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:

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.