Battle maps are essential resources for many games like D&D, as they are a tool for your players to visualize a scene and be on the same page about where everything is. And guess what? You don’t have to be an artist to make a good-looking map! By using online tools (like DungeonFog) and following some basic tips, you’ll become your own map artist in no time!
How to create battle maps
1. Plan your map
If you’re reading this, you probably want an evocative map that fits your world—otherwise you could just look up generic battle maps on the internet! So, before even opening the mapmaking software, it’s a great idea to write down what you want it to look like! And to do that, go to your world’s meta document. Sure, you might think you remember everything about your world, but forgetting even important details is very easy!
Here’s a list of things you can plan before starting your map:
- Theme and genre: dark fantasy maps will have a darker tone with fewer light sources, while a noble-bright setting will be cheerful, with open spaces and bright colors.
- Who lives there? If the map is for a city, town, or house, spend a few minutes thinking about its residents. Are they rich or poor? What’s their profession? What do they do in their free time? Adding little details in the map that relate to this will make it feel more real and lived-in!
- Terrain: Think about the types of terrain that will be present on the map (forest, town square, underwater castle, outer space). Make sure they’re consistent with the story so far.
- Points of interest: Decide on any notable locations or landmarks that will be present on the map, and make sure they are relevant to the story. For large-scale maps, this could be ruins, castles, or monuments. For small-scale maps, consider trapdoors, chests, and magical (or technological) items.
- Condition: is the place in pristine condition, burned-down, or something in the middle? Think about its recent history to figure it out.
Finally, I highly recommend sketching out the map on a physical piece of paper. It doesn’t have to be pretty—this will be just a layout reference for when you start drawing the actual map. It’s easy to get blocked when confronted by a blank canvas, so this starting point will help you a ton!
So, now that you’ve planned everything out, it’s time to go to the next step!
2. Build your map
That’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! Grab your mapmaking software (we recommend DungeonFog for battle maps) and follow these tips to create a beautiful battle map:
- Outline: looking at the map you sketched in the previous step, outline the basic areas. Don’t get lost in details, simply mark where streets or roads will be, as well as other points of interest like lakes, monuments, or trapdoors.
- Build on the outline: once you’re happy with the general layout, start adding important elements like walls, doors, bushes, trees, and so on.
- Think about strategy! This is a battle map, so make sure there are elements that your players can use strategically. Include high ground, objects that can be thrown, used as cover or improvised weapons… you name it!
- Add details: for towns or rooms, you can add props like food crates, barrels, books, and other elements that make it feel lived-in. For natural places, add flowers, bird nests, and branches on the ground to provide a similar effect.
- The fancy stuff: also known as lighting and shadows! Play with brightness and color settings to change the mood of the map. For example, glowing blue or purple hues will give it a magical atmosphere, while glowing green or red might turn it into an evil-looking place.
Before exporting the final version, I recommend letting the map rest for a while and coming back to it a couple of days later. Looking at it with a fresh mind, you’re sure to find areas you want to improve!
3. Play your map!
Before the session, review the battle map and make sure it’s ready for your players to mess around in. If you added chests, come up with loot tables. If you added trapdoors or secret corridors, make sure you know where they lead to. Then, it’s just a matter of printing it or uploading it to your VTT of choice depending on your style of play! While playing, take note of what the players enjoyed or didn’t enjoy—and keep it in mind for your future maps! Art is an iterative process, so you’ll only get better with practice.
What’s the best battle map maker?
While you can create battle maps with any art software (even with MS Paint!), specialized software will give you mapmaking-specific tools that make the process much easier. Our favorite battle map maker is DungeonFog, a fantastic tool for game masters that lets you create immersive and evocative maps for your games! It has a very easy-to-use interface and includes tons of assets and tools to customize every single aspect of your map!
Do you create your own maps for your games? Share your tips below! And make sure to check out DungeonFog!
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I’ve also enjoyed Inkarnate for map making, seems intuitive and easy to pick up for a non artist like myself!
Same!! I honestly love Inkarnate’s map maker – their art style, the accessibility, how often they update their assets.