Wilderlands Map 6: Tarantis conversion completed

Using Necromancer Games / Judge’s Guild Wilderness of High Fantasy product, I converted Map 6 (Tarantis) to work inside Fantasy Grounds from Smiteworks.  I probably need to convert 2 or 3 more maps in order to run a campaign, but it is a good start.

Here is a peek of how busy the Fantasy Grounds map is when fully linked to data:

Every red pin links to the text for the location

Since I don’t have print concerns, I also took the time to reformat the text for the towns and military outposts:

A snippet of original text that becomes…
Text formating improves the readability of the provided information.

While I was about it, I also made the lists of locations a bit more valuable:


As you can see, the names of settlements stand out and I added population information.  The text shown here is what appears when the mouse hovers over a pin on the map, so loading it with a little extra information seemed like a good idea.

I also got another little side project with a random encounter table done and I will talk about that a bit later.  Finishing the overland map for Tarantis now has me eager to get the town proper converted.


Projects – Whats done, whats begun

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.

Tarantis Wilderlands campaign map coming alive with data!  Map and data come from “Wilderlands of High Fantasy” by Necromancer Games 2005.

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.

A large Lawful-Evil city is contained within these pages

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:

Even zoomed in, these maps are a little hazy and indistinct. They used brown ink on tan paper, so the scans are understandably a bit weak

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:

Same area as before, but now you can see the vector graphics overlaid on the page.

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:

The stronger, darker areas have the outlines of buildings done.  Fuzzy grey scale looks especially bad zoomed out this far.

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:

Amazing what a little color and some shadowing can do!

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.


Hexcrawl Hazards: Becoming Lost

Getting Lost

1st edition VS 5th Edition D&D

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.

Direction of travel once lost
Direction of travel once lost – expanded version based upon the diagram shown in AD&D 1e Dungeon Master’s Guide page 49.

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.



Building a hex grid in Adobe Illustrator

Here are a set of steps that will help you to create a custom hex grid.  The instructions are for Adobe Illustrator CS6, but I suspect that they work fine back to CS4.

6-mile hex at 1 mile hex scale
The very definition of a 6-mile hex at the more commonly used 1-mile scale
  1. Start a new 8.5″ x 11″ document with landscape orientation
  2. Select the polygon tool and click on the page. Set the tool to .3” radius and 6 points.
  3. Place the newly created hexagon in the upper left-hand corner of the artboard
  4. With the hexagon shape selected, click on EFFECT → DISTORT & TRANSFORM → TRANSFORM
  5. Set Preview to ON
  6. Set Horizontal move to .45”
  7. Set Vertical move to .26”
  8. Enable REFLECT X
  9. Tell it to create 32 copies (takes us off the bottom of page)
  10. Click on OK
  11. Deselect and reselect the first hexagon (only the first can be selected)
  12. With the hexagon shape selected, click on EFFECT → DISTORT & TRANSFORM → TRANSFORM
  13. If necessary, click “Apply New Effect” button
  14. Turn on the preview
  15. Set the Horizontal move to .9”
  16. Set the number of copies to 12
  17. Click on OK
  18. (Make your changes to line thickness / style as you wish – last chance to do it uniformly.)
  19. With the hexagon selected, set the fill color to none (transparent)
  20. Select OBJECT → Expand…
  21. Select OBJECT → Path → Outline Stroke
  22. With all of the objects still selected (CTRL-A if they are not), Select WINDOW → Pathfinder and click on Unite (the first option)
6-mile hex at 1/2 mile scale
6-hex at 1/2 mile grid resolution (i.e. 12 hexes from top to bottom)

Once you have the basic components, you can easily create custom mapping sheets with the hex-grid scaled to match your needs.  These instructions were gleaned from a video over at layersmagazine.com.

Campaign Goals and Hex Map Scales

I am starting to ponder all of the many parts and pieces of a self-generated campaign setting. This got me to thinking about scale mechanics and how I wanted to represent the game world.  I am a hex-crawler, so I’ve already jumped the initial hurdle of campaign map style.

It may sound a bit ambitious at first, but I am going to map at a 1/2 mile scale in detailed regions and use 6-mile hexes to display the detailed portion of the game world.  The 6-mile hexes upscale to 36-mile hexes which would be fine for the ‘lower resolution view’ of a campaign map.

6-mile super hex
A perfectly formed 6-mile super-hex displayed at 1/2 mile per normal hex.  Shexy!

The goal is to use a mapping scale that is friendly to displaying the location of villages and minor terrain features such as normal-sized lakes.  Really, any feature that isn’t on an epic scale could be comfortably depicted.

The reason that this scale is important to me is because I plan to set the campaign in an era where human affairs are dominated primarily by loose bands of City States. Placing villages, large holdings, resource points, and other important markers onto a map scaled to handle such things is critical to accurately portraying the holdings of a given City State.

City States require a network of villages to provide food production and other base resources for the dwellers of the city.  In turn, the villagers trade their food, furs, and raw materials for finished products and the city state also has men at arms that protect the small villages.  When war does come, the farmers flood the city seeking the protection of walls and warriors. Systems of roads, bridges, and towers might be employed by wealthier City States.

Anyhow, the first task is to get the 36-mile campaign map started.  I will probably focus on a smaller continent  and get going on it with a larger goal of developing a map reference system, semi-random map generation tables, and to generally get in the thick of just doing it so I can better see how I want to proceed.

So the initial goal is to build the lower level tools that I will need to build the maps.  Default hex-grid templates and a coordinate or reference system seems like a good place to start.