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Thoughts on Dungeondraft
Also a bunch of free maps
Some of you might be aware that I used to draw battlemaps1. Most of you are probably not aware that I still occasionally do that.
Specifically, I’ve been toying with Dungeondraft, and with making an asset pack for it. It’s such a curious program. It’s interesting, playing with it and seeing the seams where the technical debt has grown up, and where the developer’s priorities have fallen over time.
For instance, Dungeondraft has two methods of drawing walls. One is with the Building tool, and the other is with the Wall tool.
The Building tool is close to my ideal setup - you draw boxes, and the boxes get walls and interior floor fills automatically. You draw multiple boxes that overlap, and they link together and form a single room composed of multiple boxes.
The Wall tool is a point-and-click tool that draws a straight wall from point to point. It’s obnoxious because it’s hard to ‘draft’ things with it. You can’t sculpt; you have to know exactly where to click, or else do a lot of tedious editing after the fact.
The thing is that the Building tool is janky, and nobody really uses it except for niche applications. It’s impossible to draw buildings with rooms with it, for one. All subdivisions have to be drawn with the Wall tool. And on top of that, the floor patterns that the Building tool uses have nothing to do with the textures that the Pattern tool has access to. They operate differently and, frankly, because of how the Building patterns operate, it’s almost impossible to make nice custom assets for them.
It seems as though that at some point, the Building tool was given up on as a way to support certain features. If you want a wall now, you pretty much have to use the Wall tool.
There are multiple other examples of this, of features being mostly ignored by custom editors due to their weird implementation. The Cave tool was for the longest time incapable of being customized, and once that feature was added, it was still better to use paths for the job since they don’t distort the texture quite as weirdly. The Roof tool was added in a functional state, but it’s still simply not as functional or as flexible as patterns and paths2. You can’t even do many roof shapes with it; hope you like gable and hip, because that’s all you really get.
The difficulties with working with many of Dungeondraft’s more complex features (materials, caves, the Building and Water tools) has resulted in the curious phenomenon where it seems that almost every task the program should be capable of handling is better handled through the use of a path, object, wall, or pattern (in order, a repeating texture that can warp smoothly, a single texture, a repeating texture that’s rigid and smooth, and a repeating texture that’s flat and arbitrarily shaped).
And even though that may be the case, these aren’t optimal solutions where workflow is concerned. Look at the image above. That water is composed of a pattern (the blue water itself), dozens of paths (the white foam lines), and objects (the shadows underpinning many elements). Dungeondraft does not have a functional tool to envelop “water”. This is partially because the features required vary extensively based on artistic style; compare Crosshead’s3 water style to mine, or a photo-realistic water render. The techniques are different, and rendering them automatically in a 2D environment like Dungeondraft would generally require different approaches for each style. Fair enough that it’s doable at all, though.
But I don’t mean just to rag on Dungeondraft. It’s a cool program. It’s not like anyone else has made a digital map editor quite like it. I’m still ambivalent on the lighting and dynamic wall systems of VTTs like Foundry and Roll20 (sure, it’s neat, but it’s a lot of extra prep time to set up…) but Dungeondraft does a fair bit towards making that more manageable. The Universal VTT format is probably one of the best things that’ve happened to map editors.
And it also touches on something that I care about. One of the reasons I quit making maps professionally was that I felt like I was selling a weird luxury drug that everyone wanted but that nobody really needed. It’s nice to have useful art with a functional purpose, sure. But I can count on one hand the number of times a game I ran has genuinely benefited from having a battlemap, and (far be it from me to judge people who spend their money on my artwork4) I never really understood the appeal or the expense. Would you believe me if I said I only used my own work once in a home game, and only because my players demanded it over a curious coincidence?
But Dungeondraft is interesting because you can just do it yourself. Grab a neat asset pack or use the default ones and just make shit. And you own it. You’re not getting unknowable maps from a Patreon that may or may not make what you need (and maybe, this bothers me more than it did my customers? They did pay me for it, after all.) You can do exactly what you need for a game. It largely just works.
And what I like is that freedom of ownership that Dungeondraft gives the end user. It’s the same reason I’m using Dungeondraft and not Inkarnate or some other software-as-a-rent-seeking-scheme platform. I’ve made some decent money on royalties for the maps I made and own, but I’d really rather give my fans the power to do what I can do themselves.
So some time ago, I was working on a Dungeondraft overhaul. And I’ve picked it up a bit again. I can’t promise it’ll be done any time soon. But maybe I’ll put the early access up. Maybe here, maybe on Patreon again, probably both. It might be a subscription thing for a while, while it’s still incomplete. Maybe I’ll take suggestions, or maybe I’ll work belligerently and single-mindedly like I normally do. Certainly won’t be as fast as I used to be, with a career and a game system (hello, Taiao!) to develop. We’ll see.
What do you think I should do? Do you want to subscribe? Leave a comment, leave a like. Bother me, tell me about your maps, your preferred tools.
My old Patreon page is still active, mostly because all my backlinks point there. I think people are still subscribing to it because certain parts of the archives are still accessible? I’d like to revitalize it someday soon, but I can’t commit to drawing the way I used to.
As for my own attempts, I have had weird issues with the roof tool where the diagonal borders separating roof parts doesn’t render properly. No fix is forthcoming soon as far as I can tell.
Not that you can stop me hahaha