Maps are an integral part of any table-top game. We love maps. We need maps. We obsessively pore over them, planning our journeys and (if you’re a DM) seeking out possibilities for adventures. And of course, we fight on them. A good map is pure potentiality.
There are a number of options available for those of us without the artistic inclination or ability to draw our own. Some are free. Most are reasonably affordable. A full survey is beyond the scope of this article, but I do want to share a map I recently made with Dungeon Fog, an online editor with no-cost, premium and commercial license plans. The image below is the product of about forty-five minute’s efforts, minus the hour or so it took to learn the program. It’s not an artistic masterpiece, but it’s functional, and professional enough looking to put in a published adventure. Check it out:
As you can see, it’s not too shabby for less than an hour’s work, although the publicly available, non-exclusive assets mean that you’re probably going to see a lot of maps with similar iconography.
I’ve tried a variety of map-making tools. Campaign Cartographer CC3 is definitely the most powerful of the available software. It costs less than $50 and requires no additional subscription to use your creations in your products. But the CAD-based editor has a steep learning curve, and requires a fair amount of time to produce anything of real quality. I’ve also only had success with the “Overland” map editor. There are options for dungeon and city plans, but they are much harder to master. CC3 is the go to for a lot of professionals. Other fixed cost programs, such as Dunjinni, which makes–you guessed it–dungeons, strike me as a somewhat dissatisfying intermediary between CC3 and Dungeon Fog. It hastoo much of a learning curve to churn out maps at a reasonable pace. But isn’t powerful enough to match CC3’s potential.
What I like about Dungeon Fog is how quick and easy it is to use. I made the above battle map for a Fantasy Grounds adventure I’m writing. The interface is mostly drag and drop with options to paint with the variety of high-res textures available to premium subscribers. Painting these textures, which you can grade and layer by adjusting the opacity, is the crucial step in making the image “pop”. (You might make out the color variations around the walls, and below the trees–simple elements that make a world of difference, even if you aren’t consciously noticing them).
There aren’t many options with Dungeon Fog. It’s not a versatile tool-set. But I’ll say it again: it’s quick. Writing an adventure, even a short one, is an undertaking. There are a plethora of considerations and if you are the sole creator, and you likely won’t have time to cover everything.
One of the negatives is that Dungeon fog somewhat absurdly priced for the commercial license. This is available only by yearly subscription, which costs $90 or so dollars. It is basically a clone of the premium version, which is significantly cheaper. But you can’t use premium assets in any commercial product, which is a problem if you have ambition to sell your work. It’d be nice to sell something, right? That being said, creating your own assets is a time-consuming proposition, and artists do deserve to be reasonably compensated. I just wish there was an option to try the site out for a few months before slamming down the full ninety bucks.
Right now, there are a decent amount of icons available, and the site claims that they add new ones frequently. I did have a hard time creating these ruins, though. Ruins seem like they should have priority, but I had to go to the “jungle” category to find broken walls (which are hidden by the trees). The walls I drew using the “room” tool are nice, but they hardly look crumbling. Since, sunken, broken remnants of the past are a fantasy and adventuring staple, I feel this is a bit of an oversight.
Nonetheless, I’m happy with Dungeon Fog as an effective way to quickly make battle maps that I’m proud to include in my adventures. I haven’t tried the web-program to make an overland map, but so far so good. In a future article, I’m going to make a video demo of my process. But I hope this written account has at least piqued your interest. I’d recommend checking it out for yourself.