Lots of people set out to do this and many of them choose to make a link between areas so that each one appears in it’s own graphic. There’s good reason to do that, it makes individual areas easier to find and helps to modularize the mapping process. One thing it doesn’t represent well is how the areas fit together on the continent.
I have previously mapped a lot of the Realms using zones but for my currently project on realmsofdespair.info I want something different. Having only taken the time to map New Darkhaven I’ve already come across a number of challenges. I’m sharing them with you because if it’s your first time trying to map the Realms, I think these issues will crop up regardless of which software you choose.
As a bit of background to SMAUG a room is the basic unit of measure of space. There is no way to specify the size of a room though there is some limited support for expressing the size between rooms. More on that later. Rooms are the places the action takes place and exits let us move between rooms. I will assert here that there is no established coordinate system in Realms that we can tie into to make our life easy, so we have to come up with our own.
I want to point out 4 particular difficulties that will pop up before you’ve finished Darkhaven. There are more but that’ll give us something to talk about later.
- Either the distance between rooms varies or the rooms aren’t the same size. You can’t rely on just counting off the steps in a direction and evenly spacing your rooms out. Proof: As soon as you enter the game you can move up 1 room to get to ground level for Darkhaven. If you move east you’re in a small shop. Now if you move west, north, east, south and west you might expect to be in that same shop but you are actually in the bank. This is the simplest example of this but you better get used to it. Try squeezing the Warehouse into the map without accepting it 🙂
- Diagonal directions cause some tricky geometries. To get things to line up “just so” you will either have to accept that every link is not going to be perfectly straight or you need to be prepared to fuss over moving rooms around until they click perfectly.
- There is an implied terrain grade that has nothing to do with up and down exits. What? It means that you can walk and without moving up or down anywhere you can be looking up or down at a room you were previously in. Proof: Exiting Darkhaven’s southern gate you can follow the trail northwest until you eventually reach the Crumbling Bridge. If you had instead gone northeast and followed the Darkhaven River you would have followed a path that lead to a spot below this bridge. Simply move up and down yet stay on the same map level. This is one of the most difficult discrepancies to reconcile … most maps can visually represent it but if we’re going to try to apply good mapping techniques we have to understand what sort of physical reality might cause this situation. In fact it’s not a problem of a real representation but rather it’s a problem that crops up in computer science all the time. We’re trying to assign discrete, fixed, defined levels to something that were it real would be a continuous reality. So once again, wha? Up and down exits are jumps in elevations, not some unusual change in level. The terrain itself may have some grade that imperceptibly slopes upwards or downwards in a way that isn’t so drastic that climbing is required. In this case the river slopes downwards or is even beneath the regular grade and when our characters travel it they gradually travel below the street level of Darkhaven. Eventually it becomes noticeable enough that you’d have to climb up to the bridge to get back on top. Thankfully this is a short stretch and it peters out, but it sheds a light on the fact that you can’t assume that because something has the same number of ups and downs, or has no ups and downs at all, that you’re on the same level. Street level in Darkhaven is a different altitude than the ground level in the Southern Mountain Range … or is it?
- Paths will irreconcilably cross one another. Try as you might to keep your map nice and neat and clean, paths will cross one another. Proof: The first occurrence we’ve already discussed. Go directly south of Darkhaven to the bridge. There is no up and down exit here, so no direct path down to the river, yet the river’s gonna pass right under it. Okay, maybe we’ve explained this one already. What about the path from Miden’nir to Moria crossing with the one from Darkhaven to the Southern Mountain Range?
Hey, so that’s enough for now, stay tuned for more exploration and additional maps. You will be able to follow my progress on realmsofdespair.info but first I need to settle a couple of technical questions about how to display them. I’m pretty happy with the early test setups but it’s not quite right yet haha.