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:

Heroquest Battlemap #4: Prince Magnus’ Gold

This week was a tough one to make the next Dungeondraft map of a Heroquest adventure. On Thursday, I started feeling poorly, and I pretty much spent all weekend drained of energy. Aside from being covered in blankets and cats while binge-watching things that didn’t need much attention, I went to work whenever I reached a little oasis of energy. In the end, I think I can do better than what I’ve produced but making the map has taught me a good deal once more, so I don’t regret making it. On top of that, I’m reminding myself that it’s more important to make a thing than it is to not make it.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

As I’ve started to get used to, the US versions of the Heroquest maps just seem to have more detail in them. Aside from the fact that they consistently have more monsters in the entire map, the NL versions just seem to leave out objects for some reason. Most of the rooms in the rop of the map in the NL version just don’t have any objects, even though they were absolutely available as items in the box set.

This map is essentially a large spiral to the central room, which to me gives it something of an organic feel—after all, who would design a building like this when you could be far more efficient about it? On top of that, there’s some odd hallways that lead nowhere that reinforce that organic feel for me. So, this might be a cave, or perhaps temple ruins that have been retaken by nature, or something along those lines.

The Dutch map, being so empty of detail, makes for a very tough basis for interpretation. There’s just a sequence of rooms, one of which has a table in it. There seems to me little rhyme or reason to it. The US map also has an empty room or two, but there is more purpose there. After the first generic “room with a table” in the bottom left, we seem to reach a more consistent area. There’s a room with a torture rack across the hall from a very small room with a trap outside. To me, immediately that seems like a little jail cell to keep your future torture victims. Past an empty room, there’s a little cabinet in a room with a secret door. What better place to keep a secret door than behind some crates in a storage room? The secret door gives entrance to the true inner sanctum: a place with a hearth (so, less likely to be a cave), and then the treasure room with a whole pile of monsters.

The entire thing reads like a pretty standard encounter of a gang of monsters that have a hideout somewhere that you have to battle through.

Information from the flavor text

This time, the NL and US versions of the text actually largely agree:

A larger version of the US flavor text

Prince Magnus’s Gold

Three treasure chests have been stolen while being transported to the King. A reward of 200 gold pieces has been issued for the person who returns the chests with all the gold. The perpetrators are suspected of being a gang of Orcs hiding in the Black Mountains. They are led by Gulthor, a Chaos Warrior.

My translation of the Dutch version of the text.

Aside from the Dutch text being a little more individualistic than the US text, and the US text offering a higher reward (along with the usual King vs Emperor difference, the stories are pretty much the same. The Dutch version offers a little doubt (they are “suspected” of being the thieves, whereas the English text knows for sure).

So, we have clarity on the nature of the map, at least: this is in the Black Mountains. I’ve been wanting to do a cave map for a while, as I’ve just not done these before and it seems like an interesting new style to try out. On top of that, for the previous two maps regarding Orcs, I made structured war camps for rounded characters. This time, let’s lean in to the “lair” aspect described in the US text and make it a thieves’ hideout.

Before moving on to the mapping itself, I wanted to comment on a funny little difference in the quest instructions: the US version simply provides the instruction that players cannot take the gold for themselves—it’s just not a move they can make. The Dutch version, on the other hand, states that if a player comes up with the idea of taking the gold for themselves, they can never become a True Hero. How harsh! Sure, you can continue risking your life throughout all these murder quests we send you on, but we won’t give you a medal at the end!

Translation into a final map

A main thing I wanted to practice with this map was making a cave encounter. I’ve not made one before, so it was interesting to try and work out how to do this exactly. Dungeondraft does have a cave building feature but that can be a little tricky to use. On top of that, it fits the very specific Dungeondraft aesthetic, which doesn’t match with the Crosshead assets that I’m using for this.

I struggled with quite a few things in making this map. Firstly, the terrain was tricky to get right. I wanted to have a dark dirt cover the floors but the only dirt I have was quite light colored. So, in the end, I had to turn on soft blending of terrains and layer two rocky terrains together with the dirt, after which I covered it with a 25% opacity black pattern tile to darken it. I’m not too happy with how it turned out but it does work.

The second thing that was quite educational was using paths to make the walls of the cave. Crosshead assets offer about half a dozen different cliff and cave path tools, including a set of three that are increasingly dark so that you can layer them. It took quite some fiddling with the pathing tool to try and get these paths working correctly so that I ended up with roughly the right size to all the rooms and they looked like they connected naturally.

Once I layed them all out, I realized it would have been much nicer to use the three layers of the pathed cliffs to make three depths of the cave. I could have used the top layer in the first two rooms and switched over halfway in the south hallway, then had the rooms on the left with two path layers to indicate one level down, switching over to the third layer after the secret door in the storage to indicate the sanctum sanctorum being at the bottom. However, at that point, I’d already spent quite some time working out all these paths and I wasn’t keen on redoing everything with my woozy head.

So, moving on with what I had, I decided on two key words for a style for this map: sparse and askew. This is a gang of orcs hiding away in a set of caves, so they won’t have too much around. Moreover, they’re probably on the run, so they don’t have much going for them. Probably, they steal what they can, sell things off when they can, and stay on the move as much as they can. Based on that, I decided those empty rooms were mostly barracks, that their storage wasn’t very full, and that most things they had were either stolen goods or things easy to take on the move.

The only things that makes this odd is the inclusion of a torture room and a prison, though I guess the gang also does kidnappings where needed, and the inclusion of a furnace in the map. In hindsight, I think I should have put down a grill there rather than a full furnace. Not only is it absolutely crazy to have a full furnace in a cave system (where does that smoke go?! Where’s the smoke stack?), if this is a gang on the move, then how are they taking along a furnace? Well, I’ll chalk that one down to feeling poorly and not being on the ball.

In any case, without further ado, my considerations led me to the following map:

The small version of Prince Magnus’ Gold

Maybe one day I’ll go back to this and make a better version.

EDIT 2022.03.01: A few people have been asking for a higher-resolution version of this map, so I’ve uploaded a whole set to /r/heroquest along with all the others, which you can find below:

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.