Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quick Mapping with MapTool, TokenTool, Google, and Gimp

Recently I faced the dilemma of a time shortage and the need to produce several new maps for an upcoming game in my Space Nazis campaign. I was able to produce everything in about an hour but only because I follow a tried and true method of map and token making. This post details the source, resources, and methods used to generate these maps quickly with a minimum of effort.

The first helper in my endeavor is MapTool. Since I game online, its the natural choice. It's free and very functional when it comes to map production. Maptool is very memory efficient if you use images as stamps, tiles, and textures. It stores each image only once internally no matter how many times its used on a map.

My second tool is Google. Google is a great first stop when looking for images. My plan was to build the interior of the ship for Queen Galaxia. I wanted something that looked like the old Space Hulk tiles used for tabletop play so I googled 'space hulk tile set' which lead me to 'doom tile set'. Score!

My third tool is Gimp. Photoshop or any other image manipulation software will work but I know Gimp and its (you guessed it) free. I took the downloaded tiles, shaved off the rough edges, and made some textures out of the floor panels.

My forth tool is free downloads from the game producer, Pinnacle. My Space Nazis setting uses the Slipstream rules set. Pinnacle has some ship counter downloads which I've used in previous games. I Gimped one of these into the monstrosity known as The Dominance, Galaxia's ship. The existing sky fortress wasn't nearly large enough so I simply replicated and joined it together. Remember, this is time crunched mapping not elegant mapping.

So opening Maptool, I laid out the the ships on a star field background so my players would know what they were getting into, as seen below.

Map of Galaxia's ship and the surrounding fleet. The Players ship is on the middle landing pad with a column of Primians standing to the side. 

Next I created a few rooms on the interior of the ship. When drawing the map I have no clue as to what the characters are actually going to do or where in the ship they're going to visit. It's times like this that texture drawing and tiles are your friends.

I needed some tokens for the player's visit to Galaxia. BEMs, Akaks, and Primians counters will be needed along with Queen Galaxia and her consort, Lord Galaga. Google to the rescue once more along with my fifth tool for rapid maps, TokenTool.

TokenTool allows you to drag and drop and image from a web browser into TokenTool to make a Maptool tokens. It trims the image based on the token base desired. If you don't like any of the preloaded bases you are free to make your own.

Note: TokenTool can be used with just about any Virtual Table Top and is used for different kinds of products unrelated to mapping.

TokenTool Screenshot

To make the tokens I googled Space Vixen to find an appropriate image from the seductress Galaxia. Marvel Comics Hercules would fill the bill nicely for Lord Galaga. Likewise the Mars Attacks aliens made great Akaks as did the Simpson's octopus-like aliens for BEMs. But what about the Primians? Well, Mavel's Planet of the Apes comic worked well for them.

I dragged each image into Tokentool and gave them a green base. Here are the results.

Finished Tokens from TokenTool

Now I have all the images ready to create the map. In MapTool, I created a new map labeled Throne Room. I know from editing the Doom tile set that the spacing is 64 pixels per cell. Since this is Savage Worlds, we want all distance calculations to be in cells (squares) so I set the value to 1.

New Map Dialog Window

Since I'll be drawing on deck tiles I set the background texture to my 1 cell floor tile I created when I was editing the Doom tiles.

Background Texture Picker

This produces a map with nothing but the 1" tile as background.

MapTool w/Background Texture

Now, the truly time saving part of this is that I don't need to draw rooms for every place the players might go. I simply need to draw the few places I think they might go and then decorate.

Also, you can use Maptool Vision Blocking Layer (VBL) to draw rooms. Maptool is somewhat unique in its ability to use Fog of War to keep players from seeing everything about the map. Trevor Croft, creator of Maptool, is a big Warcraft fan and so FoW in Maptool closely follows Warcraft.

Any rooms I need on the fly I'll draw using VBL. The throne room is special so I'll lay down some tiles for it.

Maptool has several drawing layers. They are, in order from top to bottom, Token, Invisible, Object, and Background. Drawables go below Dropables so anything you draw on the background layers is drawn below anything you drop on the background layer. In our case, the background layer currently shows a well-gridded mesh of floor tiles that aligns with the Maptool grid. I'm now going to drop Galaxia's throne room only the map. Since the floor matches the image of my background tiles, it merges in perfectly.

Background Tile

Now I add the surrounding rooms since a battle could spill over into adjoining areas. This looks like too much of the same when viewed as the GM.

But add some VBL, tokens, and set decorations and it comes together nicely for the PCs. They don't seen an entire map of floor tiles, they only see what VBL allows them to see.

What the players see in Galaxia's Throne Room

So, I'm ready to start the game. I have my map of space with Galaxia's fleet and her throne room with some adjoining rooms just in case. The game comes and the players decide part of the party will jump overboard and fly to the front of Galaxia's ship to try to find a way to destroy it from the inside while another character meets Galaxia and stalls for time.

During the game on the Throne Room map, I draw a landing bay with VBL and populate it with fighters, bombs, and minions of Galaxy. I don't know where they're going to go but I can always add more rooms with VBL. Luckily for me they didn't get far before the Intruder alert sounded.

The hanger bay drawn with Vision Blocking Layer

The total time to draw the map and create the tokens is actually less than it took to take the screen shots and write this blog post. Granted, I've been doing this for a while and those maps are far from pretty. But if you're like me and have scant hours to devote to gaming, this method will serve you well.

Good luck and happy mapping.

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