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Drawing Isometric Dungeons

There are some classic isometric dungeon maps out there, particularly those of castle ravenloft - the original David Sutherland maps inspired the styles of all maps of that castle that have come since. It's also a style beloved of computer games, most notably the Diablo series.

Creating an isometric map is actually pretty easy.

1. First draw out your floor plan as if it were top down. Place lines for all the elements on the ground - walls, doors, outlines of pit traps. I draw these lines on a separate layer from the grid as it keeps everything organised.
2. Make it isometric! Rotate the map 45 degrees. Then you shrink the map vertically by 57.7%.
3. The great thing about isometric maps are the vertical details you can throw in there. Find every corner, and draw a vertical line to show wall edges. Focus on the edges that don't obscure details further away. Here I've added the most detail where the detail doesn't overlap the actual floorplan. Fill in the blank space with sketched stone texture, add in illustrated doors, throw in some lines to show the rough stone in natural stone tunnels and give the viewer an idea of just how deep the spiked pit trap is. Again, I add these details on a separate layer to make it easy to erase mistakes without rubbing out the floor lines.

Remember that the primary goal of the map is to show the floorplan and allow for easy use for a GM. The extra detail that an isometric map provides can really sell the setting of a map, but it's also easy to obscure important features.

As ever, feel free to reshare this if you find it useful. Let me know if you have any questions, or share your own maps that you're making, or maps that you're having problems with.

Previous tips can be found compiled on the blog: http://fantasticmaps.wordpress.com/category/tips-and-tricks/

#rpg #map #tutorials
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27 comments
 
I love iso maps. Great tips on how to do one.
 
I used to keep pads of iso grid paper around for this sort of job. Sometimes, it's a lot easier to get the feel of a map by giving it a third dimension.

I've gotten into the habit of taking multi-level maps from adventures, and plotting them out in Google Sketchup. Frequently, I'll find discrepancies this way (like areas that try to overlap). I'm picky enough to figure out what to alter so that the map makes sense physically.

If it's an above-ground site, like a building, I'll go so far as to make up the exterior and apply textures, so I have a nice 3D model to show the players. I did this with the massive tower at the end of the Age of Worms campaign; I also found out that the little tower in the third adventure -- the one with lizardfolk attacking it -- would be impossible to defend.
 
I would also like add a related tip to this: You can get free isometric grids by visiting http://www.printfreegraphpaper.com/

You choose the options and it'll give you a .pdf to download, print or use in your program of choice.
 
I used Illustrator for dungeon mapping early last year, and stumbled onto its robust albeit wonky 3D engine. It's a snap to take a map layout and drop into into a isometric perspective. Since everything is in vector you can turn the projection rendering on and off, allowing you to make quick edits to the map if you screw something up somewhere (this is important to me).
 
Those are great tips. PS has some 3D capacity too, but I've not delved into it yet. Sketchup is a great program, but that takes a bit more time to model than I can give to a map these days. I really need a project that I can spend a few days on with sketchup to break the learning barrier on that one.
 
If you need something converted in Sketchup so that you can see how things line up, or give an external view, drop me a line and I'll see what I can do.
 
+Larry Moore THat's coming on really nicely. Sorry to hear about the layers, it happens. You can always lock layers you're not using any more so that you don't accidentally draw on them.

+Christopher Mathieu Thanks for the offer - I might just take you up on that sometime.
 
incompetech.com is the one I used to create the grids for my Cartography Toolkits. I thought I'd keep it simple here.
 
fair enough. I've got a few other designs in mind that I'd like to work from (though I don't remember them at the moment; they come to me when I go to incomptech for something specific and am reminded).
 
I had a nice tip posted on my dA page in response to this tutorial from jingoblingonfinky:
"Ok, this requires some software and probably reading at least a tutorial or two if you have no experience but -

draw the line map out in 2d as per usual. Either directly in a traditional piece of art software or on paper then scanned. Load up your choice of 3d package. Create a single plane. Apply the texture of your 2d map to the plane. Adjust your viewpoint to how you like, isometric or not. Render ! If you know what you are doing this is the work of a bare couple of minutes to instantly transform a flat line map into the basis for an isometric - or any other kind of perspective map !"

I'd never considered using sketchup or similar to bang out a perspective base. The added bonus is that you can easily lower/raise sections of the textured plane to get the base lines in the correct place. It's an interesting thought and something I might just have a shot at.

Original comment is here: http://torstan.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d4m0xwi
 
Most 3d programs can read some vector formats, so if have all those tools already you can trace your map, import it into your 3d suite and embrace another dimension. I've exported Illustrator files to DXG and had no trouble importing the splines to 3DS Max.
 
I also noticed that the new iBooks format allows for 3D import, so a 3D map that you can rotate with the swipe of a finder would be very cool.

Photoshop also has 3D capabilities - but I haven't delved into it. I think it might be more for skinning existing models rather than building them directly. Yet another really cool thing I need to check out :)
 
Be wary of the iBooks author's EULA if you choose to put things in their format. I have not read it though myself but I have heard several writers say to tread lightly. The gist of the EULA is that if you use their authoring tools you can only sell that book in iTunes for money. If you choose to sell it anywhere else in any other format as long as you used iBooks for one of the formats it has to be free on the other sites even your personal web site. It's a really nasty lockdown. At some point I will read the EULA myself so all I am saying here is be cautious.
 
Yep, I've seen those comments floating around. I've heard the other point of view that it's only the iBook output format that's restricted to the Apple iBookstore. You can sell pdfs and ebooks of the same material (even pdfs created with iBooks Author) elsewhere. That's what I've heard but I haven't dug into it deeply enough to be able to say for sure. Thanks for the heads up though, I'll be treading carefully as and when I look at producing materials for the iBookstore.
 
OP, this is totally, totally brilliant. How so few lines of instruction can be so damn helpful is wonderful. I've been fiddling around with this today, and the results are super easy and look great.

Thanks for the post!
 
That's awesome! An credit for mapping iso hexes. I think that's a first. 
 
Definite kudos for the iso hexes. Very impressive!
 
Thanks! It's for GURPS, hence the hexes.
 
Wow. I don't think I've ever finished a map before the game has started...
 
"Finished" is such a relative term. There's always "just one more" detail you could insert somewhere.
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