Cavern Maps (and how I'm bad at them)

Cavern Maps (and how I'm bad at them)

If you've been following along with this blog series for a while now, you'll probably have picked on that I really like the super clean style of map that Dungeon Scrawl produces, and even made an icon pack that also has clean lines to accommodate that style. A lot of what we've done so far, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been a lot of interior locations with man-made structures. Straight lines, some polygons, but all of it "human touched".

So trying to break from that, I decided I wanted to work on a cave system for this week - and it turns out I'm not very good at it. Part of it is my unfamiliarity with how to make "natural" looking features in the same clean map style (it's easier in something like Inkcarnate if I'm making color maps), and part of it is that I just... don't usually make cave system maps. I don't know if that's from a deep-seeded fear of caverns or something, but it's just not a setting I generally run folks through if there's a map involved. I'm sure there are lots of folks out there who are excellent at making natural cavern maps in this style - but I'm not one of them... yet. So let's go down a journey of me fumbling through my way of learning how to emulate caves!

Attempt 1, Dungeon Scrawl

My first attempt at this entry's map was in Dungeon Scrawl. Here's what I came up with:

A map exported from dungeonscrawl, looks chaotic and messy.
What was I thinking? Fumbling with the tools, that's what

Looks like kind of a mess doesn't it? I was trying to go for both winding paths and depth, where some tunnels go under each other, as well as open spaces that are the wider caverns.

What I quickly encountered was that I couldn't really figure out how to get Dungeon Scrawl to give me the cavern shape that I wanted from the more open areas and that the tunnels looked too clean and smooth. At this point, I knew about the "rough" setting, and had tried it - but couldn't quite get it to behave. The hexagon tool was too ... square. The Path tool allowed me to cut some shapes out of the side, but then it turned into the weird blob thing you see above.

Okay, so scrap that.

Second Attempt, Supernote A5X

The other day, my new eInk tablet arrived - so I figured I would also try doing something I've not done in quite a while - drawing a map.

Sidebar, I've been on the hunt for the perfect eInk writing device and I think I've finally found the best one for me in the A5X. I've tried the Remarkable 2, Kindle Scribe, and Kobo Sage - and each one of them have some weird quirks that make it suboptimal for what I want to use it for, but I think we've finally got it.
Supernote tablet with a drawn map on the screen, resting on wooden desk.
I really dig the supernote.

The results were, what we'll say, "okay" but not great. Have a look:

A hand-drawn map of a cave system with branching paths and man-made rooms
Less organic shapes! I'm okay at shading, but need to do a better job at postprocessing

When I'm free-handing the shapes, I can make better outlines of the rooms and the cave walls - not constrained by the tooling, but even still the map doesn't feel as "clean" as I want, especially if it's going to go into print (Ideally I want something that scales well, and looks clean with the icons on it). We've kinda gotten there, here's an example:

Zoomed in section of the cave map, with various mushroom icons

Another thing I'd definitely need to figure out is how to more easily get rid of the grid on the super note outside of the main areas - like how Dungeon Scrawl does it. I'm not really sure how to easily accomplish this. On the Supernote, you can design in layers so the hatching, main map, and shadows are all on different layers - but the grid underlays everything. So in order to get rid of it I'd likely need to ditch the hatching, and then use some creative smart selection in Affinity to then fill out / remove the grid that way.

The other interesting quirk is that while I can draw shadows on the Supernote with the marker tool, it's kinda fiddly and only comes in 4 shades of black - and has no setting to change the opacity. I picked the one that looks the best, but it still doesn't really look like a true shadow since the grid can't be seen poking through.

Since I still wasn't happy with it, though, so I decided to take a few deep breaths, do some rejuvenating squats, and take another crack at doing this in Dungeon Scrawl.

Third Attempt, Back in Dungeon Scrawl

Right, so attempt three, here's what we've got:

Better, but you can still see the hexagonal bits in the map because I didn't vary the shapes

In Dungeon Scrawl, as I alluded to above, there are a couple of different settings you can use to manipulate how the wall lines look - in particular, the "rough" design of the cave system boils down to toggling the rough field on. Once you've done that, you can manipulate how squiggly the lines are on the walls.

Screenshot of Dungeonscrawl's Rough Setting.
Control + R is your friend

The trick that I didn't fully appreciate at first is the way you change the amount of squiggly by moving the mouse before confirming the path/polygon/etc. That gets pretty fiddly

Normally, I use the rectangle tool for building out rooms, and then the path tool for connecting them together, which... makes total sense if you're doing rooms in a house or a castle, or whatever. For rounded caverns, that doesn't really work. You can make square rooms with squiggly edges, but because you can't rotate the rectangle you either need to use the path or polygon tools to start futzing with the walls.

For this attempt, I tried a couple of different techniques, and I'm honing in on the tactic I think I like best. As you can see in the map, some of the bigger cavern sections are very clearly made via the "regular polygon" tool, with varying numbers of sides. For some of them, I stacked these polygons, using differing sides to cut out increasing numbers of spaces around the edges to create some of the items in the top right.

A couple of the rooms, I used the "polygon" tool - which lets you place points wherever you want (snapping or not) and gives you a lot more fine-grain control over the shape of the room. That can be seen in the lower righthand portion of the map. The one thing I've found with this tool, however, is that sometimes depending on how you draw the polygon not every side will generate noise with the rough setting turned on. Still trying to sort out what exactly causes that.

Wrap up

This was a bit of a long winded way to say "I was planning on having a cave map this week, but I'm so bad at it that it didn't happen." So, next time, stay tuned for a fully fledged cave system with more icons for natural environments and all sorts of other neat things.

I hope. Wish me luck.

One other matter...

One interesting thing that happened in the last couple of weeks that I wasn't aware of immediately - Roll20 purchased Dungeon Scrawl! It looks like they don't really know where that's going to land in terms of integrating Dungeon Scrawl into Roll20, but we'll have to wait and see. For now it just looks like a strategic partnership for them.