Christian Zeuch is a long-time D&D player and DM, playing D&D since 1999. In 2020, Christian started working as a cartographer and a 5e content publisher, having founded CZRPG.
I’ve made use of Christian’s map assets before, starting (as most people do) with this free map pack in exchange for an opt-in.
Handling Online Battlemaps
By Christian Zeuch
Hello Geeks from all around the world! If you’re a DM who likes to use maps during battles, who probably struggled in the past (maybe you still do!) to find a good map. Let us discuss this topic briefly.
If you need a battlemap for your game, usually VTT/online, you have four main alternatives: get one online, purchase a stock map, support cartographers (e.g. Patreon), or DIY (do it yourself).
Get Maps Online
For your home games, Google can help you a lot to find a map that fits your game. Add the term you need (e.g. forest) followed by battlemap, then select Images. Browse through the results, and that’s it!
While this is a valid approach, it doesn’t really help creators out there who go through a lot of work and effort to provide such maps to you.
Something that works slightly better is being part of cartography groups from Facebook or Reddit. On Facebook, the biggest groups are Fantasy Maps and Worldbuilding, and D&D / RPG Maps. On Reddit, you can find nice maps on /r/dndmaps or /r/battlemaps.
Another approach which helps supporting creators is finding a map that fits your needs, or even a map pack, and purchasing it. It’s usually reasonably cheap. There are individual maps for sale from $ 0.50 to $ 2, maybe a little more if the map is bigger. You can find map packs with multiple maps and variants for $ 5 to 10.
Of course, if your budget is tight, stick to free online maps. But even creators oftentimes have free maps as well! You can find stock maps on DMsGuild, DrivethruRPG, Roll20 Marketplace, Shard VTT Marketplace, and other platforms too.
I have hundreds of maps and map packs in most of these platforms and the price is very reasonable.
If your budget allows, another great way to support creators is through their Patreons. There are a lot of cartographers out there sharing their work on Patreon. Find one that you like and support them! You’ll surely get a lot of value from it. Initial tiers vary from $ 1 to $ 3. For instance, my lowest tier on Patreon is $ 3 and you get 4 big 40×40 battlemaps per month, as well as one free map (20×20). That’s 60 maps per year!
Do It Yourself
If nothing worked, you could attempt to create the map yourself. Believe me, it’s fun! There are tools out there that really speed up the process and can allow non-artistic people to make nice maps. Let’s cover a few of these tools:
You can get it on Steam, it’s a one-time payment and the tool works fine, but there are better alternatives in my opinion. I’ve used it only three times.
Very good software, also a one-time payment. There are lots of custom assets that you can get too, I’ve used it a fair bit and I recommend it. The style is slightly cartoony but still very good.
This one is web-based and it’s a subscription. You can still do a lot with the free version, but the Pro version costs much less than any streaming app like Netflix. It’s only $ 25 per year, or $ 5 per month. In my opinion, it’s the most complete, and better map making tool around. It works well for battlemaps, but it does any kind of map you can think of: city, world, regional, even isometric or 2D (this requires higher expertise). For dungeons, though, it can be a bit of work as you cannot “trace” walls like you’d do on the two other softwares I mentioned above. I love that Inkarnate has thousands of great default assets, it easily allows you to add custom ones (on Pro version), it has great lighting and shadowing, filters, etc.
Look at the shadows of the most recent maps done with Inkarnate for my Kickstarer “Amazing Encounters & Places“.
Also, take a look at this simple map I’ve done in 20 minutes.I added a bit more details to it after the 20 minutes mark, but that already quite usable!
The nice thing about Inkarnate is that you can make the map of your homebrew world there too. It has different styles for world maps, and with custom assets, you can even further expand on the styles, like the example below.
When looking for a map, or making our own, try to consider what kind of encounter will take place there. Ideally, you should have terrain features that will make the encounter fun and memorable. In the arctic map above, the part could be walking on the frozen river when they’re ambushed from higher ground. Or in the floating market map, you could use it as a visual reference as the party explores that beautiful location.
There are plenty of free maps that you can find and use online for your personal games. If possible, consider supporting cartographers and creators in general as it’s not easy to try to make a living from TTRPG. We need all the help we can get! And finally, you could always pick a tool of choice and make your own map! You’ll have great times!
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