Saturday, February 11, 2012

Frustrations in Map-Making

One of the many contributions that roleplaying has made to my life is that it is a form of escape. When things aren't going well and I want a break from reality for a few hours, I can immerse myself in a world of dice, tables, magic and evil sentient mushrooms that are 1000 times nastier than whatever I'm going through.

Today I wanted an escape for a few hours, so I decided to work on beginning to create maps for my campaign. It hasn't gone so well… quite frustrating actually.

First off, I decided I'd use the ACKS hex-maps. The four levels of zoom is really cool. I go to the ACKS section on constructing campaign settings. The text of ACKS only calls for two levels of zoom; it's frustrating to me that the ACKS hex-maps and the ACKS text aren't, as far as I can tell, strictly compatible; that is, the ACKS text's directions are for a "standard sheet of hex graph paper, 30 hexes wide  and 40 hexes long," while none of the ACKS hex-maps have exactly those dimensions, though two of them come close with 32x48 hexes. I do wish the ACKS text was written to fit hand-in-glove with the ACKS hex-maps.

So I print off the two hex-maps that have the middle two levels of zoom, as they seem to correspond to ACKS' campaign map and regional map sizes. The first step, ACKS says, is to come up with a map, so I go to Fight On! #2, where there's a set of terrain generator tables. I grab some colored pencils and start rolling on the tables. I get about four columns of hexes colored before I decide that too many types of land are looking like columns oriented along the North-South axis and scrap that idea. To be fair to the tables in Fight On!, the articles that accompany the tables indicate that these tables are intended to create settings on much smaller scales than I was generating; still, frustrating.

So then I remember that Trollsmyth has this really cool series on creating a hex-map for a sandbox campaign, and that I'd been meaning to use it whenever I got around to, well, doing what I'm doing today. I go over and check it out. First step, Trollsmyth says, in creating a map is to get the shore-line. Hmm.

I end up printing out and staring at the most zoomed-out ACKS hex-map for at least 15 minutes, which felt like half an hour. Then I remember the awesome Free Map Monday maps over at the Labyrinth; I look through the ones I've downloaded and settle on this one, as it seems like it would fit on an 8.5x11 piece of paper pretty well. I print one off in grayscale at 40% the size of the actual image and hold it up alongside the most zoomed-out ACKS map- looks like they'll fit together really nicely!

How to do that, though? Unfortunately, I have absolutely no experience with Photoshop or GIMP or anything of the sort. A low-tech solution, though, is to print the ACKS map out on a transparency, then scan/copy the map with the transparency over it. Should work great, right?

Off I go to Staples to buy a few transparencies; I know I won't be able to buy just one, but I figure buying 10 transparencies won't be so bad, since I'll probably come up with more uses for them in the future. I get to Staples and find the transparencies… and they only sell them in 100-packs and 50-packs. And the cheapest cost $50… yeah, not worth it… very frustrating.

So now I'm back at home, typing this out. While I've been typing I've figured out that the best plan is probably to tape the map to the back of the hex-map and trace the map onto the hex-map. I'm not a very good tracer, so I'm not happy about that, but I'll give it a shot.

Anyway, sometimes game-prep can be frustrating. I shudder to think of what I'd be up against if I didn't have all the resources I've mentioned in this post, and I think it's important to point out that the reason I've been encountering frustrating delays isn't because these are bad resources (quite the opposite; they're great!), but just because I haven't ever really done this before and so I'm figuring out what works for me, which is slow and difficult work. On most days that makes things like this "hard fun," but today, when I really wanted to be able to distract my brain from problems by following directions and rolling dice, because I wasn't in the mood for "hard fun,"it was just frustrating. Thanks for reading.

Also, if anyone has any suggestions, I'm open to them, as I'm still trying to figure out what works for me.