View Full Version : Tutorial: PBP Dungeon Maps 101

Mr pokey
2011-01-21, 06:16 PM
I've had a few people ask me how I make my PBP dungeon maps. So, I decided to put together a little tutorial on the subject.

First, I use photoshop. There are other programs out there that you could apply this same process to, but I'm most comfortable with Photoshop. I like the way the layers work, and for more advanced visual effects, I find it to be the most flexible.

This process may seem like a lot of work, but once you make the initial map (this one took me less than an hour) manipulating its tokens is really simple and fast. You should be able to move tokens, apply status effects, change the lighting and save a Jpg copy within just a few minutes.

Step 1:

Create a new image.

I woulden't go any larger than 1000 pixels wide, most people will have issues fitting it on there screen if you go much bigger. If you want to have a particularly large map, I would make it tall, not wide. People are more comfortable with scrolling up and down to view the whole image.

Make sure the image is 72 pixels/inch. This is the standard resolution for monitors.

Step 2:

Next, find yourself some dungeon tiles, and player tokens. These should not be too hard to find. If you don't find exactly what your looking for, you can make the tiles yourself if you have the time, and you can always find a piece of concept art you like, use the round selection tool on the face, cut it out, and shrink it down to the size of the tokens you want.

Decide how big you want your square units to be. Too big and you wont have a lot of space for the map, too small and you wont see the tokens clearly. Keep all of the tokens on their own separate layers! Name all of your layers so you know whats on them.

ORGANIZATION: This is the key to having a successful PBP map. If you cant keep track of where layers are, you'll be pulling your hair out every single time someone makes a move. To do this we will give each character their own layer group file.

One thing that I have found that also helps to keep track of the characters is a sidebar next to the map that shows a copy of each character token, and lists all of their status effects. Lets make the sidebar now...

-1: Create a layer group. Its the icon at the bottom of the layers menu that looks like a file.

-2: A new layer bar should appear, Name it "SIDEBAR" drag it to the top of your layers.

-3: Now drag your character token layers into it. Inside this file, you are going to keep everything that relates to the sidebar. A copy of their token, their name, and all status effects.

-3: click on the 'SIDEBAR' layer group, and create a new layer group by clicking the file icon again. This new layer group should be created inside the sidebar group. Name it 'PLAYER 1'. Then drag the 'PLAYER 1' token layer, into the 'Player 1' file.

-4: repeat this step, making a layer group file for each of the characters. Make sure all of them are placed within the 'SIDEBAR' group. As shown in the image above.

The reason you do this is to make it very easy to find what your looking for, and to be able to hide all of this information when you don't need it. If you click on the little triangle icon next to each of the file icons, the folder will collapse, hiding everything inside it. This allows you view only the files your looking for, and not have to scroll through a hundred layers looking for a specific one.

Also, make a new layer group file named "MAP". In this group you will keep all things that are related to the map. For now, place your 'TILES' layer inside of it.

Step 3:

As you can see in this image, I have collapsed all the player's group files, hiding their layers. To open them up again, I just click the little triangle next to each file icon.

as a side note, If you select a group layer, like the 'SIDEBAR' group layer, you can move all layers that are parented to it.

In this step I have used the simple Tile I found to lay out a quick dungeon room. The easiest way to this is:

-1: select the tiles with the marquee selection tool.
-2: select the move tool (the black arrow)
-3: hold down the 'alt' key, and click, and drag the tiles.

This should make a clone of the tiles you selected, but they will remain on the same layer your already on. So rather than copy/pasting a million tiles, laying them out, then collapsing them all down to one layer again, Just 'alt' drag the new tiles wherever you want. All on one layer.

Step 4:

In this image I made the background Black using the paint bucket.

I added some stairs to my room. I cloned the stairs using the 'alt' drag method. Right now they are on 'layer 1' but I'll collapse them back down to 'TILES' in the next step. there is no reason to have multiple layers of tiles. It just makes things cluttered.

I also created a new layer in the 'SIDEBAR' group. This was to place a boarder line that will help separate the sidebar from the map, and keep people from being confused by whats part of the map, and whats part of the sidebar.

Step 5:

In this step I created a 'stroke' around a player token. To do this:

- select 'Layer' at the top menu bar in photoshop
- in the drop-down menu select 'layer style'
- in the next drop-down menu select 'stroke'

a new pop-up menu will appear. You can customize the color and size of the stroke line that will go around your token. (I changed the thickness to 2)

The reason I do this is I like to have my player characters have a gray stroke line around their characters, and the enemy monsters to have a black stroke line. This makes it easier at a glance to know where your allies are, and your enemies are. Also, whenever a player or monster is Bloodied, you can change the stroke color to red, informing all the players to the condition.

Once player 1 has his stroke effect, there will be an effect icon that appears to the right of his name on his layer in the layers menu. Right click this icon, select 'COPY LAYER STYLE' now right click on player 2's layer, and select "PASTE LAYER STYLE". Do this to each character, and they will each get the same stroke layer effect.

I also found a simple image of a box crate online, and added it to the scene, so that there is come cover in the larger room. There's a ton of resources online to fill your dungeons with. Just remember to not make a million layers in the process. keep layers organized, and minimal.

Step 6:

Here I have labeled my grid with numbers and letters. This step is the most time consuming, but thankfully you only need to do it once:

- Inside your 'MAP' group, make a new layer, and use the Type tool to make an "A".

- Now duplicate that layer, slide it to the next row on the grid, and change it to "B".

- Repeat those steps until you have a letter representing every row on the grid.

- You should now have a dozzen or more layers that all have a single letter on them. Once you have placed them exactly where you want them, click on the top letter layer in the layer menu on the right, then hold down shift, and click on the last letter layer. This should highlight all of the layers that have letters on them. Now right click, and select "RASTERIZE" this will change all of the layers from vector type, to pixels. Right click again and select "Merge LAYERS". This will collapse all of your letters down to a single neat simple layer. Name this layer "LETTERS" and keep it in the "MAP" group.

- Repeat this process for numbers. You could do numbers both ways, and save yourself a bit of trouble, but most people prefer to have letters and numbers to avoid confusion.

Step 7:

Next I hid my secondary groups, by collapsing my main groups. (MAP and SIDEBAR)

Then I right-clicked on SIDEBAR and selected 'DUPLICATE GROUP'.

I re-named this group 'PLAYERS'. Then, with the Players group selected, use the move tool to drag it out onto the map. These are the player tokens that you will use to move around the map. each one is still in its own group, and so, is very easy to find and move.

Step 8:

I went ahead and moved the tokens in the 'PLAYERS' group, into starting positions on the map.

Then I opened up the 'SIDEBAR' group.

In each players individual group, use the type tool to make a new layer with their name on it. This layer should remain inside the same group as the token layer. This way, you can collapse each players group, and keep things easy to find. As you can see in the image, their are about 2 dozen layers visible at the moment now that I have added names. If I collapse each players group, there will just be 5 group names visible.

Step 9: (ADVANCED)

If you want to get some cool lighting effects going, I have some tricks to make it easy in photoshop...

First, in your 'MAP' group, make a new 'LIGHT' group.

in the 'LIGHT' group, make a new Layer, and fill it in with very dark blue, or black. Change the layers blending mode to "MULTIPLY". This is at the top of the layers menu window.

Change the layers opacity to 75%, so that you can see what your doing at this point. All the character tiles and game elements should be on top of the black layer, and so are not effected. the map tiles and all the map elements should be beneath it, and so are very dark and hard to see.

The only problem with this, is that we need to see the number and letters that label our grid. Move those layers ABOVE the light group, so that they are not effected.

Step 10:

ok, now we are going to give the wizard a light source that will illuminate anything within 10 squares.

First, we need to add 'LIGHT' to his status in the SIDEBAR

- Select the 'SIDEBAR' group.
- Select the 'PLAYER 1' group
- Duplicate the 'player 1' text layer, and move it down a little, so you can read it.
- Change the text to 'LIGHT' with the type tool.Make the text white.

(you can use these same steps when applying any status to a character, like 'poison' or 'fire' etc...)

you can also add an 'outer glow' effect as I did here by going to :layer> layer style> outer glow:

you can copy/paste the same effect, onto each player token, in the 'PLAYERS' group, and SIDEBAR group.

once your done, you can hide all those layers by collapsing the group again.

Step 11:

ok, so once you have your glow, and your status effect in place, we can show the area of illumination.

- select the 'LIGHT' layer that is all black, or dark blue.

- Then select the 'ADD LAYER MASK' button at the bottom of the layers window menu. (The square with a circle in it)

This should create a little white square next to your black square on the layer. This, is a layer mask. Everything that is white on this mask, will be shown. everything that is black, will be transparent.

- Next, select the gradient tool.

- Make sure its set to 'RADIAL' gradient, so you get a round shape.

- Make sure the gradient bar goes from black to transparent.

- Make sure black is selected as your color.

- now, make sure you have the LAYER MASK selected (The new little white box you made in the layers menu)

- sense the light source will illuminate anything within 10 squares, click on the wizard with the light source, and drag the gradient tool 10 squares in any direction. When you let go, you will get a 10 x 10 radius of light emmiting from the character. This is because the layer mask has made this area of the black layer transparent.

Step 12:

So, your light source should not be casting through walls and other objects in the room.

In this image I found every object or corner of the room that would cast a shadow, and made a selection with the 'POLYGONAL LASSO TOOL'. I then filled in those selections with WHITE on the LAYER MASK. sense white on the layer mask brings the darkness back to the layer.

Step 13:

In this image I increased the black layers opacity to 85%. I don't recommend raising it to 100% and showing complete darkness. It can make it very confusing to the players to not be sure about the boundaries of the map.

side note* I was originally using dark blue for the darkness, but in this stage I changed it to black. I preffered it.

This may seem like a LOT of work the first time you do it, but once you know what your doing you can change the lighting in under 2 minutes no problem.

Here I moved the character, and re-did the gradient in the layer mask to 10 squares:

Then I made my selections of shadows with the POLYGONAL lasso tool. Note that all the shadows should be 'pointing' directly at the light source. If youve never done this sort of thing before.

Then I just fill in those selections with white in the transparency mask layer. The whole process takes less than 2 minutes.

Hope this has been helpful to anyone who's up for the task of making more dynamic maps for their games.