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  #13  
Old July 27th, 2011, 01:32 AM
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Re: Cartographer's Toolbox - Creating Competitive Heroscape

What I like about scenarios (especially ones with set armies) is that they will ultimately be more balanced than any open draft when considering new comers. That is, there is no way for folks to get their hands on the army building potential we had back in the day. But with pre-drafted and tested army sets & scenarios, the game is guaranteed to be balanced. As the designated HS collector of my gaming group, I look for ways to allow folks to jump in by saying, pick one! The red army, the blue army or the green! The one with terminator guys or the one with those angel guys!
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  #14  
Old September 5th, 2011, 07:06 PM
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Re: Cartographer's Toolbox - Creating Competitive Heroscape

Thanks for the sticky, Ry! mad_wookiee's provided us with an awesome tool and I'm glad that it won't keep getting lost in the shuffle any more.

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  #15  
Old September 5th, 2011, 07:27 PM
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Re: Cartographer's Toolbox - Creating Competitive Heroscape

I was just thinking about finishing the next post in this series - that's a pretty good incentive, I'd say.
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  #16  
Old September 5th, 2011, 09:18 PM
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Re: Cartographer's Toolbox - Creating Competitive Heroscape

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Originally Posted by mad_wookiee View Post
I was just thinking about finishing the next post in this series - that's a pretty good incentive, I'd say.
Get on with it good sir! Your fans are waiting!
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  #17  
Old September 21st, 2011, 05:30 PM
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Re: Cartographer's Toolbox - Creating Competitive Heroscape

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Quote:
Originally Posted by mad_wookiee View Post
I was just thinking about finishing the next post in this series - that's a pretty good incentive, I'd say.
Get on with it good sir! Your fans are waiting!
x2

Thanks for a great resource, MW! I am trying to improve my cartography skills (read: they aren't that great) and I am very much looking forward to the next installment.
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  #18  
Old October 5th, 2011, 05:11 PM
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Tell the Tale

Different people play games for different reasons. When I'm gaming, I'm looking for a few things out of the experience: I want to be challenged intellectually; I want to pit my strategy and tactics against that of someone else to see whose will prevail; I want to enjoy the company of good friends, usually with good drink and lots of smack talk and laughter; and I want to walk away with a story to tell. I love games that are rich in theme and provide opportunities to immerse myself in that theme. Heroscape, of course, has theme in spades, and a good map plays a large part in that.

Narrative is another part of mapmaking that separates a viable map from an outstanding one. I'm deliberately using the term narrative because I think it's possible to have strong theme and weak narrative. Theme in Heroscape is more or less inherent - as long as you're working with complete sets, both masters and expansions, you'll have a thematic map. Tundra plus Road to the Forgotten Forest can't really be interpreted any other way than as a snowy forest, for example. The only way to avoid theme, as far as I can determine, would be to simply use random hexes in random arrangements with no thought whatsoever to using sets as whole units. If that's your approach, then I might suggest starting again at the beginning of this series, because you'll have more problems than just worrying about narrative.

When I talk about narrative, I'm talking about the ability of a map to tell a story. This is something of an abstract concept, and perhaps somewhat subjective, but I think it becomes relatively intuitive when broken down into two concepts: coherence and dissonance. We'll start with coherence, as I think it's the concept that is more foundational, as well as being the one that is used more commonly. It's what I think of when I hear other folks talk about a map with "polish". By coherence, I'm referring to a map's internal consistency and its congruence with reality.

Think about it this way - when you view a natural landscape, most often, you're viewing something that has some sort of natural consistency to it. Snow, for example, tends to stick to higher elevations, while water gravitates to lower. Sand often is found near water or rock. These aren't rules, but rather expectations - the closer your map adheres to expectations like this, the more natural it seems. This translates to a couple of practices that enforce coherence. The most important is to use like terrain in clusters. Generally speaking, a map that does something really funky like having adjacent, visible hexes of multiple types is going to feel off. For example a seven hex of rock adjoining a seven hex of sand adjoining a seven hex of grass is, on most maps, going to look muddled and feel realistic, breaking the narrative of the map. Similarly, terrain used at various elevations should have some sort of logic to it. I like to use rock hexes as height on my maps because it feels natural to me - I can envision rocky outcrops sticking out of an otherwise flat plain. I have more difficulty seeing that dynamic in reverse. Remember - you're trying to create a scene where you can envision a battle taking place. If you can't envision the scene having some sort of correspondence to a place that you can imagine existing, then you're not going to evoke that feeling during a game.

If a map were a recipe, then coherence would be the salt. Salt ties the flavors of a meal together and makes them intelligible to your tongue - that's what coherence does for a map. Dissonance, on the other hand, might be the spice that adds a little something extra to the meal, giving you a bit of surprise. This is a bit harder to convey than coherence, because I think naturally we want a map to look consistent and realistic. Dissonance, on the other hand, happens when you do something unexpected in a way that furthers the story. Dissonance can be anything from an unexpected start zone arrangement to an off-the-wall use of terrain. Like a good spice, though, you need to be cautious with how you use dissonant elements - too much and the narrative breaks down, the map feels unnatural, and it just looks weird. And that's not furthering the narrative.

Nonstandard start zone arrangements are great dissonant elements that tell a story. Daedalus, for example, immediately raises a question in my mind: What's going on with the delegations in the center? Is this a parlay gone awry, an ambush or some other treachery, or something else? It makes me think of the scene in the Silmarillion where Morgoth's emissaries ambush Maeglin (for the three of you out there that have read the Silmarillion). That's a narrative moment, and besides adding a great decision point to a map, it creates an engagement with the players wanting to figure out the story behind the battle.

Nonstandard terrain combinations can also create dissonance, but must be used cautiously. I love the Road and Volcarren sets together, but something seems odd about lava and trees. Used with a great deal of coherence and internal consistency, a map that uses both can tell a story of a lava flow threatening a forest road - the contrasting elements add to the story of the map. Used incoherently, though, and that map could just be confusing. Voids in a map function similarly - empty space is incoherent, no matter the terrain combination. It takes a strong map to use void space to full effect while still retaining some sort of narrative.

One of the challenges I have with the Marvel set is that it doesn't provide enough terrain to really be useful without using the warehouse ruin. I've been wondering, though, why more people don't use the ruin when making maps with the Marvel set. The second-level hex piece should never be used with classic 'scape - Raelin and dragons would have a field day with that setup - but once that piece is removed, the ruin itself is a pretty damn good LoS blocker, one of the largest in the game. The problem, I think, is that it creates a great deal of dissonance on a map with certain terrain types. I can't see the narrative really making a lot of sense on a map where it's paired with tundra, jungle, or dungeon, for example. It's really only coherent with the road set - anything else visually feels odd to me, and I have a hard time getting past that. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I have to think that it doesn't help make the case for using that set. Mayberry is an example of a map in which I tried to use the Marvel set in a coherent fashion without creating too much dissonance, and I'm pretty happy with the results.



Narrative is a subjective measure of a map's effectiveness. It has virtually no effect on the way that a map plays mechanically, but it can have a big effect on the experience that a player takes away from a map. Strong coherence is most important - a great map needs to use terrain consistently and realistically - but a dash of dissonance, that surprise element that brings something unexpected, can also take a map from being good to great.

Next in the series - decision points on a map: what are they, and why do they matter? (And I'll try to finish in less than two months this time...)
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  #19  
Old October 5th, 2011, 06:00 PM
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Re: Tell the Tale

Great stuff M_W. I like the conceptual analogies of coherence and dissonance, and the comments about terrain combination feel right on.

Curious how you conceive of the Dungeon terrain visually. For me it's the most versatile, perhaps because most neutral in its color palette. I actually think it looks more like rock than the supposed 'rock' terrain (the latter being perhaps my least favorite terrain in the game). Can also evoke snow-sprinkled ground, especially if placed next to snow tiles.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mad_wookiee View Post
It makes me think of the scene in the Silmarillion where Morgoth's emissaries ambush Maeglin (for the three of you out there that have read the Silmarillion).
Oh oh oh, me me! I've read the Silmarillion! Four times actually. Thrice when a teenager; and once again recently as an old fogey.
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  #20  
Old October 8th, 2011, 11:25 AM
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Re: Tell the Tale

Quote:
Originally Posted by Typhon2222 View Post
Curious how you conceive of the Dungeon terrain visually. For me it's the most versatile, perhaps because most neutral in its color palette. I actually think it looks more like rock than the supposed 'rock' terrain (the latter being perhaps my least favorite terrain in the game). Can also evoke snow-sprinkled ground, especially if placed next to snow tiles.
Agreed about the dungeon terrain - it really works well with almost any set. The only exception that I'd make is the Marvel set - those two sets together really need something in addition to prevent the map from becoming a monochromatic mess.
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  #21  
Old October 14th, 2011, 11:20 PM
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Re: Cartographer's Toolbox - Creating Competitive Heroscape

Well met!

On the relatively small map (16 x 12) I just finished, I decided that I would build a fortified oasis. First I built the oasis itself, as it was before the fortifications were begun, in Sand, Water, and Bushes/Palms. Water is in the center as a stream, 1-2 hexes wide, 7 hexes long, emerging from off the North (top, furthest from me) of the map, banked with grass. There are 2 bushes on either bank, each of which casts Shadow towards the Southeast. Near the South edge of the map are three tiny pools, the center one containing a Bush, while the ones to the East and West contain Palms. The rest is sand.

Then, on Rock, I placed an archway/parapet (2 pillars, the 5-hex Bridge piece atop them (a Shadow tile below each end), with Railing attached) just South of the stream, used a 3- and a 2-hex Dungeon tile on each side to lead to: first, a lower area of Road, 3 x 2, with Battlements, leading up by Road to a higher area (which casts shadow on the 2 hexes of lower Road nearest it), capped with a 7-hex Dungeon tile, with Battlements. 1 elevated Road hex from each 7-hex Dungeon tile is a double-pillar (stacked, not adjacent) tower, with ladders and battlements, of course, which is also next to a Bush adjacent to the stream. There is quite a lot of open space on the Southeast and Southwest quadrants of the map, and the Shadow tiles are all where you might expect real shadows to be.

I had been throwing piles of terrain, including all my castle stuff, at this space, but this is the best map I've built on this base, undoubtedly because of the manner in which I built it, and because I used the a fraction of the terrain that I had been. Less is indeed more.









These pictures doesn't give you much detail, but you get the idea.



Next Generation

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  #22  
Old October 15th, 2011, 12:18 AM
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Re: Cartographer's Toolbox - Creating Competitive Heroscape

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Dude, those pictures give me *no* detail!

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  #23  
Old January 12th, 2012, 08:16 PM
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Re: Cartographer's Toolbox - Creating Competitive Heroscape

So, when's the next issue going to be out?

Thanks for this info, m_w!
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  #24  
Old January 12th, 2012, 09:45 PM
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Re: Cartographer's Toolbox - Creating Competitive Heroscape

Well, I obliterated my goal of two months, but now that the one-two punch of Mechanicon followed by the holidays is past me, I've been trying to make more time to write. Look for something in the next few weeks.
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