Using CC3+ as a Game-Time Presentation Tool (by Jason Payne)

Campaign Cartographer 3+ is an outstanding tool that excels in helping cartographers, authors, artists, and hobbyists bring their ideas to life. I imagine we all know this well!

It’s also a fabulous tool for the well-prepared DM/GM, for creating homebrew maps or spawning maps for existing published content that better fit the needs of a particular gaming group. Drawing maps and exporting or printing them before a gaming session is a wonderful way to immerse your players in a tabletop roleplaying experience, whether you prefer “theatre of the mind” style combat or gridded battlemaps with miniatures.

But did you know that CC3+ is also an excellent tool during a gaming session? This article explores the many ways that DMs can use CC3+ as a “game-time”, not “design-time”, gaming aid.

Overview: CC3+ During Your Gaming Session

There are several advantages to using CC3+ to help power your next gaming session. Some of these require a bit of advance preparation; others can be used immediately no matter what maps you use.

1: Dynamic battlemaps for sprawling or unexpected encounters.
2: Easy-to-hide secrets.
3: In-person VTT capabilities.

Solution 1: Dynamic Battlemaps

If you’ve been a dungeon/game master for any length of time, you know that no matter how much you prepare, and how many different paths you predict and plan for, the players are going to do whatever they damned well please. While that element of surprise is arguably the best part of a tabletop RPG experience, it can also be very frustrating–not only for the GM who has to scramble madly to accommodate the unexpected, but for the players, who one minute are dealing with elaborately-drawn battlemaps and the next minute are using hastily-scribbled pencil drawings on a pizza box. (This latter example may sound extreme, but in middle school I resorted to drawing encounter maps on the lids of pizza boxes all the time. If my seventh-grade self could have seen what CC3+ made possible, he would have exploded in envy!)

Succinctly, then, the problem is, no matter how many different individual battlemaps you prepare ahead of time, PCs’ actual use of those in an encounter could very easily expand beyond the boundaries you drew. This is especially true in open-air or wide-space encounters: plains, wilderness, ocean, mountains, and expansive underground chambers and caverns.

How, then, can CC3+ help this phenomenon during a gaming session?

Simple: don’t export JPGs or print out battlemaps before a session. Use CC3+ to display the battlemap that applies, on-screen, DURING the gaming session.

I started using this approach during gaming sessions as an extension to my “Unified Battlemaps Approach” to drawing maps. You can check out a complete description , but essentially, instead of drawing individual battlemaps, you have a single, giant map file for an entire “level” or region of your game. Then, you zoom into pieces of it as areas of interest, and flesh them out with detail.

If you take this approach, you’ll end up with a massively-detailed regional map, and you can zoom into it for individual battlemaps. But even if you don’t take this approach, you can still use Dynamic Battlemaps during a gaming session using CC3+.

The approach involves the following steps:
1A: Create Named Views
1B: Use Named Views
1C: Zoom & Pan as Needed

1A: Create Named Views
Sure, you can use Zoom Window to get a close-up on a particular map region. But if you have certain areas of interest you know the PCs will have encounters in, you can save yourself some time by creating Named Views, so you don’t have to draw the zoom window precisely during a game session.
Mine Level 6 Overview

To do this, use Zoom Window to get to the detail you want. Let’s take an example of the underground mines level from the article linked to above:

Use Zoom Window into the yellow region:
Mine Level 6 AOI 11 Battlemap

Now, let’s define this zoom window as an area of interest. Click View > Windows > Name Window:

Enter something that you’ll recognize, such as “AOI 11 Necro Shrine”.

Repeat this approach for each area of interest you think might apply. It takes about a minute, total, to set all of these views up beforehand.

1B: Use Named Views
During your gaming session, to navigate to a predefined area of interest, click on View > Zooms > Named.

Select the area of interest you need and click OK.

1C: Zoom & Pan as Needed to Support the Encounter
The approach described thus far is a good way of zooming in to and switching between battlemaps during a gaming session. But the real value of this approach is in the flexibility it offers. In the example we’ve been following, the necromantic shrine sits in the middle of an enormous, wide-open underground cave; what happens if a monster or the PCs wander beyond the boundaries of the battlemap you’ve zoomed in to?

Simple: Just scroll, or zoom, as needed. In the example below, the map has been scrolled up, so the region to the north of the shrine is included:
Mine Level 6 AOI 11 Scrolled Battlemap

Dynamic Battlemaps and Performance
CC3+ is many wonderful things, but when used in this manner, it can sometimes perform poorly. This depends on your computer’s specs, the detail in the map, and many other factors, but if you find that zooming around takes too long, or is prone to crashes, then remember to turn Sheet Effects OFF before switching your views around. You can run a whole encounter with Sheet Effects off, or you can toggle them back on once you’re looking at what you want.

Solution 2: Easy-to-Hide Secrets
One disadvantage to using CC3+ as a map presentation tool during a gaming session is that it will show everything. The best maps have secrets: sometimes loads of them! A small amount of prep beforehand can make it easy to show or hide whatever you like during a gaming session.

There are two components to this approach:
2A: Using Secret Layers
2B: Secret Wallfills

Consider the following example: It’s an octagonal chamber with four secret doors, one in each of its diagonal corners. Using this as a map during your gaming session automatically gives all four secrets away to the PCs, so it’ll need some preparation first to be useful.
Secrets Full GM

2A: Using Secret Layers
You want to be able to hide all of the secret content on this map. To do this, pick all of the entities that you wouldn’t want to show to PCs who haven’t yet discovered the secret, and assign them to the “SECRETS” layer.

Click “Change Properties”. Then pick out everything that you would want to hide. In this example, I’ve zoomed in on the northwest corner to focus just on that secret region. I’ve selected all of the rock and bridge symbols, the grey cavern terrain, and, importantly, the “S” secret door symbol. I even picked the water, since the entire existence of the underground river is a secret in this map.
Selecting Secret Content

Next, right-click and select “Do It”. Mark the “Layer” checkbox, and select “SECRET”. Click OK.

Now, go to Layers, and mark the SECRETS layer as Hidden:
Layer Secret Properties

Ta-da! All of the secrets are hidden.
Secrets Full Players

The only problem is, although the secrets are hidden, it’s still pretty obvious there’s something there, because of the gap in the wall. From the players’ perspective, that gap might as well still have the “S” symbol on it! That’s where this next trick comes in handy…

2B: Secret Wallfills
With this approach, you simply draw walls to “cover up” secret doors, obfuscating the gaps that would otherwise denote secret content. I won’t go through the steps of drawing a wall, because that’s been done much better elsewhere, but the key is to draw the wall using the exact same settings that the wall segments to its left and right used. That means the same fill, the same width, and, very importantly, the same Sheet, so it receives the same Sheet Effects as its neighbors. Also key is the fact that it should slightly overlap the endpoints of its neighbors. This is pretty straightforward, actually, if the walls in question are orthogonal, but it can get tricky if it’s a curved or fractal edge.

Finally, after drawing the new wall segment, assign it to a new Layer called “Secret Wallfill”.

In this example, I’ve hidden the WALLS layer, and shown the “Secret Wallfill” layer to show just the wall fill wall segment:
Secret Wallfill Wall

Repeat the above process for any other secrets in your map.

So now, when you want to show a “GM Map”, you SHOW the Secrets layer, and HIDE the Secret Wallfill layer:
Layer Select for GM Maps

…and to show a “Player-Redacted Map”, you HIDE the Secrets layer, and SHOW the Secret Wallfill layer:

Here’s the earlier example of the octagonal chamber with secrets hidden, and wallfills shown:
Secrets Full Players

It’s worth noting that this approach to secrets also makes it much, MUCH easier to quickly create export images of GM and Player versions of a given map.

Solution 3: In-Person VTT

VTT tools are primarily used to join up players who cannot physically be in the same place. However, there are elements of VTT tools that an in-person experience cannot replicate easily.
No matter how fond I am of CC3+, I will not claim it to be a full-featured virtual tabletop (VTT) tool, or replacement thereof. However, with some imagination and a big enough display, CC3+ can replicate some of the most useful components of a VTT for which there is little other analog in the physical, pen-and-paper experience.

Using the above solutions of scrolling around and showing/hiding secrets are a good start. There are two extensions to this approach you can employ to bring things closer to a VTT experience:

3A: Encounter Symbols
3B: Conditional Secrets

3A: Encounter Symbols
CC3+ itself contains a bunch of useful symbols to represent monsters and PCs. If you throw in the Vintyri collection and other symbol packs, the possibilities are quite rich.

I generally avoid using monster symbols when drawing maps, for several reasons. First, it gives away the monsters’ locations; sometimes surprise is important. Second, it’s permanent: during the encounter, you as a DM might want to place the monsters differently, Third, it’s confusing, since it denotes the monsters’ starting locations, not their current positions in the combat.

But if you’re using the above approach, you can place the symbols however you want. Then, as combat unfolds, just move them about as you would any other symbol. Is it as quick, easy, and interactive as a VTT tool? Nope. But CC3+ is something you know and use already anyway, so in a pinch, you can use this approach to have it kind of emulate a VTT tool.

Here’s an example of a fight in progress near the shrine example. Yellow boxes are PCs; red boxes are monsters.
VTT Encounter Example Boxed

3B: Conditional Secrets
The problem with Solution 2, Easy to Hide Secrets, is that it only allows you to either hide, or show, ALL secrets. In the example used, there are four secrets… so how do you show only the subset of those that the PCs have discovered? Also, what about situations where there are “nested” secrets–in other words, Secret Room A has its own secret door leading to Secret Room B?

It’s cumbersome, but you can make it happen in CC3+. Use the approach described above, but instead of a single SECRETS layer, create a separate SECRETS layer for each secret room in your level. Then just show and hide the ones that the PCs have discovered.

Conclusions
It’s arguable whether CC3+ was really meant to be used in the manners described above. And it might not work for every gaming group. But I’ve found it indispensable, and frankly cannot fathom going back to running encounters WITHOUT CC3+… and a large display!

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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