Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 30, 2012
Developments in maps

A quarter of a century ago I still produced campaign maps for Dungeons & Dragons by hand, using hex paper and colored crayons. Now that I am preparing a new campaign, I realized that I had better options these days. I now own a color laser printer, and drawing software has come a long way. So I invested in Campaign Cartographer 3, with added Dungeon Designer 3 and Fantasy Floorplans. Not really cheap, and like all CAD programs a bit difficult to learn, but the result is well worth it. Not only was I able to make a map of the island my first adventure will play on, but more importantly I created my first battle map.

4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons in some ways has gone back to its roots of miniature wargames, and those are best played on some sort of a battlemap with a square grid on it. There are quite a lot of options on how to do those. You can take a big piece of paper with squares from a flip chart and draw on it, which is fast and cheap, but not very pretty. You can take use Dungeon Tiles, Flip-Mats, Map Packs, or similar commercial products; but then you are limited to the designs on the product you bought. So if you want both pretty and complete control, using software to draw the battle maps yourself is the way to go. For example I printed mine on 2 by 2 sheets of A4 paper, so now I got a battle map with 16 x 23 1-inch squares, which works best for the usual size of miniatures. And it looks very nice, with a green grass texture, boulders, trees, and even a camp-fire. I can make similar maps with caves, dungeons, and whatever else I want, and they serve both as play surface and visual aid for my players.

The downside of these self-made battle maps is that by the time you designed them, printed them, and glued them together with sticky tape, you spent more time on making the map than the players will spend fighting a battle on it. Thus I'll also work with commercial printed maps, and just design the adventures around them to make them fit the story. And if all else fails, my group is using a laminated blank battle map and white-board markers to draw on it. Nevertheless I love maps and I'm quite happy with the progress that software made in this area.
Have you looked at using Master Plan? It's really pretty slick on creating adventures. I have it on a laptop and output the tactical maps to a big screen tv.
I'm getting ready to run a DND4E with mapTools from RPnet. I like it a lot, but it's annoying that I'm running WotC premade adventures, but I'm downloading the maps from OTHER people, because the electronic ones on their site are all marked up with GM only info. ARRRGH. So, so close.

(It might just be annoy-ware in anticipating of them opening their Virtual Table app.)
I looked at Master Plan, but they got a cease and desist letter from WotC and are now offering only a version without any libraries. Not so useful, as I didn't want to pirate the libraries somewhere.
Whiteboard and markers, all the way.

If you're busy with admin, ask a player or two to draw you a map. You can always tweak it to suit.
I have an active DDI subscription, so I can use an addon that pulls in the Monster info from the compendium. I make the maps in something else and import them in. Like pyMapper or something.
Never, ever, ever let your brain tell you that making your own carefully crafted maps is not a good time investment. Your players will notice. It's that wonderful thing that old DM's never tell new DM's, that for each half hour to hour you spend on prep, the more enjoyable the game is for everyone.

As a DM, you are truly creating Content. All content in the gaming world is consumed faster than it is made. Look at the development time of, say, Cataclysm compared to how fast the player base was done with all the initial pieces.

Oh, if you ever want to make aged maps, a good tactic is to soak the paper in a nice dark tea and then let dry between two or four paper towels, then keep it under a stack of books for a day or two to flatten back out.

Man, I have read one too many dragon magazines...
Is that software capable of making random maps? Diablo 3 does pretty well with random dungeons. I could see software being able to make a random map with layout, enemies, and loot. The DM could then simply make a few changes to make it a little more unique and be ready to go.
Whiteboard+whiteboard makers = win
Please share your final result, it is always great to see original creative work from other game masters.
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