Tuesday 16 July 2013

Drawing old-school dungeon maps (part 1)

I have been experimenting with Inkscape (a free 'vector graphics' program) recently, and although I still prefer my old vector graphics software (which unfortunately has a few issues with windows 7 and widescreen displays), you can't deny that, for the cost (i.e. FREE), Inkscape is a great piece of software ...and one which I'm going to try to get to grips with over the coming weeks.

As such, I've posted one of my first experiments with Inkscape over on my G+ page HERE ...and seeing as how I've often thought about creating a basic map-making tutorial using only free software (and also because a few people have started to ask for such a thing) ...I thought that now would be a good time to attempt just that :)

However, before I begin, please be aware that I've only had the software a couple of days - so I'm hardly an Inkscape expert (though I am reasonably familiar with vector graphics in general). In addition, it's also worth noting that if you stick to the exact values that I've listed in the tutorial, the end product will be a 300dpi dungeon map - with each individual 'square' being 70 pixels in size (making it suitable for use with many of the virtual tabletops out there).

PART 1 - Drawing a square grid.

When you open Inkscape you will be greeted with a blank page - and it's worth noting that for the purpose of this tutorial I am using the 'wide' setup for all the icons/tools/etc. (note that this can be set by clicking the View option in the menu bar).

Once you are ready to start, the first thing we'll need to do is to set up a grid that will act as guides that all of our lines and shapes will 'snap' to when we're drawing the dungeon. This is done by selecting File > Document Properties and clicking on the 'Grid' tab. Then simply change the values to the following:

(note that you don't have to select the 'show dots instead of lines' option - but I find it easier if I do. Also ensure that you change the grid units box to 'pc' ...as this can be easily missed) 

Once this is done, simply hitting the '#' will show or hide this grid (note that during the course of this tutorial it is assumed that grid is always displayed).

Next we need draw a phyical grid to represent the 5ft. squares of our dungeon floor. To do this, simply decide on how large you want the dungeon to be (in this instance I'm going to draw a small 15 squares x 20 squares dungeon) and then use the 'Draw Bezier curves and straight lines' tool (i.e. the one denoted by the letter K in the image below):

However, before we go any further, take some time to familiarise yourself with this tool and make sure you know how it works. For example, to draw a single straight line you simply need to left click (once) where you would like the line to start, and double click where you would like it to end. Other options include left clicking (once) to start your line (as shown at location 'a' in the diagram below), left clicking again (once) to denote the second point of your line (as shown at location 'b') and only double clicking to end the line when you are finished (in this instance at point 'c').

As you can see,  you can keep left clicking (and changing direction) as many times as you like (e.g. starting at point 1, then clicking at point 2, 3, and 4), and if you hover your mouse over the starting point, a little red square will appear around that point indicating that you can close those lines to form a basic shape (in effect joining point 4 and point 1 together).

In addition, the beauty of vector graphics is that once you have drawn a shape/line like the ones pictured above, it is very easy to change that shape/line if you so desire. To do this all you need to do is select the 'Edit paths by nodes' tool (the one I've indicated with the letter B in the tools diagram), click on the object/line you want to edit, and hover your mouse over the point/node that you would like to change (which will turn red ...as shown at point 3 in the diagram below). Then left click (and hold) that point/node, and simply drag it to a new position.

OK, now we're familiar with how we can draw straight lines (note that we're not going to worry about curved lines at this point), let's get on with drawing our dungeon grid. As I said earlier, for this example I'm going to draw map that is 15 squares x 20 squares in size, and to do that we'll be using the same 'Draw Bezier curves and straight lines' tool as mentioned above. We also need this grid to be made up of one continuous line (to make selecting & editing it easier) ...and to do this we simply left click on the point where we would like to begin, and then simply go back and forth (as shown in diagram A & B below), and then up and down (as shown in diagram C & D) until we have one continuous line/shape forming our entire grid.

(note that if you're planning on creating multiple maps, it might be worth creating a grid that fills the entire page, and then saving that as a template for future maps)

Next, we want to create a blue background for our map, and this is done by using the 'Create rectangles & squares' tool (which I've identified with the letter E on the tools diagram above). Once you have the tool selected, left click (and hold) on the top left corner of our grid (note that a little 'x' should appear when you are hovering over the exact point), and drag your mouse down to the lower right of our grid.

Don't worry that this had created a rectangle that has obscured our grid, as another beauty of vector graphics is that each shape/ line is essentially on its own separate layer - so our grid is still there ...it's just underneath our newly drawn rectangle.

Anyway, now that the rectangle is in place, we need to change its colour - and to do this we first need to make sure the shape is selected (i.e. simply click on it with the select tool ...the one I've labelled 'A' on the tools diagram), and then choose Object > Fill and Stroke from the menu bar. This will bring up a new set of options which will allow you to change the colour of the object (called 'Fill'), the colour of its outline (called 'Stroke paint'), and the thickness and style of that outline (called 'Stroke style).

For this shape we don't actually need an outline or 'stroke' so we can click on the 'Stroke paint' tab and make sure we have the first box (i.e. the one marked with an 'x') selected. But seeing as how we want the box to be blue (rather than the default black) we need to click on the 'Fill' tab, and (after making sure we have the second 'flat color' box selected) we can alter the sliders to select a colour more to our liking (note that for the purpose of this tutorial I'm, always going to be using the values shown in the above diagram when I make reference to the colour 'blue').

You'll also notice, that while you have the select tool active, you will get the following 4 icons appear beneath the menu bar -  and it is these four icons/tools will allow you to move shapes/lines into positions above or below each other. 

For example, our grid is currently sitting at the bottom of everything we've drawn so far - with our blue rectangle sitting on top. So if we make sure that we've got the blue rectangle selected, and then hit the first of these icons (the 'Lower selection to bottom' one), it will send the blue rectangle to the bottom - thus revealing our square grid.

And that's it for drawing the grid and background. In part 2 (which I hope to get around to later on today) we'll add a few rooms and passages, and get this little map finished.


  1. Love your maps, You are using inkscape here, but you indicate that it is not your normal tool. Out of curiosity, what program do you normally use for drawing them?

    1. I used to use a mixture of Greenstreet Draw4 and Adobe Photoshop for pretty much all of my stuff (Draw4 to draw out all the basic shapes, and Photoshop to add details & textures etc.).

      However, since July I've been using a mix of Inkscape and Photoshop (with Inkscape doing exactly the same job that Draw4 used to do).

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