What is isometric map making?
Designing dungeons is something most storytellers are very familiar with. After all, what’s DnD without the odd dungeon or dragon? In this article, I wanted to contribute to making your maps fancier, so you can impress your players and have fun drawing a more three dimensional dungeon. Isometric map design became quite famous during the first years of gaming, when 3D graphics were still on the rise. It’s a way to fool our eyes into believing an object is three-dimensional without having to resort to things like converging-line design. It’s much easier because everything has the same distance, regardless of its position in the pseudo three-dimensional environment.
In the following paragraphs, I will just demonstrate how you can make your own isometric maps with a quick sketch or two, and also give you some tips on what to watch out for. If you already know all this stuff and you’re looking for a template to create your own maps, look no further. I have created some and I’m happy to hand them out freely to all of you. Check the bottom of this article for the downloadable templates.
Building an isometric dungeon
The starting point for the map is an empty isometric template. In an isometric map template your straight lines should always be parallel to the ones on the grid. You don’t have to draw on the lines (although when you’re starting out, it really helps). As you do more and more work on an isometric map, you’ll find that your perception will change and adapt to this perspective. It helps if you always keep the same line of sight with your map. Your brain is slowly adapting without you even noticing.
When starting with isometric mapping, it’s not a bad idea to begin by doing a quick scribble of your map on a normal square grid (also included on the download below). In the picture beneath, there’s an example of a flat dungeon interpreted into the isometric grid. Notice that, although diagonal, the amount of squares of each side remains the same between the two drawings.
Woo! It’s like it pops out of the paper!
But, obviously, the real beauty of creating an isometric map is not just that you can make your maps diagonal; compared to a top-down map, an isometric map can very successfully display elements that pop out in faux-three-dimensions. And that’s where the fun really is. Compare the temple structure in the middle of the cave, both on the flat map and on the isometric map in the photo beneath. Doesn’t it look much better already?
Raising the walls!
You can do the same thing with your rooms as well. You could, in theory, raise all the walls on the map, but that will cover part of the room itself. I find it practical to just raise the opposite-to-the-line-of-sight views (as in the room on the bottom right of the picture beneath), but that’s just my preference. I also think that raising walls only in your “special” rooms gives them more visual importance and segregates them from the rest of the map.
Finalising and quick tips
As with every map, finishing touches make all the difference. I have intentionally designed and drawn this map in less than 15 minutes to show you that it doesn’t have to be perfect in order to look quite complete and impressive. Here’s my quick list of tips:
- Cross-hash the boundaries of your dungeon – that will give it more focus.
- After you’re done with your pencil work, ink the edges with a fine pen – it really makes the elements pop out.
- Add elements which give directionality and establish a subconscious understanding of the dimensions for your players like, for example, a rose compass.
- ALWAYS begin working from the (theoretical) front to back. This will make sure you don’t step on your own toes when trying to draw walls or other raised items that might overlap.
- Set a light-source and cast shadows globally from it. Later on, you can make all sorts of wacky things with room-specific light, but that takes a bit more practice.
Add a lightsource somewhere “above” the isolinear plain of your ground and cast shadows from that direction.
Ink the edges afterwards and make sure that you remove the pencil lines before you cast your final shadows
I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you want to read more like this, do let me know in the comments below. Please share your work with us when you’re done, and also share this article with friends who you know like a bit of drawing (or maybe need a bit of help!). I’d love to see what you’ve done with the templates. If there’s anything else you want to add, or any other template you’d like, let me know. Until next time, subscribe to our newsletter to get even more goodies and, happy drawing everyone!
Download free isometric map templates
Click here or on the image above to download all four files