Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Maps, Maps, Maps

The weather is lovely in South Haven MI this week, albeit a little on the warm side. We had dinner with the Ohnsman's Sunday night, old friends from AT&T/Lucent who several of the DnD group are familiar with. They were happy to hear everyone is doing well, as are they, and Steve expressed his disbelief that this group has been playing DnD together for 30+ years. Steve's daughter roleplays so he is as least vaguely familiar with the concept of what we do. I told him it's just like playing APBA baseball – the social aspect of the games are the highlight, the game itself is just the mechanic that brings the group together.

While working at the hospital I am often less then challenged mentally, which allows my mind to drift in various directions. One of the things I have been thinking about recently is about the maps we use. One of the items I commented on in the post-KotS analysis I did several weeks ago was some expression of displeasure with the maps I had created. While the process of using a spreadsheet to create the maps and being able to share them with Mark has worked very quite well, I often think the maps as currently constituted don't necessarily provide the players all the visual feedback they could.

Example: Recently, when the Goblin Sharpshooters knocked over the table to take up defensive positions behind it I got the impression that the party initially couldn't figure how I was knocking over a grey square with the word “table” written on it. Similarly, items such as pillars, fire pits, or statues could have been utilized in certain ways by the players but were instead more-or-less ignored. Originally I wanted to use the KISS system with regard to the maps and to avoid the use of art work or icons, but I have been reconsidering this.

And since I can't do anything half-way, when we meet this Sunday I will have two copies of the same map, one using the colored squares/text labels format we have been using and one with art work substituted in. Besides providing me something to obsess over the use of art work in the map does provide a certain aesthetic and most importantly will improve game play.

So, for instance, when encountering a small table it should be obvious that one can not pass directly through the square because there is a major obstruction. But is also should be obvious that a table does not necessarily completely fill up a 5X5 square and that a character will be able to “cut a corner” in order to get around it. On the other hand, something smaller like a chair would provide a minor obstruction if someone was trying to pass through that square. The same would go for players being able to differentiate between the type of pillars that do fill up an entire square (i.e., those you can't angle past) and those that don't (those you can angle past).

I have resisted the urge to fill in every floor tile with a floor tile icon. It does look pretty cool, but each of these pictures dropped into the spreadsheet map does have a small amount of size, a small amount that adds up pretty quickly though. If I were to add a floor icon per every cell it would be tedious and the file size would start to get huge. I suppose I could expand the icon to span multiple cells, but the normal cells borders wouldn't show then – I would have to draw them in by hand. Hmmm, not now, but maybe in the future.

Mark provided me with a clue as to how I could expand the thickness of the internal “skinny walls” so they should be a lot more obvious upon viewing. I have added shading to help differentiate between different types of floor or different elevations of floor. I also did some resizing work to help get more map per piece of paper.

In other map news, we are getting ready to head into several sections of very large maps, too large to print out as a whole and then be usable on the game table. For KotS I created separate maps for every room and while that worked, none of the cell addresses lined up when moving from room to room. What I have done is created the large map as a whole unit and will then go back in an print out sections of the map as needed. There may be some overlap between separate sheets, but the addressing will be consistent throughout. For instance, the hallway that connects two different portions of the map may be present on two different printed sections of maps, but since the cells have the same address it should flow smoothly.

Technical note: I brought an old laptop with me that I run Linux on, specifically Ubuntu 10.4. If you have an old laptop that is sitting around collecting dust I highly recommend downloading a free copy of the OS, dumping it to a CD and then installing it just to play with. You can't run Windows programs (like the DDI Tools) but it does contain enough basics to allow you to do almost any business-type work you would ever need. It includes an office suite, Firefox for web browsing, a music player, and the networking has improved greatly over the past few years (the cabin doesn't have wireless, but I have been able to occasionally mooch off a spare signal here in the neighborhood). It is maintained very well plus there is a huge library of additional software out there for the taking (taking, because it is all free). I always load VI and Emacs for instance.

OpenOffice 3.2 is an MS-Office clone and does about 95% of what MS-Office does, but since most people never use more than 10% of an Office product capabilities you are likely to be OK there. I am typing this in OO-Word and have been playing with the maps in the OO-Calc spreadsheet tool. OO-Calc provides a larger color palette for the background colors, although that may be a function of the video card in my home PC versus the one in this laptop.

Supposedly you can run Windows program using an emulator (Wine). However it doesn't provide 100% compatibility and from what I read is still kind of buggy, so I really haven't pursued it. I think we are starting to run low on extra DDI logins anyway, so I am not worrying about it for now.


  1. For our dungeon this week, Leo unveiled his networked map program, and I for one thought it worked great. It displayed the map with both monster and character icons, everyone could move their own character around (thank you wireless mouse!), players and creatures could be labeled as Bloodied, Marked, Cursed, etc., thing stayed hidden until we were in a position to reveal them, etc. Best of all, nobody had to waste time telling me where they'd moved to. Uber cool.

    I don't have any idea how difficult it would be to convert the Excel-based maps you've created into whatever format Leo's program uses, but if it isn't a huge task, that might be the way to go going forward.

  2. Very cool. That would certainly solve the map size problem as well as the "cloud of war" issue. Spreadsheet data can exported in many different formats so I am sure we can work something out.