Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Have Fun Mapping the Castle...!


I've always loved it.

Within the realm of RPGs — especially D&D — I've always thought it to be an essential part of the experience. Whether it's coming up with maps for a campaign (or adventure) you're creating as a DM, or mapping out the adventure as a player during a dungeon crawl ... or even just appreciating found maps that don't even pertain to your own games — maps are such an institution of the imagination.

I've been an illustrator all of my life. Not a professional one, but I do it for fun, for catharsis, for brainstorming purposes (which I guess in some way I could make a case for being a professional per se in that I "illustrate" concepts when I'm designing graphical interfaces for software?). I do it to crack myself up ... or my 8yo son with cartoons, doodles, and the like at times. But my love for drawing lends itself really well to cartography in relation to RPGs. I love coming up with dungeons in my mind, and then making them come to life on a sheet of graph paper for my eyes only — well, at least until my players decide to delve into my campaigns.

This year I've taken a break from DMing and switched roles to be a PC, which has been amazing. I completely forgot how much I enjoy creating a character and bringing them to life in a well-run campaign. And as a PC, I've always been the party member volunteering to record the party's journey via a solid map. What better way to record an awesome adventure (and to share with the rest of the party, as well as other gamers out there) then with a fun, detailed map. Communication through experience design is what I do for a living, so mapping is just another extension of my day-to-day.

Recently, my son started to express some interest in D&D — he's 8, which was how old I was when I fist discovered that awesomeness of the game (back in '79). He's a Minecraft junkie, so "adventuring" and building is in his blood, and has become something he's pretty passionate (obsessive?) about. Believe me, I was thrilled to discover his interest, so I spent a weekend coming up with a "simple" first-time adventure idea which I hope to share with him soon as his "entry" into the world of fantasy tabletop roleplaying. The map is a small section of an undercity sewer system — an exciting 1st-level jaunt involving magical mushroom men and a diabolical rat king.

Creating this was so much fun, and really inspired me to up my game with cartography — both as a DM and player — especially as I see how many awesome mappers there are out there, with styles running the gamut. I could get lost in RPG map Pinterest pages for days... it's almost too overwhelming!

One fun nugget I discovered in my map research (yes, research is such an important part of the game) was dungeons illustrated on isometric graph paper. Their perspective was incredible, yet can be very challenging as an illustrator due to it's angling. But once you start playing around with it, it starts to make total sense, and brings the mapping game into a whole new light. There are a ton of isometric graph paper resources on the web, so I found a simple free one that allows you to generate your own custom layout/grid as a PDF which you can print until your printer melts. There's only one "problem" in that once you get the hang of mapping isometrically, it's a definite mental challenge (at least for me) to switch gears and go back to the standard 2D "top-down" approach to adventure recording. I will always love that standard, but there's something about the level of satisfaction one gets from illustrating a dungeon crawl on isometric paper. It's almost liberating, honestly (it sounds somewhat bizarre to even type that, but I'm at a loss for a different word to properly articulate how it makes one feel...). So after this weekend's awesome session, I decided to re-illustrate the map I had created during the adventure, and give it an isometric treatment...

Not only is the literal mapping a very enjoyable part of the journey, adding detailing to the final product really helps to elevate the experience — especially since I never take gaming too seriously, I mean it's supposed to be fun... it's a game. So a lot of my details end up being certain things that we (as adventurers) encountered in the session, and often those events are best expressed through tongue-in-cheek ways.

So as 2018 has become a year of gaming, I hope to continue my mapping (and general illustrations) because it's become an extremely therapeutic experience and in the end is a whole lot of fun!


  1. I have one nitpick. The corridor on the first floor leading to the stairway was not rough and not squared like the lower tunnels, but still wider like more regular corridors.

    But that's a totally insignificant detail.