I wanted to throw a couple of tools your way, just in case you weren’t aware of them. Yes, I’m talking to you, “Mr. New DM who has no money to pay for expensive mapping software”. These are free and kick ass. One is for maps, and the other renders out cinematic landscapes to use as playing aides for your table. Don’t describe Mount Doom, show them Mount Doom.
Let’s begin with the mapping. This is a program called AutoRealm. It is free, open source and will certainly satisfy your need for computer mapping while you are starting out as a digital DM. Here’s the link: http://autorealm.sourceforge.net/
It is a fractal mapper, comes with symbols, and has a slight bit of a learning curve. It’s free, so download it, play with it, and soon you’ll be making maps like this:
Now, I’m not so sure, but it seems by the website that the last developement took place in 2005. I have version 2.2.1 installed on my system and it is cool. To be honest, I still haven’t completely gotten the hang of it, but I’m dense for these things anyway. Don’t use me as a benchmark. You can find a bunch of tutorials here: http://tutorials.autorealm.org/
Now, this next program kicks some serious ass. It’s called Terragen, a photorealistic animator for making landscapes. How would you use this for D&D? Well, if you are setting the scene by describing a mountain range, a lake, a river bed, show your players exactly what it looks like. Take a look at these pictures from their website. These are actual renders.
As you can see, two very different landscapes created by Terragen Classic. Guys, these pictures move. They are animations. The camera can pan around the mountain, do whatever you want.
Check this video out:
Yeah. Your players will flip if you show them your version of The Shire, as rendered by you.
Terragen takes some learning, but if you look, you’ll find plenty of tutorials that’ll teach you the basics. I was making animations back in 2002 on that thing, with a crappy computer. Rendering time was an issue back then, but today’s machines are much faster, although I can’t really say I’ve rendered anything in a while.
Guys, these programs are free. Go get them, and learn to use them, they’ll spice up your campaign and make your sessions a little more memorable.