Updates, Updates

Another chunk of the Wartorn Chapter Five write-up has just gone live. Large bits of this section of the campaign are inspired by the old Temple of Elemental Evil supermodule and it’s follow-up Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. I’ve been adapting material to the Eberron setting and adjusting the actual menaces to try and match the extremely large party of experienced adventurers currently assaulting it.

When you have seven players and their average level is higher than the original material was aimed at it leads to a number of challenges. Most published material assumes the groups will be smaller and so scale accordingly. Part of what I’ve been doing is adjusting the numbers and difficulties of encounters – or replacing them wholesale – to create a challenge that still keeps the players engaged.

To some degree the relatively easy level of some of the initial bits of this section has served to dull the paranoias of the group, so that when the rug is pulled, or encounters are tricker than expected, it grips their attention more. There’s also a deeper level of reworking going on that a couple of the players have started to notice – a recurring set of villains with unknown motivations that suit the otherworldly threats. Some have noticed the ongoing Lovecraftian nods and drawn their own conclusions. As ever, I shall enjoy listening to them panic and make up their own scenarios so that I can cherry-pick ideas…

Atmospheric Descriptions

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The current Monday Roll20-based D&D games are proving just how effective some atmospheric descriptive text and the hint of things happening just out of sight can be. On paper, the current area being investigated by the players should be a pushover, with the majority of foes in the area being barely able to touch them. The reality of their game experience however is one where they are three weeks in, and have barely covered half the tunnels in the area they are investigating.

The slow and careful pace has been prompted by a number of factors: thin, winding, branching tunnels with few extended lines of sight; many, many low level but intelligent opponents capable of setting traps and ambushes, that use tactics such as hit and run to distract the players; and unrelentingly awful descriptions of the foul tunnels and their inhabitants. There are also audible clues about what else is there in the tunnels with them.

A creature known as a wheep, owing more than a little of its description to Clive Barker’s Cenobites, is in the tunnels, and its constant bubbling crying is echoing at all times. I’ve considered  playing a very low volume loop of someone crying in the background of the game – so low that it’s pretty subliminal – but the players are good enough at terrifying themselves without my adding that to the mix.

The characters can also hear drums, and fluting music, from the depths, and they know that wheeps are usually guardians of more powerful creatures. There’s an awful lot of conjecture going on about what is in the warrens with them.

There’s even a theory that these ghouls are not actually evil, and are merely defending their homes and shrines from this murdering invasive force that is slaughtering all before it. Now, would I actually pull a reverse like that on my players?

Additional Maps

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I’ve started uploading selected encounter maps, or at least the basic map outlays, under the Notable Locations page in the Wartorn section. For the most part they don’t include furniture, inhabitants, or special features unless I had access to a suitable resource when drawing them in the pyromancers site.

I’ve started putting them up in part to jog memories for players or to illustrate the stories recounted, but feel free to copy and use anything you need for your own sessions. The maps should load and scale to 70 pixels per square, the default scale in Roll20. They are also generally designed to a scale of one square equalling five foot or so.

Maps and Mapping for Roll20

I’ve been using the pyromancers.com website to handmake the maps I’ve been using in the Wartorn Roll20 campaigns over the last year or so, but it’s not the only resource I’ve been making use of.

There’s a few more websites that have recently caught my eye, and I’ll probably start dipping in to using them from time to time. A few of the maps that my group have yet to encounter have been made up using graphics from these sites, so I’ve tested them for ease of importing the resulting graphics in to Roll20. So far, each has been useful in different ways.

simple map of connected roomsThe first – ANAMap – is a map generator that allows me to make old-school line drawing maps and export them as PNG graphics, which are fully supported by Roll20.

When you start up, you are presented with a blank sheet of graph paper-style unreal estate and a series of tools on the left hand side that allow you to carve your nascent dungeon with a few simple clicks. Each square on the “graph paper” is cleared as you click on it, and refilled if you click back on it again, making editing and changing your mind a simple task as you go along. The palette is simple, and the icons are rudimentary, but if you’re looking to generate something quickly with a clean set of lines, this is probably what I’d prefer to direct you towards at the moment. As an added bonus, the site does remember where you got up to, and so you will see your most recent edit when you go back.

You can save and reload maps as you need to revisit them, which is a nice touch and making the grid disappear is a matter of clicking on the Draft button. The Dark theme reverses the palette to make a neon dark blue and glowing walls effect, so that might prove useful if you want to do some mirror-world or dreamscape representations of maps.

Randomly Generated series of tiles that create a series of connected rooms and tunnelsThe other site I’ve started using has been more for inspiration or throwing together very quick locations, and I think I’m only really starting to scratch the surface. Dave’s Mapper uses tiled templates to randomly generate areas. It too allows you to export maps as PNG format graphics and these can be resized as required when you import them into Roll20.

There are all sorts of filters available to choose the style and design of the tiles used, and whether the maps are close edged to make a contained location, or open-edged (for generating a location within wider streets or tunnels, for example). By default though, the maps tend to resemble the example here, reminiscent of classic hand-drawn dungeons in original D&D products back in the days of yore. I really like it, and I might use it for generating treasure maps for handouts to players, using them as a template for a map put together with the pyromancers site instead.

Hopefully, one or more of these resources will be helpful to you too, let me know in the comments, or feel free to suggest other map making resources that you treasure.