Finding My Way – Mapping for RPGs
Quite a while ago I had written a post about mapping when I was looking into setting up a Pathfinder campaign. In all honesty, I can’t for the life of me remember anything about the reasons for doing such a thing, although I do recall the time I spent learning techniques for hand-drawing maps. I remember this because I was pleasantly surprised with some of my results, although the actual maps I’d made have since been lost the mists of time.
Maps are an ancient and revered tradition in the RPG-sphere because the only reason why not all who wander are lost is because they stopped at the service station and picked up a map. Since the release of the MMO-esque D&D 4E, maps have been getting short shrift as tools of the Devil, dragging what should be a game about imagination into the realm of tactical miniatures (an argument which seems to ignore the fact that D&D was created by a tactical wargamer). Maps have been around since the very beginning of tabletop RPGs and have been used to push counters around as well as serving as useful reference tools for players to understand the lay of the land. While neckbeards around the world are chiding lesser beings for the inability to visualize everything about the elven kingdom down to the embroidery on their undergarments, visual aids not only help with immersion but allow GMs to go that extra mile, because art ain’t cheap and players love the details.
I’ve been on the lookout for easier ways to make maps for some time. As my earlier post stated I’d tried some of the really expensive tools like Campaign Cartographer, and have used freebies like the excellent tools on offer at Pyromancers.com (which I learned this weekend is offering a stand-alone mapping tool on Steam, which works great). Tools like CC bring a lot to the table by providing you with in-app ways to create content if you don’t have access to it, while tools like Pyro’s Dungeon Painter Studio rely on custom artwork to be imported from some other source.
The issue, then, is finding something specific that fits your needs. Yes, we can hand-draw a map, which is great for those who are fortunate enough to play locally, although we can scan it for download for those of us who have to play remotely, and while I’m sure those efforts can be just as appreciated as a frame-worthy map rendered by a top-notch cartographer being able to build a map using software has some advantages, like being able to maintain a sense of scale, and being able to speed up development through features such as layers.
This weekend I spent a good amount of time working with Dungeon Painter Studio trying to put something together for the mini-adventure I’ve been working on for Call of Cthulhu. It takes place inside a museum, which means that I need visual elements for things you’d find in a museum around the turn of the century. I figured there’d be a certain level of opulence in the public areas that was intended to invoke mysterious far away lands in an era before world travel was common: marble floors, Roman columns, tapestries, curving staircases, tropical plants, and so on. The exhibits themselves would also need to be represented, so I needed art for display cases, statues, and “ancient things” like sarcophagi. While I was able to create the perimeter of the museum’s first floor without issue, filling the space inside was decidedly more impossible, since like many mapping applications DPS leaned heavily towards high-fantasy assets like traps, mystical crystals, and castle flooring.
I ended up making a few simple floor tiles in Photoshop which worked OK, but absolutely failed when I tried to create anything more complex. I tried making a red wing-backed chair that resembled no chair anyone would consider sitting in (although for a CoC adventure, that might be a good thing to use). I also tried making a simple top-down view of a banner on a display post but failed in that as well. My only other option was to download a 5.5GB community collection of publicly available assets that were collected from free sources on various cartographic forums across the Internet. Although the organization required for DPS was lacking, there were more than enough assets in that archive to provide everything I think I need to create this map.
Sadly, it took me more time to get a fraction of the assets organized for use in DPS than I had available to re-work my initial attempt at making the map, so I don’t have anything to show you right now, and even if I did I don’t know that I would because it could end up spoiling the mystery of the adventure.