RPGaDay2019 Day 16 – Dream

Dream. That’s the inspiration for day 16 of #RPGaDay2019, following Door yesterday.

This is a slightly different post to normal…

I have a dream.

When I started with D&D, maps were schematic representations which were mainly used by the DM, and used by the players as an aide memoire. The red box Basic Set DMG had a set of map symbols on the inside front cover, and a sample “dungeon” to explore which used these symbols.

They are quick to create, clear and simple to read, and convey the essential information while avoiding extraneous detail. See this example which I created in that era, but all modules came with maps in this style.

Now that I’ve come back, in 5e, I’ve been looking for a tool to help me create my maps. And I’ve been struggling.

It seems there is a general expectation that all maps are highly detailed graphic battlemaps (although the trend does seem to be reversing a bit, with DysonLogo’s maps appearing in the latest Wizards publications).

Granted they look beautiful, clearly more impressive than the old style. And they lend themselves to being played on and hence give the players more of an idea of what the area is like. They also fit well into the various online forums for gameplay such as roll20, particularly if you can add fog of war for gradual reveal.

But they almost all seem to be based on the idea that you’re putting together existing tiles (or reproducing that effect). That means I have to start with my library of tiles and build up a setting from them. I can’t start with thinking out my setting and how the various elements fit together. The programs also seem to pride themselves on their vast array of icons and graphics so that you can have a wooden chest or an iron-banded chest or an asian-style chest or an ornate silver casket…but then you have to browse through all the options, skipping past oak trees and beech trees and pine trees and winter trees and … when all I want to put down on my map is a chest, and then it can take any form I can describe in theatre of the mind.

They seem to be trying to compete with dungeon tiles or with a paint program, and concentrating on what the players need to be able to visualise the setting.

There are a couple of exceptions, notably Campaign Cartographer, which does at least think in objects, but I find the interface of that awkward – too awkward to compete with my pencil and graph paper.

For Ragnar’s Keep, I actually ended up using the drawing facility of Serif PagePlus to create my level maps. It’s still more awkward than pencil and paper, but I found it easier than any of the dedicated mapping packages out there.

I am a software engineer by trade, with a speciality in user interfaces and UX. So my dream is to create a software package for creating maps that is as easy to use as pencil and graph paper, and as clear and editable as the drawn maps in PagePlus.

I have started work on this. In fact, I have been working on it for nearly 3 years… Working title is MelesMaps. However, I have a full-time job, so progress has not been very fast – it seems I pick it up over Christmas, spend all my time upgrading the components and getting it working again, then spare time runs out again and it ends up back on hold.

So my dream is to be able to find dedicated time each week to work on this, maybe ultimately building up to working on it full time. And along with this, to continue to participate in the D&D community, and to continue to run games, and to create modules and DM aids. However, at the moment I can’t afford to cut down my hours. I know there are already plenty of options out there. But if you are curious about what a mapping program designed around the basic symbols might be like, you can help it on its way by dropping a tip in my Ko-Fi jar or subscribing to my Patreon.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow with “One”.

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