I’ve been steadily plodding along, mapping the original Judge’s Guild Tarantis into the new century, from scanned bitmap to sleek vector. Along the way, I stopped and recreated the logo which I would guess was originally created by Jennell Jaquays. I am not sure about the colors, but it should definitely tie back to the sea if possible.
As for the map itself, good grief, it just seems to go on and on. I’ve gotten many cases of white-line fever, missing big parts of buildings and needing to go back and fix forgotten or overlooked sections. I am working as fast as I can, but there is a certain monotony to it that becomes mind-numbing after 2 or 3 hours.
The map above is altered from the original in the sense that I have taken everything off of the grid system. The above image is just a quick experiment, but I plan on taking the entire city off of the harsh North/South grid system and laying the majority of the sections off at slight angles. It already feels a bit less mechanical in nature and I will continue to work at it, hoping to give it a more humanistic, friendly touch.
I’ve finished 5 of 10 regions – and while that sounds like 50%, it is probably closer to 60%. The temple and palace regions are fairly low detail, leaving the scholars section, the docks, and finally all of the buildings scattered around town.
Once the town is slightly rearranged and reordered, I will then address the city walls. I anticipate needing to shift them a bit, so they will be the last thing done. I want to study how long walls and gates were built and will try to “build” a functional city wall.
I will also NOT put walls up around the docks like the original. The idea of navigating a ship through a narrow aperture almost made my head explode and it was my only significant dislike of the original map.
Rather than enclose the docks with a wall, I will place a man-made island that shields the port while housing a building for steersmen. Ships will pay a fee to be steered into port and later for space on the docks. Taxes on the cargo in the holds will be accessed before the ship can leave.
I am also debating how I am going to handle lettering. I do plan on lettering the streets, but I am less sure about numbering the buildings. Since I am going to use this with Fantasy Grounds, all I need to do is to place a pin and it is all good. On the other-hand, the map will be worthless to anyone but me which would sort of suck. So a player’s map (no notes) and a DMs map is the likely solution.
On a similar trail of thought, I am not really making any concessions towards printing. It might be an error that I regret later, but we’re a long way into the digital age and anyone who needs a print probably can manage to convert a color image to grayscale, section the map, and otherwise take care of the problem themselves.
I have scoured the web for old woodcuts and plan on cleaning a few of them up a bit and converting them to vector format so they are scalable. This is not the first one that I have done, but it is the first one that I have colorized.
I am taking on several large projects at the moment, so it is especially good to get something done!
Early last week I finished a 5e update for G1: The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. I used the Dungeon 197 restructure as a basis, incorporated the lovely full size maps from Mike Schley, and rebuilt it targeted for 5e players at 8th or 9th level as a Fantasy Grounds module. The players in my campaign are soon to be 6th level, so it will be a little while before they get to G1, but it is so easy and natural to include in the current story I am weaving, which is why I converted it.
I hadn’t finished G1 when I started on another conversion project. I took on Judge’s Guild TARANTIS map 6 from the Wilderlands campaign setting and have a Fantasy Ground’s campaign map well underway.
At this point, I’d use Fantasy Grounds even if it were not for online gaming. It is an indispensable tool. With the aid of Fantasy Grounds, this Tarantis map is so many times more useful to me – I can hover a mouse over a location (the pins) and get a little info, or I can click the pin and get the full entry for the point of interest.
The map comes alive with data…
I ran one Wilderlands campaign in the now hazy days of 1978 or 1979 – I got frustrated with how awkward and slow it was to get to information. The map is on a 5-mile scale and you need to look things up quite frequently as a result. It was a big pain and with some regret I moved on to other campaigns at a larger scale. Well, Fantasy Ground totally destroys all of the disadvantages of the small map scale. The map comes alive with data and I am already starting to look forward to running a campaign set in Bob Bledsaw’s Wilderlands.
As long as I was going completely insane with large scale projects, I took on another Judges Guild conversion. As it turns out, Judges Guild published their third City State-style installment in the form of TARANTIS (JG1200). I bought all of the Cities Products that Judges Guild released, but I did not get this one since I did not know it was a town.
The overland map is not much use to me if I cannot present the crown jewel of the region which is, of course, the large city of Tarantis. The city acts as an excellent base of operation, the city itself being an adventure hook inferno, with places and people hinting at things to do.
The city itself being an adventure hook inferno, with places and people hinting at things to do.
The primary problem with the city of Tarantis is that the digitally provided map is shit. I am not being mean – it was good back in the day, but that day was over 30 years ago and it could be cleaned up. A lot. Have a look:
Because I am unhappy with the condition of the map, I have been working to convert the entire city into vector graphics. Vector graphics are cool because they scale smoothly from small to insanely large sizes. The most simple and obvious example of a vector graphic are the fonts that we use on computers – we size them, scale them, and tweak them all the time. Having the city map in vector form will allow me to manipulate the graphics with ease.
So here is how the vector graphics overlay on the original map:
I am currently around 40% along in redrawing the city. It is a big map, with a lot of details, many of which are often difficult to discern. Here is a birds-eye view of the town:
What will I do with it once I have converted the details to vectors? I will improve it. It will be absolutely true to the original vision, but it will be much more pleasant and pleasing to work with.
Here are the results of about 20 minutes of tweaking and playing around:
Tegel Manor really set the standard for what was expected of a professional adventure map
I have now spent quite a bit of time on Bledsaw’s original map of Tarantis. What he did was quite an achievement for the time frame. And this is the end of his run, the last big city that Judges Guild would release. Several years before Tarantis, another Judges Guild product named Tegel Manor really set the standard for what was expected of a professional adventure map. Mr. Bledsaw’s materials still hold up today and they influenced a formative RPG industry.
I will share a Judges Guild story sometime in the near future.
Looking back at the origins of D&D, the first edition of the game has almost 2/3 of a page dedicated to the concept of adventurers becoming lost and subsequently offers suggestions on how to handle parties that lose their orientation. Now looking at present day, the rules in D&D5e have atrophied to less than 1/4 of a page, with very few guidelines being presented.
Given how small that section is in the 5e DMG, I’d be surprised if very many DMs concern themselves with checking to see if a party did, indeed, become lost. Which is a shame, because exploring the unknown and traveling across vast tracts of wilderness needs to taken seriously and stopping for instructions leads to role playing opportunities.
Without a hex grid, the rules for getting lost might require a compass, ruler, pencils…
The rules in D&D1e are largely based on the intransmutable foregone conclusion that you will be using hexes on your overland map which in turn simplifies the handling things like getting lost. Without a hex grid, the rules for getting lost might require a compass, ruler, pencils, and a discussion that that would probably consume quite a bit of space and hence we get the very slim set of rules in D&D5e.
Here, then, are D&D1e guidelines for becoming lost:
Becoming Lost: Any party not guided by a creature knowledgeable of the countryside through which the party is moving, or which is not following a well defined course (river, road, or the like), or which is not using a well-drawn and correct map, might become lost. This is determined prior to the commencement of a day’s movement. Determination is based on the terrain….
I italicized the portion of the text that tells you when to check. This is a bit different in the 5e version of the text which appears as:
Unless they are following a path, or something like it, adventurers traveling in the wilderness run the risk of becoming lost. The party’s navigator makes a Wisdom (Survival) check when you decide it’s appropriate, against a DC determined by the prevailing terrain, as shown on the Wilderness Navigation table. If the party is moving at a slow pace, the navigator gains a +5 bonus to the check, and a fast pace imposes a – 5 penalty. If the party has an accurate map of the region or can see the sun or stars, the navigator has advantage on the check.
In the Gygaxian original view of the possibility of getting lost, a daily check is necessary. In the lore of 5th edition, it is up to the DM to determine when he wants to check. This allows you to remove much of the randomness that could interrupt the telling of your collective story. For instance, it doesn’t make much narrative sense to be riding wildly to warn a town an impending invasion of a horde of lycanthropic halflings and then suddenly take a wrong turn and get lost.
In the Gygaxian original view of the possibility of getting lost, a daily check is necessary.
You will note, however, that no preference is given to Rangers, Druids or even Wood Elves – only to those with the survival skill. I like it because it is uniform, but it might surprise the party druid or ranger to learn that he is not the go-to source of woodland navigation without the survival skill.
All of this thus far is making fairly good sense if it does make an overt reliance upon the survival skill. But what about the nature skill? Why isn’t it used?
The nature skill is a knowledge of a thing – it is passive, descriptive, informational. Survival is hands-on, the doing of a thing – it is an active skill. Nature could, in fact, be helpful – your character might know that lichen only grow on the southern side of the rocks and stones in this region therefore be able to re-orientate the party – still lost, but now sure of their direction of travel. There is a time penalty for getting lost (1d6 hours to re-orientate) – the nature skill could and should be used to reduce or even negate that penalty.
Becoming lost is the realization that you have been wrong about where you are
Why did the 1st edition rules specify a check first thing in the morning? To start with, the entire day would be spent moving in a random direction. Until the terrain changes significantly or an unexpected river or other easily recognized terrain marker appears, the party does not know they are actually lost. This allows the DM to place the party somewhere on the map and then later inform the party that they are starting to suspect that they might not be heading the right direction. Generally speaking, becoming lost is the realization that you have been wrong about where you are and where you have been going. In game parlance, you must have moved unwittingly in an incorrect direction.
How does a party discover that they are moving in the wrong direction? As previously mentioned, they could encounter a terrain distinction of some sort IF they have a good map. Cutting across roads or trails might provide them with a clue if you’d prefer to role play the discovery. Missing expected landmarks (towns, river fords, a mountain pass, etc) is another way for the party to become aware that they are adrift in the wilderness.
Travel time in the wrong direction is needed for the party to be, by definition, lost.
The 5th edition rules say that you can check at anytime to determine if the party becomes lost, but in order for this to mean anything, some actual travel time in the wrong direction is needed for the party to be, by definition, lost. So I would suggest that once a party becomes lost, that at least half a day travel happens before they become aware of any hint of a problem.
I had mentioned earlier that travel provides some role playing opportunities. If the lands are inhabited, the party would be wise to occasionally have a chat with a local. This would allow them to get a picture of what is happening in the area that might be of interest to the party (grim hints of a lycanthropic halfling horde, for instance) while confirming their bearings. But then, everyone hates to stop and ask for directions – according to my wife, this is especially true of men.
In terms of winners and losers, AD&D 1e -vs- D&D5e, which one is better for handling getting lost? I prefer the clever way that D&D5e handles the checks, but I also like the more hex-centric rules and handling of being lost afforded by the older 1e rules. Using a fusion of the two rule sets and home brewing your campaign rules for getting lost is the way to go.
Sometimes I like to take on a technical challenge and I thought that converting G1 to D&D5e would be an interesting thing to try. I thought that it would be cool to see how well 5e would overlay upon the old bones of G1 and it would be interesting to discern how much of the original AD&D model would still shine-through while creating a Fantasy Grounds module.
Schley’s version is a great improvement, being rendered in a 5′ scale
So I gathered up a copy of G1 and the first task seemed to be to either make or find a high resolution battle map. A little bit of search engine action later, and I was staring in amazement at a Mike Schley version of the two maps in G1. They were not a one-to-one match, but very, very similar while getting the job done. Actually, Schley’s version is a great improvement, being rendered in a 5′ scale while the original was in 10′ map square. I became a patron of Mr. Schley’s web store and bought the two maps.
Once I had the maps, I started to wonder if Mike just took on old modules and made maps, or what. Why in the heck did he make this map?
The entire G-series was remade for the 4th Edition of D&D
It turns out that the entire G-series was remade for the 4th Edition of D&D starting in the pages of Dungeon 197 and subsequently reappearing in 199 and climaxing in issue 200. It was designed for level 13-14+ characters, which made me a bit unhappy since the original G1 was designed for level 8 or 9 adventurers. I am still targeting the level 8-9 range because I’d prefer to keep at least that much consistent.
Reviewing the pages of Dungeon 197, I was actually very, very pleased with how they had structured it. The Steading was zoned off into logical areas and it was tied into what would happen if an alarm was sounded.
A 25th Anniversary edition of the G-series was released as Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff
Still looking at things through a historical lens, I discovered that a 25th Anniversary edition of the G-series was released as Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff in 1999. I suppose that this was swan song of D&D2e material – but it is not available online, so my interest in it died.
Very, very early into this conversion, you have to stare down the barrel of Gygax’s player killing design. The second room in the original module contains over 25 giants. If the alarm goes up elsewhere in the structure and this group fans out and gets organized, it could be very easy for a party to do a full wipe.
The second room in the original module contains over 25 giants.
Conversely, a room filled with Giants is an AoE wet dream. I can still recall the party that I DMed for hitting that room with wands, a necklace of fireballs, and of course an actual fireball cast by the party mage. Of the 25 giants, most were dead or nearly dead and the room was really an irresistibly huge XP pool and my group of players happily cannon-balled and belly-flopped into the warm, warm waters of combat experience.
In fairness, things were quite a bit different back in D&D1e days. Damage inflation hadn’t happened – doing over 10 points of damage on a single attack was doing good. The giants of the time had hit points listed as: H.P.: 44, 3 x 40, 39, 5 x 38, 5 x 37, 3 x 36, 33, 30, 2 x 27.
Your average run of the mill D&D5e Hill Giant has 105 hit points – close to 3x the average hit points of the giants in the original encounter listed above. More problematic for the players, these giants will not crumple and fold under the incandescent glow of a few fireballs.
So the number of foes has to be reduced – even an expert party would go down under the crushing power of 25 giants. It still needs to be an overpowering group of grubby hill giants, one that you do not want to face in a fair fight, but something closer to manageable in case the party decides to risk direct conflict.
What I ended up with was a CR 16 group worth 14600 XP – not yet modified for difficulty which will be deadly. The group summarizes as:
Stone Giants x 2 (one being the chief Nosnra, one being the stone giant emissary)
Hill Giants x 5. I really considered going with three (one giant for each seat at the table), but decided to dig in the spurs and make sure the group had significant gravity
Dire Bear x 1. The chief has a pet bear and animals might pose problems or opportunities depending upon the group and their plans. To create the bear, I modified a polar bear, gave it more hit dice (7d10), renamed it to DIRE BEAR and patted myself on the back.
Get the hardest encounter tuned and the rest of it just sort of falls into place.
Getting the principal encounter on the map ‘tuned’ to level 8 or 9 made me feel pretty good about how the rest of the adventure will turn out. I think that I will use this approach during future conversions – get the hardest encounter tuned and the rest of it just sort of falls into place.
Area 01 summary (CR9 XP 4950):
Hill Giants x 2 (one on the tower, one asleep against the main doors)
Ogres x 3 (asleep near the main gate)
Add one more ogre and the difficulty jumps from HARD to DEADLY, so this monster encounter is a pretty good acid test to see if the group of players is ready for adventure inside the Steading. If you are unsure, fudge it into an full encounter and if the party struggles, they might want to fall-back.
Area 03 summary (CR14, XP 11250)
Morzul, Hill Giantess Shaman (started with a Hill Giant, copied the three powers from the article in Dungeon 197 and removed rock throwing – she is asleep in her room)
Hill Giants x 3 (these guys are asleep and scattered in beds in two rooms)
Hill Giant Younglings x 9 (I took an ogre and converted it into a Hill Giant youth. The players have three rounds to get this group down before they attract the attention of the adult Hill Giants whereupon things could take a turn for the worse)
This is a controlled situation where player choices will make a difference. If the adults become involved, the situation could deteriorate very quickly.
I’ve been working on a module for five players of the 5th level. I’ve been struggling with how I want to present it here and have decided to talk more about the technical aspects (pens, paper, scanners, software) and a bit less of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition (D&D 5e) choices that I’ve made. The goal here is be more concerned with illustrating the creative process and less concerned with the nuts and bolts of rules.
After floundering around with several pieces of software to create digital maps, I finally tired of getting no where at all and ordered a pad of 11″ x 17″ graph paper with a 1/4″ grid. I prefer a larger pad so I do not feel quite as cramped and it affords me room to make notes as needed.
By now, I already have a solid mental picture of what I want from the dungeon. It was constructed by a very wealthy alchemist named Stenious Strauss to protect a powerful alchemical weapon that he had made. Because of this, I created the following criteria for the dungeon:
It will be heavy on large-scale situational traps.
It will be expertly constructed and of very fine quality.
It will not have been penetrated or otherwise entered in more than 200 years, so most opponents will need to be undead, elementals, constructs, or otherwise be able to survive for long periods.
Once we had a few ground rules, a handful of expectations and logical conclusions, things started to roll along much faster. The plot details initiated an explosion of directed, well-focused production. The more fuel you have on hand, the easier it is to get a creative fire burning.
The plot details initiated an explosion of directed, well-focused production.
Brainstorming, I developed a list of possible opponents that include Ogre Zombies, Flesh Golems, Quipper Swarms, a custom door greeter to set the tone, and a few other custom creatures once we get a bit deeper into this. It was more than enough to get started.
It is worth mentioning that much of my creature planning is done on Kobold.club and I find this site invaluable. I also use open5e.com which is a great place for getting the specifics for each creature in an encounter, all without opening a book.
Armed with this information, I sketched out the following map:
Now I had something on paper and had a pretty good mental picture of how each of these rooms would work.
As the map got more detailed, I considered how I wanted several traps to work and made diagrams for them (sketches seen in the recent post about traps and arbitrary player character murder.) I feel that it is very important to set a tone early in the halls of a dungeon that give the players an expectation, a foreshadowing of what is likely to transpire as they advance through the dungeon. Of the first eight rooms, seven of them have traps. After this insidious introduction, they should be much more aware and studious in their attempts to locate and disarm any traps that they might encounter.
Of the first eight rooms, seven of them have traps.
I now had enough to start writing room descriptions. When finished, each room was taking up about 2 pages of paper, which I suppose was the price of having complex traps.. This added increasingly more detail for the map and I added notes or more detail to the sketch and fleshed it out a bit more.
Because I was enjoying myself and wanted the detail to stand out a bit more, I colored the paper very, very lightly with watercolor pencils which I activated with a brush that was only lightly dampened. The paper is thin and has buckled, but it is a lot nicer upon the eye.
Continuing forward… I will convert the hand-drawn map to a digital format with Fractal Mapper 8 – this is already almost done. Though the dungeon isn’t fully completed, the players have already arrived and have penetrated over half of the rooms.
Back in December of 2015, I spent part of an afternoon with a pen and paper and sketched the outline a continent. A few days later, I decided to run a campaign – but as soon as possible which meant using an existing campaign world. So I put the campaign map aside and concentrated entirely on how to get a campaign up and running as quickly as possible.
Now I have some breathing room, and I am back to where I started – with the outline of a continent or a super-sized island. The need to create is overpowering most of my other pursuits. Here is the continent outline:
The vague initial notion while sketching the outline was that this would be a world so dominated by large, nasty sea-going creatures that the only feasible naval activities would be in the shallower inner sea. Nations would crowd around the smaller but far safer body of water and conduct trade, war, and it would be awash with the activity of the civilized races.
Needing mapping tools, I first purchased NBOS’ well regarded Fractal Mapper 8. It is powerful enough and has a lot to recommend it. I like a great deal it for dungeon mapping and battle-map creation, but I don’t care for the overland mapping. It is too…fiddly for my needs. You could (and I could and did) spend a lot of time re-sizing and positioning map imagery.
You can really blaze through world creation…
Then I looked at Hexographer and also bought it. Hexographer is down and dirty, far less functional than Fractal Mapper, but so clearly focused on a singular task that it is both easier to use and far more goal orientated. You can really blaze through world creation which, for my needs, is almost perfect. I wanted to hash out the rough outline of the campaign map with the intent of coming back and drawing the entire map by hand from the diagram that Hexographer allows me to create. I’d have no problem GMing from the resultant Hexographer maps, but I’d greatly prefer to invest the time to create my own hand-drawn, highly emotive campaign map which will take a sizable investment in time and effort to create.
Here is what I’ve done in Hexographer:
You will note that it has no river basins drawn, virtually no towns, roads, trails or national markings. It will come – I need a little time to think on the lay of the land and how I want things to play out. Rivers make natural borders which is why it requires more than a little time to hash-out where all of the races will be located.
I also did some checking and with a 36-mile hex, this landmass represents around 18-22% of an area the size of Australia. Not that huge, but large enough for my needs.
I will add to this map and associated dialogue over the coming weeks and perhaps months.
A little preliminary campaign background info…
Humankind will be a young, low population race that relies heavily upon the good graces of the Elves. The Elves, being out numbered by races that are hostile to them and having a poor reproduction rate, are more than happy to have the fast-breeding humans acting as a buffer against their enemies.
A social and political union of the Dwarf and Gnome will be the strongest non-evil force and neutrality will be well-represented. Greed and avarice will mark their goals and they will not be the best of neighbors as a result.
I spent 4 years in the US Army infantry back in the ’80s and got to spend a great deal of time in difficult terrain. We maneuvered in the sand dunes of Germany. Yeah, no shit, Germany has an area near Mainz that has a neighboring geological freak zone locally referred to as ‘the dunes.’
While I was in the states, I was stationed in Louisiana with the Red Devils 5th Infantry Division at Fort Polk. Much of the land there was wet and muddy and there was a lot of wildlife taking advantage of the heavy cover. I recall the base commander’s dog went swimming and subsequently became an alligator snack.
All these year later, it occurred to me that I never really knew if I was in a swamp or marsh. I always assumed that it was a swamp since it was inland. Working on mapping icons, I became aware that even though I have spent a great deal of time in swamps – and probably marshes, too – I really didn’t understand the distinction between the two.
Searching the internet, I discovered this gem of an image:
Here is a USGS graphic that does an excellent job of making it clear. Basically, swamps are dominated by hardwood trees, while marshes are marked by grasses.
What does this mean for mapping and gaming? Well, marsh and swamp should go hand in hand – it would be impossible to have one without the other. It would be much easier to hide in a swamp than a marsh and it would probably be easier to move through a marsh.
I also have realized that many, many terrain features will span large numbers of half-mile hexes. Colorized hexes will have to be used to describe the core terrain. While I don’t want to create maps that are inaccessible by those of you that are color-blind, I also don’t want to have a mountain icon stamped on every 1/2 hex.
Dispensing with mapping software, I’m getting started on building a library of images that will make me happy with my cartography. First of many, many pieces is done…
This was lifted from a map of Paris circa 1550 and rendered as a vector graphic. There are three other corners…. But being able to flip graphics easily, I am likely to only grab one of the bottom corners.
4/5/2016 – Completed the South-West corner. Since it is easy enough to flip and place these, no pressing need for to create unique art assets for the missing two corners.