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Your Conworld in 3D: Tunnel System Maps

Author: Kemp Sparky

Tools Needed

* Bryce

* Paint Program


What's a quest without underground misadventures, or disused sewers full of unsavory beasts? I will show you how you can add these caverns or tunnels to your growing archive of maps. This tutorial follows my City Map tutorial, and follows my progress as I begin to create a tunnel system map to add to my last project, the Liath Barad city map.

Step 1 - The Map


As always, the first step is to create and prepare your map. If your tunnel system, as most do, lay beneath another structure, such as a city or mountain range, which it must follow and match, then you will want to open the maps that you did for that structure first. Thus, you lay (or paint) your tunnel map over this map on a new layer, and match each landmark in the tunnels to its corresponding landmark above. Once the basic layout for the tunnels is complete, you will need to refine the map. First things first: The tunnels will need to be painted in black, at least preliminarily. You can also have varying levels or heights of tunnels, by making some tunnels (the higher ones) lighter than the others. Tunnels come in two sorts: natural or roughly hewn, and man-made, well-crafted tunnels. They may also include pesky things called stairs and inclines connecting them or leading out of them. Each of these features (as well as a few more), for the sake of ease-of-use, will be divided into separate steps.

Step 2 - Man-made Tunnels


These are the easiest to make, Simply draw a crisply cut line where the tunnel appears. That should do it. Of course you could always add little extra details like alcoves and so on, by adding indentations of black.

Step 3 - Rough Tunnels


If your tunnels are rough hewn, or natural, I suggest making the tunnels less well-shaped, and the floor less distinguished. This is best taught by example, so, shall we skip the wordy explanation and get straight to the demonstrative image?

Step 4 - Stairs


Stairs are fairly simple. The hardest part is getting the shades (heights) right, but that is something that is best decided by trial and error, or mathematics (see further down the paragraph for approximations). You make stairs with rectangles. Copy a rectangle from your map, and make it white, size it to your preference. Copy and paste the same rectangle and move it down until its top edge touches the previous rectangle's bottom edge, repeat the process until your staircase has enough steps, this will vary depending on factors such as: how high is the ceiling of the tunnel? how steep is the staircase? and so on. When you are done, it will look like you have nothing more than a white line on your terrain map. Great. Now you have to change their brightness to create a gradient that will make your staircase rise in the height map. How? A good way to do it is mathematically. This is a formula that works for me: 100 ' number of stairs. My paint program's brightness scale is based on 100 to -100, with 0 as current. So, if I have 5 stairs, I would have my stairs get progressively darker as they go down by -20 (ex 0, -20, -40, -60, -80). But don't worry if they aren't exactly even, as long as they look good applied to the terrain, they'll serve their purpose.

Step 5 - Inclines


Inclines are simple. It is just a gradient going from your darkest color to your lightest color (black and white). Gradients are easy to achieve with most paint programs including all of the free ones I have used (excluding, of course, MS Paint). If you don't want your incline to go all the way to the top, say, instead of exiting the tunnel system you want to go from one lower tunnel to a slightly higher tunnel, just take the color of the higher tunnel's floor, and have that fade to black (or whatever color the lower tunnel's floor happens to be) instead of white.

Step 6 - Hidden Doorways


If you're like me, you have what we call hidden passages around your tunnel system. We can't just leave them open for all to confuse for regular passages. So, you build up an obstruction in the path where one of these hidden areas appear on the map. You can really do this any way you want. I chose to make the obstruction slightly darker than the white of the ceiling to depress it and make it distinguishable from the surrounding ceiling. I also left a tiny crack between the obstruction and the wall to denote its relative instability. You may also want to place these where there are doors in your tunnels, minus the space between it and the walls. Further instruction in step 7.

Step 7 - Into Bryce


This is the moment of truth. Create a new terrain and apply your map in the terrain editor. Play with the dials, I always like to add a little bit of extra noise and erosion to it, to help give it that rocky, sinister feel. Once you're happy with the result, exit the terrain editor and do a trial render. If you're not happy with it, first, try texturing it and then rendering it, a nice material really can do the trick. Be careful your material isn't too dark, you can lose all your terrain's detail in dark textures. However, this is the time to make any tweaks you need to, whether it is in the terrain editor, or in the paint program.

Step 8 - Bells and Whistles

After the model has been textured, you should add any extra models or props you need to give your map just the right touch of detail. I've added a few ladders, some spiral staircases, and furniture to the rooms therein that required it. I also scattered a few useless, but aesthetically pleasing or amusing touches, like the rusty, scattered armor; the bones; and the abandoned sword (several of which could even be made useful by a future Game Master). You may need to export your tunnel terrain as a Wavefront object for importing into DAZ Studio for some of your props, as I did.

Step 9 - Finite

The time has come for your final render. It may still need some work, but regardless, you'll be well on your way to having a tunnel map perfect for your uses, whatever they may be.

Step 10 - Tips and Alternatives

When I did my city map, I liked the way it came out better in DAZ Studio, and since my tunnel system map was complementary to my city map, I exported my tunnel terrain as an *OBJ and imported it to the same scene file as my city, lined up my new terrain with the old, and, deleting all the models of the previous scene, rendered my tunnel map to the same specifications as I had my city map, so that they would match perfectly.

If you need a lot of detail in your terrains, and your tunnel system is too big to keep detail in your terrain map, try doing it in pieces. It isn't easy to get them all locked in the right places, but it will look better in the end than it would have with just the one 1600×1600 px terrain map.