peppers

Like growing your own food, creating your own maps is rewarding

I took the picture to the right last night just before we ate them. They came from the first garden I’ve had in about a decade, and the first garden veggies we’ve grown since moving to Edmonton. A minor theme in my Riddleport campaign is handling most of the creation ourselves, as a group. The rules (Pathfinder), the world (Golarion) and the city (Riddleport) are all based on Paizo products. They give us the sandbox borders in which to play. Everything else, though, I am either designing myself, or the group designs collaboratively. This is different from recent campaigns where I used pretty much 100% published materials. So, like my peppers, my campaign has a tasty and satisfying home grown feel.

Which brings us to RPG Cartographer for the iPad. While I’m using the Riddleport map from Paizo, other maps I need to draw up myself. RPG Cartographer is brought to us by Brad Talton Jr., the same whiz who created my favourite iPad RPG app – DM Toolkit. With Cartographer, I can map locations out using my favourite computational device in fairly quick fashion and produce great-looking designs.

Tile based mapper

You draw tile-based maps with Cartographer. This means you have a number of graphical objects to choose from, such as straight tunnel, turning tunnel, T split tunnel and so on. You select your desired tile and lay it on the map. Repeat. Lay tiles beside each other to form bigger entities, like long, twisty tunnels. Think of it like Wizards’ D&D Tiles but on the iPad.

I like the app’s tile manipulation a lot. It took me a minute to get my head around it, but that’s because I’m old and slow. You youngins’ should have no problems figuring it out immediately. Resize and rotate tiles using two fingers. One finger serves as the anchor point and stays in place. The other finger moves around to perform the rotate or resize. After doing this for a bit, it now feels natural and I whinge when I have to return to mouse-based operations on my PC.

Building a map generally consists of these operations:

  • Create a new map and name it
  • Select your background
  • Select a tile from the library
  • Lay down the tile onto your background
  • Rotate and resize the tile as desired
  • Lay down another such tile, or select a new one from the library
  • Repeat

There are some nuances you pick up through use. For example, you can change the background anytime. So, I tend to design on a bright, simple background so I can see tiles the best. Then when finishing the map I’ll choose its final background.

Another example is synching to scale and then designing without a grid. In Cartographer, you can lay on a square or hex grid anytime and remove it anytime with a single touch. You can also draw without a grid overlay. So, I’ll typically lay down my bounding tile first – something that is the outer frame for all the tiles, such as outer walls of a building, or the four corners of a wilderness scene. I’ll scale and rotate those tiles with grid on, so I get the proper orientation and dimension, then I’ll turn the grid off and use the bounding tiles as reference for the rest of the tiles. I turn the grid on once in awhile, but otherwise design grid-free.

Fiddling with tiles is sometimes tricky

I’ll send Brad a link to this review once posted, because I have some gripes, but it could be my lack of understanding with the app instead a lack of app features. I’ll correct this review if the latter occurs.

One gripe is lack of tile duplication. If I lay down a tile and rotate or size it to suit, I’d like to make an exact copy of that tile. Currently, I need to lay down a new tile from the library and resize and rotate it to match the current design. Perhaps if I could hold a finger on a tile for a second a duplicate option pops up.

Another issue is layered tiles. I love how you can stack tiles on top of each other. Physical tiles get awkward when stacked sometimes, but digital tiles have no such problem. Stack away! Put that bookcase on top of the floor tile atop the building tile atop the water tile. My issue is grabbing the wrong tile for manipulation. I am constantly fingering the wrong tile. There is no undo command, so when I accidentally manipulate the wrong tile, I need to fix that and then go for the intended tile again. It would be super if a tile could be locked down so it cannot be accidentally moved or selected.

Layers feature

RPG Cartographer have five layers. You put tiles on a layer and they stay on that layer. Thing is, only one layer is visible at a time while editing. You can view all layers by touching the eye icon, which is super as it lets you group stuff on layers without distraction of other tiles already laid down, but some kind of multi-layer visibility while editing would be ideal. That would let me put a tiles on one layer and move to another layer for more tiling, and the tiles on lower layers get locked in place, meeting my need.

Actually, I am mis-stating things here. You can see tiles on lower layers, but they are difficult to see sometimes as they’re shadowed out to a 10% or so fill, and details on the tiles are lost. So, if you are doing precise operations like matching up one tile to the inner boundary of another, you need to frequently touch the eye icon to see all layers to help orient yourself.

You can move tiles between layers, turn snap-to-grid on and off with a single touch, and delete tiles by dragging them to the trash can. It is a joy to basically do finger drawing, and objects are easy to manipulate with the natural iPad interface.

A big tile library

The tile library has 1000+ items in it. Some tiles are standalone. Just plunk them down and resize, such as trees and pools. Other tiles are more utilitarian and you need to place them, rotate and resize to get the map you need. Corridor tiles, for example. There’s a T tile, so you need to place it down and then rotate/resize to match the T orientation you need. I found the inventory decent. I would vote for more interior and urban tiles for future releases.

Scaling

The map scale buttons let you zoom in and out. Super for drawing big stuff at 2x view, then zooming in for small placeables at 1/8x zoom. A gripe here is to allow finger pinch zooming. Rather than five preset zoom levels, I’d prefer a zoom level that shows the whole map and finger pinching for all other zooming. A small gripe, but that would remove four icons from the interface.

Interface and features

Speaking of the interface, it’s intuitive and I love it. Again, some tweak requests for the designer. Make the trash and compass a lot smaller. Dragging tiles to the trash is easy, but perhaps a better method is to touch a tile for a bit and tile options pop-up, such as duplicate, delete, and switch layer.

The tile selector icon in the top right is great, but that extra little bubble at 7 o’clock always throws me. The bubble at 5 o’clock triggers the tile selection library. So, I figure the bubble at 7 o’clock should do something as well. I find dial-based selectors intuitive in video games, so I propose putting more functionality in the tile interface widget. I also figure double-tapping a tile should let me do stuff, but I’m not sure what yet. :)

I mentioned the compass. When you touch it, the compass turns red, which means you are in panning mode. This lets you lock down tiles and pan around the map without disturbing your design. A valuable function and I use it a lot.

Design mode and Play mode

RPG Cartographer has two modes. I just talked about the design mode. The second is play mode, which you use when playing the map in the game. This offers excellent functionality, because indeed the two modes for GMing are completely different. To switch, just touch the little map icon on the right side of the screen, select your desired mode, and voila.

In play mode all the tiles are locked down and you just have access to layers four and five. A super feature in play mode switches the tile library up to offer you a selection of PC, NPC and monster tiles (I’ll just call this whole group character tiles from now on). Tons of tiles here, and you just drop the characters you need onto the map and drag them around as they move and whatnot. Super easy gameplay.

You can manipulate character tiles just like all the other map tiles – resize and rotate. So, if a PC drinks a potion of growth, you just resize the character’s tile. Sweet. If facing is important in your rule set, then just rotate the character tile to point the desired direction.

As in design mode, you can lock to grid, zoom and pan, turn grid on and off, and switch grid between square and hex.

Exporting Maps

With Cartographer, you can save and export your maps. A great feature lets you export to different scales. The app offers you five scales (1 page, 4 pages (16 squares = 1″), 12 pages (4 squares = 1″) and 48 pages (1 square = 1″)). If you need a map for your GM binder or just for reference, choose 1 page. If you intend to print out the map for use with minis, use the other scales. If you want to post the map online, you have a nice selection of scales.

Feature Requests

To make this app even more useful to me, I have the following feature requests for the developer. Oh, I should note the developer offers a website and forums over at level99games.com where he is active and responsive to community feedback. In addition, I’ve emailed Brad several times and he’s fast with the reply button. So, thumbs up for personal and good support.

  • Links between maps. Like, clicking on stairs, for example, brings up the new map to where the stairs lead.
  • VGA output. I’d like to project maps onto a monitor at the game table.
  • Status conditions on map and character tiles. If someone is slowed, bloodied, or whathaveyou, it would be super to manipulate the tile in some fashion. Ditto for area effects, such as Entangle, or traps and hazards. It’s a tile based mapper, so this might be difficult, so I propose adding a Hue option where you can change the colour of a tile to designate some condition. This would allow only one condition to be displayed though, so this needs more thought.

Conclusion

This is a great app. Well designed. Lots of features and options. Quite usable. If you like tile-based mappers, check this one out. This app’s strength is exterior maps, though there are plenty of interior tiles to choose from. A great use for you might be setting up overall areas, printing them out, then using WotC tiles, minis and other props to get further utility.

I give this app four out of five stars.

By the way, we ate those peppers in a salad last night. Just like a homebrew campaign with homebrew maps, it was delicious.

Addendum: I just remembered something else. Brad offers an excellent license with this app. You are free to create maps and post them online, sell them, use them in products, and so on. A nice feature for GMs who post their campaign stuff online, and for publishers looking for a convenient mapping solution for their products.

More iPad RPG reviews?

I love my iPad. I use it more now than my PC. And I’ve tried out a mega ton of apps to find the selection I want for running my Riddleport campaign. I’m not sure how many iPad owners read Campaign Mastery, though. So, I’m not sure if more iPad reviews are desired. Let me know.

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