were blowing light. I notice that during that editing, I moved some of the shadows to the desk at the bottom right.

The solution, I think, would be to later more and more shadows behind the objects manually. At that point, though, I wonder if I should rather learn how to do some post-processing in a separate program like Gimp. While layering shadows in Dungeondraft would work, these would also only be soft shadows. The reason is that the “shadows” I use in Dungeondraft, Krager’s Shadow & Light Pack, are actually just little (parts of) circles with various transparencies and fall-off that you can color. Hard shadows, like those that should be cast from the tablelegs in the dining room, for instance, wouldn’t be possible with these.

This time, I also tried to create more depth in the map as a whole. I tried to create three separate levels in there: the water level below, a ground level for most of the map, and a cliff level that the keep itself is situated on. I added small shadows and bits of moss on certain parts of the cliff asset I used to defined the rock outcropping in the hopes of making more depth to that image. Overall, I think that made the cliff pop a little more, and I’m happy with how that worked out.

A slightly larger version of the daytime map.

The great thing about this map was that more and more became clear as I was building it. After finishing the upper area of the stronghold, the lower area suddenly started becoming more of a story: there was the small hallway where visitors would be checked, followed by a little waiting room. Beyond the waiting room would be a private discussion area for individual talks; of course, you’d want that to be a little impressive, so there’s paintings on the wall, a statue in the corner, and a big moose-head on the wall to emphasize his hunting prowess. Finally, there’s the study with a big meeting room ready to go (agenda’s laid out, and breadsticks provided). The more I constructed this, the more alive the map became.

A slightly larger version of the nighttime map.

The dark version of the map, by contrast, almost looks cozy. Particularly that room on the bottom-left looks like a place where Ulag would invite his confidants for a late-night talk over a good cup of tea. That little table and chair that I’d idly put in the upper-right room suddenly is a calm spot where the night sentry reads a book during the quiet hours. The parapet turns from a bleak little passageway to a place to huddle by the fire as you stare wistfully out at the lake.

I’ve learned a lot from making this map, and I’m quite pleased with the outcome. If you’d like to see a full-sized version of the map, you can find this over at the Reddit post I made about it:

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

Playing Around with Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft

The past few days I’ve been enjoying playing around with my two new pieces of mapmaking software. It’s been really fun to work directly on something that I can also use in my RPG sessions. I’ve tended to have general ideas of what I’d want in maps but I currently lack the drawing skills to realize those ideas. These pieces of software have allowed me to sidestep that part with nice results.

Wonderdraft

I’ve been working bit-by-bit on the map for my Burning Wheel campaign, slowly adding a thing here or there. The first version can be found in this post. However, since then, I’ve updated it, both based on what happened in Session 1 as well as just my growing understanding of the software.

Figure 1: The campaign map for my Burning France campaign

It’s rather empty by design, as I want the players to have the freedom to create the world through play. I’m quite pleased with the coloring so far, and the mixing of foothills and mountains.

Dungeondraft

In Dungeondraft, I haven’t been creating things that I can use directly, as I’ve been making small vignettes to practice with the software. It would be interesting to see whether I can make use of them somewhere in the future, though. The second map I’ve made in this software gave me a chance to try a little environmental storytelling:

Figure 2: I tried to use the objects to make the whole scene look a little bit more active, suggesting recent use.

I’m fairly happy with the objects in this map; I feel like there are enough to make it varied, but not so many that it looks cluttered. Furthermore, I tried to make the scene as a whole suggestive of far more through the use of the objects themselves. What I think could use improvements is the muddy little courtyard – it’s quite plain so far, and next time I would like to improve it by adding more clutter in that part. Perhaps some differently colored sections, a splash of water on the ground suggesting recent rain, or some hoofprints would have been good.

Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft

Yesterday, I went ahead and bought both Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft as well. I’ve mostly played around with Wonderdraft right now, because it will be more immediately useful to my Burning Wheel campaign. I can tell you, it is tremendous fun to be playing around with it! My first experiences are really positive, as just in the first ten minutes of figuring out what options and settings are, I already managed to make a map that looks fairly decent. And that’s just with ten minutes of messing around!

While I’m not running any battlemat-focused games right now, I was thinking of using Dungeondraft to make some set pieces to spark people’s imagination. After all, a general inn or a house image, or depiction of a wilderness scene can help spark as many roleplaying ideas as a solid description could. On top of that, the visual storytelling as well can serve to be evocative for players as well.

Installing the two made me fix some things I’d been sleeping on for a while too regarding my laptop; for a while now, my Bumblebee service was bugging out (pun intended), which means that my discrete videocard (an NVIDIA card) wasn’t being used and my laptop ran purely on the Intel integrated videocard. That meant that both Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft would not run well at all, so that gave me an impetus to finally fix that as well. Now, I have some flexibility on where I can start mapping!

Cool Tools I Want To Get

Over the past weeks, with the repeated delays in starting up my Burning Wheel campaign due to personal situations of various people, I’ve been looking around more and more to prepping tools for tabletop RPG sessions. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how much has been developed in recent years, and the sheer quality of what’s been put out there. There are three products in particular that I’m looking forward to getting, once we have some spare disposable cash earmarked for hobby expenses.

Wonderdraft

The first is Wonderdraft, which is a mapmaking software package that is less complex and expensive than something like Campaign Cartographer 3+ but more full-featured than something like Inkarnate. I enjoy an evocative worldmap that helps focus players’ imaginations at the table. Or, alternatively, validates it retroactively by starting with an empty map that gets filled in as the players’ progress in a game. While I’ve been enjoying slowly learning to draw, for one my skills are nowhere near the point where I can confidently create handmade maps nor would it be possible at a pace that is practical even if I did have the ability to do so. This software looks like a great solution to more quickly create regional maps. I’ve seen some interesting examples of people using it to make maps of entire regions, such as this video:

The creator of this video recreates a 20-hour Photoshop map in Wonderdraft in the span of about two hours.

And I’ve also seen somebody use the software to create a detailed village:

This video is a little odd, as it’s an unedited, no-commentary example of using Wonderdraft to make a village map, but I’m impressed at how much the artist achieves in just one hour with the software.

Dungeondraft

Relatively recently, the creator of Wonderdraft, Megasploot, has released a companion piece of software to Wonderdraft called Dungeondraft. Apparently, the software itself is reminiscent of Wonderdraft in operation but is focused on creation battlemaps or more localized, zoomed-in maps. For me, there were always two major blocks to running a Pathfinder style game, which were balancing encounters and providing the detailed maps needed for miniature battling. This software seems to make basic map creation almost trivial, and with practice could even allow for the creation of beautifully intricate maps. The creator’s trailer provides a lovely overview of some maps:

This is the trailer made by the creator of Dungeondraft

Foundry VTT

Lastly, as far as a Virtual Tabletop System goes, I discovered Foundry VTT recently. Roll20 has long-since been the staple of my online tabletop RPG experience, but it’s always felt very dated and clunky in its controls. Foundry is a much-needed update to this type of experience. However, what I appreciate more than anything is that it’s a self-hosted, one-time payment solution to tabletop hosting. On top of that, it’s modular, so it’s easily expandable; apparently, people have created many modules for the system, so there’s a lovely open market of expansions out there. To be honest, I’m just astounded by how many options there are:

The anniversary overview of Foundry VTT

Conclusion

I’m quite excited to get some of these pieces of software, but I’ll have to do this in steps for sure. Foundry VTT runs at $50; Wonderdraft at $30; and Dungeondraft at $20. So, all in all, it’s a $100 pricetag (or €87 for us). While that seems like a pretty reasonable price for everything included in each piece of software, I’m not willing to spend €87 on a hobby right now. So, I’ll have to see if we can pick up some extra money through our company that justifies such a luxury expenditure, so that I can start playing around with it. I figure it may make the most sense to purchase Foundry first, followed by Wonderdraft, and finally Dungeondraft. The latter two are great additions to a VTT experience, but you’d want to have a good VTT experience to begin with. While I could import Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft images into Roll20, of course, it does seem like putting the cart in front of the horse.