Cavern Maps Take Two

Cavern Maps Take Two

Well, we're back at it again. Making Caves. Being really bad at making caves. Slowly getting better at making caves.

In the last post in the series, I took a crack at making a cavern map in Dungeon Scrawl. Let's take a look at version 3 and where we landed last time:

Scrolly, Problematic, Sadness

Basically, I landed on the "okay I think I know how to use the rough tool, but let's sit and think about it some more". Well I did a lot of thinking. So much thinking. I looked at other cavern maps. I did research on how cave systems actually work, and looked at some of the cave maps for natural caverns in the United States.

Real Caves as an Example

I've been in exactly one cave, and I was a child. Not a lot of firsthand experience to go on here. Go go internet research.

One of the very first things you might notice is that caves in real life tend to have a lot of verticality to them. Let's have a quick look at this retro map of Carlsbad Caverns (taken from this lovely website).

Even rendered in a kind of cartoony style, you can see that a lot of the levels ascend or descend semi-rapidly, and open up into other larger sections. There's a lot going on there, you have bigger rooms, smaller tunnels, offshoots, and a bunch of other side channels that cover a lot of area.

Another interesting set of real caves comes from - in particular the "expert" caves, especially the Catacombs. There's a map available of the large cave system and notably it connects to several other caves in the same system. It's really interesting to look at, especially if (like me) you've only ever been in a couple of caves in your lifetime.

Dungeon maps of the cavern variety, on the other hand don't usually capture that element of verticality, and instead stick everything on roughly the same level. I suspect this is largely practical - it's very difficult to render verticality in a top-down dungeon map, and even harder to run it in a dungeon map. These are skills I do not yet possess.

Even still, Caverns of Thracia (the gold standard of dungeon map design) manages to do it, and do it well. This is done both through clever use of "clefts" in the level 1 map, showing deep holes in the ground with wooden bridges over the gaps as well as a side-view cutaway map among many other good mapping tricks. I don't have any of these tricks in the map yet, but I'm slowly working on it and figuring out just how I can apply my map style to the verticality of the map.

It's also worth noting that Rappan Athuk has a couple of levels that handle the verticality pretty well - Level 8A, in particular. But even still, most of Rappan Athuk is caverns, and it's still pretty "horizontal".

What did I wind up with?

Well... It's better. But it's also noisy. You can still see the remnants of what was created above, but with more offshoots and looping paths. I also roughed up the edges some more to create a better "cavern" feel for most of the spots. There's still a bit more roughing to do, but it's not so bad now.

I've added a ton of little cut-throughs that look around and create mini loops. This is the kind of thing you might find in a natural cavern, and it also creates a bit of a nightmare for a cartographer if you're "theater of the mind"ing your dungeons and having the players maintain maps for themselves.

What I want to do with it is try and render some verticality across the various levels. A lot of those tunnels can span multiple descent/ascent paths and I'm wondering if I can make that work via shading.

I'd also like to take a bit of time to overlay some of the rooms that are in here with a separate level - have some of the rooms extend up into "floor 1" or two, or whatever I wind up deciding to call it, and add some vertical entrances (you'd need to drop in from a chimney, for example) in addition to some more traditional "cave entrance" that you might expect from a traditional dungeon design.

Let's Add Some Icons

So, a map here wouldn't be complete unless we slapped some icons on the map from the new "fungal" pack.

This is the first time i've used the icons at such a small resolution, but even at the distance I'm reasonably pleased with how clear they are. I think I need to increase the stroke on some of the fungi so it's a little clearer what they are (toadstools, in particular) but otherwise I think it turned out. What do you think?


So! This has been a bit of a rambling journey as I keep jamming away on cave maps for fun and experience. Next time, I hope to have another level to connect to this one, and some shading or other visual evidence of how the verticality and grading of the map functions. Until next time!

(Also shameless plug, if you like the icons and would like to use them, they're available on my page)