Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Drawing Dungeon Maps in Excel - A Quick Tutorial

Well, I think I just about have this whole mapping in Excel thing down, so why not share the techniques with everyone else. Quick note that I'm doing these maps with the latest, greatest versions of Excel and Paint and nothing else.


The first step is setting up your grid. In general, this involves eyeballing the fields into squares, and then adding a border to all of those squares using whatever color you like. In the example below, I'm using a light blue.


Now, I color in all of those squares with the same color blue, and then cut out the passages and chambers by changing those squares to "no color", though I suppose coloring them white would work just as well.


At this stage, you can add in walls using thick lines (again, using the same color as above), doors (they're just small rectangles), stairs (see below, took me a while to get these right), pillars, statues, etc. The newer versions of excel also allow you to freestyle draw shapes, which are good for irregular pools. For pools, I do a tight, white dot pattern over the blue. For chambers that are going to be natural caverns, just get the overall shape right at this stage.

The secret door is just an "S" (Arial 12 pt.) in a text box with no outline and no background.

The stairs are a long trapezoid, no outline, with a pattern of vertical lines or horizontal lines, depending on the direction the stairs face. Yeah, I'm kinda proud of figuring that one out - I originally tried drawing in the lines, but could never get the spacing correct.


To make the pointed room, I added a couple right triangle shapes of the blue color. I then add room numbers using Arial Narrow, 9 point. You can also add outlines of rounded shapes over rooms, coloring in the bits outside the outline in the next step.


We now highlight our map, hit CONTROL-C to copy, and open up MS Paint. In Paint, we paste in the map. If we want to turn any of our passages or chambers into tunnels or caverns, we just use the paintbrush (same color as background) to draw in the natural walls.

And, lo and behold, we have a workable dungeon map. It's not perfect, and there are some limitations, but it's not bad for using a couple pretty basic programs. Whether this will work with the Open Office version of Excel, I don't know - I'd love to hear from somebody who tries it out.


  1. Clever! Maybe you could put up the starting grid for download?

  2. This is awesome! Definitely doing this for a future map.

  3. Wouldn't it be easier to do this in something like GIMP? It's actually made for graphics.

  4. Gimp is so fussy. This looks great, I can't wait to try it.

  5. I used to use Paint alone. Start out by making a grid with the line tool, etc. I used a 2-pixel line so I could have two squares adjacent with different line edges. But when I updated Paint last the line tool went bonkers. Instead of discrete solid-color pixels, it gives you a greyscale mush that's just plain stupid. Gimp does exactly the same thing. You need absolute pixel control and these programs just don't give it. Excel exported to Paint should though.

    I like the idea of using Excel as a laptop dungeon map at the table. You can have the room descriptions in cell annotations, change room descriptions to reflect player input, etc.

  6. I have used Excel for a long time. And not just for old-school maps - I've build a steampunk train out of Excel. For cavern walls and such, I use the freeform lines drawing tool. Right click on it and go to edit points and you have total control over editing it.

    I often use it for online games and I keep the row/column headings in my screenshot to make it easy for people to say where they position themselves.

  7. Great article. I tried this out, and it works great. Just some further details: Row Height = 15, Column Width = 2.5, Light Blue Color: Red = 1, Green = 176, Blue = 241... in hex: #01B0F1. Hope that helps.

  8. Works great in LibreOffice too. Thanks!

  9. A simple and easy to use mapping application that uses software most computers already have installed. Genius!

    It goes without saying that the overall look is instantly recognisable and hits the nostalgia bone in the best possible way.

    If people just want to have a go quickly, here's a quick Excel Template.

    I'd be very interested in seeing a downloadable sample Matt. The basic rooms and corridors are easy, furnishing them is a bit more challenging. If you had (say) a second worksheet in the spreadsheet with template furniture on it, that would turn this into a gold-class dungeon mapping application.

    1. Nice job, sir. I'll see if I can't find a couple minutes and put my template on MediaFire.

  10. Note that you can change the row/column width of the entire sheet by selecting all, then right-clicking on the row (for height) or column (for width) header area for the context menu.

    Also be warned: changing fonts may change column widths and heights.

  11. Very clever! Seems like a nice quick way to whip out an oldschool map!

  12. The following code, Pasted into a vba module, and running this simple macro can also make the rows and columns equidimensional:
    Sub MakeaSquar()
    Dim WPChar As Double
    Dim DInch As Double
    Dim Temp As String

    Temp = InputBox("Height and width in inches?")
    DInch = Val(Temp)
    If DInch > 0 And DInch < 2.5 Then
    For Each c In ActiveWindow.RangeSelection.Columns
    WPChar = c.Width / c.ColumnWidth
    c.ColumnWidth = ((DInch * 72) / WPChar)
    Next c
    For Each R In ActiveWindow.RangeSelection.Rows
    R.RowHeight = (DInch * 72)
    Next R
    End If
    End Sub

    This kind of thing would be a fun project to figure out how to do entirely from vba!

    It's nice to see people finding unusual and creative ways to use the brilliance of the grid..... I think excel is fantastic for turning nuances and "limitations" into (often beautifully artistic—I have quite a library of artistic work I've derived from playing with excel- by and by as practical I will organize and host it online- profile picture being an example of) creative advantages, typical of adapting tools beyond their "intended" purpose. Like the repurposing of the tb-303 bass synthesizer spawning a broad family of musical style, acid house etc.… ☺ I love it!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...