(featured image by GodfreyCrane)
Like so many of you, I have been stuck at home for the past two months, waiting eagerly to see my RPG crew in person again. In the meantime, however, we have been finding the time to game online-- and it’s been massively successful. The game that I GM is normally lucky to meet once every month of the year. We all live in the same metropolitan area, but with kids, work, and so many other games and hobbies between the six of us, it’s hard to make schedules line up.
However, thanks to the current and malevolent state of the world, we have been able to meet up seven out of the eight weeks that I, personally, have been self-isolating. An all-time record! It only took the world basically ending to get it to happen. But that means that I have had to step up my GMing game.
The Problem and the Solution
Part of that was downloading and starting to use Wonderdraft. Yes, I know. Who waits to be two years into a game before making a map? This lady, apparently! You see, the creation of The City in my Knights of DOTH campaign was an adventure I made the whole team come up with. I can get more into how I facilitated that that in a future article, but for right now, let’s just say: this map was a long time coming and Wonderdraft has turned an extremely intimidating challenge into my quarantine zen.
Prior to discovering Wonderdraft, I had started making my map by drawing it in Autodesk Sketchbook. I’m not exactly new to digital art, but I’m super slow. And this map needed to have quite a bit of detail. You see, The City (as we call it) is pretty much the entire world for my knights. Over the two years we’ve been playing this game, there have been 30+ points of interest-- stores, houses, facilities, etc.-- that needed to be on my map. But The City is also overcrowded and busy. I wanted my highly-stylized game to have a map that honored its aesthetic and not just be points on a map.
Above is my sketched-out city, done in Autodesk Sketchbook, including notes. As you can see... it's a mess.
Getting into Wonderdraft
Wonderdraft, for those who don’t know, is an intuitive but powerful map creation tool. It’s half generator and half design program, essentially a paint tool compiled into a sticker program, that reminds me personally of my high school years playing around in Jasc PaintShop Pro. You can place symbols for trees, mountains, cities, buildings, and whatever else you need for your map. There's also textures you can use for styling your land, creating roads and paths, and so much more.
For my map, I needed a lot of houses, but there was something very important: I didn’t want these houses to have slanting roofs-- because this city is in a desert, surrounded by steep mountains. Slanted roofs are made that way to make it easier to remove snow. Unfortunately, as is the case with many RPG-resources, there was a heavy slant towards Western European buildings in Wonderdraft.
Luckily, my Humble Bundle included the download to the Wonderdraft asset pack named Arabia. So, my choices were a little limited to this single pack, but that was far from a detriment.
(Arabia Asset Pack, pictured above)
The pack includes forty-nine assets-- parts of buildings that you can stack together into infinite shapes and sizes and craft the buildings of your dreams. What seems to be a small, single-room house can become the foyer of a giant manor, farming shed, or a storefront when combined with other building pieces.
Of course, being the creative and hubristic fool that I am, I wanted to start on hard mode by creating my own assets and importing the stickers into the program. This had a bit of a learning curve to it. But the world of DOTH is highly stylized by nature and it didn’t feel right initially using their fantasy-typical, Western European-looking but still gorgeous art for a game set in a desert with purple sands and two, blazing suns. I had already done sketches of the twenty-two main buildings that my players needed to know of in Autodesk Sketchbook long ago. So, I figured I could just import them easily and stamp them on it.
Complications in Wonderdraft
It was a little bit more complicated than that (and extra complicated because I didn’t entirely know what I was doing, having limited experience with mod making or installing). But with the help of the great Google, I was able to figure it out.
But there turned out to be some additional problems once I finally got those graphics in there: my transparent PNGs weren’t coming out as transparent!
(Above, one of the garden assets I drew for my city)
(Above, that garden asset placed on the map)
Thankfully, I managed to find the r/wonderdraft_support where someone was kind and thorough enough to help me with my issue. Their answer worked and it was off to the races. I have had a couple other issues-- learning how to use their layers system (which is quite a bit different from layers in a PS-type program), learning how to paint the paintable objects in the game, and then I’ve had some trouble downloading new assets from the Internet.
But for each of these issues, I was able to find someone online who had already queried and gotten a response or ask for myself and get a satisfactory answer.
So, is there a steep learning curve to Wonderdraft? Sort of, if you aren’t used to it. But are there tons of resources to help newbs like myself? Yes. I got that answer from support in about two hours and had a fix with enough time left in the day to make a serious dent in my map.
Wonderdraft is an excellent mapping program. It’s moddable enough for someone like me who needed to craft something entirely unique. But it’s also easy enough to understand so that I’m not having to draw every single building in this world I’m crafting-- which was my original plan.
Don’t be deterred if you don’t make your perfect map right away. As you can see, I've put a lot of work into mine and it's far from finished. But it's a labor of love and Wonderdraft has helped me in leaps and bounds.
Go into the r/wonderdraft subreddit and see what everyone else has made. You’ll be inspired to get back to work right away. Once you figure out what you want for the look and feel of your map, you will want to spend all day making new buildings with the many assets available online, or even sketching out your own and adding them to the program.
My map of The City is far from finished. But I'm not in any rush. Wonderdraft has plenty left for me to learn, discover, and play with.
Have you used Wonderdraft or some other map creation program? We'd love to see your maps! Post here or send them to us on social media.