Returning to D&D two and a half years ago, I made a very conscious decision to run my games digitally. A big part of this decision was down to my personal situation – I didn’t yet know anyone to play with – but also because I liked the visual elements that online virtual tabletop play necessitates.
It was clear to me early on that the old-fashioned method of map design wasn’t going to cut it. Pen and graph paper was not going to be an option here. I was going to have to find a map drawing tool.
My requirements with regards to a map drawing tool were fairly simple.
- Preferably browser based so I could access from multiple different computers, syncing my maps to the cloud.
- Easy to use. I’m a User Experience professional so I had huge expectations as to how a map drawing tool should work.
- The maps had to look good. I wanted to wow my players, if not with my DMing skills then at the very least with my maps.
Unfortunately, finding any map tool which met all of those requirements was to prove impossible. I tried all of the usual suspects, with varying degrees of success. Pyromancer, Dungeonographer and Campaign Cartographer all passed through my field of vision (and sadly, also through my wallet) but they were all sadly lacking (although I did like the old skool blue map mode in Dungeonographer). They either were way too complex to use, unforgiving of errors or just really fiddly and unresponsive. In most cases they were all three.
As a result of my dissatisfaction, and the limited time I had available to me to persevere with awkward tools, I took to using maps from Google Image Search and Pinterest. This worked for me to some extent but I ended up having to bend the adventure to match the map when really it should have been the other way around. Too many maps featured elements and props that were not critical to my adventure but which my players would spot and obsess over like a throwaway NPC that they have somehow decided is the key to solving the mystery.
I decided, reluctantly to return to the hunt for a mapping tool. With a last roll of the dice, I decided to back a project called Dungeon Fog on Kickstarter. The demo video looked nice and the sample map was impressive so I made my pledge and waited more in hope than expectation.
When the BETA access for Kickstarter backers finally arrived however, I was very impressed.
Firstly, Dungeon Fog runs in the browser. As someone who works across multiple computers, this was a God send. It meant that I could switch between the desktop and the laptop without having to have two copies of software installed or having to move a map file back and forth between computers.
More importantly, the tool is just so easy to use. I can churn out high quality maps in a matter of minutes. Currently I’m running Tomb of Annihilation, which puts a fairly heavy load on a DM, and even more so on the virtual tabletop DM. Random encounters are required throughout this hex crawl adventure and often I have limited time to come up with battlemaps. Using Dungeon Fog, I’ve thrown together maps in literally five minutes. While this is not impossible to do with other tools, the difference really lies with the quality of the maps that can be produced in such a short time.
Creating maps is really as simple as pointing and clicking on grid intersections to outline the walls of a room, selecting the wall and floor tiles from a wide range of options. If you have the Premium subscription you can even add your own textures. You can then add doors, windows and a wide range of “props” like furniture from an extensive selection. Props are provided in multiple styles such as Fantasy, Modern, Victorian and Cthulhu.
This point and click approach might lead you think that dungeons could end up fairly boxy looking. Far from it. Dungeon Fog allows the user to change the size of the grid so by simply reducing the size of the grid down from it’s default 70 pixel squares it becomes possible to create elaborate and intricate caves. Furthermore, the inclusion of a spray painting tool with adjustable brush size and opacity allows you to add a remarkable level of nuanced texture to your maps, bringing them totally to life. Objects can even be set as light sources allowing you to create creepy dungeons or haunted mansions with shadowy corners.
Numbers and text descriptions can be added to rooms, meaning that as a DM, you can essentially write all of your adventure within the Dungeon Fog tool and then export it to use at the table. There is also the ability to overlay multiple levels of your map on top of one another so you can easily see how the different levels of a building or dungeon fit together when designing it. If you’ve ever tried to do that, then you’ll know just how useful a tool that could be.
There’s even a rudimentary virtual tabletop where the DM can “broadcast” the map to players with a fairly basic “fog of war” function. Of all the features of Dungeon Fog, this is the one I’ve used the least, primarily because I’m already importing the map into other, more established VTTs. The times I used it at a physical table it was not as successful as I’d like it to be as the connection was lost occasionally which became frustrating. However, I can’t mark Dungeon Fog down on this point as I purchased it primarily for map creation – a job which it does incredibly well.
I’ve only really touched on some of the features of the software here, and I still regularly discover new features which I either didn’t notice or which the developers have added in one of their frequent updates. The developers are also extremely responsive to support requests both on their forums and on their dedicated Discord server. You certainly feel like you are receiving the attention as a customer that a paid service like this warrants.
Dungeon Fog operates an annual subscription model (£47.90 currently for the mid-level “Premium” subscription) which may not suit some, however having used this product for around a year now, I’ll have no problem paying my annual subscription once the Kickstarter access expires. As someone who is short of prep-time, the ability to create amazing looking maps with very little effort is worth the money.
A fantastic product which seems to add new features almost weekly. Well worth the money. You can try out the free version now (with limited features) at https://www.dungeonfog.com/. You owe it to yourself and your players to do so.
I am a 40 something DM/GM located in Scotland. In 2016, I rediscovered the joys of tabletop role-playing games. This blog documents my journey back into the fold.