DISCLAIMER: I will state three crucial things: 1) I have used all of the tools presented below. 2) I am not endorsed by any of the groups or companies behind any of these tools, nor am I related to them in any way. 3) The description or review is based on my opinion - your view may be different. As they say, your experience may differ. Also: Not every tool is for everyone - but we'll get to that.
Please note the General Copyright Post.
The first question should be: what are the tools that a DM (or GM, or judge, or referee, or whoever it is who is the storyteller running a game you like) needs? Well, before offending anyone, I understand that some do not need anything other than their brains. However, many of us find that we need some inspiration, a quick solution, or some tool to help us out – a hammer with a handful of nails from the toolbelt: we may need a name for an NPC or a village. We might need a very quick map for a city. We might need to create a dungeon with an easy-to-use webpage or software.
I could categorize the things I will present below in many ways. Some are online, while some are offline. Some are free, while some are not or are partially free with some restrictions. Some are easy to use, while some are more difficult. Some are different kinds of random generators, while some are tools that help you specifically create things based on very clear and specific ideas or images you have in your mind.
I will use the following categories for every tool (please note that a tool can have multiple categories):
I will try not to make this a novel. My goal here is not a thorough review of each tool and all its capabilities, menu points and functions, but to give you a list and some idea of what’s out there that I have used. There are, of course, numerous other pages and software available for the curious DM – this is but a small fraction of the world below.
I will give you guys a rundown of the first five tools (actually six, so that’s a bonus), and then later, I will publish part two, with the other five tools I had in mind. Let’s start!
Dungeon Fog is an online mapping tool that you can use from your browser. It can be used free of charge, but that is more to give you a taste of what the tool is like. The free version is very limited, and I have not found it too useful.
If you don’t want to pay for the tool you use, you should probably go with something else because there is a loading time added (on purpose) for free users; a lot of assets are watermarked, and you don’t have access to all of them; your map is limited to 3 levels; you are also limited in the format you can export maps in (I think you only have the SVG option by default), and the exports are also watermarked. There is also a limit on the number of maps you can have and their size… so all in all, there is something for free but there really isn’t.
If you do decide to pay, it costs 7.90€ as an on-demand subscription and 4.90€ with auto-renewal (recurring) at the time of this writing. There are no loading times for premium users, no watermarks, no map limit, and you can export your work in multiple file formats (without watermarks, of course).
The tool looks neat though, I can’t say it is expensive, and it is easy to master. You can play around with lighting as well on these maps, and the assets and textures are pretty high-resolution, so you can zoom in quite a bit. You can add notes to the maps and add labels on the maps. It is also worth mentioning that they have an online Discord community.
I gave it low ratings, because of the very poor free service and because I can conjure dialogue boxes with possible error messages I think, that are really empty – so there is nothing written in them. At first I thought it’s MS Edge, but it did the same for FireFox. It might simply be just a built-in minigame, of course (below):
You can check out and download some of the maps that were created with this tool at Map Gallery / Dungeonfog.
This tool is really exciting and very cool. I just oved it! Ever wanted to draw (not place tiles, but draw) a classic, old-school dungeon? Then this tool is for you. You can also have multiple layers, change the scaling, add or remove the grid inside and outside the walls, write text, and add dungeon props and numbers.
How about the people who don’t want to do all the above or don’t have the time? Well, this tool can randomly generate dungeons for you as well.
When you are done, you can export the map in PNG, JPG, BMP format or save it to be continued later in a unique DMD format.
The creator has a Patreon page if you want to check it out at Todd Ross is creating a Dungeon Map Doodler | Patreon
We are now talking about a company with a free mapping tool called Dungeon Painter and a software called Dungeon Painter Studio (DPS) available for purchase on Steam.
Until recently, Dungeon Painter was Dungeon Painter Online (DPO), and you could use it in your browser, but since Adobe Flash Player passed on to a better place, you can actually download Dungeon Painter and use it offline.
The usability of DPO is very limited. I am not sure if it is meant to be anything else than a taste, which can lead you to DPS.
Now DPS is actually, I think, the mapper that I’ve used the most over the years: Dungeon Painter Studio on Steam (steampowered.com) Steam tells me that I’ve spent 114 hours tinkering with it, but I am almost sure it is double that.
DPS has almost everything that you would want for a dungeon mapper. There are a lot of different graphic sets that you can try, ranging from old-school blue-and-white or black-and-white to a bit more modern, colorful, illustrated versions (sorry about the below, I created these quickly years ago, and decided to use them now without modification).
You can add your own labels, download more, free graphic packs, export the finished material in multiple file formats with or without a grid with different dpi settings. You pretty much have everything ready that you would need.
The price I can see is 14.99€, and it is buy-once and use-forever.
I have seen people using this for overland maps, and it does have graphic packs to support that, but I believe there is a reason why it is called Dungeon Painter Studio and not something else.
DPS 2 has been in the making for quite some time. I can see the announcements that the Beta is “out,” but I couldn’t figure out where this “out” is. The thing I can see is that it will have dynamic lighting added to it at some point. I am still waiting for a version I could get my hands on.
With this online tool, you can create some truly GORGEOUS maps. I mean, they really do look great. I have a few friends who use this and are wild about it, and I can understand why.
I quickly need to add that I have tried the free version and then hoping the paid one would be better, I purchased it, but I am not using Inkarnate for anything. It just did not chime with me. I promised myself that I would revisit this site, as I am sure something that looks so great and so many people like is sure to have potential. At this point, I am pretty sure that I just got off on the wrong foot, and the problem is with me.
I haven’t checked the site in a while, and when I revisited it, I was stunned by the maps that were created by other users, found in the “Explore” and “Gallery” section.
Believe it or not, the tool is easy to use. You can also random-generate landmasses, use layers, add texts and shadows.
The tool is $25 with an annual subscription or $5 a month.
PLEASE check out their gallery: Inkarnate – Create Fantasy Maps Online
Both of these tools are ridiculously fun, even if you don’t need a city or a new world map. I am discussing these in one place since the Fantasy City generator actually has a link to Azgaar (on the left “Overworld”). I am not entirely sure how they are related. Azgaar has a Patreon, but that is not for the City Generator (www.patreon.com/azgaar)
The city generator will random generate you a settlement of varying size, with names and points of interest on it all day long. You can change its coloring, the drawing method, the size of the city, the type of wall. You can randomly generate a new name for it, hide-show details, texts, and if you are not happy with what it looks like, then go ahead and WARP! You can go into warp mode and start pulling walls, streets, farmlands, and the engine running in the background to auto-populate the best fitting space.
Still not happy? Just hit the ENTER key, and “bang!” you’ll get a new city.
If you think you are okay, export it to png, and you’re done – or you can take that to Photoshop if you want it and tweak it further.
Let me show you just a few examples:
As for the world generator, unfortunately, I can’t think of a use case when I want to generate a whole world randomly, but it is still nice to know that you have the option.
You jump in, and there is a new world waiting for you. You can check the map, switch over to globe view, switch over to 3d view, and there are so many options here that it would fill another post to summarize that part alone. Save it, export it, edit it or generate a new one with a push of a button!
This concludes part one of my list. I will be back a bit later with part two and another handful of tools. I an cutting this in half on purpose, as I don’t want the posts to be too long. I do hope some of these were new and will be usable!