5/5/2011
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Big Map Attack
The Dungeon Master Experience
Chris Perkins

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Step 16. Just Add Water

Before I apply color, I save my map. That way, if I screw something up, I have an unpainted version to revert to. My color palette is in the top right corner of my screen; I’m going to limit myself to the colors offered here.

I want to make sure I’m applying color to the correct layer (in this case, the Background layer). I select the shade of blue I want and use the paint bucket tool in the left toolbar to fill in the desired area. If there are any breaks in the outline of my island, the paint will flow into areas I don’t want, so I’m careful to check my linework. If I use the paint bucket and the color doesn’t fill the desired area, I can undo it (Edit: Undo, or Command-Z on my Mac) and try again.

Step 17. Paint by Numbers

The paint bucket is a poor man’s coloring tool, but it serves my needs. I select different shades of yellow, orange, and brown to represent the various elevations and then use the paint bucket to apply those colors to specific layers. For instance, the blue water in the caldera is on a different layer than the blue water surrounding the island.

Step 18. Add Pretty Little Trees

I forgot the trees! No problem—I create a new layer, then draw and paint the trees wherever I want on the map.

Step 19. Transform the Trees

I not only want to shrink and relocate the trees but also flip them horizontally, so that they fit in the specific area of the island I have in mind. Once again, I use Edit > Transform. The “horizontal flip” tool is an easy way to make your map elements feel less cookie-cutter. In the accompanying diagram, the two smaller stands of trees are basically two identical layers, one of which as been horizontally flipped!

Step 20. Build the Beach

I use the pencil tool (set at 1 pixel width) to make stipple marks along the western shore, giving it a sandy appearance. Then I create a new layer, use my pencil and paint bucket to draw one palm tree, duplicate that layer six times, and then use my mouse to move the seven palm trees where I want them.

Step 21. Add Elevation Tags

We’re almost finished. Time to add text to the maps. To make the elevation clear to my players, I add text tags to the various elevation lines (+100 ft., +200 ft., and so on). To make the text more visible, I apply a “glow” around the text using Layer: Layer Style: Outer Glow. Not all of the text on the map needs this treatment, just the text that would be hard to read otherwise.

Step 22. Save and Enjoy!

I use a traditional D&D statue icon to represent Zeryndroth, the petrified gold dragon. This symbol is part of the Zapf Dingbats font family, as is the star-like symbol I use for the compass rose. Like all of the tags, they’re added to the map as separate layers using the type tool (“T”) in the left toolbar.

With the tags in place, the map is complete. I save the file.

At some point, remind me to show you the tools I use to build maps for the ships that crop up in my nautical-themed campaign.

Until the next encounter!

—Dungeon Master for Life,
Chris Perkins


Poll 04/28/2011 Results:

Who dies?

  • Xanthum, the cheery sing-along gnome bard and undersea archaeologist, played by Curt Gould: 28.8%
  • Deimos (a.k.a. Sea King Impstinger), the increasingly evil tiefling sorcerer, played by Chris Youngs: 22.0%
  • Garrot, the dumb-as-a-stump and somewhat uncoordinated human fighter, played by Mat Smith: 11.6%
  • Kael, the deva invoker who has flashbacks of past lives, played by Chris Champagne: 10.3%
  • Alagon, the revenant ranger who’s pledged to serve the Raven Queen, played by Andrew Finch: 9.7%
  • Vargas, the scarred eladrin avenger of the Raven Queen, played by Rodney Thompson: 9.4%
  • Fleet, the renegade warforged warden hunted by cultists of Vecna, played by Nacime Khemis: 8.2%

The Dungeon Master Experience: Poll 05/05/2011

Hey DM: Do you like drawing your own maps?

Do you like drawing your own maps?
Very much, and I’m pretty darned good at it, too.
Yes, but my mapmaking skills aren’t great.
Sometimes. It depends on the type of map.
No. I’d rather someone drew them for me.



Christopher Perkins
Christopher Perkins joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the editor of Dungeon magazine. Today, he’s the senior producer for the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game and leads the team of designers, developers, and editors who produce D&D RPG products. On Monday and Wednesday nights, he runs a D&D campaign for two different groups of players set in his homegrown world of Iomandra.
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