Seed: Bladechapel battlemap

Bladechapel is the headquarters of a knightly order dedicated to fighting evil threats from other planes in Monte Cook’s urban setting, Ptolus. Since no detailed plans of this fictional building seem to exist, and I wanted to confront my players with devils and demons ransacking the place during a zombie plague (long story), I set about making maps of my own. While I have progressed reasonably far, I’m to the point where I likely won’t be updating it any further. The map is functional, but not what I’d call “done”. As such, I’m releasing what I’ve got as a DivNull seed.


When it comes to maps, I prefer using vector tools like Illustrator over raster tools like Photoshop. This makes me a bit of the odd man out when it comes to making battlemaps, which is largely a raster pastime, but one of the reasons I wanted to make this map in the first place is to see how far I could push the vector tools. I posted progress notes for this map to a gaming cartography forum, if you are interested in more step-by-step stuff. My take aways from this project are:

  • One big goal was to learn how to use Illustrator’s mesh tool. Mission accomplished there. It is powerful and capable of doing things you can’t do any other way, but a bit clunky. I didn’t get really great at using this tool, but I least I understand what I’m doing now.
  • Live tracing seamless textures can build decent fill brushes that give objects more depth. (Vector maps are often very flat and blocky.)
  • Really decent textured fill brushes push Illustrator CS5 to the breaking point. On more than one occasion, I used up all the memory that Illustrator’s 32-bit limit could handle, causing it to die a horrible death. This transformed the project from learning about vector mapping to tiptoeing around the limitations of the software I was using, and is a big contributor to my not finishing the map. The newer 64-bit version might not have this problem.
  • Illustrator has the ability to print by tiling the output across multiple pages in an easy to understand way, but doesn’t extend this functionality to exporting PDFs. If you want to export to a multi-page PDF, you have to create individual artboards, and overlap them manually. The artboard tool makes this possible, but could be easier (allowing selection of multiple boards and editing, say, the X position of all of them at once would be very helpful, for example). I didn’t know any of this before starting this project, so learning it has been useful.
  • I also mostly just ran out of time. My desire to run a game using this map, and the pace of the game itself, overshadowed the need to do the map “right”.

I wound up with maps of five different “floors” of the building, in the end. They are big, as battlemaps go (roughly 50 squares by 60 squares, at an inch per square). Maps are available in two different formats. The PNG files contain the whole floor as a single image, at 150 pixels per inch. The PDFs divide the map onto pages of legal sized paper (the largest paper that the majority of home printers can handle), with a bit of content overlap. Note that all of these files are huge. You might want to look at the bladechapel-key.pdf file first. It gives a decent overview of the building layout and such.

Sources for this map are a bit tricky. I’m not going to post them, because the Illustrator sources are gigantic (the ground floor is over a gigabyte); however, if you are really want to play with them, drop me a comment to this post and we’ll figure something out.

Many of the objects on these maps (tables, chairs, etc.) are bitmaps intended for use with Dundjinni, and credit for them goes to their creators. Likewise, the name “Bladechapel”, “Knights of the Pale” and other aspects of this map are ©2006-2007 Monte J. Cook, used with permission. The textures originated from Seamless Pixels. Everything else should be considered released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License:

Creative Commons License

The Pandemonium Deck

The world doesn’t really need another variation of the deck of many things, but I built one anyway. I wanted to add something like it to my Ptolus/Pathfinder campaign, but had some slightly different objectives than I’d seen from other variations:

  • based on the Decktet deck
  • focus on individual cards instead of the whole deck, somewhat like Madness at Gardmore Abbey does
  • make assembling and drawing from the deck something the players would have to go out of their way to accomplish, instead of just lobbing the full-power, completed deck into a campaign
  • make drawing cards more difficult, but even more campaign altering than the original deck of many things if the players buy into it.

Though I requested some assistance with the deck from Story Games, I didn’t expect this to bear much fruit. My expectations were met.

If you have read this far, you probably know the deck of many things has a well-deserved reputation for breaking campaigns, where the result of one card would could derail all the action into some odd (and, to the group, inconvenient) place. There have been a number of variations of the deck, most of which seek to solve this problem by gimping the effects of drawing cards.

I wanted the pandemonium deck to go a different direction: rather than avoid the campaign derail, embrace it, but set things up so that everyone is expecting, even demanding, the derail. In broad strokes:

  • No one ever finds the ”deck” whole. People find individual cards.
  • If cards are present at a battle, one of them exerts an “influence” on the battle providing a moderate benefit that moves at random around the battlefield. (There are other assorted tricks, like forcing your card to be the influencing one, etc.)
  • Gathering more cards provides the owner with bennies.
  • If the players decide to make tracking down cards a thing they care about, at a certain point, mechanics kick in that accelerate this process (abilities to locate cards, communicate with those that have them, etc.)
  • Once the entire deck is assembled (presumably after quite a bit of effort), a ritual allows the more classic “drawing a card from the deck” major mojo. There is a slight bit of player control here (draw three, but choose the one that takes effect, etc.).
  • Drawn cards disintegrate and reform at random elsewhere, so must be collected again before another draw can be made.

The resulting deck can be found here: Pandemonium Deck

DivNull Seeds

With the new year comes reflection and resolution. This post is a bit of both. For most of my adult life, I’ve had a tendency to start new projects, but never finish them. This begins to weigh on me, as more and more unfinished stuff accumulates. Last year, however, I realized something about the way I work, and it is going to change what I release on this blog a little bit.

Often, what excites me about a project isn’t the final product, but what I’m learning when I do it. When the learning stops, so does the whole point in doing the project in the first place. Knowing this, I’m going to start suppressing the urge to “finish” some projects before releasing them. Rather than have them sit, untouched, on my to do list forever, I’m just going to throw them out there, as is, and check them off the to-do list. I’ll be referring to projects that follow this process as “seeds”: not really done, but someone could pick them up if they want to. I’m assuming that most of these seeds will just sit there, which is fine. But, on the off chance that they provide some use to someone, I’m going to post them anyway.

I’ll try to say a bit about what I was trying to do, and what I learned with each seed I publish.

So far, here are the published DivNull seeds.

My favorite review of ’inkadia

Johathan Lavallee reviewed every Game Chef 2012 entry, giving each game four paragraphs about “the good”, “the bad”, “the other” and “would I play it”.

He said this about ’inkadia:

The Good: *stares at the work in shock, jaw on the floor* This is art imitating game.

The Bad: *stares at the work in shock, jaw on the floor* This is at times avant guard art imitating a game.

The Other: *stares at the work in shock, jaw on the floor* This is a dinner party, right? Also, moderately price game for a one time thing.

Would I play it? *stares at the work in shock, jaw on the floor*

I reply:
Totally nailed it.

Seven Spindles… named a winner in One Page Dungeon 2012 contest

Seven Spindles and a McGuffin was named one of the 24 winners of the One Page Dungeon Contest 2012. I appreciate the honor, even more so than last year, because my entry this year wasn’t as good and the competition really kicked up a notch. Thank goodness they named more winners this time around!

At the time of this post, the main site for the contest seems to have fallen down, but there is a PDF containing all the winners on a different site. (And this guy reviewed them all, mentioning this entry as “bereft of flavor or charm”. Hoo-rah!) Once the site comes back up, though, check out all of the entries (over a hundred, I think). People really brought it this year.

In honor of this win, I’m releasing the source files for this dungeon (under the same CC licence as the PDF). This zip file contains one Adobe Illustrator file with the dungeon map and one InDesign file that links to the map and contains the text and other stuff. If you use these sources for something, drop me a link to the results in the comments.

LDraw language grammar for TextMate

Data files for LDraw software, such as Bricksmith, are really just text files with a specific syntax, and it can be useful to treat these files as text by opening them in a text editor and manipulating the source directly. This is particularly true if you are using LPub to build instructions for the model, as editing the text directly is the only way to add certain commands to the file.

My text editor of choice, TextMate, supports large numbers of language grammars to provide syntax coloring. It also allows you to add your own. I threw together this one to get a bit of coloring into .ldr files:

   scopeName = 'source.ldr';
   firstLineMatch = '^0 FILE .+\.ldr$';
   fileTypes = ( 'ldr' );
   patterns = (
	name = 'comment.line.ldraw';
        match = '^0 [^!].*$\n?';
	name = 'constant.other.ldraw';
        match = '^0 !.*$\n?';

To install this, pick Bundles→Bundle Editor→Edit Languages… from the menu bar. Click the + at the bottom of the window that comes up to create a new item. Then cut and paste the grammar. This should make your LDraw files go from what is shown on the left, to what is on the right:
Application of TextMate grammar

Looking for instructions for building Mobile Frame Zero frames?

In honor of the successful completion of the MFØ kickstarter, I’m volunteering to produce (and publicly post) seven LDraw files of mobile frames, with companion PDFs of assembly instructions. If you have a frame you’d like to see get this treatment, post it to the thread built for the purpose on the Mobile Frame Hangar forum. First come, first served and some restrictions apply.


My entry into Game Chef 2012 is ’inkadia. It’s about creating a post-apocalyptic setting by destroying an idyllic work of art by the late Thomas Kinkade.

My four random ingredients were not much help to me (even after they stopped returning 503 errors):

In any case, the “Last Chance” theme is what really triggered the design of the game. It immediately said to me “make a game with materials that get destroyed as you use them”. This then clicked with a thought I had when Thomas Kinkade died about using his images for a game.

I seriously doubt anyone will ever actually play this game, including me; however, as mentioned in the rules, post your final images here if you do.

Update: ’inkadia squeaked in as a last minute runner-up.

Seven Spindles and a McGuffin

Seven Spindles and a McGuffin (pdf link) is my entry into the One Page Dungeon Contest 2012. Much like last year’s entry (which was one of the winners) this one is more about dungeon structure than compelling narrative. In fact, the “story” is so minimal in this one that the whole entry is really more of a sandbox than an adventure. I sort of like dungeons that way, personally, but mileage varies.

I had some some goals for the design of this dungeon (and some observations after building it):

  • Must use a vector-based map. (Why? Well, note that this map is infinitely scalable, but the whole PDF is under 300KB.)
  • Wanted a dungeon with a couple totally different vectors of entry.
  • Provide the flow control usually supplied by different levels of a dungeon, all using a single map. The center spindle effectively allows this to be a six level dungeon on half a page.
  • Take a regional approach, where the dungeon is described by section rather that detailing each room.
  • Put some rooms at angles to the grid, but showing the grid in their own frame of reference.
  • Subvert the idea of dungeon as node graph idea from last year’s entry. It may be possible to node graph this dungeon, but I’m not entirely sure how to do it, especially since the small spindles are placed at random each time the dungeon is run.
  • Minimize hallways (if you were digging your own underground complex, you don’t get much return out of the labor). Some sections do this better than others.
  • Because each of the spindles serves eight potential openings, it turns out to be critical that the spindles turn in 45° increments. If they turned in 90° increments, I’m pretty sure that you can get situations where randomly placing the spindles results in unreachable rooms. Turning at 45° increments avoids this, though you might get cases where some rooms can only be reached if you stay in the spindle when it rotates.
  • Use psychology against the delvers. For example, in a couple of places, there are short hallways with a normal door on one end and a secret door on the other. The normal door is in the “more secret” area, so the idea is that if the delvers are already in the secret area and go through the normal door, when they find the (obvious) secret door at the other end, their tendency will be to go through it (“it’s secret, it must be protecting something good”), which actually leads them out of the secret area. Not sure if it would shake out like that in play, but that’s the idea.
  • Loved the idea of the spindles periodically sealing and unsealing sections, so that air, water and such rush in or out when the spindle moves. Like, if you are in a room with water up to your ankles and, meanwhile, the tide has risen outside, then the spindle turns and the high tide rushes into the room you’re in. Probably should have done more with that notion, but it is a) tough to do in one page and b) hard to explain and use.
  • The overlapping technique used in the fissure section, where one room is on top of another with a ladder between them, could have been used more. I thought it might confuse people, even though it is a bit easier to illustrate with the rooms at angles to each other.

I think last year’s entry was stronger, but when I went to the well this time, this is what came out.