Wednesday 15 March 2023

Isometric Maps

GM Achievement Unlocked: I create Isometric Maps

I have been having Joy Out Of Measure with two tools for making maps. Today, though, was a massive step forward.

When my friends and I first started with Roll20, my first thought was: “This is totally optimized for combat. Number-crunching combat. Guess all that role-playing and talking and writing is put on hold for a while.” 

My second thought was: “This is going to totally drain all my free time as a GM, creating all these high-quality maps. I do not want to go broke trying to find and buy good quality digital maps.”

Thankfully, two sites have saved my bacon and my wallet. They’re also rather fun to use.

I’ve done more with Inkarnate at first. I poked around it a bit, and thought, “This is a very good bargain for a year of Pro level access.” I’ve made both regional maps and Roll20 battle maps. I even had success creating the catamaran that the players in my campaign have just boarded and will be on for a session or four.

My players have to date not seen all the maps I’ve created. They are a very intelligent bunch, so I’m not going to give them here additional hints of undiscovered locations. I will show some maps of places they have already encountered or are not likely to reach.

This is my first cut at a catamaran.

This is the first bar I put together, run by a dwarf and made of stone. It’s called the Solid Favour.

I also am very thankful to have Dungeon Scrawl. Dungeon Scrawl makes some things quick and delightful to do. Other tasks are nearly impossible: I spent 45 minutes trying to make the white square in the bottom left room red. I eventually did it, but decided I’d just annotate the square differently next time, or mark it red in Roll20, or something else.

The truly outstanding achievement I unlocked today, though, is something I have always thought was beyond my skill set:

Isometric maps.

I remember looking at Ravenloft in 1983 (or, rather, peeking over the shoulder at the GM’s copy in 1984) and being stunned by the utility of the isometric maps that module had. I thought, “Wow! Those must be really hard to make!”

My pride at creating my first isometric map in Dungeon Scrawl fills my house today. I normally make a throwaway map when I try something new. Today, though, my first cut at an isometric map was for a setting my players will ideally reach. That first cut worked so well, I’m keeping it hidden. I have created a second isometric map to prove I can actually do it to anyone reading this blog. This map is a hasty slap dash born of memories of the shopping malls in the suburbs near where I grew up.

My map making skills are only going to improve. I am very thankful to have found these tools, and to have an opportunity to build with them.

Sunday 15 January 2023

For Maximum Fun, Follow the Instructions

This Gamemaster is overjoyed to have run two sessions of Fun City to date. Overall the prognosis is good. The campaign looks healthy, there is no shortage of players expressing interest in participating, and everyone is having a good time.

Last session had two serious challenges attacking the level of fun around the virtual table. To address this, a royal commission was struck. Today the findings can be made public.

Let’s address the two major considerations that came out of the last two gaming sessions one at a time.

The players found it hard to see everything at once

More than one player said something along the lines of “I cannot see everything all the time for all characters” or “I found it hard to know what was attacking.” With Dynamic Lighting and limited vision and barriers to sight, the characters had limited visibility. This led to the players having limited awareness.

Partly this is by design. The Gamemaster has paid some coin to Roll20 to explore their Dynamic Lighting feature. I did this to push the edges of what the VTT offered, and to instill fear and terror in the players. The dark is meant to be scary, and not seeing how many opponents there are is meant to be disconcerting.

However, the game is still meant to be fun. This Gamemaster is willing to concede that particularly with the most recent battle against the animated skeletons in the crypt, the terror sliding scale may have been set too far in the “Stark Raving” direction and needs to be pulled back to the “Giggling” setting.

Plan for next time: Instead of Dynamic Lighting, the Gamemaster will set the map underground to Explorer Mode. Intent here is that everything is blacked out and hidden until one player explores it. After one player has seen it, all players have seen it. We can try it. Perhaps for the most scary dungeons underground the Gamemaster will go back to Dynamic Lighting.

The Gamemaster reported poor system performance quit once on the Gamemaster. Browser just said "No!" and went away. The site was very slow the rest of the evening. The “Spinning Beach Ball” showed up much more frequently than requested.

After a thorough investigation (and by that I mean “actually reading the site instructions” on Graphics Performance Troubleshooting and Optimizing Roll20 Performance ) a number of solutions presented themselves:

  1. Stop using Dynamic Lighting. Yes, yes, yes. Already addressed above. We’ll try that route.

  2. Limit the number of lines on Dynamic Lighting. Essentially this means the room with the skeletons, which had lots of pillars, puts more load on than a standard box of a room. Understood, but some rooms have to be complicated to contain complicated threats.

  3. Reduce number of light sources. Check. Install Gust of Wind traps to blow out torches, leaving the Player Characters in the dark. I can do that.

  4. Reduce number of tokens that have vision. This one I had not thought of. Currently the game has seven players and two of the PCs have animal companions or familiars. I thought about introducing a deposit of $150K to reduce the number of active Player Characters. That kind of goes against the spirit of Fun City, though.

  5. Keep map sizes small. Aha! Here we go! One page lists a default size of 20 cells wide by 20 cells tall. Another page says:

    Maps or pages are typically recommended to be 25 x 25. As the map size increases, the effective area that must be rendered increases which can negatively impact performance. This can also be highly subjective to the individual systems used by players in your game.


The first map used by the Gamemaster, created with Inkarnate, was 40 cells wide by 40 cells tall. This was the surface map of Fort Runefort.

The second map, the one of the crypt beneath Fort Runefort, was 52 cells by 67 cells, and was created by Dungeon Scrawl.

Personally, I blame the tools, for being so delicious and wonderful to use. The Gamemaster got carried away

Plan for next time: Maximum map size with Dynamic Lighting enabled will be twenty-five cells in any one dimension.

That sounds like fun.