View Full Version : Help with cutaway views on realistic battlemaps...

03-11-2011, 08:48 PM
Hi guys,
Hoping for some advice here. I'm working on a battlemap showing the courtyard of a keep. Along the edges are some buildings (the keep itself, a latrine) and then higher-level walking surfaces (stairs, the walls, corner towers, and a gatehouse over the entrance...not to mention the second floor of the keep itself). I originally figured the battle takes place in the courtyard so I'd just put roofs over the buildings. The client is saying that he doesn't want roofs, however, and would like to see the interior of the buildings. That's easy for the latrine, and maybe for the towers. It gets a bit more difficult for the gatehouse and the keep building (two floors).

Below is the full map, with roofs. Let's focus on the gatehouse for a bit. Roof on, no problems...except you can't see the "walkable" areas below it. Roof off, we can see the gate and the inner and outer portcullis. Problem is, you can also see 10'x5' areas on either side that would be the interior of the gatehouse itself. If I draw in the interior details of the gatehouse on those four squares then you have a visual continuity (confusing to the viewer) between the open area below and the upper interior area. If I do some sort of engineering style discontinuity indicator then you lose the feel of a realistic map. Some sort of transparency over the entry area might work but I think that'd be visually confusing as well.

With the keep building you've got two floors, with a second-floor balcony that sticks out over the courtyard. If I remove the roof and draw in the interior of the first floor then you've got that balcony just hanging there with no indication of how it's attached to anything. if I draw the second-floor interior then you're missing out on the doors and such that lead from the courtyard to the interior.

I should mention that there will also be a schematic map of the keep included in the adventure so, roofs on or off, the GM should be able to figure out what's going on well enough to run the thing. I've attached the rough mock-up of that as well. Neither the client nor I am a licensed medieval keep architect...which seems to be a big hinderance on this project. The details of the gatehouse, for instance, are a mystery to me (and, I suspect, to him). Do the portcullis raise up into the building? Are there winches or what? Is there some mechanism for opening the gate? Who can say?

So now I'm a little stuck and need a solution before I can advance this. Anybody have any thoughts about how to proceed?

03-11-2011, 09:05 PM
It would be easier if there was a moat because you can add a draw bridge with chains leading into the brick wall with a gear set mechanism with a winch leading in a small gate house on the inside courtyard. Another idea is to cut away inside the stair wall area where a chain pulley system is located. Usually theres a small gatehouse 5-10 feet wide and deep containing the winch with a small thatched roof to prevent the elements from effecting the mechanism and causing rusting of metal parts. Not sure if all this located under the roof on top the gate. I'll draw out my idea if you want real quick to give you an idea.

03-12-2011, 02:01 AM
no expert on castles either except from rpgs and movies, but I'd expect the gatehouse winches to be located in the house directly over the gate itself and not to the side as to get a vertical pull without the chains having to go over wheels and thus make it harder to lift. I'd also expect the gathouse floor to be twice the height of the portucilis so they would get pulled up in the walls below the gatehouse.
I see the idea of having a cut-off of floors accesisble from the battle - however if the battle will only take place in the courtyard it self, I'd keep the roofs. However if part of the battle is securing the gatehouse, you have to have a room with a winch to fight in, and of course a way to get up there .. stairs, ladders. Looking good so far though :)

03-12-2011, 02:39 AM
The winch can be on the inside of the courtyard because from my understanding in later medieval times they had rudimentary understanding of gear systems and the mechanical advantage they produce. Also having gear box associated with the mechanism allows for the same ease in lifting from any direction. Could be wrong and me being an idiot though. :P

03-12-2011, 02:54 AM
Interesting. I think you are mainly referring to the Portcullis which was the big heavy gate that was dropped in emergencies to allow time for the main gate to be barred and soldiers to take up positions.

It could be set up with counter weights that when certain levers are pulled or ropes are severed the portcullis would drop crushing anyone beneath and sometimes raising the drawbridge at the same time. Quick response that.

Now, this is going to be hilarious and probably will need some logic applied to make it perfect but check out some of the shots of this Lego Castle (http://www.classic-castle.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=19096&start=0), a few shots down there are some of the gate area (http://www.flickr.com/photos/28077643@N08/4618644769/sizes/l/in/set-72157624085773072/). As you can imagine it would need counter weights that would allow the heavy stuff to be lifted by your average guard on his own but once dropped I expect there was a ratchet system that unless it was released you were not going to move anything.

Obviously, this is Lego but it might help a lot with what you need. Besides, who doesn't love Legos?

03-12-2011, 10:31 AM
Great stuff, guys. Seems to me if the gatehouse is always occupied that there could be a winch/rachet sort of thing to pull the portcullis up into the it - flip the rachet and the thing falls with some force. I think I could draw that sort of arrangement in if needed.

My biggest problem remains how to actually represent this thing with the roof off, but also showing the entrance area. I'm clueless on how to do that in a way that won't confuse the viewer.

Edit: Oh. And. I LOVE Legos! Best toy ever invented...

03-12-2011, 04:33 PM
I have done a few cut away maps. One was for the home away from home challenge and the other was the adventures home thing.



Not sure if these can be inspirational, in both cases I used 3D app and got the app to slice parts off. Building it is hard the slicing bit is then easy.

03-22-2011, 10:10 AM
This has come up on boing boing today. Its a superb set of cutway views of nuclear reactors. All of them done superbly detailed and about 100+ of them.


03-22-2011, 02:59 PM
those are pretty cool RR! Seeing this I remembered Sketchup having a great feature on cutouts as well. For those who dont know it, you can use the 'section planes' to have a model cut out at some plane (rectangle) you created. I attached an example. cheers, DJ

03-31-2011, 05:22 AM
great cut-aways Ravells and Djespek - however - mearrin's is on a battlemap and therefor seen from the top down.

Could you make an "insert map" on your battlemap with the winch house? or put the gateway, portucills in dotted red lines perhaps?

03-31-2011, 05:56 AM
Ugh, the two floor problem. I assume that because this is a battle map it must be a top down view? If the maps are being made for print, then one solution would be to have your main battle map with the ground floor of the gate house, and then have smaller 'inserts' of the first floor and the roof which can be put on top of the gatehouse. (see image).

If it's for playing on VTT then the only solution I can see (and I'm not a VTT expert) is to have the first floor and ground floor of the gatehouse as separate rooms, so that if the characters move into either, that is what they see. Don't know what you'd do if some of the characters were on the first floor, some on the ground floor and some in the courtyard though.

On the portcullis thing there's a recent long thread about it somewhere in either General discussion or the buildings subforums.

03-31-2011, 01:46 PM
Let me throw an idea out at you. While I have not done a ton of full size maps I often encounter depth issues when doing my top down objects. I think that you could indicate height on areas that need it by using tapered buttresses. The top would match the texture of the higher elevation, and the stone texture and width of the buttress would scale down as it moved away from the structure. This should help establish the roofless area as being higher and make for less confusion to the viewer.

I did something similar with cliffs under this rope bridge object one of my site contributors submitted.

Private use only. Do not redistribute.

I might be able to mock something up over the weekend, if you would like to see an example.

Hope this helps.


03-31-2011, 05:23 PM
Could you make an "insert map" on your battlemap with the winch house? or put the gateway, portucills in dotted red lines perhaps?

Most VTT can handle links to other maps easily. One thing to change for VTT maps (besides the eternal 'no grid needed':P ) is that it is often very helpful to have the map show where an item is/could be and to have the item separate that can be used as an icon that can be moved around.

Depending on the size of the structure having the two floors in one image but separate works well also instead of having mulitple maps loaded in the VTT.


04-01-2011, 02:56 AM
I'm not sure its VTT, I think its for print

04-01-2011, 11:50 AM
Hi guys,
Sorry, missed out on this conversation for a bit. Yeah, it's mainly for print. Though the client did mention something about VTTs he didn't give any real guidance other than size and resolution. So, this has largely been solved...the client has decided to leave the roof on the gatehouse, ignore the inside of the keep, and ditch the balcony. I'll post another wip after I fix all of that and make a couple of major changes to architecture: I guess the roof of the latrine is supposed to be walkable, with battlements, and there are supposed to be crenelations on the inner lip of the outer wall, facing the courtyard (to my mind, if you're firing *into* the courtyard you've pretty much already lost the battle but...the client's the boss on this one.)

@greytale: dude, that's a pretty pic!

04-01-2011, 11:53 AM
Hey Tilt,

Everything is for VTTs!!;)

Seriously most of us just use PDFs to copy and paste from so the only real difference from a "print" product is the grid and preference for a lack of it.


04-01-2011, 12:04 PM
@anstett: I haven't used VTTs that much. For my own products I was considering providing downloadable maps. Should they be unlabled and ungridded for VTT use? Do some people want grids and labels? What resolution would be best? Your advice would be helpful on this! Thanks.

04-01-2011, 12:21 PM

I have been using VTTs for my game since 2003. For all systems the best maps always have no grid because that way you can use your program to set up a grid if you want it or (as I do) leave no grid so players have to eyeball distances. (Oh so sorry that fireball is just a little too close).

For labels it is a personal thing for the GM but most I talk with do not like labels on the map or at least prefer the ability to remove them. The same goes for secret doors and traps. Being able to show the players one map without those showing is a very handy thing. Multiple versions (or layers on a PDF) are very helpful to show those features in before and after mode.

Interactive PDFs are a good way to go because you can still control a lot of the map from a creators point of view. You can put in an invisible water mark, package several together, etc.

Unfortunately resolution and size are very program specific. I rarely have a problem with any maps at high resolution because I simply crop out the sections I do not need for that encounter.

An example from my game (http://dragonslayers-society.org/4images/details.php?image_id=19) to show how even basic maps work well when zoomed in fairly close.

If anyone wants to log in to see a session or experiment feel free to grab me in IM/email or PM here and I will get you all set up. I have lots of open slots for people to come and visit. The program I use is Java based so platform agnostic and free for players.

I will be glad to work with any content creators to help experiment on how their art displays and works with the interactivity.


04-01-2011, 12:30 PM
I have played VTT a little - just a couple of sessions, then we went back to good old meeting up and using printed maps. And I do believe a high percentage of roleplayers are with either printed maps or battle mats, perhaps that will change when wizards get their VT up and running, but for now I think the off-line sessions still are in "the lead". So in my regard, when you make a scenario - you make it for printing and if you're nice, you add stuff for VTT players so everybody are pleased :)

04-01-2011, 01:44 PM
For better or worse, that is my strategy. I'm definitely happy to try to support alternate play methods where possible, even if I have to go a little out of my way...but my main focus is on creating products for "traditional" face-to-face, pen-and-paper play (heh, though I might end up having at least some PDF-only products).

04-01-2011, 02:13 PM
For VTTs I'd suggest a resolution of 100px per grid. That's what I provide my map packs at, and people seem to be happy with that. Best to leave off the labels and grid for vtt use - as vtts pretty much all have their own grid in the program, and labels shouldn't be visible to the players in general.

04-01-2011, 05:08 PM
@torstan Wow. 100px. I tend to scale in 200px = 5ft (came from Dundjinni). Aren't you losing a lot of the detail work at 100px? I know I lose a ton of it using the Dundjinni scale.

I know people have used my objects for the Battlegrounds, Maptools and also for mapping through CC. So at 200px am I scaling too large for some of the VTTs or even CCs default?

04-01-2011, 05:19 PM
Graytale: most VT apps rely on 50 ppi, 100 ppi, 122 ppi. While some people like 200 ppi for map tool, it makes for rather large files, especially if the program is sharing them online with players. Most GM/Players using VT prefer maps under 1 MB in size, which completely dismisses anything larger than 100 ppi, unless it is a heavily compressed JPG file. Files bigger than 1 MB are problematic for sharing online. You have to figure some people have slow internet connections and big files just does not work for sharing online.

I pretty much work exclusively with vector apps, rather than paint or most map applications, as resolution is only something done in export. Working in its native format/resolution vector apps aren't the same as image editors. I can create any map and export it to 50 ppi, 100 ppi, 200 ppi, 600 ppi and never require rescaling anything, since resolution is independant of the vector app itself.

For the free maps and map objects in my Free RPG maps site, I almost never create 200 ppi objects/maps because its impractical for most VT apps.


04-01-2011, 05:45 PM
100 pixels per grid means that on a screen it'll look perfectly good at 1 inch per square - as most screens are around 100ppi or lower. If you zoom in so that in my experience people don't play zoomed in that much. If anything they zoom out to see more of the battlefield.

As GP says the issue with many vtts is filesize. If I have a 40 square by 40 square map at 200 pixels per grid thats an 8000px by 8000px image, which is going to have a respectably large filesize. Now for download speeds that's not bad at all. However many vtt programs serve the image from one computer that's hosting the session. So that computer (let's call it the GMs) is uploading that image to each of the players simultaneously. Add to this that upload speeds are still much lower in general than download speeds and that large image is going to choke your bandwidth pretty quickly.

The same goes for the items dropped on the map. They will rarely be seen at more than 100ppi so all that you're doing with these is adding to the memory overhead, both whilst running the session, and whist transferring the assets.

Print of course is a different matter, and it's fair to say 200dpi is the minimum you should shoot for with a high quality printed battlemat - though for home printers I find that 100dpi gives a reasonable middleground.

04-02-2011, 12:52 AM
Thanks for the info GP and Torstan I am going to look into this further. The feedback that I have gotten over the years from Battlegrounds and Maptools have been positive. I think I am going on six years now and have yet to hear it be an issue. I suspect that my objects just get scaled with the maps to VTT friendly resolution. There are probably only a few objects that would be used as tokens.

Since Dundjinni appears to be failing I have started looking at other groups that have an interest in my work and up to this point I have not done much testing outside of Dundjinni so the 100px thing set off alarms.

Yes I work wholly in raster it is just what I like, and yes scaling is sometimes painful.

Thank again


04-02-2011, 01:26 AM
FYI, I usually work at 300 dpi in my maps unless the file size gets absolutely untenable on my computer...and even then I'll tend to flatten layers rather than reduce the resolution. Exporting to any of these resolutions, then, shouldn't be an issue for me, I guess.

04-02-2011, 04:00 AM
I work at 300 dpi as well - then I'm always ready for professional printing ;) and its easier to scale down than up. And I agree with the flatten layer option, or in very big jobs you could have different parts of the map in different files and use the flattened version in the master file :)

04-02-2011, 04:18 AM
I've been experimenting with a lot of options like this. In one I'm working on (the schematic to the keep referred to in the first post) I have the base maps in one file and the labels, furnishing, etc. In another. If I make changes to one of the base maps I just "copy merged" and drop it into the layout map file in place of the existing one.

04-02-2011, 04:44 AM
you might also get good use of smart objects. :)

04-02-2011, 09:33 AM
I work at 300 dpi and I usually use smart objects when I remember.

I typically work way above the final size, again it is just my preference. Most of time I work on an 5'-10' (game scale) object at around 3000 x 3000 if I am painting it. If I am building it from textures I will be closer to 1000x1000. Scaling them to 200x200 per 5' at completion. While it does lose a bit of detail I get the realistic feel I am after more so than if I was working closer to the final size.

Great discussion.