Hybrid Regional / Battlemapping in CC3+ / DD3 (by Jason Payne)

Map Section
Battlemaps are the best. Whether your gaming group prefers “theatre of the mind” (TOTM), or if they like moving physical miniatures about a printed gaming surface, having a battlemap for an encounter brings a sense of visceral visuals to what could end up being just another fight in a dungeon. And CC3+ / DD3 makes it ridiculously fun and easy to make battlemaps. I’ve found a mapping approach that adds a lot of advantage to battlemaps and makes it super-easy and super-flexible to generate them for your adventures.

The Problem with Battlemaps

Typically, you have a battlemap for every major fight, or area of significant interest. If you’re very lucky in buying a pre-made adventure, or very diligent if you’re making your own, you might have dozens of these.

One problem I’ve found is how to control secrecy and significance. Players tend to notice something is up when you thunk down a battlemap. It’s pretty unusual to have a pre-printed, ready-to-use map for, say, selling gems and buying potions. If the DM has a battlemap for the shop, chances are pretty good there’s a fight to be had, or a secret to be found. So ironically, part of the problem with using battlemaps is having battlemaps for Location X, and not having them for Location Y – players being the smarty-pantses that they are, they’ll figure out which of those two places to spend their Perception checks on.

Another is flexibility. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 30+ years as a DM/GM, it’s that no matter how much you plan in advance, the PCs are likely to surprise you. If you meticulously plan out and map Area X, and assume a certain amount of movement, the PCs might go very far afield of what you had in mind. Battlemaps are typically very “zoomed-in”, and concise: this area and only this area. If the PCs move beyond those boundaries, the whole battlemap concept gets frustrating, complicated, or just less useful pretty quickly.

Thirdly, it takes a fair amount of time to create battlemaps. If you have, say, a giant underground mine, and you have 8 areas that are potential areas of interest (AOI), that means you likely have to create 9 maps, all in all: one as an overview map of the mine level as a whole, and then 8 individual battlemaps for the AOIs. That takes time, and is prone to error and issue, if you’re hoping that the battlemaps each line up to and represent the detailed version of the overall map.

So, how to battle these issues with battlemaps?

The Unified Battlemap

My advice is simple: don’t make battlemaps at all.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that, otherwise it wouldn’t be too helpful. But my approach is: don’t create nine maps, when you could just make a single map, and zoom in on the detail. “Battlemap” then becomes a semantic distinction of “I want to zoom in on this area because something interesting is happening there now”. Instead of making 8 detailed battlemaps, you have a theoretically unlimited amount of battlemaps, based on how you zoom in on the overview. Let’s use an example, because that’s tricky to describe in words.

Consider the underground mine level in the example above. With the “Unified Battlemap” approach, I first draw the overall dungeon level in broad strokes, and then zoom in to each region and populate the detail.

As a first step, draw the level’s overview. Let’s say it looks like this:
Mine Level 6 Overview wo Detail

That’s a decent overview. Export it as a JPG and you’ve got something you can share with the PCs to help guide navigation and play in a general sense. “We walk to the west”, and so on. However, your gaming group normally plays with an overview map. The example is annotated with AOIs, marked with numbers for DM reference.

Let’s say AOI #11–marked with a yellow rectangle–is a necromantic shrine, with a bunch of corpses, and is typically swarming with wandering monsters… probably the kind of location that you’d want to use a battlemap for!

With a typical approach, you’d fire up CC3+, and draw the battlemap for that shrine. Let’s say it turns out like this:
Mine Level 6 AOI 11 Battlemap

Looks pretty cool and useful. But now you’ve got a battlemap that has details and information that your overview doesn’t. In addition to the overview map now looking comparatively bland, your Shrine Battlemap is limited in that it can only describe to the boundaries you’ve defined for it. This example is particularly volatile, since it’s a gigantic, wide-open mine level, so there’s no stopping the PCs from wandering off the edge of the map in ANY direction!

With the Unified Battlemap approach, you don’t create a separate battlemap for each AOI. Instead, you just zoom in on the AOI and start drawing detail. Do this for each AOI, and you have a single overview map, and you can simply zoom in to any area to export a detailed battlemap for that area.

The results, after doing this “zoom-in detail imbue” across the whole map, looks like this:
Mine Level 6 Overview

As a result, you have a single map file that serves as dozens, if not hundreds, of battlemaps: just Zoom Extents and Export Rectangular Section and boom, you’ve got a battlemap!

Other Details / Recommendations

You might note that the examples use two different grid scales: The “overview” maps use 20′ gridlines, and the “battlemap” examples use 5′ gridlines. This is really easy in CC3+: just create a separate Sheet for the different gridline scale, and draw the different grid on that Sheet. Just remember to hide one, and show one, of these Sheets when you do an export!
I also use this approach for AOI annotations: one at “overview” scale, and one at “battlemap” scale for the individual AOIs.

Here’s what the Sheets for the examples look like in the example map:
Unified Battlemap Scale Sheets
So why would you, and wouldn’t you, use this Unified Battlemap approach?

Advantages:
1: Saves Time: Since you zoom in to an existing area when creating a battlemap, you don’t have to draw the outline and general elements of that map to begin with, so you can hit the ground running.
2: Flexible: There are no limits to the battlemaps you can export, create, or zoom to during a game. No matter what the PCs or monsters do, you’re covered!
3: Detail: Having detail automatically reflected at the macro level makes your “overview” map much more richly detailed… for zero extra effort!

Disadvantages / Requirements:
1: Meticulousness: This approach requires a meticulous hand, for sure! Imbuing all that detail across the entire map will take time, but it’s not too much of a chore once you get used to it, and I feel the results are worthwhile.
2: Printing: Although this approach will result in print-worthy battlemaps you can print out and use in your gaming sessions, the resulting encounter will still be bounded by that printout. This offsets the “flexibility” advantage above, but only if you’re using pre-printed physical battlemaps.
3: Beefy PC: Perhaps obviously, you’ll end up with a monster of a map file, and not all PCs can easily handle it. SAVE YOUR WORK FREQUENTLY, and don’t be afraid of saving multiple file versions, just in case. I have a Core i7 with 16 GB of memory and an SSD, and I very, very rarely have performance issues with CC3+, but your mileage may vary, and there’s no question the Unified Battlemap approach requires a lot more processing power than traditional separate overview/battlemap files. My record is more than 5,300 entities in an underground city map, and I’m still able to scroll and zoom around pretty quickly:
Underground Ruined City Overview

Conclusion

Let me be clear that a good GM/DM, or a very flexible gaming group, can work around all of the issues described here. And ultimately, fun it what’s important; it doesn’t matter if you have a detailed, immaculate, battlemap for each and every contingency. But I can verify from first-hand experience that it can add to the fun, and I’ve found that once you get used to this approach, it’s so very much easier to deal with!

Jason “J. Evans” Payne is an indie RPG and fiction author and cartographer with more than three decades of experience as a DM, game designer, and author. He’s been using Campaign Cartographer and its related tools since 2015, and vastly prefers that to his day job. A father of three, he’s also been an adjunct college professor, an IT geek, and a miniatures wargamer. Check out his one-man RPG company at infiniumGameStudio.com.

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