I had planned on writing up a post about my intro to World Anvil, the campaign manager that I decided to use since my last post, but I got smacked upside the head by a very familiar problem on my way to the forum: maps.
I joked in my last post that I seem to return to projects in cycles — game dev, 3D modeling, RPG campaign creation, and so on. I also mentioned that I’m very particular about my organization, and if I run into a situation of need (i.e. something that I think I need, per my odd sense of necessity) that cannot be met, I get very angry very quickly. Reason being, I get up a head of steam only to have the breaks slammed on, destroying my forward momentum.
I was really happy about what I’ve found in World Anvil, but realized that before I moved on from my current focus of defining a town where the players would start this campaign, I should make a map! But fuck me, because making a digital map — a good looking map, at least — is like pulling teeth, up hill, both ways, in a snowstorm.
More Apps, More Problems
Like organizing a campaign, I once again went looking for map making software. I own Campaign Cartographer, which is like the mafia don of TTRPG map making: the elder mafioso who has a lot of respect, but is probably well past it’s prime, if you get my drift. This time I went straight to the new up-and-comers like Inkarnate, Dungeonfog, Arkenforge, and Dungeon Painter Studio. All of these packages are pretty fantastic, all of them cost money, but all of them would be worth it to me if I were working on a high fantasy RPG here instead of a sci-fi RPG.
Everything out there is geared towards your bread and butter D&D or D&D-like experience. Sure, D&D is without a doubt the most popular system out there on account of it being the elder statesman, Stranger Things, and Critical Role, but JFC, if you want anything other than elves and orcs, you’re SOL. Western? No. Cyberpunk? Uh uh. Modern day? Ha! Go outside if you want modern day. Sci-fi? Keep dreaming, nerd. On the other hand, dirt roads, bridges, thatched-roof huts, castles and walls, carts, horses, archery targets, and even ffffffffffn-galleons, for crying out loud…every mapping system has those in spades.
So this is a long-ass preamble to my semi-annual foray into the madness of map making for non-high-fantasy settings. After having looked at the third mapping service and finding nothing but one or two tile sets for “sci-fi” — usually metal hallways, sometimes with props like “cryotubes” and “dangerous wires you can put on the floor” — I reached that point of irrational anger that usually throws off my project’s gyroscopic rotation.
Thing is, I can find some elements that might work in Inkarnate, as I am looking to make a desert town that I could use some of the sandstone buildings for, but in order to do so I’d have to subscribe. Beyond those buildings, though, I would have absolutely no use for Inkarnate, so I don’t want to spend the money.
DungeonFog is a kick-ass tool that allows you to literally draw your own rooms and add props (which may have light emission effects!), but I didn’t see any non-fantasy outdoor items in the library of art provided. They have some decent indoor props from the future, but not too many, so relying on this tool would make everything in a game look pretty samesies, pretty quicklies.
Wonderdraft also looks cool, but seems to be aimed at world-scale building. I’m not quite at that point, and if I even get to that point I am sure I could strongarm one of these other apps into handling world-scale design.
Arkenforge is one I hadn’t heard of until I started searching for apps, but from the screenshot above, it looks pretty damn cool. It’s a multi-role app, though, which does map making, soundboards, a database of people, places and things (currently in development), and a scenario module which is basically a VTT of sorts. This is literally everything I could ever want in an app, but it’s a downloadable program, which is literally nothing I want — I can use Fantasy Grounds Unity and the bazillion assets made for it if I wanted a desktop app. Still, I won’t kick it out of the running just yet.
Finally, Dungeon Painter Studio has been my go-to for a while. I bought it on Steam (yes, it’s a downloadable app) after having played with the online web version for quite some time. It’s got a lot going for it, but again…the sci-fi offerings are very anemic. I had made a Starfinder map using this program Way Back When, but I am a little more picky these days, it seems.
Playing the Field
So where does this leave me? Well, there’s a sliver lining (not a typo): third party sources. There are a lot of tilesets out there, like through Drive-Thru RPG, Roll20, or even Fantasy Grounds which may work with one, some, or all of these tools. Many of them allow users to upload their own art, so there’s some chance I could find some sets for sale that fit my bill, and use them with these tools. However, I have to find these sets that are exactly or close to what I need, and then buy them on top of paying for whichever one of these apps turns out to be the most flexible (between overland and indoor capabilities).
Barring that…there’s making the assets myself. I really don’t want to go down this road, because that’s not only madness (as in “I’d get mad because I can’t art for crap”), but is two degrees apart from my original project thrust here, which is to create an RPG campaign. Taking the time to create assets of my own would be helpful because A) I could get exactly what I want, B) I could pack ’em and even sell ’em, as there’s a demand for sci-fi assets which these tools creators are hell-bent on not satisfying, and C) I could improve my artistic ability.
I will keep you posted on the outcome, because I know you’ll be waiting on the edge of your seat. Know, however, that if you don’t hear from me at all in the near future, I’ve probably throw my PC out into the pond behind my house in anger and frustration.