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:

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?

Burning France: Session 5

Yesterday, we ran the fifth session of my “Burning France” Burning Wheel campaign. Last time, we ended the first story arc, and so this time we ended up doing a sort of re-Session 0 for the next arc, and a little bit of play in the new Situation. It was a little tricky for me this time, as I’d had a pretty draining week and, creatively speaking I was just empty. Fortunately, my players are a really good bunch and we brainstormed a bit before diving in.

The Setup

After finishing our last story arc set in the village of Avignon-sur-Chantre in the north of post-revolution Occitania, the players decided that they wanted to return to the Occitanian capital of Sompteux. We also decided to do handwave a bit of a timeskip to 6 months later; I skipped over doing a Resources cycle, because we’re not really using that system as it doesn’t really fit with the story we’re trying to tell. I realized afterwards that we also neglected to look at possiblities for Practice, but I let the players know afterwards to have a look as they can certainly advance a Social skill or two that they have at a low exponent.

We wanted to tweak or Setting a little bit as well. We’d started this campaign off really broadly: Occitania is a post worker’s revolution fantasy France-like country where the nobility has been deposed. Roughly speaking, the players wanted to be itinerant lawspeakers: people who would be sent out to troubleshoot after the new revolution. Now, having skipped forward 6 months, the players suggested we bring a little more faction discord into this. The revolution worked out but now there are about three or four main factions that disagree on exactly what the new political structure should be.

The Situation was the next thing to get some new life. We’d decided that a character from the start of the campaign, Girard, the de facto primus inter pares among their particular revolutionary group, had manoeuvred himself into a crucial leadership figure and, as such things tend to go, started being corrupted by the power. While he’s now executing enemies, imagined or real, he’s also the only one that’s keeping this tenuous relationship between factions working. Our trio didn’t work for a revolution only to replace one tyrant with another, so now they seek to solve this problem without destabilising everything.

As the characters return to Sompteux, they see crowds milling towards the central market square and, curiosity peaked, follow along to see what’s going on. In stark contrast to the start of the campaign, where a violent mob raucously cheered at the public execution of a noble, they are now faced with a crowd browbeaten into watching yet another person brought to the guillotine for vague reasons. Lo and behold, when the hood is removed from this doomed captive, it turns out that this is none other than Bernard, one of the twin cousins of Benoit! Meanwhile, the other twin, Bertrand, is seen at the edge of the stage, anxiously preparing for action.

Having primed the action, the players have decided on some new Beliefs:

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

“I must keep my allies safe”

Benoit’s Beliefs

“Girard’s silly antics have gotten out of control, so I will attempt to sway him to the right path”

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

Bertrand’s Beliefs

“Oppression wears many masks, and miserable people are bad for business. I must stop this, subtly.”

“If a maniac is in power, I’d rather have a merry maniac in power, like Bertrand.”

Geoffrey’s Beliefs

They’re getting pretty good at writing Beliefs, and there’s some nicely evocative stuff in there that I can use. Moreover, I enjoy that these are getting more and more tied in together, which will make them function so much better in play.

The story

At the reveal of Bernard, Benoit’s cousin, on the way to the guillotine, our trio tries to get set up for whatever may come next. Benoit spots a handful of people spread out through the crowd ready to spring into action, so he moves up to the stage to get ready to help intervene. Meanwhile, Bertrand, the PC, moves to the side of the crowd to where Bertrand, the cousin, is standing. During this, Geoffrey moves to stand to the side of the crowd, ready to create a distraction.

The action pops off between the two Bertrands, as a quick nod of the head is given as a go-signal, and people start rushing the stage. Bertrand the PC tries to lay an B0 Ugly Truth (Ob 1, doubled to Ob 2 because of Beginner’s Luck) on Bertrand the Cousin, reminding him that rushing up there ends up with two cousins dead rather than just the one. His words fall on deaf ears (o successes) and Bertrand the Cousin starts for the stage. Bertrand the PC, however, chooses to escalate by all-out blocking his path and taking him down to the ground if necessary. We choose for an opposed B4 Power test, since the two won’t actually be fighting, and Bertrand the PC manages to stop Bertrand the Cousin long enough for him to miss his opening (5s vs. 2s).

As a result, with one half of the action on stage now disappearing, the guards have ample space to focus purely on the other activitists who served purely as the distraction and quickly overwhelm them. On the side, Geoffrey sees his moment to add to the confusion and gets his husband to fake a medical emergency, as he loudly calls for a doctor. With a Beginner’s Luck B0 Conspicuous test with a base Ob4 for a large crowd, though, he has no chance of success (1s vs Ob8). The guards are not attracted to the medical emergency but rather by this suspicious character drawing attention at this exact moment. With nerves of steel, however, Geoffrey doesn’t run away but fully doubles down: a B3 Falsehood against Ob 4, putting in a Persona and forking in Guard-wise, sees him almost fail (2s), were it not for the fact that Geoffrey has an Aura of Innocence! His Call-On reroll nets him +3s, deftly meeting his Ob4. After a doctor in the crowd reprimands all there for wasting his time on a mere fainting, Geoffrey rides off in his cart while giving all there a nasty looks for disbelieving his pleas for help.

In the midst of all this bedlam, Benoit sees his opening to help his cousin Bernard. A quick whistle, a nod of the head, and an opposed B5 Speed test with +1 Advantage later (2s vs 1s), Benoit barrels through the crowd, opening up the path for Bernard to follow him as they easily lose the guard. They turn down alley after alley until they can no longer hear footsteps behind him, and a truly overjoyed Bernard embraces Benoit in thanks. Having done the impossible in saving his cousin (though condemning his three conspirators), Benoit heads towards Bertrand the PC’s villa in the city in order to reconnect with the others in the group.

The Session

As I said above, this one was a rough start for me. The previous session was a week before and I’m used to having some more time to prep ideas for the next session. I have had a rough week at work and felt creatively drained. I literally had no ideas laying around when starting the session. I’m happy that the players were willing to explore the options and throw the ball around a little to see where we wanted to take this. Fortunately, they had some ideas on where to go next, and we ended up with two or three options to choose from.

What I think really helped this time was that it prompted a very clear idea for a Situation for me. So far, I hadn’t brought in the players’ relationships into the game yet. Benoit had twin cousins lying around, Bernard and Bertrand, and what better way to immediately prime the action by putting one of them at risk? What was really good to see was that the players started intertwining their Beliefs around this as well. For Benoit, this is a family affair; for Bertrand, this is about stopping Girard; for Geoffrey, this is about self-protection.

With the help of the players, I now have a Situation, Beliefs, and characters that are all primed to go, and I can see a few avenues to go down. The one thing that I’ll need to work on is the Setting in the background: while the players are engaging in their own dramatic story, I’d like the backdrop to be alive and moving as well.

Overall Impression

Despite the rough start and the brief session, I’m really pleased with how this went. There was clarity, focus, and direction. I feel that, with the practice we’ve had so far, we’re getting a solid grip on the essence of the system and are making it work for us. Based on the happenings in each session, I’m going back to the books to either re-read rules, review the Codex commentary on it, or exploring some optional or currently unused rules for the same situations.

Meanwhile, the game has also sparked my creativity in Wonderdraft, as I make little maps for this or that to show in the game. The main map of Occitania has been getting incremental upgrades as well, as I learn more and more about using the software. I’m quite happy with the current look of the map, though I have no illusions that I won’t be changing more things as we go along.

The current map of Occitania. The province names, as you may notice, are all references to condiments. That’s from a joke from the first session, where a player said that instead of Le Marseillaise people were singing La Mayonnaise. Clearly, then, the provice of the capital must be Mayon.

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: