Geomorphs don't have to focus on wide sweeps of landscape, they can just as easily be used to model small locations...perhaps the specific confines of an encounter, a dungeon room, an alleyway, a passage with traps.
I was actually asked about this when I first started the series, but I figured that it was necessary to lay some ground rules and background information first.
There was a recent kickstarter where geomorph tiles were offered (I'll provide a link here as soon as I find it). That basically worked with these ideas, but I like a bit more detail in my geomorphs.
This system is basically four-phase "open space", "building", "left wall", and "right wall". Once you decide to add in varying widths of alleyway, you add in two more phases "narrow left wall" and "narrow right wall". In assembly, like the swamp geomorphs indicated earlier, left wall sides can only match up with equivalent right wall sides.
Basically it allows you to lay out modular settings for encounters to take place in, without needing to completely draw up new rooms each time. The set-up could work for square based movement games of the "Heroclix" variety.
Let's add a bit of colour to it.
I like to make sure each of the geomorphs has something interesting or different about it, but not too much. You'll note that in the straight wall sections, one has a sewer lid, one has a fire escape, one has a bit of a puddle draining away...in one of the corners I've added a stairway. For this particular colouring scheme I've made the alleyways seem a bit darker by showing the lighting effects on the ground from open windows. I could do more colouring effects to the rubbish piles and bins, but you get the idea.
From a cluster of a dozen different tiles (2 or three copies of each), you could make hundreds of possible encounter locations, making them all interesting and unique.
There was something interesting that I noticed about the work of Keith J Davies yesterday.
He divided the edges of the hex into tenths, then drew the isometric grid across it from these points. That's really interesting from the perspective of splitting a hexagonal geomorph into smaller geomorphs or building a larger hex from smaller hexes.
Basically, to do this effectively you need to divide the sides into a number of fragments equal to "one plus a multiple of three" (eg. 1 + 0x3 = 1, 1 + 1x3 = 4, 1 + 2x3 = 7, 1 + 3x3 = 10).
Here's an illustration to show what I mean.
It's not a specific element of geomorph design, it's just something to consider when it comes to scaling geomorphs (whether dividing larger geomorphs into smaller forms or combining smaller geomorphs into larger patterns). The fact that the 10 to 1 ratio makes things easier for those of us using metric is just a bonus.
One of my future posts has been pre-empted by the work of Keith J Davies. It's great to have been an inspiration to someone, and it's good to see things being taken further. I've got a lot of projects on my plate at the moment, so I can't churn out these tutorials as quickly as I might like, but it looks like Keith is generally on the same wavelength as me, especially over a few of the online conversations we've had in recent days.
I was going to leave it a bit further down the track, but I'll start looking at the actual drawing of geomorphs now. We've touched on edge types and phases for geomorph systems, but one of the key things about drawing geomorphs is making sure everything is consistent and lines up when the tiles are placed together.
I try to draw a single sheet of paper with one or more geomorph shapes on it (whether they be square or hexagonal), sometimes the geomorph will fill the page, but more often I try to get a few onto a single sheet. Each of these shapes is then marked with diagonals across the points, and often markings along the edges where roads (or rivers) might lead out of one geomorph and into the next.
With this master sheet, I trace a second sheet (or lightweight paper or tracing film) with the actual geomorphs. This way I know every geomorph will be consistent in its alignment.
Mine are typically hand done (with old school drawing board, set squares, compasses and mechanical pencil), and this can make for some mild inaccuracies. But since I usually draw at twice the reproduced size (and cutting out shapes often has a margin for error), these inaccuracies are negligible.
Keith has been kind enough to generate a few pages, typical of what I would draw up. I'm shamelessly stealing them from him to post here (but certainly giving credit to him). If I hadn't draw up some of my own sheets two nights ago, I'd probably just use these for drawing future geomorphs on.
If two-phase geomorph systems seem a bit constraining, three-phase systems start to seem a bit daunting, and four-phase systems are just a nightmare in complexity waiting to beat your brain into a gibbering heap...what about single phase systems?
If you're thinking to yourself... "Surely you can't have fun with a system of geomorphs where every side is the same?" ...you'd be wrong.
Single phase geomorph systems are arguably the most versatile of all, because it doesn't matter which geomorph edge sits next to which other geomorph edge. No problems with land abruptly meeting sea, no problems with "right banks" being forced to join up with "left banks". They all fit together neatly because they are all the same.
But this means you need to design your complexity within the confines of the single tile.
For example, I developed a goblin labyrinth setting a few years ago. It was comprised of a huge maze spanning continents and mystically plunging into nearby planes. The goblins had lost the ability to keep expanding and the civilisation had collapsed centuries ago. It was a tarot deck, accompanying book, and RPG. The maze dominated the lives of the goblins and shaped their myth.
It would be easy to generate a set of single-phase geomorphs to create fragments of the world in this setting. The world is fairly homogenous in its labyrinthine nature, but incredibly complex at a smaller scale.
Since each geomorph has the same edges, we could use this for a game where spell effects might manipulate the maze. One spell might rotate a geomorph clockwise or widdershins, another spell might swap two geomorphs with each other. Since they all match up, there won't be any cascading effects of complexity.
Another great example of a single-phase system comes from last year's game from Vulpinoid Studios, "Town Guard".
All of the town sectors are on a single geomorph, all of the sectors may be connected to each other because all of their edges are "road" edges. I've toyed with a "pirate" expansion for the game, including so e coastlines for a two-phase system, but the core game has heaps of options with only a single phase.
Other games like "Tsuro" work with single-phase geomorphs too.
Some people don't like making their edges separate entities, they don't like placing their map changes in the corners of their geomorphs. For those people, I present a geomorph system like this...
It might be a swamp, like the marshes that Gollum leads Sam and Frodo through after the fellowship of the ring breaks up.
It looks pretty simple, and could probably do with a bit of colour, but it's basically a specialised three-phase system...and there is a degree of trickiness in its execution that you have to be careful of.
Let's say the stippled fragments through the map are rocky outcrops in the swamp. Each of these is self contained within a geomorph. The three edge types of the geomorph system are "open water", "left bank" and "right bank". If we have the described edge at the bottom of the geomorph, the "left bank" has land of the left and water on the right...and the "right bank" has land on the right and water on the left.
Unlike previously described systems where an "open" edge matches an "open" edge, and a "road" edge matches a "road" edge, the catch with this system is that "left banks" can only match up with "right banks" when you assemble the geomorphs into a map. Thus you need roughly equal numbers of "left" and "right" banks otherwise you start to run out of options for assembling the final map.
It's not a huge issue, but something to consider.
If you are making 3D geomorphs for wargame terrain, you might substitute "left bank" and "right bank" for "left hill" and "right hill", the same situation applies.
(Edit: I've just looked back at the geomorph image for this post and have noticed that it is actually a four phase system. It has edges that are "open water", "open land", "left bank" and "right bank". Also, since I've had some queries regarding the concepts of "left bank" and "right bank", I'll expand these ides and give some better explanations in a later tutorial.)
Many of the depictions so far have been urban or above ground, but don't let that be a limitation. They can just as easily depict underground caverns and dungeon complexes.
This particular example is a three-phase system. The edge types are "rock", "passageway" and "opening". You could easily get away with developing an underground geomorph system by using only a two-phase system with "rock" and "passageway" edge variants, and there would certainly be a wide variety ofoptions possible with such a system, but I've included the "opening" option because it allows for much larger cavern spaces that extend beyond the borders of a single geomorph (this can be seen most clearly in the bottom of the map where three adjacent tiles have "opening" edges connecting them.
This can be seen a bit clearer when a bit of colour and texture is added to the geomorphs.
In theory with this system you could also develop geomorphs where all six edges are "rock" to designate areas of solid stone without any passages for explorers to pass through, and conversely, you could develop geomorphs where all six edges are "openings" to create much larger cavern spaces.
You may also note with the "cavern" at the bottom, that I've shaded the corners where these three geomorphs meet up. I've done this because you can't be certain whether an "opening" geomorph will contact the edge of a wall (as can be seen in the three border points around this central cavern point), or whether it will simply meet open space. For the purposes of versatility, shading each corner is more useful.
You can also have fun within the confines of a single geomorph. Consider the geomorph at the bottom left, which has two passageways and an opening, but all three don't necessarily meet up in a continuous path.
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