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Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Lichway - Le Chemin des Morts (Sample Old Style battlemap)

The Lichway was a D&D scenario by Albie Fiore which appeared in White Dwarf 9 (it was published in french in the magazine Casus Belli as "Le Chemin des Morts").

My group wanted to play some fantasy stuff, so I dusted off my copy of Nightprowler and adapted the scenario to those rules.
For those knowing the background of Nightprowler, I did set it somewhere around the ruined city of Kalaar as an abandonned dwarf catacomb; and instead of having the characters stumbling upon it, they are now chasing Odo to kill her, having accepted a contract on her head. I also worked into the scenario some stuff from Nightprowler's world history (the fluff for this game is awesome).

I did redraw the map at a larger scale to be able to use it as a battlemap in a VTT, and not just as a simple reference map. I did not made any other change.

I also decided to play The Lichway with old style visuals (which is particularly appropriate if you think about it). It looks like this:
Click to view full size
You can download the full Maptool map HERE. The tokens are already placed in the rooms in which  they appear in the scenario and you should make them not visible by the players before playing the session (just move them to the hidden layer).
If you don't use Maptool, you can still use the map and the tokens. Just change the extension .rpmap to .zip and unzip it. The map and the tokens are inside. The scale is 70 pixels/square, which should work in Roll20 and probably other VTTs. 

The characters are depicted approaching in a rowboat on the underground lake. I have provided a few alternates tokens for depicting them.

Links to sites about the Lichway scenario (some of them contain the scenario):

The Lichway:
Le Chemin des Morts:

At first, I wanted to use it with my isometric Maptool framework, turning the map into an isometric one, and, for NPCs figures, using mostly Okumarts figures and a few others.
They looked like this:
Click to view full size
But, as far as isometric gaming is concerned, I have hit a wall. I can not go further without changing some parts of the programmation of Maptool (mostly, automate the Z order of stuff, easier ways of inputing isometric tokens and objects, having new layers for the maps, and even, if possible, defining the footprint of objects and characters, to have dynamic illumination and revealing/hiding areas back).

I think that only a new, separate branch of Maptool would do and that is faaaar beyond my skills (and more importantly, I don't think there is interest in the Maptool community anyway).

So, I have decided, for my games, to use only a few situations in isometric, when particularly appropriate. The good news, for me, is that by restricting isometric use,  I'll be able to go the full way and make the iso scenes real iso, with real iso figures and iso maps including vertical furnitures, obstacles, walls... Because of the program limitations, I'll have to manually implement some of the Z-stuff, but for short scenes, it shouldn't be a problem.
More on this later.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Planetcrawl with an easier way to make 3D Traveller style world maps

Some times ago, I did show a way to turn the kind of isometric maps familiar to Traveller gamers into 3D views for the enjoyment of your players.

Whilst not very complicated, it involved the cutting and pasting of every face into the model, one by one, twenty of them....
It was not a very bright solution.... It can be made in one step....Sorry.

So, here is a new way to turn your planet maps into a 3D model that your players can look around to observe the geography of their destination. But now, it can be made in less than five minutes.

Observant readers will notice that I have also modified the presentation of the result, so that now, it avoids giving the impression that planets are D20 in space but show the model as a simplified 3D representation destined to give only the pertinent information about a planet to an overburdened space crew.

- Open the Icosahedral Worldmap Generator from Inkwell, the makers of Hexographer (free to download HERE)
- Generate or draw your map. You can generate a map or place yourself all the hexes you want. The best idea is probably to generate the map and change the parts you want to make specifically to fit your scenario. Take care to choose the number of hexes of a mapside, depending on the size of the planet. Export the map as png.
Click the image to see full size
- Open the png in GIMP (free to download HERE)
- Crop: as you can see, there is a grey area, extending around the map itself. Select the map itself with select rectangle tool and then crop to the selected area.
Click the image to see full size
- Resize: Our cropped map must be exactly 1500 x 709 pixels, so resize it to that size. Disable the automatic Keep Proportions.

- (Optional) Heal: whilst we have cropped out the exterior grey area, there are still grey triangles area between the triangle faces of our map. Those areas won't show on the 3D map, so we could keep them. Still sometimes they can appear as fine lines between faces of our 3D maps. It is easy to get rid of them to have perfect matches faces on our 3D maps. Select those grey triangle and apply the heal selection filter.
Click the image to see full size
Click the image to see full size
Above is the healed view of the map. As you see, GIMP added parts where the map was plain grey. This is unimportant, because those part won't show on the 3D map. What is important is that the colors have been extended from the map boundaries, meaning that there won't be grey visible on the 3D map.

- (Optional) Add features to your map: of course, whilst you are in GIMP, you can add some special features on your maps (text or wathever).

- Export as png.


- Open Sketchup (download for free HERE) The free version is the one called Sketchup Make.
- Open the blank planet map (download it HERE)
- Replace the blank texture with the planet map you designed in part one. For that, do the following:

Open the texture window (bucket tool and clicking the brick on the choices on the upper part of the panel) and double click on the empty planet texture (the one with the letters) to open the panel completely.
Click the image to see full size
Go to the texture menu in the lower part of the window and choose Load. Navigate then to your planetary map and choose it. It is done.
Click the image to see full size
- (Optional) Add 3D labels to your map (like those moving around on the above animated gif)
- Save your file

Your players can now view and manipulate the map within the Sketchup viewer (freely available HERE), without any risk to modify it. Basically, they should simply click the tabs at the top of the page, but they can also use the normal sketchup manipulating tools. They can always come back to the normal views by clicking a tab anyway.

Five minutes flat for a planetary map, which means that a full subsector can be mapped in 3D in one hour. Meaning also that with just a little more work and then...

How about playing a planetcrawl or even a spacecrawl or sectorcrawl? It wouldn't be very complicated....

A few encounters tables by terrain types common on all the planets (spaceports, imperial cities,...), a few encounters tables for terrain types specific for a planet (natives cities, wilderness,..) and a few hexes with prepared places that the players are searching for or containing the stuff that every adventurers are wishing to find (a crashed spaceship, the ruins of a pre-imperial civilization, a research station which doesn't emit anymore, the hideout of the scientific madman, the secret base where the Zorgs are keeping the space Princess captive,...). Don't forget to add trading and adventures opportunities, here and there.

Try to alternate civilized, populated planets and barren unexplored ones. Keep space communications limited by light speed whilst space travel is through space wrap, meaning that if you want to know something, you'd better go and see for yourself.  Space travel should be more like pirates ocean going than 21th century communications.
Make even wrap travel slow enough to give a strong feeling of navigating among an ocean of stars separated by gulfs of blackness. 
Add misjump possibilities, just for the look on the player's face when they appear in a system swarming with Zorgs warships where nothing have been reported before.

And, of course, all this should happen on a frontier sector, where most of the universe is still mysterious and largely unexplored.

But, mostly, give the characters reasons to move and to search; either to find something or someone or solve some mysteries; and/or to flee from someone or something. This is pulps space! Have action!

Wouldn't a game like TALES OF THE SPACE PRINCESS  perfectly fit this mood? It is available HERE, and it is a wonderful old school scifi game. It shall give you all you need for the kind of campaign described above. ....  You could also use other games with the right state of mind: STAR ACE, STAR FRONTIERS, SAVAGE WORLDS. Or also, STAR EXPLORERSSTARSHIPS & SPACEMEN 1st or 2nd Edition for a Star Trek feeling, which, of course blends quite well with a planetcrawl game. Ou enfin, en français EMPIRE GALACTIQUE (la première édition seulement, la seconde ne tenant pas vraiment la route).

Now is the time for retroscifi planetcrawl. Time to dust off your Poul Anderson and Edmund Hamilton novels. Grab you blaster, fire the engines of your old trusty modified Trader smuggler spaceship and go save a Space Princess.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Basic Isometric Maptool.

It took me some times, but here it is. If you have a look at the right column of the blog, you'll see that I have added three pages to the blog.
Those pages are detailed, step by step, explanations on
-how to add isometric movement to your own framework
-how to make basic isometric tokens
-how to turn any map into an isometric one, using Photoshop or GIMP.

Some of those explanations had been given on earlier posts, but those here are easy to follow without any knowledge about Maptool frameworks or Photoshop or GIMP.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Isometric Maptool

A recent posts exchanges on Maptool forum reminded me of an old idea about using Maptool using isometric maps and figures. So, I decided to try it, to see how difficult it would be. To my surprise, it was very easy, much more than I anticipated.

The first step for me, was to make an isometric tilable background, to be able to draw maps on it, for gaming situations without full maps. Having to choose a square size, I decided to go with 150 pixels across and 86 in height.

Here is the background (the markings at the midpoint of faces are there to help drawing):

Just use it as background when making a new map and you can already draw isometric maps.

Next step, was to see how difficult to turn a squared map into an isometric one of the same proportions as the background above. Really easy. You can turn any square map in an isometric one in two minutes flat. You just need a program like Photoshop or GIMP and do the following:

- Step 1: Open your map and count the numbers of squares in size. Add the height (in squares) to the width (in squares); divide by two and remember the result for later.
Here, we have (10+7)/2=8.5

- Step 2: pivot the map 45° 

- Step 3: resize. Take the number found in step 1, above. Multiply it by 150 for the width in pixels, multiply it by 86 for the height in pixels.

And... It is done. But now, we need the figures to play on it. We'll need four views of each figure, one for each direction.

Making basic figures, like standing tiles that are used in some games (I think with Pathfinder), is as easy as making them in Tokentool. Just add those four new frames to the program and drag an illustration into it (once for each view). The result can be seen here:

It is possible to make better looking figures, like cardboard standups (using cardboard standups as a base), but it requires some work in Photoshop. I'll have to make a separate tutorial about it if there is any interest. Anyway, here is how those figures look like:

There still a better solution that I intend to explore, which would be to draw directly the views in an isometric perspective, but it would need four drawings for each figures and it looks a little like overkill for a style of gaming that is not very widespread.

Now, the last thing to do is to use all this stuff in Maptool. And, that also, proved amazingly easy.

First, as there is no isometric grid available in Maptool, you need to disable the grid view and the snapping.

Secondly, we'll need a new stat, called Table that should be added in the properties.

Now, for each figure, we must make a table. The table name shall be used as the value of the Table stat we added above. You must add the four views of the figure in the table and the value in the first colums should be 1 for the view going up-left, 2 for down-left, 3 for up-right and 4 for down-right.

There are a group of macros to add, to move and turn the figures.
The eight first buttons move the figures and the four last ones change the orientation.

There is still a problem to overcome. When a figure is moved, it must be placed above or under other figures, depending on where they are on the map. There is a line in the macros that take care of that when moving the figure with the buttons. To have the same effect when dragging a figure, there is a lib:token that must be added (this command is not mine, I found it in a post by aliasmask on the Maptool forum, so, thanks aliasmask).

You'll find all of this and a few stuff to experiment in the campaign file here.

There are still two questions that I would like to ask:
Is anyone interested in this style of gaming? I can see myself making maps and figures for peoples to use in their games. But probably not if there is not much interest. For my own use, it shall be used only in very prepared games. I am mostly trying those days to reduce the amount of preparation needed before play, and it takes myself in a very different direction (but that's for another post).

Is there any chance to have Maptool next version supporting an isometric grid. This system works without problem, but being able to use snapping would be fine.

Anyway, let me know what you think, here or on the Maptool forum.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

3D Traveller style planets maps for space opera games with Hexographer and Sketchup

For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of mastering a space opera game, has always been the mapping part. I have always loved the idea of making the planetary maps on the icosahedron projection that was used in RPGs since Traveller. Like that one:

(this map comes from the Hexographer free map generator, read further)

Whilst I make with great care the maps that are required for the scenario, I have always needed more maps than those. Indeed, the players are bent to wander around and, after all, one of the attraction of space opera is the possibility to travel around in an almost limitless setting.

So, I also need to be able to populate parts of the setting that are not vital for the scenario. It is quite easy as far as stats are concerned (all rulesets have generation systems for sectors, stars and planets), but it can be very time consuming if you want to map all those planets, or even some of them.

That's where Hexographer comes in. It is a simple mapping program that lets you make normal maps. And, if you have never heard about it, you should have a look, it can make your life as a GM much easier.

But it also has a setting for icosahedral maps. And what is even more interesting, it can also generate maps from a few chpices (hydrography, mountain ranges,...) which are the kind of informations that your game system and scenario has normally provided. And then it lets you customize the generated result.

But it is even better: there is a free version here that is limited to planetary maps. It should be enough for what we are speaking about here, though I would advise you to buy the full version, it is not expensive and you won't regret it: it will give you access to other mapping functions, styles,...

Anyway, download it, open it and generate a few maps, it is fun and even addictive.

But, why stop there? Why not present those maps in a 3D way? Like this one:

This is simply the map shown above turned into a 3D view.

First, you'll need Sketchup to change the flat map into a 3D model. You can download it Here.

You'll also need the empty 3D model planet. It is a Sketchup skp file with empty faces, and you can download it Here.

Now, generate a map with Hexographer, we are going to turn it into a 3D planet.

Open the empty Sketchup planet file with Sketchup, it should look like this:

Click on the A1 Tab. Click once on the face that is in front of you to select it. Then, Right-click>Texture>Modify Image Texture.

The face A1 that you were facing should open itself in the graphic program that is associated with Sketchup (if no graphic program is associated with Sketchup, go to Preferences>Applications and choose one, something like Photoshop or GIMP would be perfect).

Now, open the map of the planet you generated with Hexographer and select the part corresponding to the A1 face, paste and resize it. Flatten the layers and save.
The new image should now be visible in Sketchup on the 3D map. And as there are twenty faces, yes, you'll have to do it twenty times (from A1 to C5).

To make it easier to select the part of the map associated with a face, here is a little sketch of them:

When you are finished, just save your Sketchup model.
You, of course,  can re-open it any time and make any  changes you want, using Sketchup.

But if you prefer that your players, whilst being able to see and manipulate the 3D map, are unable to make changes, let them open it using Sketchup Viewer, available Here.

Have fun.