Today's interview is with Joe Wetzel, the driving force behind Inkwell Ideas. II is primarily known for its mapping software -- Worldographer is the current iteration that combines world, city, and dungeon mapping capabilities -- but they also produce a large array of gaming aids.
Question: First, talk a bit about what spurred you to create the mapping software in the first place. When I was first dabbling in mapmaking I experimented with a number of different programs, and Hexographer (the program at the time) was the easiest to use and conveyed the old school I was looking for. I'm wondering what inspired you to do the heavy lifting to create the programs.
Answer: I loved the style of the Mystara maps and wanted a tool to make them quickly & easily. A quick internet search didn't turn up any at the time in 2008--though I since learned there was something called AKS Hexmapper written around 2000. In 2008 I was working for a defense contractor on a tool to let soldiers mark on a map where they patrolled and what they found. So when I had a brainstorm for how I wanted to do the data model behind Hexographer (and now Worldographer), there was a lot of synergy with what I was doing for my day job.
Once I had the idea in mind, I wanted to make the bare-bones version of just generating a plausible world or region map and let you tweak the terrain of each hex. So there was sort of never any real "heavy lifting"--within a day I had that working. Then it was just a matter of taking a day or evening to add each feature to the program (place icons like cities, castles, etc., draw lines & shapes for roads & oceans, and many other features.)
Q: Worldographer is a pretty brilliant piece of software that combines all three of your programs to allow one to make worlds, cities, and dungeons. I especially like how you can start with the continent-sized maps and then drill down to successively smaller child maps. For those readers not familiar with it -- and those who have just dabbled -- can you talk a bit about your favorite aspects of the program that may not be super obvious? What is it *really good* at doing?
A: I think it is really good at generating a map you can use as a starting point, then it is fully editable so you can tweak it as much as desired. The settings you can pick when creating a map help you get something close to what you want and you can also always generate a couple more until you find something close. Plus, hopefully by specializing in making certain types of maps, it is easy to use. And now with everything (world/region maps, city/village maps, battlemats, & sector/star maps) in one tool, the same "give you some interesting stuff to get started" applies to every map type. For example, when making a battlemat you can tell it to make you a sample inn or blacksmith or house or a few other things.
Another less known feature is that it generates a lot of details about the maps--particularly world and region maps. It will generate a number of cultures, religions, and nations based on settings you can configure. And then those are fully editable by selecting "World Info" on the Data tab. When you add many icons to the map (like a city, castle, ruins, etc.) it generates notes about that. Just a handful of bullets, but it gives you something to get started. To use this, select the icon on the map via the Features drawer's Select button and the click the "Notes of Selected" button also on that drawer--if the icon doesn't yet have a note, it creates one. Thereafter, the note can also be selected via the Add/Edit/View note button on the bottom of the map. Recently, we added something like this for hex crawls. You can right-click on a map and pick the "Generate Random Hex Crawl Details" then pick major, medium, or minor and it will randomly create a note of something interesting there. If applicable it also adds a map icon for it (like a city, ruins, tower, etc.) Of course, you can ignore all this if you just want a map editor.
Q: Tell us about your other non-mapping products. I know you have a bunch of free programs on the site (including a coat of arms generator!) and you also produce dice, card decks, and more.
A: Yeah, the Coat of Arms program hasn't been updated in a while (so busy with everything else) and there are a couple out there that I consider better than ours until I completely revise it.
But as you say we do have a ton of other things. The first non-digital thing was our DungeonMorph Dice (mini-dungeon designs on dice using a format created by Dyson Logos--he is still involved with them) which we Kickstarted for the first time way back in 2011. We've done a few more sets--the most recent three sets (Crypts, Lairs, & Sewers) were our most recent Kickstarter. And we added a card deck for every three sets of dice we've made (each Kickstarter has been three new dice sets.) Our prior Kickstarter added a book of encounter ideas & 10" battlemat tiles of the designs. The most recent Kickstarter from earlier this year has all of these (three dice sets, card deck, tiles, & book) but the book's focus has changed a bit to give you six descriptive ideas for a couple areas of each design. Writer Andrew Shields is doing amazing work on it--he describes it as sort of six system neutral mega-dungeons. People can still make a late pledge here: https://dungeonmorphs4.backerkit.com
Our most successful Kickstarter was the prior one for system neutral Sidequest Decks. These also started about 10 years ago and now we've made 15 of them for various genres & settings. Each card in each deck has an adventure outline on one side with GM background info, a couple story hooks, several encounter possibilities, and a follow-up idea or two; the other side is the main map area for the sidequest--grab other maps from the other cards as needed. We've also made system neutral NPC cards with a portrait on one side and the NPC's personality & background on the other side. And we've made monster cards for various game systems: Fate, Dungeon World, 0e/1e D&D, Pathfinder, and 5th edition D&D. Most of all of these are in our store, DriveThruRPG, and/or Amazon.
Q: Finally, what new projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
A: We're always adding stuff to Worldographer. Last month was a Traveller inspired sector generator. But we also plan to make more NPC decks when the DungeonMorph Kickstarter wraps up as well as more 5e Creature Decks based on Kobold Press's monsters. And there is likely to be some more/new digital tools as well.