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Module Mapping 102 - Basic Terrain Mapping with the Aurora Neverwinter Nights Toolset


This article is based on the Aurora NWN Toolset Beta version released by BioWare in May of 2002.

Before tackling the job of creating an epic module for your players, get some practice using the toolset beta for mapping in general. If you haven't yet read the readme.txt file for the toolset, read it! Twice. Many of the things exhibited in this article assume that you know how to use the toolset to place terrain, select terrain groups and features, and move your viewpoint in the 3D Area Display window, covered in section 3-5 of the readme file.

We will begin by creating a village map which includes most of the basic terrain variations provided by the Rural tileset.

This screenshot from the toolset shows a 12x12 Area map using the Rural tileset. Trees, Water and Raised terrain have been used to to close off the map edges to avoid the "endless grassland" view players can get if they are able to see beyond the map's edge.

Some of the less obvious terrain features can most easily be placed by painting one terrain type on top of other terrain types:

(1) Waterfall - select the Stream terrain and click in a Grass tile directly above or below where the waterfall is to appear, then drag the mouse across the height of a Raised terrain tile.

(2) Dock - select the Road terrain and drag the mouse from a Water tile to a Grass tile, crossing a Water/Grass tile that has a straight shoreline.

(3) Stream running into the Forest - paint a Stream on the Grass tile adjacent to a Trees tile. This forest stream can only appear perpendicular to a Trees tile with a straight tree line. Like a door, the passage created by the stream is meant to be linked to another map, and acts as an Area Transition.

(4) Forest Passage - paint a Road on the Grass tile adjacent to a Trees tile. This forest passage can only appear where the road is perpendicular to the tree line. It is used as an Area Transition.

This screenshot shows how the Stream (3) and Road (4) interact with the Trees to create passages into the forest.

The Scene Menu is Your Friend:

While painting and viewing the terrain, use the Scene menu if you wish to turn the Display Grid on or off. Make sure that Fog is toggled off so you can see the entire map. If Display Shadows is on, hitting F5 will Refresh the Area Display window and erase stray shadows that may remain after altering the terrain.

Placing a Bridge:

To create a bridge crossing a Stream, select the Road terrain and drag it perpendicularly across the Stream. This may not be immediately obvious, since the cursor turns red, but when you complete dragging the Road across the Stream and reach a Grass tile, the bridge only then appear.

The Bridge feature can be placed directly on a Stream tile if you do not want a road connected to it. As with any terrain group or feature, you may need to rotate the Bridge before placing it, by using the right mouse button.

The Cave:

Another Area Transition, the cave is a feature that must be placed manually on the face of a cliff created by the height between Raised and Grass terrain.

A cave can only be placed in a cliff from the center tile of three adjoining Raised terrain tiles.

Docked Ship:

Select the Ship Docked 1 2x2 group to create a ship that is docked close to a shoreline, by placing it in the Water next to a Grass tile.

Select Ship Docked 2 2x2 to create a ship that is docked at a pier. You can then extend the pier to shore with the Road terrain. To place the ship at an already placed pier, rotate the group (right-mouse-click) to evaluate the best position for it.

Here we see the docked ship properly placed.

To make our village we add some houses, of course. You may think that there are only two houses at first glance in the list of features to place, but if we look at the groups, there are several more houses that span two or more tiles (which is why they are called groups, naturally enough).

These house groups include the Barracks, some Barns, and Farms, all types of houses one is likely to find in a fantasy rural setting. Also found here is the Inn, the windmill, and three Temples.

Among the groups are Fields, which every farm should have.

After placing our village houses, examine their doorways. Most houses do not include doors, which allows some customization. To select from a list of doors, click on the Paint Door icon, which is the second icon below the Paint Terrain icon. Our list of features, groups and terrain is replaced by a list of Tileset Specific and Universal doors.

Select a door from the list and click on an empty doorway on any house to place it. It will snap into place and show itself as selected with a green outline. The big arrow that appears to come out of the door indicated the direction a player will be facing when the exit the house.

But how will a player enter the house? Interiors need to be made as separate areas, and a door in that area is linked to the door here. We will cover Area Transitions and Doors in a later tutorial.

Now our village is complete as far as the terrain is concerned. All that is needed is to place the Starting Point Location, which can be selected by clicking the icon of a red arrow in a blue circle - it is the only other icon on the same row as the Paint Terrain icon, to the far right on the icon toolbar.

You may have noticed that every area map automatically adds a Starting Point to the center of the map, but we should place it in a more appropriate spot on our map. We choose the dock, so that we can have the player start as if he has just stepped off of the ship.

In our next tutorial we will add a few more features and some NPCs to add life to our little village!


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