Happy Megadungeon Monday!
The scheduled Megadungeon Monday article has gotten pushed back. It got pushed back for a couple of reasons. And this article is less of an article and more of a project update. This is partly due to some feedback of a less than happy variety I received via various channels after last week’s article. It is partly due to my playing around with some different tools. It is partly due to a flurry of frantic creative activity over the weekend. And it’s partly due to the fact that the flurry of frantic creative activity was interrupted by a personal emergency that kind of f$&%ed up all of my weekend plans.
Now, I don’t have enough for the next article. That’s the long and short of it. But I will have enough by next Monday. Because, thanks to the feedback and the creative energy, I’ve raced ahead in a completely different – and exciting – direction. This article is to explain that crap. And it also because I am trying to hold myself more accountable to this project and to its fans. Basically, if I don’t have enough work to do the next major installment, I figure I damned well better explain myself AND prove that I have been working on something.
A lot of people really liked last week’s article on Information Management. And I stand by it. It’s an important and useful skill. ESPECIALLY if you’re trying to pull off a major feat of environmental storytelling. But there were also some very unhappy campers who are a bit tired of all the planning and thinking and fluffing and they just want some goddamned tangible dungeon design or something. Now, usually when I say I’ve gotten some negative feedback, I get a bunch of people in the comments telling me the negative feedback is WRONG and telling me not to change a thing because the article was good and necessary and all that crap. I don’t want that, okay? Everyone has the right to their opinion. And honestly, I kind of understand where people are coming from with the whole “build the f$&%ing dungeon already.”
I will continue to discuss every step in the process. Don’t you f$&%ing worry. I won’t skimp. But honestly, I’m just as happy to put some maps down. And below, I’ll show you what I’ve been working on. I promise. A sort of preview of the big thing that is coming next week.
See, what’s also been going on is that I have actually been running games again. Online games through the Fantasy Grounds virtual table top. About half of my Victim level Patreon supporters have had their first taste of the ongoing monthly D&D campaign that I promised long ago. The other half will be invited to join in about six weeks when I start the second season. But as a result of running online games through Fantasy Grounds, I’ve found myself doing a lot more mapping. And doing something I don’t do a hell of a lot of: electronic mapping. I’ve always been a hand-drawn kind of guy. As you’ve probably noticed from some of the previous scans of colored-pencil-on-graph-paper drawings.
But Fantasy Grounds needs electronic maps. And, the thing is, I’ve owned a tool for a long time for electronic mapping that I’ve barely ever used: Campaign Cartographer by ProFantasy. Actually, I’m currently using Campaign Cartographer 3+. But I’ve owned every version of Campaign Cartographer since the first one came out back in 1993. Well, actually, I got mine in 1995, I think. Whatever. It’s a pretty powerful mapping program. And unlike most mapping programs that are available today, it isn’t tile based. It’s actually based on the FastCAD engine. FastCAD was one of the earliest computer aided design tools and it went on to form the basis for AutoCAD, a professional architectural and engineering 2D and 3D design and rendering program. It’s a pretty powerful little program, but it’s not the most intuitive thing in the world. But, back in 1995 and 1996, I took some CAD and architecture courses in high school and in college, I majored in engineering for a couple of years, so I was more comfortable than most working in a CAD environment. But I never used Campaign Cartographer. I only dabbled with it occasionally. And paid for the latest versions and add-ons. Because I’m a gamer. Owning gaming crap you never use is part and parcel of the whole gamer gig.
Anyhoo, now that I’m running games online in Fantasy Grounds, I need a way to produce nice looking maps quickly and easily. Obviously, my Victims have already seen the fruits of my labor in our online games. But my Frienemy level Patrons have also been enjoying a growing library of encounter maps in the Angry Secret Stash as a result.
One of the most powerful things about CC3+ is that it uses layering or sheet tools. If you’ve used graphical editing software like GIMP or Photoshop, you’ll know what I mean. Basically, the various entities in your drawing can exist as a bunch of transparent overlays. You can turn the different layers on and off, apply special effects to different layers, edit entire layers on the fly, freeze layers so you don’t accidentally erase one part of the map while working with another, and so on.
With a little bit of planning, you can actually produce some pretty nice maps. Here’s an example of the sort of stuff that’s been showing up in my Secret Stash lately. This one’s a freebie for all of you. In fact, have two. Click on the images for larger maps you can download and keep. Enjoy.
Now, I HAD used Campaign Cartographer with the Megadungeon Project before. I used it to put together those big diagrams of how the dungeon fit together and to lay out the basic critical path. These things. Remember?
But, I didn’t do it to scale. And I had no intention of designing the dungeon in CC3+ at all. I figured I’d design the thing on paper and then draw it up nicely in CC3. Or just pay a cartographer to do it. But now I’m discovering I’m kind of a dumba%&.
See, one of the most powerful tools in CC3 – the layers and sheets – gives me a powerful tool for DESIGNING the Megandungeon. I can take the informational design crap – the days, the regions, the critical path, etc – and put that on layers UNDER the design itself.
The thing is, I was having a lot of trouble figuring out how to organize everything to hand-draw the map. Because I need to be able to see the regions, the days, the objectives, the critical path, and so on. But being able to turn on and off different informational layers and freeze them as underlays solves all of that.
And since everyone wants to see some goddamned mapping anyway – self included – I’ve decided the next big step is what I’m going to call the EXIT MAP. The exit map shows how every single individual encounter area is connected to every other one. Including the optional crap. The shortcuts. The gates. Everything. And I wanted to build it in a format that I could design the dungeon directly on top of.
And that brought about the flurry of activity. I popped open CC3+ and started building a master file for the entire Megadungeon. To scale. I worked pretty feverishly, like I always do when an obstacle is suddenly surmounted. And that would have been great if I could have worked through the weekend.
But, blah blah blah, weekend disaster. I don’t really want to go into the story. It was personal, it was kind of stupid, and it wrecked not only my weekend but also a trip the Tiny GM was taking out of state to visit her family.
Anyway, I wanted to update everyone anyway. The longest part of this is transferring the maps – as they are now – into a master file, figuring out a scale for the whole damned thing, linking up the files so I can easily move between the different levels and make sure everything lines up. I’m almost done with that now. Here, for example, is level two. That’s the main level. It’s got the “days of adventure” mapped out to scale and I’ve overlaid the critical path and blocked out the individual encounter spaces. Check it out. And you can click on it for a larger size. That’s a HUGE file, exported directly from CC3+.
That’s not new though. You’ve seen that before. Just in a different format. What’s neat though is that I went underneath it and added a layer flagging the different regions of the dungeon. Check that out.
If you’re attentive, you’ll notice a map key in the upper right corner. That key also provides little symbols for color-coded doors. Those are just informational doors. Because once the whole dungeon is in there, my plan is to build the exit map. And that will be a map of the traffic flow through the entire dungeon. And then I can turn OFF the “days of adventure” underlay because I no longer need that. That information will be subsumed in the exit map. Instead, I can focus on designing the “dungeon regions.”
Now, lest you think this is all a bunch of wasted time, I want to show you something else. The reason for moving all of this to CC3+. Once the information is all IN CC3+, I can actually design individual dungeon rooms TO SCALE on top of the overlay.
Here’s a couple I slapped together just to fiddle around. I realize they aren’t connected to each other or anything just yet. They are just isolated rooms. And they are slapdash. I was just experimenting. But you can see how they fit into the encounter area map. I drew them over two little encounter regions in the Desiccated Sanctuary (hence the brown underlay). These are just quick screen caps, though, not exports. So they aren’t super high quality. But they COULD be.
All in all, this is a pretty exciting development. Next week, we’ll be able to discuss pathing, exit maps, and advanced traffic flow with fancy-schmancy graphics.
So, that’s what I’ve been working on. And I hope this update proves I have been doing SOMETHING with my time. See you next Monday.