Tarantis Update – Colorization pt 1

First week of colorization
First week of colorization

I’ve spent much of my time this week experimenting with appearances and I have slowly advanced the colorization on the map of Tarantis.

If you are wondering what that ugly tan or yellow-brown is to the south side of the map, that is the undercoat for the grassy areas.  Having a unifying color is important and a nice friendly warm color seemed like a good choice.  Quite a bit of the color peeks through the green, grassy areas, but you aren’t likely to notice it very much.

Anyhow, I just wanted to keep a record of my progress.


Tarantis update – planning major deviations from the original vision

I’ve taken about a month away from this project.  My daughter graduated and a week later jetted off to Russia to complete her language studies in St. Petersburg.  And my weekly campaign was languishing and needed quite a bit of attention – so I’ve had little time to spare.  But I am still working on Tarantis.

One of my biggest dislikes about the original Tarantis map is that the huge sea wall that surrounded the wharf area of town seemed immense and frankly unbelievable.  I know, it is a fantasy world, but just the staff and continued maintenance on the largely submerged wall would realize such limited benefits that it did not make economical sense – never mind the original difficulty in constructing such a thing.

The original wharf area and the surrounding wall

It is also very blocky and clearly on a grid, being hyper naturally straight.  No question that this is a lawful town!

I decided to re-envision the the defenses.  Conceptually, the entire wharf area is artificial.  The harbor was dredged out and the soils were heaped creating a protective island.  The protective island was then carpeted with jagged rock and stone to prevent it from eroding.  Meanwhile, pilings were hammered in, stones submerged, and a series of towers were constructed around the docks.  These towers are normally unmanned and contain magically powered gears that pull lengthy runs of immense iron chains taut – and these chains prevent ships and large submerged objects from entering the protected harbor.  Finally, a large manned tower is located on the isle, a twin to that guarding the palace, a place where aerial mounts are housed and catapults and the like are manned to fight any seaborne threat.

The walls have been replaced with a tower system that features runs of chains to block boats and the like

I am not 100% sure that I want to do this, so I am pausing and letting this sink in.

I have also been exploring tools to colorize the town and bought Clip Studio Paint because it could import the vector files produced by my ancient version of Adobe Illustrator.  Unfortunately, it is a one-way trip – CSP can import the data, but it is not good about output that Illustrator can use.  Still, I may use it anyhow since I don’t care how Illustrator has to internally convert all the vectors into a mass shape before it can be used to colorize the map – at least with CSP I still have vector groups and pieces and it is a very mature, capable piece of software.


A Judges Guild Story

Back in ’70s, I was a big, big fan of Judges Guild materials.  They produced incredibly cool stuff at a reasonable price point AND they were located within driving distance of my home.  Not that I ever drove there, but it was still inspiring to know that a smallish mid-west town was cranking out D&D materials.

At the time, I fancied myself as being a pen and ink artist and sent a few sketches off to Judges Guild along with a SASE and a letter asking them to please consider my artwork.  Being a kid of 17 years, I also called a couple of times and probably made a general ass of myself.  I think that the arrangement was that Mr. Bledsaw would mail me a check and a copy of whatever the artwork appeared in. There wasn’t much money in it, but getting D&D materials for a little ink and time seemed like a good deal – plus it got me published.

Well, I never heard back.  I moved later in the year and then life happened and I sort of forgot all about it.

Cover Judges Guild Journal 14 1979

Fast forward 35 years….  I am on the Board Game Geek and decided to type my name in when searching for credits.  To my surprise,  my name pops up as having been an author for Judges Guild Journal #14 on page 25.   Well, I had no recollection of writing anything for them, so I decided maybe it was another Tim Kilgore.  Heck, there is even a Pro-Wrestling Tim Kilgore…

Another year goes by – it is 2016 and I am DMing D&D again.  I decided that I had to know for sure and used ebay to get a copy of the Judges Guild Journal #14.  I turn to page 25 and as I turn the page a big old grin comes to my mug unbidden – right there was 2 pieces of art that I’d not seen since I mailed it in 1979.


I actually laughed and smiled for a good five minutes – it was just so nice to see these again.  They aren’t awesome – but they are mine and it just sort of took me back to a time and place, refreshing my recollection of who I once was.

I suppose that moving probably interfered with me getting anything from Judges Guild.  And while it took a long time for me to know about it, I do have to say that it is pretty cool to have made the cut and to have been published by Judges Guild.

I think that Mr. Bledsaw knew that it was a big deal to me and he included my full signature – which he had to pull from the letter I had sent – and having done that, it allowed someone to create an entry for me as an author on the Board Game Geek website.  If he’d not been so kind, I’d never have never found it.


Project Benchmark – Tarantis with Walls


This is a landmark moment in a long project – Tarantis now has walls!

Today I finished the temple section and then started working on the walls.  I eventually got about 60% around the town and then had to do something else, so I started ‘humanizing’ the map.

What do I mean by humanizing?  Well, the original map was very much laid out on a grid and has a machine-feel to it as a result.  I simply took a great deal of the town off of the grid and this makes it more friendly, more natural to the human eye.  How?  Well, I basically just rotated groups of buildings by 1 to 3 degrees then shifted them as needed so the roads continued to work.

As I built the walls, I was also careful to make sure that the lines were off at angles and also shifted the watch towers back toward the center of town so they would not provide cover to enemies.  I also constructed rounded gates and all 4 city gates use the same basic format.

It felt great to finally close the wall!  I immediately stopped working on it – I’d been going a bit longer than I should, wanting to get it finished.  I still have a long way to go before the project is done, sometimes the work itself encourages you and should help keep me working on it.


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.