Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review: Story Maps: Ruins of the First Age

From: Savage Mojo
Price: $6.95
Artist: Mike Burns

Ruins of the First Age includes two maps of 12 tiles each meant for printing and use in face-to-face games. The map depicts ruins and surrounding area with 8x8 inch tiles. If you plan to use it for a Virtual Table Top there's some work ahead of you. The maps are 8x8 inches bounded by white borders that overlap a bit. You'll need to crop the border before using.

If you plan to use this product in a VTT, you'll need to crop the border first with an image manipulation program. I use GIMP. While GIMP can have quite a learning curve, it is highly functional and quick if you know a few tricks. For more information check out Beginning GIMP by Akkana Peck.

You can crop the images quickly by importing all the pages at once into GIMP assuming all the images are identically layed out like Savage Mojo's. This creates one layer per page. Crop the image to the corners and it crops them all at once.

GIMP Step by step

Open the PDF in GIMP importing the images. Do not import any non-map pages. In the case of this file, that meant not importing the first or last page.

Save as .xcf (GIMP's native format)

At this point you'll need to do some verification work to make sure the grid matches up well with the grid in your VTT. For hand-drawn or scanned maps this always presents a problem as the grids seldom line up. In our case, Savage Mojo created the map with a computer so the grid matches up well. In this case the grid is 100 pixels wide.

Find the Layers dialog box. If it isn't visible in GIMP, use Windows->Layers, Channels, Paths, Undo to make it visible. You'll see a window looking something like this.

Note the eyeball next to each layer. To quickly save these layers into separate files you'll use File->Save As (or Ctl-Shift-S) and save the file as a jpg file. In this case I saved the file as SMGSFASM008_2.jpg denoting it is the second page of the file containing the map.

When you try to save a XCF as a JPG you're informed JPG can't handle layers. This is a good thing. GIMP asks if you want to merge of flatten the image. Either is fine. Merge is the default but flatten makes the files a little smaller. For now I'll pick the default so I can just hit the ENTER and go on. The next window asks you the quality of the saved image. I use the default of 85.

The trick to doing anything quickly is stick to the keyboard (i.e. don't use your mouse unless you absolutely must). Save the first layer by Ctl-Shift-S, [edit filename to add _2.jpg], then turn off the visibility to the top layer. The image in GIMP should change to the next page in the map. Repeat the process changing the file name each time. In a few minutes you'll have 24 pages of maps ready to use in your VTT.

My VTT of choice is Maptool (launch it now), find the directory where you stored the images. If its not in your explorer tree you may have to add it via File->Add Resource Library.

Your image explorer in maptool should look something like this.

For this map, the grid size is 100. If Maptool is set to the default of 50 then go to Map->Edit Map and set the pixels per cell to 100.

Now simply start dropping the map tiles onto your map on the BACKGROUND layer. Be sure to select the BACKGROUND layer. Do I need to say BACKGROUND layer again? I hope not. Now that you're on the BACKGROUND layer, start dropping tiles. Don't worry about lining them up yet. Just try to get them in order as shown in the PDF.

You'll get something that looks like this.

The default grassland doesn't look very nice behind the map so let's fix that first. Go back to GIMP and grab a 200x200 pixel sized background texture from a grassy area and save it as background.jpg. Going back to Maptool Map->Edit Map, select background and find your background.jpg and apply it. Here's what mine looked like afterwards.

That's a little better. Now for the time consuming part. Line up the tiles. Still on the BACKGROUND layer, turn on the Maptool grid (View->Grid or Ctl-G) and line the tiles. Select each tile and move it via Shift-Arrow Key which, in Maptool, moves the tile one pixel in the direction of the Arrow Key.

Once assembled your map should look something like this.

That took about 30 minutes of mapping and two hours of screen shots and blogging. Best of luck with this and other Savage Mojo products in your games.

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