Friday, March 20, 2009

Another Awesome Map

This is the map of the Upper Catacombs beneath the surface ruins of the monastery. It's not part of the "true" dungeon levels, but I really like it. Combined with the ruins themselves, the Lower Catacombs, and the Hermit Caves, there's plenty to do at Urheim before descending into the maw of Chaos itself. I'm really pleased by this set-up, since lots of lateral movement and meaningful choices about how best to proceed are an important part of designing a good megadungeon.

Thanks, as ever, to the talented Fr. David for his cartographic work.

29 comments:

  1. I like it! What's the deal with the stairs in U.20?

    Word Verification: Tronzy, the troll Fonzie.

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  2. Tis indeed and awesome map. Can't wait to see the key that goes with it.

    - Neil.

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  3. Have just noticed there are two U2s. It looks like one should be U31.

    -Neil.

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  4. I like the layout of the map. My quibble is the that it's so clearly laid out with a computer. That's not a big deal, I guess, it's just that I have a love of the artistic appeal and feel of hand-drawn maps (especially the well-executed kind that is beyond my ability to produce).

    Quibble aside, though, there's a lot to like, here. It looks like a very cool sublevel.

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  5. Have just noticed there are two U2s. It looks like one should be U31.

    Good catch.

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  6. My quibble is the that it's so clearly laid out with a computer.

    I love hand-drawn maps too, but there's also a lot to be said for crisp, clear technologically assisted maps. Most of the maps from the old TSR modules predate computer graphics programs certainly, but don't really look hand-drawn either, at least not the ones from from the AD&D era and later.

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  7. Everyone, thanks for your kind words.

    Neil, thanks for the catch on room U31.

    Philotomy, I, too, am a big fan of the hand-drawn map. However, online its utility is extremely limited. Since Urheim is being offered on-line and James has indicated his desire to have it be a "how to" dungeon, it would be a shame not to take advantage of the technology available to allow people to fiddle with the maps. By using a vector and .pdf format, it gives people the power to use their computers to make the maps — and the dungeon — their own. One can do that with a hand drawn map, too, but the process can me much more time consuming and the end result can be much less pleasing to the eye. Besides, I like the crisp, clean look of a computer assisted map...

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  8. Father,

    Your comment about the computer-maps being easily editable, allowing gamers to make them their own is a huge potential benefit I hadn't considered. It's an excellent point.

    I disagree with you on liking the look of a computer-assisted map (I don't mind computer-assisted, but I don't like the end result to look like a "computer map"), but I certainly can see the benefit of a vector-defined map for this project.

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  9. It's inside a sarcophagus.

    That's one big sarcophagus! That bears opening immediately. What could go wrong?

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  10. It's a really nice design.

    Re: Technology, I'll sympathize with PJ that the appearance at first unbsettled me a bit.

    The problem isn't the use of a computer per se, but it's the vector graphics that make it look odd. Specifically, the simple fact that you can't make lines in varying thickness. That's an artistic limitation that's a bit hard to swallow.

    It results in things like (contrasted with early TSR maps): (a) doors (of all types) floating in space, not intuitively shutting off a room (TSR maps had thicker lines connecting them to walls); (b) hard-to-read single-pixel key letters (vs. a nice boldface font); (c) odd-looking rectangular boxes for straight stairs; (d) archways not connected to walls; (e) rather fragile-looking lines indicating statues, etc.; (f) requirement of 5' minimum wall between rooms (vs. Gygaxian maps with a lot of thick lines between rooms covering adjacent squares). The overall effect is, again, a bit unsettling.

    I sympathize, as I've tried to lay out dungeons with similar programs and ultimately given up (more than once). Personally I'd prefer if it was laid out in a large bitmap and provided some number of down-sizes for different purposes.

    Again, nice design.

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  11. As a point of comparison, the computer-made sample map at Dungeonaday.com is something that looks very nice to me:

    http://www.dungeonaday.com/categories/Level1Map

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  12. Delta,

    I appreciate the criticism, much of which I sympathize with. A couple of things to consider:

    1) The file James has posted is a .png I provided him for fast web viewing. Many of the visual problems, such as the thin lines and bad font issues are a result of the .png. The .pdf version of the map looks much nicer.
    2) When choosing between utility and aesthetics I erred on the side of utility. Firstly, because the example you highlighted, though nice to look at, is not something that I can easily fiddle with on my computer. The way I designed the maps I gave to James, it is relatively easy to put them into a vector program and fiddle away. Secondly, I can really geek out on maps if I am not careful. It would be little problem to produce a visually fancy map, but it would be quite time consuming — something that this project nor my life right now can afford.

    I will admit, though, that I failed to put a darker rule around the rooms. I just tried it and it does help this particular map quite a bit.

    James, if you want a ruled version, just let me know.

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  13. Map symbols Q: are the "C" or "U" shapes from U2 to U29 and into U13 concealed doors, or archways; initially I thought concealed doors, but U13 made me rethink that.

    Allan.

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  14. This looks like the base is a DungeonCrafter 1.41 generated map, in which case the final product at full size will look like a TSR nonrepro-blue map, not computer-generated. I don't know how those diagonal corridors were done (DC only crosses the middle of squares with the diagonals). You can do the close rooms with DC, depending on which tile-set you're using. But if the base map is done using DC, it's very easy for someone to go into the bmp file, load it into DC, and start editing the map without any graphics skills at all. It's what we used for the megadungeon slam at the S&W forums, and it worked very well for collaborative use.

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  15. Okay, so taking Father David's map as inspiration, I've done my own version in a more traditional style.

    For anyone interested it can be found here.

    I haven't added all the features that were on the original, as I wasn't quite sure what they all were. I've also ended up with less rooms by adhering to the 10 ft corridor style.

    One thing that left me a little confused was the scale of the monastery map, as I can't figure out how far the catacombs extend under the Upper Temple and therefore their relationship to the underworld.

    This was produced in The Gimp and I'm more than happy to share the original file should anyone want it (it's 1.1 Mb at the moment).

    Comments and brickbats welcomed.

    - Neil.

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  16. That's one big sarcophagus! That bears opening immediately. What could go wrong?

    I guess you'll just have to see :)

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  17. Previously I wrote:

    "One thing that left me a little confused was the scale of the monastery map, as I can't figure out how far the catacombs extend under the Upper Temple and therefore their relationship to the underworld."

    Of course if I had actually looked at the map properly, I would have seen the scale clearly marked. Doh! A week in the dunces corner for me.

    Know that that problem has been solved, I've produced an overlay to the Monastery map to show where the catacombs could be located. It can be found here.

    Now to figure how, it at all, they link together.

    - Neil.

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  18. James, if you want a ruled version, just let me know.

    I don't need one at present, but I'll be sure to ask if I change my mind.

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  19. Map symbols Q: are the "C" or "U" shapes from U2 to U29 and into U13 concealed doors, or archways; initially I thought concealed doors, but U13 made me rethink that.

    They're archways.

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  20. Okay, so taking Father David's map as inspiration, I've done my own version in a more traditional style.

    That's very nice!

    If you -- or anyone else -- wishes to make alternate versions of any of the maps posted to the site, feel free to do so. I'll even host them along with the others, because I'd honestly like Urheim to feel like a collaborative project without any "official" approach to anything. That means having optional takes on anything, including the maps, is welcomed and encouraged.

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  21. Now to figure how, it at all, they link together.

    It's hard to explain without a visual representation of the relationships. An illustration is being done to give a rough description of the whole, which may help.

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  22. I also think this is a terrific map: it looks filled with incident and a nice variety of spaces, which is what it needs.

    I'm going to add a little gripe to go with my bigger praise - one that's supposed to be thought-provoking rather than irritating, and I hope it's taken as such:

    the above-ground map really looks like a real place. It's got buildings that seem like actual historical buildings. With this map we're back in the strange abstract world of the classic dungeon. That's an artistic decision, and I respect it as part of the whole old school thing, but I'd still like to make a plea for architectural cues the players might pick up on - an overall structural logic to the place. I think it's an under-used way of adding coherence to a dungeon (and of providing players with ideas - that there might be secret areas they haven't opened yet or that they're probably moving towards key encounters, because the leader of the goblin horde is likely to be in the big cathedral space they've been circling around).

    That said, U13 and U20 have a real valley of the kings look to them, which pleases me.

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  23. Now to figure how, it at all, they link together.

    It's hard to explain without a visual representation of the relationships. An illustration is being done to give a rough description of the whole, which may help.


    I've actually figured out a way to link the two catacomb levels together that makes sense given their relative locations. I just need to draw the map to illustrate this. A task for this evening I hope.

    - Neil.

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  24. I just realised I should explain what I mean by a coherent plan, because it's probably not obvious. Here's a couple of cases where there's a clear hierarchy and progression to the rooms, and spaces that have stories to tell once you get into them (I'm particularly fond of rooms inside rooms, or better yet initially half-obscured by forests of columns...)

    OTOH, real underground cities tend not to have much in the way of coherence... maybe I'm troubled because this is neither one thing nor the other.

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  25. It's worth pointing out that this map is for the catacombs under the Upper Temple and not actually part of the main dungeon. With my revised map I tried to give it a little more of the feel of somewhere that the clerics used to bury their dead, etc. If I was completely re-interpret the map I would probably have the burial chamber as the centre piece, possibly with some traps to hinder access and a nice starting magical item to get the party off to a good start as they venture further in to the complex.

    That's the partial stumbling block I have with the catacombs under the lower temple, what would have been their purpose? Burial chambers for wealthy locals? Storage for the temple? Something else?

    - Neil.

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  26. the above-ground map really looks like a real place. It's got buildings that seem like actual historical buildings. With this map we're back in the strange abstract world of the classic dungeon. That's an artistic decision, and I respect it as part of the whole old school thing, but I'd still like to make a plea for architectural cues the players might pick up on - an overall structural logic to the place. I think it's an under-used way of adding coherence to a dungeon (and of providing players with ideas - that there might be secret areas they haven't opened yet or that they're probably moving towards key encounters, because the leader of the goblin horde is likely to be in the big cathedral space they've been circling around).

    Striking the right balance between a dungeon site being "realistic" and purely "fantastical" is hard and it bedevils the design of such things, especially those with an old school character. I'm not sure there's an easy solution to it, because I don't want the dungeon to be too banal, but I also fully appreciate the dangers of making it too otherworldly.

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  27. That's the partial stumbling block I have with the catacombs under the lower temple, what would have been their purpose? Burial chambers for wealthy locals? Storage for the temple? Something else?

    The lower catacombs were used for both of the things you noted.

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  28. the above-ground map really looks like a real place. It's got buildings that seem like actual historical buildings. With this map we're back in the strange abstract world of the classic dungeon.

    The irony here is that this map, like the one I did for above-ground, is based off a real-world place. If you've ever been underground in a catacomb or beneath an ancient church, the odd, strange, abstract shapes are actually a very good way of communicating the disorienting nature of catacombs. If you throw in the fantasy setting and the metaphor of going into the underworld, it is all fairly realistic.

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