Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Dave Millar's wonderful tool! (Mapping tool, that is)

Dave Millar doesn’t roleplay. He doesn’t GM either. He doesn’t tumble D10s. What he does is rock. Dave’s Mapper is a free online mapping tool that takes the community Geomorphs and allows you to generate maps, either by random or by semi-random switch and rotate. He has played a huge part in powering the Geomorph movement by providing a breath-taking online tool. Let’s take a look at the superb features bit by bit.

You might be baffled as to why a non-roleplayer might want to expend considerable time and effort in a hobby he doesn’t partake in. To understand it, you need to understand the mind of the web developer who does things not just for cash but because they are just too cool to not be done.


Dave's mapper is brimming with features that make it not just useful but fun to use. Let's start at the top left and work our way around clockwise. Where possible, I've included shortcut keys in [square brackets].

Main menu

Clicking New Map will bring about the end of the world. Or at least that's what they want you to think. What it will actually do is create a brand new map randomly selecting from the options (see below). Dave's Blog is a mapper-centric news output that will keep you up to date with developments. Help/About does exactly what it says on the tin. There is a handy key that shows all the common symbols. This is an interesting additional because it helps define a language for new mappers to use to make their own. Supporters are those wonderful people who have donated tiles, ideas, feedback and lunch and Facebook points you at a fan page. You can get there easily by hitting 'Like This' on the top menu.


The left hand button on view opens up a PNG version of your map, which you can download to your favourite paint application or upload into Obsidian Portal. The 'Hide Image Menu' button closes the tile menu - which I'll come to on the map section below.

Map size

As the tiles make up a grid, this specifies the width and height of that grid. The largest map I managed was 50x50 but if you would like the PNG feature, 8x8 is your limit. Edge tiles (that go on the edges and corners to enclose the map) are additional, so if you're using these add 2 onto each dimension.

Mode Modes

Map modes deal with tile layout. From left to right:
  • Normal map [shift + n] - Using stock tiles, lined up neatly in a grid and no edge tiles.
  • Stagger map rows [s] - Lines up the tiles so that they are staggered like brickwork.
  • Stagger map rows, show rows end capped [shift - s] - Much more useful than just staggering rows, this one neatens the edges by using end caps.
  • Close off dungeon edges [c] - My favourite, this uses half-size geomorphs to seal the map.

Grid Mode

Dave has kindly produced a light blue grid that overlays the map. It's handy if you're going to print for miniatures. There are two sizes available: 5m per square or 10m. If you are like me and prefer hand-wavey explanations of distance, you can turn it off.

Map Mode (or type)

The second map mode is really a type of map. Whether you have an underground map or an above ground city. Your choices are:
  • Dungeons. Created by 'intelligent' beings for whom caves are just too disorganised.
  • Caverns. Natural formations.
  • Dungeons / Caverns mix. Rough hewn edges and purposeful design mashed together.
  • City. A mix of buildings, roads and post-apocalyptic landscapes. Cities don't edge edge tiles.

Map features

If you click one of the map tiles, you get some choices. From left to right, you can rotate the tile 90 degrees, swap the tile with another, remove the tile and replace with another (randomly) and finally remove the tile and place with an entrance/exit tile. This is an extremely powerful little menu that provides you with loads of control.


The room stocker is a handy little tool for helping you decide what is in each of the rooms. It is most useful in the dungeon/cavern maps and helps the DM who is in something of a rush.

Tile List

Dave would be the first to note that the mapper is nothing without the tiles and on the left hand side you have a list of all the tile sets available. Some look good together, others do not. This is very much a personal preference.


Where the mapper comes into its own is in conjunction with your imagination. The random tiles suggest an idea, leaving you to switch tiles, rotate and form your own narrative. For these two dungeons below, click the image for a larger one.

Errol Boltwog's Unfinished Lair

Using tile sets from Dave Millar, Dyson Logos and M.S. Jackson. Size: 2x2, Close off dungeon edges, No grid and Dungeon Cavern Mix.
Errol Boltwog never finished anything. He never finished the pontoon under the bridge where he lived happily with his wife. He never finished the hut for the children, nor their tree-house. Not until after they had long left home. His lair - the status symbol of any respected Ogre family - was never finished either. Sure, it had grand plans based around a circular temple to the south east and long colonnades that stretched back and forth. Building the traps just took the fun out of it and he lost interest, abandoning it after years of work. To the north are the dark and dank natural caverns where passers by often shelter from the weather. Many never realise the realise the workmanship that went into the rest of it and the treasure that lies within.


Using tile sets from Amanda Michaels and Risus Monkey. Size: 3x3, Normal Map, No grid and City tiles.
Inhabited entirely by middle class commuters, Burley-Upon-Pew used to be a lovely little town. Shortly after the event, the delightful little streets became a war ground between them and a hurriedly assembled army of frankly useless warriors. The streets have taken a hell of a battering as the small market town held back against them. Now, some time after the event, this corner of Burley-Upon-Pew is the last surviving outpost of humanity.

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Dave is still working on new featutres and he has an impressive roadmap of ideas. I've had numerous conversations with Dave about the mapper over the last year and he is the most personable web developer I've met. If you have a tile set or an idea for a feature, he would love you to get in touch.

Dave does none of this for cash, instead he asks that you buy him lunch using a paypal link at the bottom. At the very least, let's get blogging about this superb app.

Readers! Make a map using the tool and post it here!

Now it's your turn. Let's see what delight you can create with the wonderful mapper. There's no prize but let's see what your fevered minds can come up with. Go create!


Antonakis said...

That is an awesome random mapper. I loved it and bookmarked it for future use. My favourite tilesets for Dungeons or Caves are Brutus Motor, Risus Monkey and Talisman. I got my best results when using only one of those three at a time.

seema said...


mylescorcoran said...

What an excellent resource. I love the flexibility and variety of results you can get.

Dennis N. Santana said...

Oh my, that looks really useful! Especially for someone totally useless at mapping like me!

Mir said...

This is great for someone like me (I always need maps, but I can´t make them thanks to my lack od drawing skills).
Thanks for sharing!

Rob Lang said...

Thanks everyone for the kind words, of course please do pass them onto Dave and perhaps even buy him lunch! :)

Playmobil said...

Great! Thanks for this.

Grungi said...

Wonderful, it is best random map generator what I have seen ever!
Thanks for it.