It’s been a few years since I last reviewed one of Josh Stolarz’s map-making packs for authors, world-builders and game masters. Josh’s packs include hundreds of beautiful, hand-drawn brushes and stamps, which greatly simplify the process of drawing fantasy maps.
I’ve reviewed both the Map Maker and City Map Builder, and can’t sing their praises enough. Between them, they’ve enabled me to create almost all the maps I need as a novelist… but there was one missing piece — interior maps.
Arguably, interior maps aren’t as relevant to novelists as world and settlement maps unless they help you visualise the space your characters inhabit. But I think the real audience here is game masters — those running TTRPGs like Dungeons & Dragons — for whom encounter maps scaled on a 1-inch grid are vital for managing dungeon crawls and tactical combat using miniatures and tokens.
Since both use cases apply to me, I was thrilled when Josh asked me if I would test an early version of his new Dungeon Map Builder in Procreate. I did so, giving my feedback, then received a more substantial update a month ago, which I’m pleased to say resolved all my suggestions and exceeded my expectations.
Josh has now officially released his Dungeon Map Builder, so I thought I’d thoroughly review it. Note that although Josh gave me the draft versions for free, I have since purchased the Dungeon Map Builder outright. I did so because:
- I like supporting Josh’s work
- It frees me to review the pack objectively, without bias, and
- I wanted the Photoshop version of the brushes and all the extras included in the retail bundle.
Cost and features
The Dungeon Map Builder costs US$34, or about AU$53, at the time of writing. It’s compatible with Procreate (iPad), Photoshop, the Affinity Suite, and Clip Studio Pro. I also tested the brushes in Pixelmator Pro on MacOS, which can import Photoshops’s ABR brush files, and they worked fine.
In summary, the bundle includes:
- A collection of more than 400 hand-drawn brushes and stamps broken into collections, including:
– Walls (2 styles)– Seamless texture brushes for painting in grids, floors, hatching, and stone– A vast selection of stamps to add features, loot, weapons, architectural elements, furniture, flora and fauna– Decorative stamps such as banners, signs, keys, legends and borders– Illustration brushes - the same ones Josh uses to draw his stamps
- Textured paper background
- 6 pre-made, print-ready bordered templates (US/Imperial sizes only)
- 3 colour palettes, including a swatch library for Procreate
- Bonus fonts
- And more besides…
I’ve noted this because plenty of artists (such as 2-Minute Tabletop) prohibit commercial use. Josh is to be commended for his licensing, which is why I have no hesitation in recommending his assets and brushes to content creators.
Style, quality and variety
If you’re a TTRPG game master or player, chances are you have seen the maps created by Dyson Logos, Mike Schley, and 2-Minute Tabletop — all of whom are prolific and highly respected in this space. These artists are the basis for my quality, style and variety comparisons. However, I should note that Dyson Logos provides whole maps, not reusable assets. Mike Schley does, albeit in a much-limited quantity. I include them as I love the quality and style of their work. Comparing like-for-like is a little easier with 2-Minute Tabletop, as they produce thousands of reusable assets, and you can find them used in alternatives such as Dungeondraft and Dungeon Scrawl.
In terms of style, the Dungeon Map Builder assets and brushes share similarities with Dyson Logo and Mike Schley, and I’m definitely reminded of both artists when I use Josh’s assets. There’s even a brush to give you that classic Dyson Logos hatching texture, which was one of my suggestions to Josh, so I’m thrilled it’s there. However, I’ve followed Josh’s work long enough to recognise his unique, aesthetic and meticulous style, and it’s in full force here. The Dungeon Map Builder perfectly complements Josh’s other packs, and one of the benefits of using his assets is that what you create looks like it came from the same artist’s pen.
The assets are best suited to medieval fantasy roleplaying games, which is obviously the target market. The stonework, walls, furnishings, decorations and features have a decidedly North-Western European feel to them. That’s fine for most writers and game masters, but it might disappoint those who prefer other cultures as the basis for their settings.
In terms of quality, Josh’s line work in his stamps and brushes is without peer, far superior to anything available from 2-Minute Tabletop. Each stamp is very high resolution (300 DPI), meaning they look fantastic when printed, and critically, they align perfectly with a 300 DPI 1-inch grid, which is the standard for creating printable maps suitable for tactical combat using miniatures and tokens.
When creating dungeon maps, the variety of assets make or break it. To create a dungeon, be it a dank cavern complex or a run-down tavern, you need enough visual elements to create an interesting environment. Repetition is the enemy of verisimilitude.
Thankfully, the pack doesn’t disappoint. The brush textures for creating grids, patterns and textures are seamless but manage to create enough variety that your eye doesn’t pick out repetitious artefacts. Then there are the dozens of ready-made room outlines, wall segments of every conceivable type, and rough-hewn cavern boundaries. Using these tools, you can very quickly lay out your dungeon’s shape, structure and texture, then start stocking it with some of the hundreds of high-quality elements: everything from barrels and bones, tables and chairs, to swords, desks, and rubble.
Using the Dungeon Map Builder
I’ve waffled enough — let’s create a dungeon map. For this exercise, I’ll use Procreate on my iPad Pro only, though in practice, I tend to split my workflow between the iPad (Procreate) and MacOS (either Affinity or Pixelmator Pro).
I’ve set up the document with a 16x11-inch canvas at 300 DPI. My 2020 iPad Pro gives me a maximum of 37 usable layers at that resolution. 16x11 inches fits within an A3 sheet, which is cheap and easy to print in Australia, with room for a border.
I don’t have a particular design in mind, so I’ll use the 5-room dungeon, which is a popular methodology for creating dungeons on the fly, though 16x11 probably isn’t large enough to do it justice.
First, I’ll sketch a base grid using the Clean Grid 1” Seamless brush. I’ll replace it later, but it will help me get a sense of scale and layout.
One thing I noticed immediately is there’s a slight misalignment between the document’s grid and the dimensions of the brush, which you can see on the right and bottom. This means those tiles aren’t exactly 1x1 inch, which might annoy those who need accuracy for their minis or when importing maps into VTTs that use an internal grid for moving tokens and calculating distances. However, I understand this has more to do with Procreate's brush engine than the accuracy of Josh's brush. Josh tell me Photoshop is more accurate, but since I don't use it anymore, I can't confirm. I'll test the brushes in Affinity Photo and Pixelmator at a later date to confirm how they work in those apps.
Next, I’ll create a new layer and start laying out the structure of the dungeon, beginning with the entrance. For this, I’ll use a selection of the Walls — Rough Block stamps.
The most tedious part here is to select and align the stamps together, erasing the overlap to make it look seamless. Procreate shows some limitations here as its selection and movement tools aren’t as precise as desktop raster editors like Photoshop. So, for the sake of expediency, I cut corners, but will have a think about ways I can improve on this. Josh’s tutorial explains how to do this with layers, which is probably the best approach when using Procreate.
To complete the layout, I’ll add some doors and stairs from the Room Elements stamps and throw in some furniture while I’m at it.
This part was quite quick. As noted, the pack contains hundreds of stamps, well organised by type and easy to insert, rotate and place into position.
Next, it’s time to add some texture, so I’ll replace my initial grid with something more pleasing and add some stippling and hatching to create visual interest.
The brushes really help to bring the map to life, but they can be a little overwhelming, so it’s worth experimenting with layer opacity to get the right balance.
Finally, I added one of the supplied paper textures and pained the dungeon itself with a white layer, setting the blending mode to Colour. Here’s how it turned out.
Given that it was the first dungeon map created with the kit, I’m pleased with how it turned out. It wasn’t difficult, and I’m confident I’ll get better aligning elements with each other and the grid with some practice. Watching Josh’s tutorial, which I linked to above, has already given me ideas for improving. I’m also keen to explore ways to incorporate stamps from Josh’s other packs, particularly the city build, to add vegetation and more.
The Dungeon Map Builder is a fantastic addition to any creator’s arsenal, particularly writers and game masters who lack the time and talent to create beautiful maps from scratch. If you like this style of high-quality, hand-drawn fantasy maps, there’s nothing available that comes close in terms of function, breadth and aesthetics.
So, is it worth it?
Yes, but with a caveat.
If you’ve already invested in an iPad/Procreate or Photoshop/Affinity and like Josh’s work, then it’s a no-brainer. This is Josh’s largest pack to date, weighing in at more than 750MB, and is a tremendous value, even by itself. Where it really shines, though, is if you’ve got the Map and City Builder already. With all three packs, you can easily bring your world to life with beautiful maps that look like expensive, hand-drawn commissions.
However, Dungeon Mapping is a competitive space. There are cheaper and faster alternatives that have gained traction among GMs. Tools like Dungeondraft and Dungeon Scrawl are optimised for the table and VTTs, and they don’t require drawing tablets or skills using raster editors like Photoshop/Affinity and Procreate. But, many of these tools produce bland and easily identifiable maps, which is fine for an informal night’s gaming with your mates but not so good for a product you want to sell — at least in my opinion.
The Dungeon Mapper is the middle ground between cheap mapping software and commissioning maps from a professional artist. With Procreate or Photoshop, you can’t create a map faster than Dungeondraft, but with practice, you’ll get faster, and the results will look better. I think that’s well worth the price and effort, but what do you think?
Josh Stolarz’s Dungeon Map Builder pack sells for $34 (approx. 53 AUD), and full disclaimer: I purchased this pack (and the others mentioned in this review) with my money.