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How to colour a dungeon map by hand

Today it's back to the isometric dungeon I created in this mini-tute a few weeks ago ( +Larry Moore was asking about the next step - how I'd go about taking a map like that and colouring it up. An isometric map is a little trickier than a top down map. As there aren't hard edges for the walls it's tricky to set up a selection and stroke the selection or use filters to define walls and floor styles. So I do it by hand. And here's the steps I use.

Note - I'm refering to Photoshop in this tutorial, but it's exactly the same in Gimp.

1. Throw a nice textured background under your lines. I'm very partial to parchment backgrounds, but stone, cloth or other backgrounds also work well. The texture will pull the whole map together and suggest more detail than you put in by hand. Then create a new layer with the colour blend mode underneath the lines. Take a very desaturated colour (I tend to use a brown that's almost grey, maybe 5% saturation) and block in areas that should be stone. I use a grungy brush with low opacity and build up the greys slowly. You don't want heavy round brush edges here. They may not show up at this stage, but you'll notice hard edges on the colour layer towards the end. Finally, pick out the colours of non grey objects, like wooden doors and water. Don't worry about being too careful here. You'll almost certainly go back and edit this layer before you're done.

2. Add in your first layer of light and shade. I almost always use an overlay layer for light and shade. At this stage, your building up general form, so use a large brush - around the same size as a grid square. A fuzzy circular brush works well, or a grungy brush with low opacity. I like to make the floor the lightest area, as our eyes are drawn to the lightest point in an image. The walls and floors around the dungeon can be darker to suggest heavy earth and rock. I also like to darken the corner where the wall meets the floor. There's no good reason for that physically, but is really seems to work for me when detailing maps. In this case I've actually built up two overlay layers to get to here - this is mostly because my background was so light.

3. Place the detail. This is the stage that takes the time. Once again, add a new overlay layer. Reduce the size of your grungy brush by half (at least) and start working in the darkest shadows. These should be along wall edges, and in nooks and crannies of natural stone walls. I also ran a dark brush along all of the flagstone lines to give a bit of dimension to the flagstones. Now switch to a light colour, amd use a hard round brush with relatively small size and set the opacity to pressure sensitivity (if you're using a tablet). Pick out sharp highlights. These should be along the any sharp edges, like the side of an outcropping, the edge of a flagstone, the edge of a door, the bright highlight on a doorhandle. I also added the stone effect in the surrounding earth by setting the hard brush to low opacity, adding a large scatter and allowing the size of the brush to vary. I threw in some scatter in the earth to hint at rocks and stones in the earth around the dungeon.

Now go back to your colour layer and make any tweaks you need now that the detailing's finished and you're done!

That's another long one (I'm afraid), but the steps are - lay in the colours, block in the rough light and shade, add in the detailed shadows and highlights. I hope that helps! You can find the psd for the iso dungeon here - - feel free to play with the different layers and see what they do.

As always, previous tips can be found on my blog here: Feel free to reshare, and let me know if there's anything that doesn't make sense.

#fmtips #map #tutorial #photoshop
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I was wondering how Referee's use these types of maps. They seem like a GM-only map. Their so beautiful to NOT show off, ya know?

These are mostly useful for GM aids, just because they aren't compartmentalised enough to easy print out and hide areas. However, there's no reason why you couldn't show one or two rooms to players to give PCs and idea of what's going on, especially for a battle with a lot of 3D movement. You can still use markers for PC and enemy positions.
Man, it really makes me want to pull out my old T-square and giv'r...
I have a love / hate relationship with you, you know ;p
+Fantastic Maps I want to justify my (now unused) drafting background a little - maybe I should do it in AutoCAD? :)
:) Now that's a program that really should have no trouble with an isometric projection. I actually just recently sent my old mini-drafting table and 30 degree set square to a charity shop.
I wonder how hard it is to do "layers" of rooms to show the rooms farther back clearly, then bring in the next one. Like starting with a solid background and putting a transparent overlay on it with some rooms, then another with some more rooms, etc.

If you do it I will buy it :)

You mean a set of modular pngs of isometric rooms? That would be very cool. Or do you mean something else?
Yes that is what I mean. With each successive layer being clear to show what has has already been revealed.

In the image example for this post.

One map shows the entrance cavern, then the next shows that wide hallway, then the next shows the smaller room and corridors connecting. A small call out map can show the shaft of the trap, etc.

It takes planning, but I think it would work incredibly well in VTTs as well as for P&P players.
The trick would be to create enough rooms to make it work for a lot of different dungeons. My slate is full for the near future, but I'll definitely make a note of this for the future.
+Fantastic Maps quick question, where did you get your ISO graph paper you used for this? I have been looking online and nothing seems to be hitting the correct angle for me.
The grid is created by taking any square grid, rotating by 45 degrees and then shrinking vertically by 57.7%. That will give you an isometric grid.
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