D&D 5E Increasing my map-fu for Out of the Abyss

I will be running OotA. I will also be purchasing digital copies of the maps, and will somehow figure out how to use either Excel or some other mapping tool to create a grid overlay and combat tokens on snippets of combat maps. My digital mapping skill, however, leaves a lot to be desired.

I could use help in the form of suggestions for good youtube videos for how to create fantasy maps. What are your favorite resources? Got any suggestions for me? What products do you use and like?

My priorities, in order, are: 1) ease of use (seriously, I need something for mapping dummies that doesn't have a big learning curve; I want to spend the little free time I have on prepping the adventure, not mapping); 2) cost; 3) a polished finished product. If one product costs something but is super wasy to use, I prize it over a free product with a clunky interface or a free product that has a steep learning curve.

Thanks!
 

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designbot

Explorer
I will also be purchasing digital copies of the maps, and will somehow figure out how to use either Excel or some other mapping tool to create a grid overlay and combat tokens on snippets of combat maps.

Most of the digital maps already have grids on them—what are you trying to do, exactly?
 

Paraxis

Explorer
I use the freeware www.getpaint.net/index.html for all my image editing needs.

If you plan on using the images in a VTT like Roll20 you should just be able to use the built in grid to make the 5'x5' sections you want.

If this is for printing and you want a 5' grid for those areas that have the 10' or 20' grid I would find an overlay .png file that is a grid and use an image editing program like the one I linked above to overlay the grid onto the map.
 


Rod Staffwand

aka Ermlaspur Flormbator
I use Paint.NET (the getpaint one) for my mapmaking, mainly because it was the first free software I tried out and I have the most experience with it. I can create simple maps (such cavern outlines with textures) in less than 5 minutes. The software requires a few plugins to really shine for mapmaking. Gridmaker is essential for grids (I use a 50 pixel by 50 pixel grid for most 5ft square battlegrids). I use FillFromFile which can add textures to selected areas. The textures you will need to find online. Both of these plugins are from a designer named BoltBait and are easy to install.

I have a library of textures, overlays, objects and other resources that I can drop into my maps. Most can be found online or, depending on your skill set, created yourself.

Gimp is also a solid program. It comes with stronger tools out of the box, but I find the interface counter-intuitive. Lots of users swear by it and create awesome maps with it, so it's all a matter of taste.

If you really want to go big and shiny, I think Adobe might still be offering the old Photoshop CS2 free of charge. It may be an older version of Photoshop, but it will have everything you need to create professional quality maps. If you want to really put the time into mastering it, you can work up some wonderful Mike Schley-level stuff (okay, you might need natural artistic talent too...).

For VTT tokens, TokenTool from the MapTool site is the easiest solution I've found. Drag and drop images (even right off the internet) into a pre-selected token frame and save. It literally takes less than a minute...or exactly a minute if you want to get it 'just right'.
 


Most of the digital maps already have grids on them—what are you trying to do, exactly?
I want a map with a grid overlay that is also labeled alphabetically across the top and numerically across an edge so that during combat rounds players can specify movement. The finished map will also need to accommodate small .jpg tokens of each player that I insert. When I last looked at the maps for sale online (and they were, indeed, lovely quality), the grid was not alphanumerically labeled. Has this changed? I'll have to go look.
 

I use Paint.NET (the getpaint one) for my mapmaking, mainly because it was the first free software I tried out and I have the most experience with it. I can create simple maps (such cavern outlines with textures) in less than 5 minutes.
How long did it take you to get to the point where you can create a simple map in less than 5 minutes? That's kind of the crux of it, for me. I'm willing to spend a week or two tinkering off and on with mapping software, but after that I want to be able to produce a map on the fly in as little time as possible. I'm certainly not looking for anything I produce to be anywhere near the level produced by a professional mapper. I have enough of an artistic streak that I can get by, but neither time nor inclination for more at this point. My goal is to make a decent-looking map that my players can enjoy looking at (using some of the graphics from OotA, and that isn't the pure chicken scratch I'd normally produce on MS Paint), and use during combat.

Ease of use is my primary goal. After that, cost and production quality are tied for a distant second.
 

designbot

Explorer
I want a map with a grid overlay that is also labeled alphabetically across the top and numerically across an edge so that during combat rounds players can specify movement. The finished map will also need to accommodate small .jpg tokens of each player that I insert. When I last looked at the maps for sale online (and they were, indeed, lovely quality), the grid was not alphanumerically labeled. Has this changed? I'll have to go look.

No, they're not alphanumerically labeled. I've never heard of that before, except maybe for a large area map. Is this for play-by-post or something? Just curious.
 


designbot

Explorer
To answer your question, by the way, if I was doing this, I would use Adobe Illustrator and/or Photoshop for the grids and key. That's the best and most flexible, but it may be overkill, and costs at least $19.99/month. (Though there is a free trial.)

For moving tokens on the tabletop or online, I think the alphanumeric numbering would be less necessary—you may want dedicated software like Roll20 for that.

Fantasy Grounds has the whole module ready to go, for less than than the book or the maps by themselves. I haven't heard of people using that face-to-face, but it might be worth a shot.
 

Thanks. I used Roll20 last year for a virtual tabletop for a game where I was a player, not DM. I am unaware that there's dedicated software available through that source. Could you unpack what you mean? Specifically, I'm unclear whether I can download a mapping utility from Roll20 and use it to create maps that I use offsite.
 



Fion

Explorer
I'll be running it over Roll20. I'll probably end up buying the maps, though it'll be a few weeks (perhaps more) before we start up so I'm hoping by then some folks will come out with fan created versions ala LMoP. Probably not all the maps though as some are extremely complex.
 

Creamsteak

First Post
What I am doing in my PbP is using LibreOffice Calc. I import the map file. I click it, move it to the upper left hand corner. One of the buttons is move to background (not move back). Once I click that, it moves the map. Then I move the A column and 1 row and stretch them to match with the top/left corner of the grid map. Then I play with column and row width till I get something that matches as closely as possible to the 5 ft grid. Then I just cut and paste icons from the relevant artwork into my map.

To export the image, I use print screen and then paste the image into paint to be cropped.

It's not perfect, but it's fairly quick.
 

Rod Staffwand

aka Ermlaspur Flormbator
How long did it take you to get to the point where you can create a simple map in less than 5 minutes? That's kind of the crux of it, for me. I'm willing to spend a week or two tinkering off and on with mapping software, but after that I want to be able to produce a map on the fly in as little time as possible. I'm certainly not looking for anything I produce to be anywhere near the level produced by a professional mapper. I have enough of an artistic streak that I can get by, but neither time nor inclination for more at this point. My goal is to make a decent-looking map that my players can enjoy looking at (using some of the graphics from OotA, and that isn't the pure chicken scratch I'd normally produce on MS Paint), and use during combat.

Ease of use is my primary goal. After that, cost and production quality are tied for a distant second.

Granted, it's taken me a couple of years of tinkering, checking out tutorials, and building up my resource library to get to that point. I could create decent maps within a couple of weeks. They had grids and were playable, but certainly weren't pretty to look at. I was going to write a tutorial and publish a resource library at one point, but could never find the time to do it.

On a similar point, I've actually given up on playing on a grid. I like a free-wheeling, open-ended, player-driven kind of game. I hate forcing parties into pre-arranged set-piece encounters and I'm not such a fan of site-based adventures either (like dungeons). As such, figuring out what maps I'd need ahead of time was always a pain. I tried using some generic maps, but I like vibrant, specific environments making repurposing difficult. I also tried more of a map tile approach with generic elements that could be assembled in the VTT to produce a unique setting, but I eventually just decided battlemaps (as fantastic as they can be), just weren't the effort for me. I'd rather spend any and all of my available prep time coming up with fun content.

Back to the topic at hand, there's also a site called Dungeon Painter Online which might be more of what you're looking for. It has its own resource library (textures and such) and can save to jpg or pdf. I haven't played around with it much, so I can't vouch for its usability.

Whatever you decide to do, may your battlemaps run red with the blood of your players' tokens!
 

Thanks, guys. I've now got some solid leads to check out, and will do so and report back sometime next week. I will probably start with your suggestion about LibreOffice, Creamsteak, since I enjoy the maps you use. I tried GIMP and found it pretty user unfriendly; or, more accurately, the learning curve is too steep for me. In an alternate universe where I have all evening to master software for leisure, maybe, but in my world as it is with a busy work and family schedule, no.
 

On a similar point, I've actually given up on playing on a grid. I like a free-wheeling, open-ended, player-driven kind of game.
I'm glad you shared this comment. It's a remarkable facsimile for my own headspace lately. I'd like to get away from maps, and, generally, from encounters where rules star and roleplay is secondary. I've been asking others a lot of questions about gaming systems they use and like for theater of the mind, and gotten some interesting tips. I run two PbP games here on EN World, though, and it's damn near impossible to do theater of the mind for PbP. Or it takes a radically different adventure than the two I'm currently running. And probably a group of players who is more accepting of having fewer maps. That's certainly not to knock my PbP players; they're excellent, all.
 

Rod Staffwand

aka Ermlaspur Flormbator
I agree that PbP or even VTT gaming almost requires a battlemap. It's why I started making them in the first place. I've run games on Maptool and Roll20 and maps are immensely useful for any sort of complex combat. I just decided to de-emphasize elaborate set-piece battles for my adventures. My combats have only one or two types of enemies with a couple of signature abilities and take place in environments with a handful of features (raging fire over there, demon pit over here, 20 foot cliff to the west, etc.). Tactical positioning is kept fast and loose with rule of cool and fun the paramount concern. My games won't appeal to people looking for a war game type of challenge. It's fun and cinematic and I'm okay with that.

It helps that my groups are small 3-5 players and I write all my own material.
 

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