Heroquest Battlemap #12: The Witch-Lord’s Barrow

I skipped making one of these maps the last week, as I couldn’t really get into the groove of it. Fortunately, this weekend, I felt inspired to head back into this and create a new Heroquest Dungeondraft map I can feel proud of!

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

This time, the two maps are once again largely similar. A minor difference can be found in the top-right, where the US version includes a reason to actually go down that hallway by adding another fake door and a trap.

That little stone trap at the top-left is meant to cut off the heroes, so that they have to proceed through the map. This makes a lot of sense, as the central room, marked B, already has the item that the players are supposed to find , so there’d be little reason to proceed from there. The idea is that the players then keep exploring until they accidentally wake up the Witch Lord in D, which requires them to flee quickly. This sets up the next two adventures, combining all these into a final trilogy for the base game. Interestingly enough, if players were very careful, they could actually find the secret door in the central room, explore that hallway, find the two secret doors in the next two rooms, and escape without ever waking the Witch Lord!

Thematically, the map appears to be a decayed tomb set up just for the Witch Lord. Nearly all of the monsters involved are mummies, skeletons, or zombies, and there is little other purpose to the structure other than to lead to the tomb. Given that the Witch Lord was apparently such a fearful enemy, I’d wonder who would bother to set up such a tomb in honor of them. Particularly given the idea that the Witch Lord wakes up as soon as the heroes enter this room, you’d imagine that either an enemy would bury the Witch Lord so deep they could never be found or their allies would try to resurrect them as soon as possible!

The number of secret doors involved to get in and get out suggest that this might be set up by the Witch Lord enemies to contain them. Similarly the rooms at the top right have a number of traps set up, so clearly the people who built this didn’t particularly want people going through here. However, the rooms at the top right are now also closed already, so the place has probably fallen into massive disrepair and has been repurposed.

Particularly given that the Witch Lord’s actual tomb is hidden behind secret doors, I enjoy the idea that the top-left rooms have been used by people who had no idea that the Witch Lord was even here. Perhaps as a small hideaway or a rest area. The monsters here could then actually be just poor unfortunate souls who died here and were resurrected by the Witch Lord, powerful enough even in their torpor to awaken the dead.

That would flavor most of the map as being broken and decayed, with the top-left being repurposed at times. Given that the Witch Lord will have reanimated lost souls, it would be interesting if the bottom left could be a place of worship, as the reawakened corpses would tend to the Witch Lord until they wake once more.

All this provides some good hooks to hang a map from!

Information from the flavor text

This time around, the NL text has a bunch of additional information that isn’t found in the US text anymore. This may very well have been a licensing issue, with references to Games Workshop material spread throughout; however, I know too little of that to make the distinction.

An interesting difference between the NL and US version is in the word used to describe this place. The Dutch uses “Laatste Rustplaats” which translates to “Final Resting Place”—a common phrasing for a burial site, with the usual euphemistic connotations common to words connected to death. It’s a curious choice, as there is a more accurate Dutch word, namely “grafheuvel” (“grave-hill”). Barrows were quite common in the Netherlands from prehistoric times all the way up to Roman times, so historically it wouldn’t be that odd to use and thematically it would match the connotations of the word “barrow” far better: ancient, old, and mysterious.

In fact, the Netherlands has a large number of neolithic barrows, belonging to the tradition of hunebedden found in the Netherlands, north-west Germany, and Denmark. These are structures like dolmen, which would be a large cover stone on top of two supporting stones. Often, there´d be a barrow underneath these. The myth in the Netherlands is that these are constructed by huyne, a race of large giants. The likely reality, of course, is that these are large stones brought down from Scandinavia in the last ice age, which were then used as markers for burial sites. The Dutch word hunebed“, though, has a more quaint connotation than “barrow”, so I can understand why that would not be a preferred translation.

A Larger version of the US text

Barak Tor-Final Resting Place of the Witchmaster

There is a threat of war with the Orcs of the East and the King is trying to find allies to survive the possible battle. For this, he must find the ancient Star of the West, which was carried by legendary kings and by Rogar when, in centuries long past, he fought Morcar. Whomever finds the gemstone will be rewarded with 200 gold pieces. The diamond is located in Barak Tor, the last resting place of the Witchmaster. Better known as the King of the Dead and long since contained by the Ghost Blade. The Ghost Blade is the only weapon that can defeat him.

My translation of the NL text

As far as the texts themselves go, the Dutch text just adds some detail by mentioning somebody called Rogar who supposedly fought Morcar (Zargon in the US version). Also, unlike the US version, the Dutch version specifies that the Star of the West is a gemstone and specifically a diamond at that. I translated “heksenmeester” as “Witchmaster”, but “meester” could equally be translated “master” as well as “lord”, so there’s little change there. The Dutch word does imply that this is a ruler of witches, rather than one with mastery of witchcraft. Another new specification can be found in the Dutch, identifying the Witch Master as the “King of the Dead”. That epithet would explain the preponderance of undead in the map.

Either way, what the flavor text tells us is that this is an ancient structure. The word “barrow” suggests something neolithic in origin, and the Dutch text identifies the Star of the West as having been worn by kings of legend, which also suggest events of quite a long time ago. The proposed image of an old, decayed crypt seems to fit quite well, then.

Translating into a final map

I wanted to emphasize two key aspects in this map: firstly, I wanted there to be an overall sense of oppression and decay; and, secondly, I wanted to make sure that two areas were highlighted: the stairwell and the actual tomb. By emphasizing these two key features, I figure that the touchstones of the quest will really pop out.

I stuck to my earlier idea that the top-right would be a repurposed area. The first room shows evidence of a previous party that camped out here and were murdered in their sleep. The room in the middle, which used to be some manner of welcome area, leads to what has at a later point in time been repurposed as a speakeasy bar. I just loved the idea of some weird thieves’ gang or a group of hipsters deciding to build a secret bar in a tomb of horrible evil. Further in the secret areas, however, we see remains of a more serious settlement. The tomb has a waiting area, a place to perform ablutions to the right, and the tomb itself is clean and candle-lit (where do they get the candles? . . . magic). A ruined area after suggests this used to keep records, histories, or other such administration. Lastly, I imagined that the final room was the room of a warden or caretaker. Perhaps, at one point in history, the barrow was watched over by some cleric or monk, dedicated to discover a way to dispose of the Witch Lord for good?

Lighting-wise, I choose to overlay a dull grey darkness, to add to the oppressive feel. Only the stairwell shows a clear light from above, which should form a stark contrast to the rest of the dungeon (and a relief once seen again at the end!). Similarly, the tomb will really pop due to the lit candles surrounding it. The heroes only needed to recover a gemstone but suddenly they see a fully-lit catafalque? Such a bier would hopefully draw the players’ interest.

Aside from that, I wanted to make sure to place a lot of rubble throughout the map, along with a multitude of smudges and shadows to help darken sections. There are two very small details to be found in the maps, only with careful inspection at a zoomed-in level. Each location of secret doors actually has a very thin line on the floor to indicate the walls being moved, as a reward for an attentive player. Similarly, the spear traps actually have small pointed tips on the walls that a perceptive player might spot as a clue.

The final map for Barrow of the Witch Lord. I wanted it to look dark and oppressive, so I adjusted the light to a darkish grey.

The small map above may give a bit of an indication of the feel of the overall map, but I can recommend looking at the larger version in the Reddit post:

Watabou Hex Map Experiment #6

I’d made this map a while ago but hadn’t gotten around to posting about it yet. After a bit of repair of some things I forgot, I can now post this Wonderdraft remake of another Watabou Perilous Shores map.

The original Perilos Shores Generated Map

I liked the large format of this map, and the great number of trees on it. What would be a challenge is those dead trees, as I don’t have an asset for those yet. I ended up choosing to use regular trees but to color them a sickly brown to indicate dead trees. To create more variation, I also tried to color the other oaks with some yellows and reds to create a bit more of a fall look to the map as a whole.

The other thing that I’m practicing right now is making the labels look nicer. For the region label, I chose a Torchbearer style with orange lettering surrounded by a dark red outline, in a font that is reminiscent of that style as well. For the forests and mountains, I tried using a darker font with a light outline, and to vary with the sizes and spacing to indicate major and minor locations. Overall, I think it came out quite nicely, with lots of detail that doesn’t look to cluttered either.

My Wonderdraft version of the map

I uploaded both maps to imgur, so for large versions you should be able to click the maps themselves.

Heroquest Battlemap #11: The Bastion of Dread

While I’m still struggling to find a good way to make the full-sized versions of these maps available on this site, I went ahead and made the next Heroquest Dungeondraft map. Quest 11 is a happy return to a more cohesive map, as opposed to Quest 10‘s wacky concept.

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

The NL and US maps this week are almost similar, which is quite surprising! Both the number of enemies as well as the number of traps are identical, which hasn’t happened much. In fact, nearly all details in the maps are the same, with the exception of the left-most hallway being slightly longer in the US version (probably for purely visual reasons).

The maps show an interesting division of labor. There are quite some goblins and orcs on the map, with a few chaos warriors. In most cases, the chaos warriors appear to be in some manner of adminstrative position: there is one near the throne in the center of the map; one in the mid-left next to an alchemy table; one to the right near a cabinet; and one next to the weapons rack. It seems like the chaos warriors here are the administrative or ruling arm of the map. The fimirs, by contrast, are only present in the top-left, in the two adjoining rooms next to the torture room. It seems that the fimirs, then, are used as some kind of muscle or police force. Lastly, the orcs and goblins are spread out throughout the map, so they appear to some form of working class in this structure.Information from the flavor text

This division of labor helps us establish themes for the individual structures. It seems like the three top-left rooms, then, are some manner of policing area. Torture chamber to interrogate prisoners, along with a room for a bailiff or reeve, next to a storage area. The bottom right appears to be a bit of a mix: weapons storage at the bottom-left, general storage top-left, and an empty room bottom-right of that cluster. Overall, I imagine this to be a workspace/storage mix, hence the need for both admin and workers. Lastly, the bottom-left appears to host most of the goblins and orcs. It makes sense, given that this is a bastion, that this is where most of the front-liners would be. So, probably, this is a guard room, entrance, along with rest area. The top-left of that little block would probably be a lieutenant or other such administrator. That, of course, leaves the central room for overall admin and control.

Overall, this map has a very strong organizational feel to me. It’s almost like a central office area to administrate a small municipality (well, aside from the torture chamber, I’d sincerely hope). Overall, I tend to enjoy humanizing these maps in any case, so it might be a fun thing to lean into for this map.

Information from the flavor text

The two texts are mostly the same, being an announcement of a bounty for the murder of multiple creatures in this defensive structure. As always, there are the slight differences due to the trademark change (Chaos versus Dread), but those are largely irrelevant.

There’s an interesting word difference between the NL and US version as to what this place should be called. The NL version uses the word “Bolwerk“, which is cognate with English “Bulwark”. In fact, the English “bulwark” comes from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German “bolwerk”, which is itself composed of “bole”, a word for tree trunks, and “work”, to indicate structures or constructions. This is an old word to indicate defensive structures like walls or ramparts. The US version, by contrast, uses “Bastion”, which is French in origin, coming from the Old French “bastille” meaning “fortress”.

A larger version of the US text

The Bulwark of Chaos

The eastern provinces are plagued by plundering Orcs and Kobolds. The King has ordered a group of brave heroes to journey there and destroy these robbers. The orcs are holed up in a strong underground fort, named The Bulwark of Chaos. They are led by a small group of Chaos Warriors. Ye must fight your way inside and kill all monsters that you meet. You will receive the following bounties for this: 10 gold pieces for any slain Kobold, 20 gold pieces for any slain Orc, 30 gold pieces for any slain Fimir or Chaos Warrior.

My translation of the NL text

The core meaning of both texts are pretty much identical: the King sends out adventurers to collect on a set of bounties placed on bandits’ heads. A curious difference, though, is that the US text makes sure to note that the bandits have allied themselves with Zargon, which should give an excuse as to why the heroes are fine to go out and murder all of them in cold blood. The NL text, however, makes no mention of alliance to Morcar. For the NL version, the heroes should just be motivated by pure greed and bloodlust. Yikes!

The text does confirm our interpretation of the map, as it explicitly lists that a group of Chaos/Dread Warriors lead the others. So, interestingly, while this is a group of bandits, they have a formalized administrative structure, as well as a fortified base of operations. So, unlike previous bands of roaming orcs that we’ve featured in maps, now we’re dealing with a far more militaristic operation. This will be good to translate into the final map!

Translating into a final map

I was very much looking forward to making this map, as there were so many good ideas to put in there. I loved the idea of on the one hand making this a militaristic operation and on the other hand humanizing it through some basic office features.

The militaristic nature of it can be seen in a few places: the group of rooms at the bottom-left are quite functional in nature: the entrance room is dark and defended, because the creatures of the dark will have the advantage over heroes sneaking in from above. There is a small guard room to the right, and a rest area to the left, to facilitate shifts. Similarly, the area on the bottom-right is functional and spartan: storage and organization form the key here. The top right is also filled with administrative items to emphasize the utility.

Each place, however, is also tinged with office life. The rooms on the botom-left have guards slacking off and playing cards in the middle room, and there’s some flags from somebody’s birthday party two months ago still hanging in the rest area (an office staple, that). The top-left area has a little roped-off waiting area where you have to register before being allowed to see the bailiff, who can interview you before you’re allowed in to the prison area. Similarly, the central room has some snacks laid out for all those late afternoon planning sessions in the throne room. Somebody has to prepare those snacks, so of course you’d have the kitchen nearby to the right.

Giving this little map some life has been tremendously fun by bringing in those little details. I also took some cues from previous map, and I laid in some stones and moss here and there to bring a little variation in the hallways to break up the monotony. The only thing I was wondering about was whether I should put torches in the hallways at regular distances, but when I thought about it I realized it would distract from the rooms themselves. On top of that, since most of the creatures in here would see fairly well in the dark, I figured it wouldn’t be that necessary.

The final map for The Bastion of Dread. I chose to keep it relatively dark to make the map feel more oppressive. I’m quite happy with the fun little details in this one!

It’d be a shame to miss all these little details, so for a larger version of this map, you can look at the Reddit post about it:

Watabou Hex Map Experiment #5

I’ve been continuing my Watabou Hex Map practice every other day or so, and I’m really pleased with the Wonderdraft tricks I’m learning from doing this. Perilous Shores gave me a basic outline of the Anthir Lakes, a region that is oppressed, dark, and dangerous. I took the prompts to really focus on creating a grungy, dirty-looking map.

I’m very happy with the dark, grungy nature of this map. It looks like a terrible place to live but a great place to adventure

The entire map is shaded with a brown tone, and I focused on getting greens in the map, including in the water tone, so that the two colors combined would create a gross-feeling tone to the map as awhole. Among all the places on this map with their dark themes, I love that the central village is called “Rabbitway”, a bizarrely friendly-sounding name.

Another aspect I enjoy about this map is the brown color I’ve given to the pines that were marked as dead trees on the Watabou map. Without having a dedicated dead tree asset, I think this was a nice compromise that ended up adding to the dark nature of the map as a whole.

Heroquest Battlemap #10: The Castle of Mystery

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

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

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

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

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

Information from the flavor text

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

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

A larger version of the US text

The Magic Castle

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

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

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

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

Translating into a final map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watabou Hex Map Experiment #4

I’ve made another Wonderdraft version of a Watabou Perilous Shore map. This time, setting it for a medium-sized land area with highland features. That resulted in the Bassland:

The original Perilous Shores generated map

Every time I’ve been doing this, I’ve gotten faster at the basics of map-making—experience paying off! Previously, I’d exported the Watabou map and worked with the .png file as a reference; this time, however, while I did export it, I kept the Watabou-generated map up as reference. This helped me discover a cool little feature in Perilous Shores: there are actually more named areas than the legend would suggest! By clicking around the map, I discovered that most little areas actually were named.

That gave me more opportunities to inidividually label mountains, forests, and a few mountain peaks directly, and experiment with the placement of titles like those. It was quite interesting working out what I would want different in naming a large mountain range such as the Mountains of Crosses versus a small range such as the Strong Ridge. On top of that, two peaks had individual names: the Hill of Stones and the Sand Peak. So that gave me three total types of mountainous areas to label differently. Another interesting challenge to explore is that the Outer Forest and the or Woods differ so massively in size, so their titling would have to be differentiated somehow. In the end, I made sure to use the same fonts and colors but differentiate in size, spacing, and outline thickness for clarity.

My Wonderdraft version of the map

A thing that I hadn’t figured out how to add comfortably to this composition is a compass rose. The map is so filled with elements that the only place to reasonably add it with some visibility was in the top-right corner just above the Dunes of Savage Fear and to the left of the Whispering Downs. However, that put it on such an odd spot in the map that it seemed disruptive rather than cohesive. As I’d already wanted to add the measurement to the bottom-left, I didn’t really have much other map real estate left to put it, so I ended up leaving it out altogether.

If you want to have a look at larger versions of these maps, you can take a peek at the Reddit post I made about it:

My post over on Reddit that has the larger version of these maps

If you have any suggestions for me, I’d love to hear them!

Heroquest Battlemap #9: Race Against Time

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

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

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

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

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

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

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

Information from the flavor text

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

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

A larger version of the US text

Race Against Time

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

My translation of the Dutch version of the text

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

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

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

Translating into a final map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

Burning France: Session 6

We had to shift last week’s Burning Wheel session to yesterday evening because last week Thursday just didn’t really work for everybody’s schedule. For me, it’s important that every player can attend the session because we’re running such a tightly-focused campaign. This time, I was extremely pleased that everybody was in, as our session really tied everybody together in an interesting manner. Last time, we’d set up our new story arc of our troupe returning to the city of Sompteux and discovering that Gerard, the de facto leader of their former insurrectionist group had started regular executions in the public square. Our team just managed to save Bernard, Benoit’s cousin, from the chopping block and escaped towards Bertrand’s villa outside the city walls.

Sompteux, the City of Splendor, capital of Occitania

The Story

As our trio settles down in PC Bertrand’s villa, they call Bernard & Cousin Bertrand, twin cousins of Benoit (minor relationship, other family) into the parlor to try to make some sense of things and find out what they’ve missed this past half year.

“I need to keep my head attached to my body, so I need to find out why Bernard was executed.”

Benoit’s Belief

Bernard proceeds to tell the team all about what’s been happening: after they left, the people of the city took to repairs and for a while everything seemed fine. It didn’t take too long, however, for factions to divide everybody once more, as arguments started about who should be in charge: the Collectivists favoring democratic state control, the Loyalists seeking to instate a royal heir to the throne, the Moderates seeking to establish parliamentary elections or, as the Anarchists would have it, for there to be no state power at all? Bernard started working for coin for one of these groups. Later on, Gerard started rising to power and prominence, and what started slowly with a person disappearing here or there slowly devolved into regular public executions where Gerard argued they kept the peace and fought the rot within. Bernard believes that is why he was grabbed and sentenced to death.

Geoffrey suspects there is more to this story, and digs in. Bernard avoid the topic with B0 Falsehood (BL B4 Will) as Geoffrey presses him to tell the whole truth with B2 Persuasion +1 help but sadly deflects the conversation to his cousin Benoit (3s vs 1s +1s fate reroll). He admits to Benoit that the reason he didn’t tell everything is that he feels ashamed to be working as a common thug for a local magistrate, Michel. The name sparks some memories for our group, as Geoffrey remembers he has dirt on the man (minor relationship, hateful/rival): Michel got a venereal disease from poxy Polly—something that Michel didn’t want his spouse to know about. Michel went to Geoffrey for help, and Geoffrey wisely kept all the paperwork for the healing ointment that he got the man.

PC Bertrand dug through his brain for rumors he heard about the man via a B2 Family Secret-wise, +3 Persona, +2 Help to find out what the noble gossip is about his true motivations (Ob 4). With 5s, Bertrand remembers Michel as a petty manipulator, who once tried to get Bertrand’s family estate condemned as a fire hazard in a power play. Bertrand knows him to be a powermonger; with the new information added, pieces start to fall into place and Bertrand realizes Michel is playing kingmaker: he’s actually working for the Loyalists trying to get an heir back on the throne!

As this comes out, the discussion gets heated. Benoit realizes that Gerard was right: Bernard was being executed as a Loyalist sympathizer! Bernard explains that the surrounding countries won’t sit still, and they need a monarchist ruler if Occitania is to remain free—he intends to head back out on the streets and fight for that! Geoffrey sees this for the bad plan it is, and says he will keep them there by force if necessary.

My companions are a liability for me. I must act in their best interests, even if they disagree.

Geoffrey’s Belief

Cousin Bertrand is highly offended, gets up from the sofa, and loudly tells Geoffrey he has no right to do this. If they wish to walk out, they will. At this point, PC Bertrand also shoots up from the sofa and gets in Cousin Bertrand’s face about it.

Bertrand’s actions will result in chaos, strife, and discontent; he and his must be stopped

Bertrand’s Belief

Benoit, seeing this escalation, realizes something must be done. He doesn’t want to see his cousins come to harm but he also cannot stand for them to put themselves in harm’s way. He feels they should move up north to Avignon-sur-Chantre for a while and lay low.

I must keep my allies safe.

Benoit’s Belief

With the debate running on a knife’s edge, we turn towards a Duel of Wits. Stating Their Case, Geoffrey proclaims: “You will do as I say, or I will hurt you!” (in harsh, graphic detail); the cousins, equally filled with vitriol, rebuke him: “We will walk out of here and do what we please—you have no say over me!”. Both end with a Body of Argument of 5 as they square up for the first exchange.

Geoffrey, in no uncertain terms, accuses them of being fools, as going out now while they just publicly embarassed the person who tried to execute them is the same as putting your own head on the chopping block (Incite B2 Intimitation, +2 FoRKs Knives & Extortion), with PC Bertrand laying out the facts (+1 Help Ugly Truth) and Benoit pleading them to listen as they’ve done so in the past (+1 Help Trouble-wise). The argument doesn’t land (4s vs Ob 4 Will), as the cousins insist this time it’s different. In fact, they follow up by calling the group hypocrits, as they argue for freedom while tyranically restricting that of the cousins (Incite BL B4 Will, +1 Help) but their clumsy argument falls flat (1s vs Ob 8 from BL B4 Will).

While Bernard & Cousin Bertrand try to appeal to Benoit’s family ties, arguing that blood should stick with blood (Avoid B4 Will, +1 Help), Benoit calmly and rationally lays out the facts for them (Stoic Trait): getting yourself killed helps nobody, no matter what your views. Being a Loyalist is downright wrong and nullifies everything they’ve worked for. He will not see them hurt, so the only thing to do is to hide away for a while to cool down (Point, B3 Will, +7 Advantage from failed Incite, +2 Help). Here, we mess up the rules (more on that in the next section) and conclude that Benoit’s roll (4s +1s Fate reroll) wins against the Cousins’ roll (2s). As a result, the Cousins are furious but have to cede defeat: they may not agree with our group but they can’t say that they’re wrong either. They stomp off to the servant’s quarters of the estate where they’ve agreed they will lay low for a few days until arrangements can be made.

Based on this, some of our characters have some new Beliefs:

“Michel’s silly antrics have gotten out of control, I will attempt to sway him to the right path.”

“Bertrand has threatened my life, I will nip this in the bud.”

Bertrand’s new Beliefs

“I must determine in Bertrand is able to manage to stress of power”

Geoffrey’s new Belief.

The Session

Mechanically, this session was a little tougher than before. I’m still not too comfortable with the Duel of Wits system, so we bungled things at times there. I suspect that also made things a little less enjoyable for one of my players, who prefers rules-light systems in any case, as we didn’t consistently apply the right methods. Furthermore, me and one of my players (who also has a copy of the books and has some experience as well) needed to reference some rules to get things going. The session also started off with some bookkeeping, as we realized we’d forgotten to account for Practice in the time we skipped before the previous session.

One thing that we messed up rules-wise was the end of the Duel of Wits. We had to roll Point vs Avoid but we accidentally applied the rules for Obfuscate and Incite to the roll; normally, the outcome of Point vs Avoid should be deducting— (Point successes – Avoid successes) from the Body of Argument of the other. We misread the special exception for Obfuscate and Incite, where the full roll applies, as applying to everything. So, in effect, we reduced the Cousins’ Body of Argument to 0 where we should have reduced it to 2. Given that both parties had a Dismiss action scheduled for the next Volley, we would certainly have ended up with a compromise rather than an all-out win for one side. Live and learn for the next one, however! We’ll let this one stand, and move on from here.

Aside from those mechanical issues, however, I was really pleased with this session. It felt like we really went into what Burning Wheel attempts to highlight. Every single one of the characters was tied into the scene in various ways: a family relationship, a sense of self-preservation, a personal gripe against the character—so much came into play at once! Every character had a Belief at stake in the argument, and we roleplayed to where we got to an important conflict that would significantly affect future events. At the same time, we set up more context for the world in future settings as well. Moreover, Artha was absolutely flowing in that session: the players poured in Fate and Persona to ensure their important rolls worked out, and equally so many of their actions were based on Beliefs, Traits, or Instincts, so got them back Fate and Persona as well.

On the one hand, the session was intensely zoomed-in as we spent two hours working out that one scene with the Cousins, yet at the same time there was a lot of world building happening because of it. Despite the struggles with the mechanics of Duel of Wits, the roleplaying of the encounter worked out and made sense as well. All the arguments flowed naturally, and the dice helped to determine the actual impact for the characters.

Overall Impression

In general, I’m really happy with how this session went. It was quite intense, and afterwards I felt a weird mix of being both pumped as well as drained from the experience. I would like to see if I can get a firmer grip of the mechanics on-the-spot, so I can help facilitate the experience for my players a bit better. I’d like that to be as smooth as possible so my players don’t have to worry about the rules as much and can keep focusing on the fiction. Nevertheless, as I wrote above, the session itself was quite interesting and engaging.

An aspect I really enjoyed from the GM’s side is how much our collaborative fiction is starting to write itself at this point. I didn’t need too much prep to work out what was going to happen here. Based no our previous sessions and our last session, I’d worked out some rough ideas of who’s around in the world and what they want, and that’s about it. The rest of the fiction comes out of the players working along in the world and seeing how all these things would clash.

Next week Thursday we already have our next regular session, so I look forward to seeing what that will end up giving us!

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: