But What Do They Do?
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But What Do They Do?
by Michael G. Ryan

Todd Gamble knows exactly how to get there from here. He even knows how to get out of hell -- and he’s got the map to prove it. In fact, he made the map. That's what he does for a living.

"I came upon this position by chance," he admits. "My brother was the fire inspector signing off inspections for the Wizards' University Game Center restaurant, and he was in direct contact with [Game Center cofounder] Steve Conard. When he told Steve that I was a talented artist, Steve asked to meet me and see my work."

In no time, Todd went from delivering French bread to exercising his creativity by making maps for Wizards. Though the cartography department at Wizards was short staffed at the time, the company was not ready to hire someone new yet, so he worked as a temp for nearly a year and generated freelance maps whenever the work came his way.

The Road From Hell

"My first mapping job was A Paladin in Hell," he recalls. "I remember I did this map in watercolors and that proved to be a difficult medium to create maps with, especially if there were any changes to be made. Fortunately, the maps passed the first round of approvals. I look back at that, and I realize how much I've learned in the past four or so years working for the company."

By the time Todd officially joined the Wizards team in 1997, he'd acquired a great deal of know-how in mapmaking from fellow cartographer Rob Lazzaretti. Once he was a member of the cartography department, Todd's first job was to put tags (text) onto maps that had been done by another cartographer, Dennis Kauth.

"I came to Wizards all dressed up; I think I even had a tie on. But I quickly realized that this was no ordinary corporate environment, because some people dressed up almost in costume while others strode about barefoot." --Todd

"Rob Lazzaretti [cartography studio lead] did a great job of teaching me all the technical stuff and software before throwing an entire project my way," Todd points out. "When I was ready, I was assigned maps and diagrams for the Diablo II project. Then Rob gave me the challenge of creating the new look for D&D's 3rd Edition maps."

Making Maps

Making maps requires more time and effort than the average DM might think. "Rob usually has a kick-off meeting just so everyone understands what needs to get done and how, generally, the maps should look," Todd explains. "That's when I'll get rough sketches of the dimensions of, let's say, a wizard's tower and all the levels of the tower, as well as text for the adventure to give the cartographers a feel for the environment and any necessary details."

Todd begins with any maps that appear more challenging or difficult than others, first scanning the sketches to use as reference in the background. "Then I build over these sketches with various textures that I've created," he says.

Most of his work in creating maps is done in Adobe Photoshop; occasionally, he'll use Adobe Illustrator. "I use a combination of tools and filters in my own way to create some of the effects I get in Photoshop," he explains. "There are a lot of little tweaks and certain filters over other filters, and so on. I do most of my work in RGB [color format] because I have more filter choices."

To supplement his income, Todd used to run a side business custom-building model railroads and scenery. "Most of my clients were very well-to-do," he notes, "and this allowed me to work with really fine materials and learn from this."

Once the work is complete, Todd converts them over to the CMYK color format used by printers, and then adds text to the maps (cartographers call those blocks of text "tags"). "I usually use a specific font for different products, to be consistent. Sometimes I can be creative with the fonts, but I never use more than three types on a single map as a rule of thumb. I then sandwich the tags that are done in Illustrator with my Photoshop files into Quark [a layout program], and then print out a nice quality color print for the editors and writers to review and make changes, if they have any."

Provided that everything has gone well, his files are then ready to go to typesetting to be placed into the layout for the printed product. And the workload is, according to Todd, pretty well balanced. "I usually work on about three projects at a time, but sometimes, with rush jobs, I can work on many more," he says. "All of the cartographers are always busy doing something cool."

Any Favorites?

One of these more challenging and exciting projects are the "Map-a-Week" entries for the D&D website. "We create very unique maps where anyone can download them from the Web for free," he explains. "I strictly work in the D&D worlds but can work with Forgotten Realms if we get too busy."

Some of these "Map-a-Week" pieces rank as what Todd considers his finer work, though he has a preference for his maps in Manual of the Planes. "I really had a lot of fun creating those maps and illos," he admits. He also points out that the recognition he receives from Rob Lazzaretti and the other people he works with on various projects keeps him going strong.

Fans who want to see more of Todd's work can find examples of it in just about any D&D product, Chainmail rulebooks and the online "Map-a-Week" entries. He also helps create online 3-D cardstock foldup buildings for miniatures gaming. Anyone can download them free from the Chainmail website, print them out (complete with instructions), and build them. "I did the artwork for the buildings, while Dennis Kauth engineered the shapes of the buildings; Rob Lazzaretti spearheaded and directed the projects," Todd says. "This portion of the website has been used quite a bit, and we are hearing that it is very popular."

Todd feels that being part of a group of talented artists and designers at Wizards has improved his design sense and technical skills. "I'd like to thank Rob Lazzaretti, Sam Wood, Dennis Kauth, Todd Lockwood, Matt Wilson, Mike McVey, and Chas DeLong for sharing their thoughts and constructive criticism, which in turn helped me to become the cartographer and artist that I am today."

Maps Can Save Lives -- and Not Just Your Character’s!

It should come as no surprise that this mapmaker who worked for his father's advertising business in northern California (and from whom he learned more "than I ever did in college") sees gold -- and mines -- in them thar hills. In addition to his mapping skills, Todd has a passion for mining.

"I love subterranean channels and mining cart tracks and anything to do with mining," he says. "I grew up near a huge old gold and copper mine in the mountains of Ingot, California. I would ride my bicycle to these mines with photocopies of all the shafts and tunnels. I was able to get a set of plans of the operation from an engineering firm my dad worked for at the time. These maps may have saved my life one time when a tunnel filled with about six inches of water hid a vertical shaft from sight, but I knew it was there from my map. I would always poke the water and ground with a walking stick just in case. A person can fall hundreds of feet into a dark vertical shaft."

So, D&D players, take note: The next time someone suggests that poking the ground ahead with a walking stick is a good idea, it probably is -- especially if that someone happens to be the man who made the map of your dungeon in the first place.

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