(Step by Step)
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been tackling a growing problem in my role-playing gaming sessions – maps.
Maps can really bring your game to life, focus the players and help keep track of locations and events as the game progresses. The problem, however, is that if you’re not 100% confident of your drawing skills, you may be disinclined to draw your own or pay someone to use theirs. This is fine, but you’ll likely not get a dungeon map in the style or layout that you want.
So this is where my practice comes in: you can read the following and hopefully learn a few tricks and see just how easy it is to draw clear, atmospheric maps in a very short space of time.
I’ll be emulating some of my favourite styles, with the mind to develop my own style from the industry benchmark.
In the UK currently, it is very easy to get your hands on the tools you’ll need to draw out your own dungeon maps. Here’s a list of the pens and pencils I use, which I’ve selected for their inexpensive price tags:
- Derwent hard pencils – a set of 5 pencils shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. There’s a huge variety out there, but frankly you can get away with a pretty standard HB, 2H and 2B set of pencils. HB is your standard pencil, 2H is a harder pencil which gives you a harder and lighter pencil line, whereas 2B is soft, giving you a darker and softer pen line.
- I use Uni Pin fine liners for the inking of my maps – they’re pretty common and over the last ten years have dropped in price significantly. For my practice, I use different thickness of nibs: 0.5, 0.2 and 0.05 mm pens, with a brush pen for extra thick lines.
- For practice, I bought a really cheap pad of 50 sheets of drawing pad paper, A4. If I’m sketching I got to town a purchase A5 sketchbooks, these shouldn’t cost you too much, but I like the thicker paper sheets.
All of these items are available at the Range – I was amazed that 10 fine liner pens were around £10 per pack, giving more pens than you will ever need! A4 drawing paper can cost as little as £1. Art pencils can cost a little more than regular pencils, but there’s no need to go crazy for your first time. A simple clean eraser is helpful.
So, here follows my method for quick, simple and effective dungeon maps.
To save on buying fancy pads of paper, I start by drawing the framework on a new piece of paper. Using the edges of the paper, I mark out inch wide dots to form a series of squares. You can create 1-cm lines if you want, but for the use of tabletop maps, I prefer 1-inch tiles. It’s a standard format, with 1-inch acting as a 5ft space for your players. My example is below. I’ll only really need to do this once, so its best to get it right and save the page for multiple uses in the future.
Once I’ve got this right, I can start using it to map out my err, map. I place the framework page underneath a fresh page and mark where the lines intersect with a cross. I’ll draw in the walls of the dungeon room, all in pencil. I’m going to just be using a simple square as the dungeon tile, normally you’d leave space for a door in and out, but my examples are just that, examples.
The next bit is where it starts to get a little more tricky. My first step here is to draw the outlines of the room in a thicker pen. Here I used the 0.5mm pen, but sometimes I use a brush pen for an extra thick line. So long as the pen you use is the thickest pen for your dungeon map tile, you’ll get a good edge. It needs to be thicker to stand out as the walls of your room.
Next, I switch to the 0.2mm pen and draw the lines of the stonework – this is a simple process, but you should be aware that you don’t want to draw the tiles like a literal grid. For best effect, you want to give the impression of the stonework. I do this by lightly bouncing the pen up and down on the paper as I draw the lines, creating a staggered line. It looks smarter and more realistic than if they were a simple grid.
Using the really fine pen, the 0.05mm pen, I add in some cracks randomly to the stonework and add a few lines to the edges of the room. This is purely fanciful and down to your own preference!
Three & Four
In these images, I’ve tried to convey a bit of lighting. Dark and damp dungeons are not airy and light places, so it adds atmosphere – I added some shade or shadows. Shade and shadows can be used for different purposes here – they act as both an absence of light and potentially dirt or dust.
For tile 3 I used lines to suggest shadow, for tile 4 I used simple dots that grow in concentration the darker the shadow becomes.
I added some missing chunks of stonework, which I filled in with some hatching using the 0.05mm pen. You can see where I practised this at the side of the page. You can also add some tiny rocks and surround them with simple dots to create a messy appearance – you don’t need to explain what these are, they could be moss, fungus or just bits of stone or bone.
Next, I draw a simple border around the room, about half a centimetre, which you can see in tile 5. You’ll notice that I’ve not drawn using a rule at all in my process – I like it to look natural and a bit rough… adds to the atmosphere!
In tile 6 you can see the different border techniques that you can use to provide a bit of depth to your maps and also define what is solid rock and what is room space. These three techniques are used extensively across the internet. I’ve adapted mine from Dyson and Dark Realm Maps – both industry leaders and heavily involved in the RPG community – you should check them out on Twitter!
So, at the top of the tile, there is line hatching – this is just a series of lines running in the same direction, repeated and twisted to create a pleasing mess to the eye. To top it off, I just added some random singular lines, dots and small stones to give it a more natural feel. It takes quite a long time to do and easy to mess up – make sure your lines come to a stop with another oblique line for a nice finish.
On the right side of the tile is simple dotting – the closer to the wall you are the more dense the dots become. A simple method that doesn’t take too long to do, but keep in mind how many dots it takes to do a single centimetre square!
Finally on the bottom of the tile is “stone support.” You can use this method for underground dungeons or for free-standing buildings above ground. Each building block has its own shape and size but is organised in clear lines. I tend to keep some stones to the guidelines we drew in tile 5, whereas some go beyond it – I prefer to keep it even as a rule of averages: for every extra tall block, there should be a shorter block to match it.
And that is pretty much it!
I’ve included some of my own tiles which I first started a week or so ago. You can see where I’ve messed up in some places. Overall though, this method is actually quite quick and easy for a small to a medium-sized dungeon. You can keep your map to a single piece of paper or cut out your tiles to allow the players to only see them when they enter a new room.
I hope this has been informative, and we’d love to see some of your creations on our facebook page or tag us on twitter with @ FerrisWrites.
Next week I’ll go into more detail about cave dungeon maps and tiles, which can be a little more time consuming but require less initial setup.
Bye for now!
Part 2 – Cave Maps can be found here.