The Seven-Sided Die

Dyson Logos' awesome and easy map tutorial

Posted Friday March 16, 2012 at 10:48 PM

I discovered Dyson Logos' inspiring side-view dungeon map tutorial a couple of days ago. Since then I've been experimenting with the style and I find it suits me really well.

A drawing depicting a cut-away view of a waterfall descending into a sinkhole, with caves in the walls. A tree and a ruined tower overlook the sinkhole.

I started by doodling from memory an old dungeon I ran years ago for D&D 3.5 and shook out some of the kinks in the style and started making it look good. I found that the real key to making it look good, as he points out in the tutorial, is to go over the lines that separate solid ground from air a second time to darken them. It's such a simple thing, but when you slow down to make the tracing accurate it transforms shaky, amateurish lines into confident, polished ones.

The sample at right is a work-in-progress so the crosshatching hasn't been finished, but it gives a good idea of how nice the results look even when it's incomplete [1]. The crosshatching gives it a great finished look, and isn't nearly as hard as I anticipated. The trick I've found is to slow down enough to make the lines evenly spaced and parallel – getting the orientation just right is much less important.

I'm still finding it hard to conceptualise the layout before committing it to ink and I'm still running into room shapes and details that look better in my head than when executed on paper, but practice is very quickly paying off. I'm learning what sort of shapes look good and which convey information well much faster than I would have thought, so the exercise is having a very encouraging effort/payoff curve.

I have to say that I've never been good at drawing a straight line without a ruler, and yet look at how nice those lines look! This sample is only the second map I've done since reading the tutorial. I don't consider myself to be very artistically skilled, so if I can do this, so can you!

I haven't tried it in pencil yet, but I think pen is the way to practice. Drawing in ink is forcing me to think about what I'm doing rather than rushing something onto the page just to kill the abhorrent blankness.

For more map awesomeness go read through the rest of his mapping blog, the (hilariously misnamed) A Character For Every Game. And if that only whets your appetite for maps in this line style (side-view and otherwise), there's always Tony Dowler's Year of the Dungeon. Now that I've shown myself that I can do this at all, I've got a stack of index cards that are earmarked for drawing Dowler-style microdungeons for even more practice. I'm determined to have a hexcrawl that is well-stocked with my own subterranean creations among the One Page Dungeons and published megadungeons I'll be using.

[1]Even when photographed with a cellphone under terrible conditions. Post-processing makes it marginally presentable, but don't look too close at the tower in the top-right!

Comments (2)

Dyson Logos

Saturday March 17, 2012 at 04:33 AM

Thanks for the shoutout, and I'm loving your map!


Tuesday March 20, 2012 at 07:02 PM

Thanks for the tutorial! I've finished the side view of the map in the sample and drawn two more smaller dungeons in the meantime. Keeping a dungeon from ballooning into a huge complex is actually pretty hard, so I'm giving myself practice with smaller sheets and I like how the constraints work my brain. Now to figure out the top-view layout of this beast and then populate it…