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Posted on Mar 23, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Scenario Designing Tips – Part I

By Trey Marshall

Operational Campaign Mapping

Okay, so you have identified your boundaries and you are ready to dig into building an operational map. There are two styles that I am aware of for building maps. The first one is a hex overlay system which I do not use myself but I will explain briefly in concept. It consists of printing out a transparent sheet with hexes to scale and then affixing it on top of your map. Once you have the hex overlay on, you can directly input the terrain into your map by just following what is physically located within the hexes and transpose them to your editor map. You can even use maps that you download off the internet and then superimpose a hex grid on the map. The key part of the process is that you must ensure that the scale on your editor map (lets say 1 km/hex) corresponds to the physical scale on your map. If one inch equals 1 km on your physical map, you must make sure that the hexes are one inch across.


The method I use is what I call the "Scaling Map Method" and consists of measuring distances between terrain features on the map and then inputting them onto your editor map. This method may be a bit more inaccurate than the hex overlay method and it seems quicker to me at least. Scaling is nothing more than measuring distances between terrain features and cities and then input them into your map. What I do is get a note card or piece of paper and set the edge next to the legend distance scale on the map. Mark off the tick-marks onto your blank paper and label your own scale. Your tick-marks should be close to whatever scale your editor map is in. For example, if each hex is 1 kilometer, then your tick-marks should be increments of 1 kilometer. You want enough tick-marks so that you can cover a good portion of your map at once and you are ready to begin your measurements.

When I have my blank map and my distance ruler, I start by measuring distances between major cities and placing them on my map. I place all cities and towns before I place any other terrain features. When I measure, I take two measurements ? vertical distance and horizontal distance. The first city you need to mark on your map is one that is close to the middle of the battle area and this city will serve as your primary reference point. Since it is your first point on the editor map, measure the horizontal and vertical distance from one of the four corners of your physical map boundaries to the center of your reference city. Also, mark that center reference city point with a pencil mark or something similar so you will measure from the same place at each measurement. For example, if my scale in the editor is one kilometer per hex, I would come up with a measurement from the lower left hand corner of my map boundary that I penciled on the map that would be 16 kilometers (hexes) to the right (east) and 24 kilometers (hexes) up (north) to the center of the city. I would then count 16 hexes to the right and 24 hexes up and then fill that hex with the appropriate terrain palette icon. Then name the unit in the map the appropriate city name. Since this is your main reference point, make multiple measurements and count the hexes a couple of times just to make sure you are accurate.

Once you have your main reference point, start measuring other villages and cities from your reference point and start marking them off on your editor map. Your map will start to look like a bunch of spots with city and villages sprayed out all over your editor map. Sometimes you will make mistakes and you need to catch those quickly. The further you get away from your main reference point, the longer it will take to measure out those distances and mark them on your editor map. In this case, I would recommend making multiple reference points across the map to make things a bit easier. Then you can move from region to region and it shortens up your measuring time. Always check your alternate reference points by checking them off of other reference points just to make sure you are in the ballpark and you are not straying on your distances. In my earlier designing days, I wouldn’t have one reference point but would start on one side of the map and start working to the other side of the map as I would measure from one village or city to the next without going back to any of the reference points. What I ended up was a lopsided map that I had to do some creative editing to correct as I had progressed so far that I wasn’t about to start over.

Now remember, these measurements are not going to be precise and there is always a bit of error or slack in each measurement. If you do not use reference points, then all of your errors will start to cumulate as you go across your map from village to village. Making all measurements from a center reference point will cut down on that error. You just have to make some checks every now and then to make sure. Check reference points off of other reference points on the map and see if they are close on your editor map. If they are, then you are good shape. If you are way off, then you have a problem somewhere that you need to correct before you move on.

Your cities and villages are all filled in and your map looks like a huge eyesore. Start filling in those terrain features starting with rivers and roads. Now that you have your cities and villages in the map, you can use those as a guide on your editor map. Rivers usually cross by villages or through them so you can start making your river just by judging distances by their proximity to the towns. Build your road and rail network the same way. The map shows a road connecting two towns so just draw your road connecting the two towns. How many ways does the road branch off in the town? Make those branches and continue your road/rail net. Where are the bridges located? At times, these features may not be close to a town so you may have to make measurements with your scale ruler. Pay particular attention to placement of bridges especially across major rivers. These will often become crucial chokepoints so check your references on critical crossing sites.

Once you have your road and rail net complete, now you get to drop in all the cool looking palettes like woods, farmland, orchards, swamps, etc. To stay focused, I work in what I call "screen regions" which means I fill in all the terrain that is covered on my screen and when I complete it, I shift the map over to the next terrain-less screen and then fill it in. Woods and swamps are easy to fill in as most maps show this terrain but you may run into a problem where your map doesn’t include the kind of detail that the editor offers. You may have to find additional sources to find that kind of information. Finding where all the orchards or farm areas are in Holland is a difficult prospect. I suggest doing online searches for maps and you can even use other games as a reference. Michelin maps will often include hilly, wooded, swamp, and orchard terrain.

Editors will often differentiate between light woods and heavy woods. I also use the rule of thumb that light woods can allow some limited vehicular traffic and heavy woods do not. Map doesn’t distinguish which? Guesstimate. Also consider in your research the maneuvering of the forces in the battle. Did they travel easily through the forests or where they limited to roads and open space? Remember: military units, like water running down hill, will follow the path of least resistance. Always keep an eye on restrictive terrain on the maneuvering forces. Orchards to me are a nice touch of fluff and can be replicated by light woods if you need to. If your map shows them, put them in. If the map does not show orchards, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Swamps are very restrictive and normally form around lakes and waterways such as canals and rivers. Swamps normally require a waterway as a source. Some editors use a form of a light swamp which you could use as "mud" terrain.

Beaches are not just what they sound like in that they are sandy expanses along the sea. Beaches in wargame terms mean that a section of beach can support an amphibious landing. It is normally extremely difficult to find which beaches could support amphibious operations as these were normally surveyed by naval engineer battalions. However, think like a defender as they would most likely have an interest on what beaches could support a landing. Most of these beaches would be defended very heavily. Which sites had active defenders and bunkers? Might be a good beach site.

Hills and mountains are often subjective and many authors use them in different ways. I distinguish mountains as almost impassable except for trained mountain and commando units. Hills are still restrictive but can be negotiated by most units. When I have a map with elevation relief that shows height, I will designate certain elevations as "hilly" and another as "mountains." This helps me determine where my hills and mountains are. Some editors only have a limited number of elevation levels so I break up the elevation levels into my map’s corresponding heights. For example, if the editor has ten levels of elevation and my map goes up to a maximum of 1000 meters. Each 100 meters of height would be a higher level. I would also make the determination that every elevation less than 200 meters would be flat, 200-400 meters would be hilly, and 400+ would be mountainous.

The last thing I would do on my map is name all of the villages, interesting geography features, famous places, rivers, etc. This adds an atmosphere element that I enjoy and is just as important as naming those fighting units. It is much more interesting to fight over "Horseshoe Wood" than a clump of wooded hexes. An important part of building your map is testing it. Many times in the testing phase of the scenario, I will find inconsistencies or results that I do not like as a result of how I placed my terrain. Compare your testing results to the actual campaigns. Do the armies move realistically? Are they restricted too much? Too little? These results will help you to fine tune your map.

I have also found that editors and the wargame mechanics do not always equal historic results. I often have had to be creative with the terrain in a way that the editor was not intended to be used to replicate more realistic results. I have had to add escarpments around major rivers to prevent pesky engineers from creating instant rivers over massive rivers like the Rhine. I’ve also used escarpments around bridges so that bridges have only one exit and entrance hex side. Take a look at other authors and see how they solved particular problems and do not be afraid to be creative and innovative. Offer up maps to experienced and new wargamers and get their opinions on it. I have always offered up testers the opportunity to check out my creations to get positive feedback. Often times I have found players out there who know more about the battle than I do and I try to enlist their aid to help make the scenario a better and more realistic experience.

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