Advanced Symbols – Part 5: Random Transformations

While most CC3+ styles have a good selection of symbols, including multiple variations of the same symbols, such as multiple different trees, mountains, tables or statues, you can get into an issue of repetition if you need lots of these symbols.

One of the ways to alleviate this is to apply different scaling, rotation and mirroring to these symbols. Just a subtle change of scale or orientation helps reduce the monotony of a lot of the same symbols. This can of course be done manually, but CC3+ symbol catalogs contain a cool feature for helping with this, namely random transformations. Random transformations are a configurable way to automate this process on a symbol by symbol basis, ensuring that it makes sense for each symbol it is applied to. For example, it doesn’t make much sense to have a random rotation of a mountain in an overland map, that would probably look weird given the isometric view of these symbols in most styles, while a table in a tavern may benefit from free rotation. The same mountain may find use in random scaling to vary it that way instead.

You’ll find that many of the official symbol catalog already use this technique by default, but it is easy to set up yourself, either to apply it to your own custom symbols, or to existing symbols when using them.

You can easily see if a symbol is already set up with random transformation by looking for a an “R” in the top right corner in the symbol catalog (You may also see an “R” in the top left corner. This means randomly select from a collection, and is used when several similar symbols are grouped together and CC3+ picks randomly from them. This is also a way to reduce monotony by automatically using different symbols. I’ve got a different blog article covering random symbol groups. These two options are great in combination).

Let us go ahead and define random transformations for a symbol of our own choosing to test out the options here. We’ll do it in a way that will only affect the current map, but note that you can do this change permanently by editing a symbol catalog and doing the same changes there. I do not recommend editing the official symbols catalogs though, as there isn’t a reset to default button, you’ll need to reinstall if you break these unless you have made backups you can restore.

Random transformations are not dependent on any particular type of mas, but they make more sense in some types of maps than other. For example, as I mentioned above, automatic rotation rarely work very well in an overland map due to the perspective used, while it usually work great for the overhead dungeon symbols.  Random scaling is usually good for most map types.

I’ve elected to start a new dungeon map in the Jon Roberts Dungeons style here. This style is available for free for anyone owning CC3+ (and have the latest update installed) so you should be able to follow along, but feel free to use any dungeon style available.

Start by finding a symbol to work with. I’ve picked the Treasure symbol from the Containers and Treasure catalog for this. I picked this symbol because it is a symbol that looks like it can be freely rotated or scaled without being odd. For example, if I had picked a chest instead, random rotation would probably not have been ideal, because you want to line it up with a wall or bed or something.

When we want to modify a symbol for use in our current map, we need to copy it’s definition to our map. This is done automatically for us the first time we pick the symbol from the symbol catalog, so all you have to do for this is to click on it in the symbol catalog. You’ll see it gets attached to the cursor as normal, ready for placement, but you don’t actually need to place it right now, you can just hit Esc to finish placing instead. If you now click the Symbols in Map button above the symbol catalog, you should see the symbol listed along with other symbols currently in the map.

So, on to adding the transformations. Just pick Symbol Manager from the Symbols menu. This will bring up the symbol manager, and you should see the same symbols listed here as the one you saw in the symbol catalog when we clicked symbols in map. The symbol manager manages the symbols in the current drawing (as opposed to those in the loaded symbol catalog). If you wish to make changes to a symbol catalog instead of the current drawing, you can do so by opening the symbol catalog in CC3+ (open it like you would open a drawing, NOT just showing it in the symbol catalog window) and then follow this same procedure using symbol manager on it, but we’ll stick to making changes to the symbol in the drawing here.

In the symbol catalog window, find our treasure symbol and click on it to select it, then hit the Options button to set symbol options (Hint, you can select multiple symbols at once here and change the options for all of them in one go, use the standard windows selection modifiers [Shift, Ctrl] to do multi selection). In the symbol settings dialog that appears, make sure Random transformations is selected, and hit the Options button next to that item to bring up the configuration dialog.

The transformation dialog contains 5 distinct options, so let us go through these:


All symbols have a place point, usually in the center of the symbol, or along an edge, depending on what it is used for. So if you want all the symbols you place to line up perfectly along a neat line, you can turn on snap and know that they will be perfectly aligned. However, in other situations, you may want the placement to be a rough line but still with some variation. This is where offset comes in. It applies a user-configurable random offset, so you can still use the tools to get that straight line, but with some roughness to it. The screenshot below shows placement along a line with this off and on. Remember that the sizes you specify here are map units, which means feet in a dungeon (or meters if it is a metric template) so you’ll likely want to keep this low. Note that if a symbol should vary both up and down, you’ll need to set negative numbers, for example from -2 to 2 as an example.


This option randomly rotates the symbol. It has 2 values, Range, which is how much a rotation to allow, for free rotation set this to 360, but if you wish to keep the general direction of the symbol, you can apply a small value here just to provide some basic variation. The Offset angle is the base rotation of the symbol to start with, usually this is left at 0, but if you wish to have the symbol randomly rotate between 80 and 100 degrees, then set this value to 90, and the range to 10.

The image below shows how the treasure looks with rotation off, and with a free rotation (360 degrees)


The scale option applies random scaling to the symbol. Not everything looks good when randomly scaled, for example furniture is designed to fit adult humans (if you need smaller or larger for various purposes, you’ll probably want to manually scale them), but a lot of things are great for random scaling. Vegetation for example is a perfect fit, trees and bushes don’t normally grow to the exact same sizes. Mixed with random rotation and mirroring, and you get a lot of free variation for your vegetation, especially the overhead type symbols from floorplan styles. The values here are simple enough, a scale of 1 means the symbols default scale, so use values lower than 1 to make them smaller and higher than 1 to make them larger. Most symbols with this option would probably have something as 0.8 for min and 1.2 as max, or up to 0.5 as min and 2 as max for larger variations, but anything beyond that will probably be unmanageable for most symbols. Note that you can also set the option if the scaling should be proportional, or if X and Y scaling should be independent. The latter option is especially good for overland type trees, since it can result in some trees being short and fat, while others are tall and narrow (like in the teaser image at the top of this blog post).

Image here shows proportional scaling of the treasure from 0.5 to 1.5


Mirroring a symbol can make it look quite different at first glance, and the mirror option allows for randomly mirroring around both the X and Y axis. Mirroring work fine with most symbols, but you should avoid symbols with text or readable symbols in them. Also note that mirroring a symbol along both X and Y simultaneously is the same as rotating it 180 degrees, but mirroring it along either X or Y cannot be accomplished with rotation.

Here we see first unmirrored treasures, then a row of randomly mirrored ones. I’ve enabled both random X and Y mirroring. Of course, being random, not all of the symbols have any mirroring at all.


Shearing is used to actually deform a symbol. Basically, it changes the rectangular bounding box around the symbol to a parallelogram, and reshapes the symbol to fit this transformation. However, it only works on vector symbols, so it can’t be used with the treasure symbol here, but I’ve instead included an example showing overland towers. Notice how the symbol is actually deformed and not simply rotated as might be the immediate reaction.



It is important to realize that when you change symbol options like the ones above, you change the behavior for placing future symbols. None of the settings in the options dialog will affect symbols already placed in the map. So make sure you do this before placing the symbols, as there isn’t an easy way to do this after placing, if so, the easiest is probably to delete the symbols and place them again with these settings in place. But this also means that you can change the settings midway through your map if you have a different different need for a particular room or particular location without messing up already made parts of your map.

Another thing worth noting is that you see the symbol on your cursor as it will be placed, the transformation is actually applied to the symbol being held there, so you can see what you will get next. There isn’t a way to go to the next randomization if you don’t want the current, but you could either just hit escape to stop placing and pick the symbol from the catalog again for a new randomization, or just place the version you didn’t like in a corner by itself so you can delete it later and then hope for a more interesting variant.

Since the symbol definition is copied into your map on the first use, this also has the side effect that if you go ahead and change the actual symbol catalog instead of the symbol in the current map, you’ll find that your changes won’t apply to maps that have used that symbol before, because they will keep using the version defined in the map instead of the one from your changed symbol catalog. The best way around this is to not modify the original symbol in the symbol catalog, but make a copy of it under a new name and modify that instead. A new name means that CC3+ will see it as a new symbol, and not the one already in your map.

And finally, while I did show each transform individually here in this article, they combine well, having both random rotation and random scaling can be a good combination. And as mentioned above, combining those with a random collection means that you get a lot of variation in the symbols you place.



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