Monday, July 22, 2019

3D Modeling and Mapping the Dungeon

As you probably know if you have followed this blog lately, I am mapping a dungeon again. Today, I'm going to talk about different approaches I've used to making 3-D maps and representations. But first, there are a few ways to produce these. I'll talk a little bit about them below.

CAD Software

Computer Aided Design Software is software used to create thee dimensional models of things in a computer. There are a great many of these, but the ones I am personally familiar with are SolidWorks and Pro-E. I have a passing acquaintance with SketchUp and access to YouTube, so I'll go out on a limb and claim to be able to use that, too.

The benefits of such software is that you can make a 3-D model of every room in your dungeon down to nails and brackets, if you want. The level of detail is up to you. And then you get move it around, hide walls, take screenshots, etc. SketchUp lets you do walk-throughs. Engineering software lets you do things you will never ever ever need to do like model the voticity of blood flowing through your dungeon. Well. Maybe that might be useful for some...

The drawback to using CAD software is twofold - there can be a rather steep learning curve to such software and it takes a while to produce a good model.


This probably falls under "CAD Software", but I'm going to break it out because it is cheaper, more popular, and doesn't seem to be nearly as sophisticated as the professional CAD programs I'm use to working with. Also, it was originally geared toward architectural applications, and not engineering ones.

SketchUp lets you build 3-D models of just about anything, but it was originally targeting architectural designs - buildings, landscaping, etc. This focus potentially makes for some excellent end products, complete with lighting, shadows, and everything. That can be really cool, if you go ham with it, but doing so takes time. I don't profess to be a SketchUp expert, so I doubt I'm any form of fast, but I can see where you can quickly bang out an important room or locale to get a nice visual for players. Just as with the CAD software mentioned above, I still think it's too cumbersome to use for an entire dungeon, at least unless you just love doing that sort of thing. Then good on ya!

Isometric Maps

These maps offer an isometric view (think Diablo and its clones) of the dungeon. They are fantastic for showing relative heights of rooms, but they require special graph paper - or more talent than I will ever have - to draw really well by hand. I haven't found a computer map-drawing tool that makes these, either, though I am probably just missing it.

The benefits of isometric maps is that they are simple to read if drawn well, display height differences well, and are far faster to make than using CAD software. Drawbacks are that you won't get the degree of detail and versatility as with CAD software, and it takes talent to make these look good. Moreover, some 3-D dungeon designs may not read well, no matter how good you are (try to imagine a 3D maze in isometric perspective).

Is It Worth It?

In my experience, isometric maps just look cool. They can also help give a sense of elevation, which for very vertical maps can be essential to understanding the flow. My only issue with using these is that I suck at drawing them. So I tend to gravitate to a computer-based approach.

I have used both SketchUp and SolidWorks to produce models of dungeon elements, rooms, etc. I am far more familiar with the likes of SolidWorks and Pro-E, so I tend to get faster and better results from those than SketchUp, but I can see where someone versed in the latter-most might be more productive than me.

What I find works well for me is breaking out CAD software to produce images like the one below. I created this to get a sense of scale between the towers, wall, and enclosed courtyard. I now have the dimensions of all of these elements in a way that makes visual sense to me and can begin drawing a map of the keep. I also have a spiffy visual for the players.

This took about 2 hours because I kept fiddling with dimensions to get the sizing just right.

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