Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Interview with Tim Hartin (AKA Turgenev)

Tim is a dungeon cartographer well known on the Dragonsfoot forums for his endless fount of dazzling dungeon maps (his username there is Turgenev). I was particularly excited to interview Tim because his massive map thread was one of the inspirations for this blog. His technique is very polished, but his maps always have something new to reveal. You can see more on his cartography site.

Can you tell us a little about your gaming history up till now?

I started gaming way back in the early 80s. I was in Grade 6 and I remember asking a buddy what he was up to after school and he said, "I'm going to play D&D." I said, "What's that? A board game?" I went with him and played my first game of D&D. Sure none of us knew what we were doing but we had a lot of fun doing it. I started with Basic D&D and then quickly moved on to AD&D and many more systems after that. In High School, I played a lot of AD&D (mostly 1st Edition), Gamma World (2nd Edition), Call of Cthulhu (3rd Edition), Villains & Vigilantes (2nd Edition), and various Palladium games (mainly Robotech, TMNT and Ninjas & Superspies). In University, I played my share of AD&D (2nd Edition mostly), Call of Cthulhu, GURPS (a Cyberpunk campaign), Shadowrun, and Earthdawn. I've been playing off and on when I get the chance. I've always been open to trying different genres and game systems.

What are you playing these days and what do you like about it?

These days I play a lot less than I would like but I guess that gives me more time to map instead. I usually DM/GM when I do play. I've played AD&D (1st Edition), Villains & Vigilantes, Marvel Super-Heroes (Advanced Edition), and even some D&D 3.0 (when it first came out – I got frustrated by the amount of number crunching that was involved as a DM so I ended up going back to AD&D which fit my style better anyways). I have a bunch of games and/or adventures I would love to play but family, work, and/or life has a way of getting in the way. ;) What do I like about it? I always have ideas bubbling at the back of my brain so that probably explains my preference to be the GM. I love coming up with the scenarios, NPCs, tricks and traps and such. Basically, I like the imagination that goes into the games/adventures, plus there's the interaction with friends, creating memories that we still talk about many years after the fact – that sort of thing. It's about spending time with friends and having fun.

What tools do you use to create your dungeon maps?

Lots of pencils, paper and the ever so handy Photoshop on the computer. I always have a small stack of paper on my desk for notes, doodles, and what-have-you. I will scratch out ideas for maps or draw some creature that I will stat up for an adventure. When I first started to get serious about mapping, I would draw the map on graph paper and then scan it into the computer and then use Photoshop to touch things up. These days, I find it much easier to just draw in Photoshop. Sometimes I will still have to draw something by hand and scan it in but most of the time I start right in Photoshop.

My technique for dungeon maps is a bit different than most would think. Instead of drawing the walls of the rooms and corridors, I start with a the whole map as one color and then carve out the rooms and corridors with the various 'Select' tools in Photoshop. The computer has certainly made my job drawing a lot easier. For example, I can draw separate elements like contour lines, various building shapes, natural terrain symbols (mountains, trees, hills, etc.) and then put everything together on the computer. The computer also makes it easier to fix mistakes. To me, the computer is just one more tool to use. With that said, nothing feels better than holding a pencil in my hand and scratching out my ideas on paper. The computer just lets me express those ideas better and quicker than I would be able to do with just paper and pencil.

You've created a ton of maps, and also PDFs. Isn't that a lot of work? Is there a goal of philosophy behind providing this stuff for free?

The level of work involved usually depends on how complicated and/or detailed the map is. Some of the standard dungeon maps I can whip out in anywhere between a couple of hours to even days in the making. It really depends on the project. I have some maps sitting on my computer in various stages of completion as I juggle my own personal projects, work and family. I always end up creating more maps than I could use so I figured I might as well share them. If I can't use them then maybe someone else can. That's how my cartography site got started. I started drawing maps because it was fun (and still is). I didn't think of charging for them because they were just stuff I did as a hobby for fun.
Others might spend their downtime watching TV, I sit in front of the computer drawing & writing.

As for the PDFs, I would do the covers and any other image intensive work in Photoshop while using Open Office for text blocks. The map PDFs weren't that complicated to make once I had a basic template for the layout created. Then it’s just rewriting over the old info with the new and making sure you save the file as a new document. As with any design work, getting the initial layout is a lot of the hard work and everything else falls into place (or at least that's what one always hopes when working on a project). I've also learned a few short-cuts and tricks that make things easier in Photoshop so that has saved me some time as well.

While I am moving towards doing commercial PDFs for sale, I also plan on continuing to release free material as well. I figured I have enough ideas that I can put together map packages and/or adventures that people will be willing to spend a few bucks on and release the quick stuff for free. At this point, I have my AD&D adventure I've been working on for a commercial release (via the OSRIC license) and a freebie dungeon map done in classic blue color. I just have to find the time to finish them. ;)

What's your favorite PC you've played, or NPC you've game mastered?

I have played so many characters, especially NPCs, in many game systems over the years. That's a hard one. It's not really D&D related but I would have to say my fondest memory is one of my Call of Cthulhu characters – Professor Anthony Brant (I was a player and not a GM in this case). He was an antiquities professor who lived through most adventures by going temporary insane and falling unconscious when the characters encountered various Cthulhu Mythos monsters. While he was unconscious, the monsters would attack the conscious characters.

Eventually they would defeat the monster and my character would wake up after the melee was over wondering what happened. My character kept failing his Sanity Checks because he was the guy who investigated the strange books that they kept encountering and learned powerful secrets and spells that helped the party much more than straight combat usually did. These secrets and ancient tomes had the effect of lowering his Sanity score making subsequent checks even more difficult.

Eventually his luck caught up to him and he was killed on an adventure. One of the NPCs used an ancient spell to resurrect Dr. Brant but the catch was if anyone said the secret incantation, he would fall into a pile of dust. The couple of characters who knew this secret would eventually die as the campaign went on, so my character was safe from the other characters taking advantage of his little secret. At the end of the campaign, Dr. Brant saw Cthulhu (on R'lyeh no less), failed his Sanity Check, went insane and became a loincloth-wearing priest of Nodens on some distant South Pacific island. Call of Cthulhu will always be one of my favorite RPGs of all time.

One of these days I'll get around to making some exotic location maps (cult lair in a dormant volcano, ancient underground catacombs, an aquatic lair, that sort of thing) that could be used for either AD&D/D&D or Call of Cthulhu games.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interview, Tony. It was my pleasure. BTW, great blog you have here! Love the dungeon dressing posts.

January 26, 2010 at 10:41 AM

Blogger rredmond said...

Good fun! Thanks, good format, I like your open questioning style! Hey are those Armaron maps as your background? Cool stuff.

January 26, 2010 at 10:47 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks! The interview was conducted by e-mail, so I wanted the questions to be pretty open-ended. The background is a version of the Apocalypse Megadungeon, which is another project of mine.

January 26, 2010 at 11:34 AM


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