Apr 8, 2024

Stars of the VTT Galaxy #14: The Dungeon Archive

15 min read - Published: a month ago

Greetings to our amazing community, and welcome to the fourteenth edition of our Stars of the VTT Galaxy interview series. In this series, we illuminate the already bright stars that make up our community of Bazaar Creators.

And once again, we've rolled a natural 20 on our interviewee check. They create bright and beautiful maps, animated tokens, and more for TTRPGs. Each package comes with variants for your GMing needs, and is Foundry-ready. We are thrilled to present an interview with Vaank, the mastermind behind The Dungeon Archive below.

Our sky consists of many stars. Each of them illuminating our planet. As you can guess, the stars are you. Yes, it's you, the great content creators who, in your own unique way, shine on our worlds. Thank you for being part of our heavenly sky and weaving the fabric of our Community.
Let's meet today's star.

Introduce yourself, for those who don’t know what you do, what would you describe yourself as doing for a living?

Vaank: I’m Vaank, the main creator of The Dungeon Archive, but I’m very lucky to also have Daenis on board. She has been a vital part of the project since the beginning, and is responsible for our beautiful art.

We create content for TTRPGs, mainly battlemaps, but we also create one-page adventures, Modular Maps, animated tokens, animated maps, phased maps, and other stuff we think is cool and useful to the community.

What’s one random fact about you?

Vaank: I love learning random and cool facts about basically anything. That's a good thing for our project, since much of our content is based on real-world facts I find interesting. But on the other hand, I have awful memory, so I always tend to forget the stuff I learn. I guess that's OK since I can learn them again in the future.🤣

How did you get started creating TTRPG content?

Vaank: I started studying architecture a long time ago, but then I switched to the video game industry and became a 2D animator, among other things.

Two years ago, I was playing a D&D campaign with some friends, and one of them shared Dungeondraft with the group. After two days of feeling a creative burst inside me that wanted to get out, I bought it and started playing with it. It opened a new world for me and changed my life. I could merge many of my passions like architecture, game development, art, animation, and more into a beautiful project and give something useful to the community.

From that very moment, I knew I had to do it. After a few months of experimentation, we launched the project and here we are now, doing an interview with the people of The Forge!

How has your style and approach to creating TTRPG content evolved?

Vaank: Not much, to be honest. We create what we think is useful and things we would like to play ourselves. Even though The Dungeon Archive keeps steadily growing month after month, our main objective hasn't changed. We strive to keep adding more and better content to every single release. So as we grow, our releases do too.

We started doing only battlemaps, but we also do animated tokens now. We also recently started doing some scene illustrations for more immersion. All of this at no extra charge, of course. And we will keep adding more and more stuff as our budget grows.

Where does the inspiration come from in the work you do? Or perhaps, your “muse”?

Vaank: From many places. I have an immense list of ideas I would love to make. Most of it comes from things I find cool or interesting about the real world, like history, astronomy, science, geography, traditions, etc. Maybe it's just the way a bird looks, or maybe it's the way people dealt with a specific matter in medieval times that seems trivial to us today, like toilets. Then we create a map around that.

Usually after working a bit on it, it doesn't look at all how I initially thought it would. But yeah, every map or character is usually based on a simple thing.

You create bright, abstract, beautiful maps for TTRPGs. What does your creative process look like? How do you start, and what steps do you take to bring a map from concept to completion?


  • First, research, a lot of research. Especially if it's a complex theme with a lot of details, like how a windmill works, the anatomy of a whale, or how eclipses or tides work. These concepts may seem simple, but once you start diving into them the details are infinite. When I think I know enough about it, I try to come up with a map idea. Then I realize I don't know enough, and go back and forth into research mode.
  • In that process, I write down a list of assets and art that we need so Daenis can work on it.
  • When the assets are ready, I usually come up with a basic layout of the map first, if I don't have it already. Most of the time I try to make it very focused on gameplay, taking the little I know about level design into account, in order to design not only a playable map, but a fun map with lots of possibilities, places to hide, zones to explore, combat mechanics to use, etc.
  • Meanwhile, Daenis is working on a character illustration, token, or scene illustration that will be added to that same release. Like The Boss character and The Boss Office map.
  • When the layout is perfect, and after testing it a bit, I go into the details. One of the most time-consuming stages.
  • Then it goes into Photoshop for post-processing, adding effects, shadows, lights, particles, color correction, etc., which can take up to 50% of the total time.
  • Then we make some variations in Photoshop or go back to Dungeondraft, if necessary.
  • When everything is finished, we can share it with the community for them to enjoy. And after it seems we are done, we still have to give it some support on social media and marketplaces, a slow process that will last for weeks or months.

You love to create innovative maps like "Modular Maps", "Phased Maps", or "Very Long Maps". But how hard is it to design such a map? What are some unique challenges you’re facing when designing those maps?

Vaank: Oh boy, Modular Maps are a headache, but I love them! They are so versatile that they are really worth the hassle.

For those who don't know, Modular Maps are tile sets that allow you to create your own maps in a few minutes or improvise them as the party explores, which makes them incredibly useful, but also hard to make for creators.

Modular Maps

Our Modular Maps Collection is one of the things I am the most proud of, and has become one of the main banners of The Dungeon Archive. The problem with Modular Maps is that they have to be... well... modular! And it's hard to achieve that because they have to match with the rest of the tiles, no matter the rotation or position.

Modular Dungeon

I'm very proud to say that all our Modular Maps can be 100% seamlessly tiled to the pixel. That means that when placing a tile next to another, you won't be able to see the connection. They also have to be as generic as possible but with not too little detail so they are boring. And to add an extra layer of difficulty, making them ready-to-play for Foundry VTT is extremely time-consuming as you have to configure every single tile wall and light. But again, worth it!

Our Very Long Map Collection is basically a Modular Map but only tileable in a straight line, like a Very Long River or Very Long Forest Path, but the same applies to them.

Very Long Forest Path

And about Phased Maps - we don't really have many of them, and many creators do a better job than us. So I don't feel like I'm in the position of defending them. But they are harder to make because you need to edit the map multiple times, of course.

Creating battlemaps involves a blend of creativity and functionality. How do you approach this balance in your designs? What factors do you consider to ensure the map enhances the gaming experience?

Vaank: I love art and technique and the blend between them. I've always worked in things that are both artistic and technical at the same level. Like 2D digital animation, architecture, or technical artists. So I guess I'm pretty used to seeing the things in the middle and finding balance in the details.

Also, being a gamer and playing TTRPGs helps. Most of the time, I find myself asking: "What would I do here? What would be cool to have here? If I were a Rogue, how would I enter that house? If I were a Barbarian, what would I do with that tree?". Basically, it's just trial and error. You design something, try it out, and change what doesn't work. But we play with an advantage, which is what I find beautiful about TTRPGs. Every game is different and multiple players see the map with different eyes.

Understanding, that is key, because we as map creators have to find the balance between having interesting details that open opportunities for players and DMs, but not to be too specific that the map doesn't fit your campaign.

And what about adventures?

Vaank: It's different for adventures. You can be as specific as you want because you are also writing the story. We don't really have big adventure campaigns or anything similar, but some one-page encounters/adventures that may fit any campaign. Think of it as more of a one-shot or add-on to your session. I don't consider myself a designer, but I try to bring cool (and system-agnostic) ideas and tools to your table.

Are there any specific genres or settings within the TTRPG industry that you particularly enjoy creating battlemaps for? How do you adapt your style to fit different themes?

Vaank: As of today, we only create content for the fantasy genre typical of DnD and PF2e, but I'm also a big fan of space exploration games so, in the future and as our budget allows, we would absolutely love to expand into the universe of space exploration and make futuristic themes as well. I think it's just a matter of taste. I've always loved colorful, stylized art, so that's what we did for our project.

How has the support of your patrons impacted your ability to create and expand your TTRPG content? How did the feedback influence your approach to future projects?

Vaank: Our supporters are everything to us. Whether they are patrons or people who support us by purchasing our content in marketplaces such as The Bazaar. Every day we are grateful for their support, and we strive to pay them back.

We started a year and a half ago, and have released a pack of content every single week since then. It has been a very, very intense journey, but thanks to their support, one year after we started, I could jump into The Dungeon Archive full-time and focus all my strength on it. As the project grows I can count on more people to help me with different stuff and improve both the quality and the quantity of releases, while I focus on other specialized tasks that need to be done in addition to making maps. We also now have someone who helps us with social media, which is a great relief. Definitely, knowing what your community wants helps. Feedback is always positive and we always ask for it in most of our releases, especially if it is something new or innovative.

I'm very lucky to say I've never, ever, not a single time, had a bad interaction with anyone in the community or on social media. Thanks again to all the people who support us. They changed my life and I'll be forever grateful. I'll keep working hard to bring more and better stuff to your tables.

What are your goals and aspirations for your Patreon page? Are there any exciting plans or upcoming projects you'd like to share with your patrons?

Vaank: We have many, many ideas. We would love to make bigger campaigns, but even though we reinvest most of what we earn back into the project, they are expensive and hard to make. But there is plenty of stuff we are making!

We are currently doing a complete rework of the entire project but can't say anything yet. It's something we've been planning for months and that will explain a lot of things.

Can you share some examples of memorable or unique battlemaps or pieces of content, in general, you've made, let's say your favorites?

Vaank: Oof, hard to say. I have many and for different reasons.

I love our very first map, the Wet Foot Inn. It was the first piece of lore I wrote about our world. It's a simple inn but the basement is connected to a system of underground aqueducts that The Squid uses for faster and cheaper cargo transport.

Wet Foot Inn

This idea led to more maps, like The Squid headquarters and The Boss Office map, where finally appeared Cori Tightfist, the boss I wrote about more than a year ago.

Boss's Office

I'm also especially proud of the Flying Whale Animated map. Full of info and lore, that will also lead to more maps in the future. And it was our first collaboration with a musician, so the release was pretty complete.

Flying Whale - Animated Map

The Teahouse and Wiggly Wig (the tea house owner), with the character illustration and animated token is also one of my favorites. It was based on an idea of one of our first patrons! And the Tea house is also the map that my players use in our campaign for the business they created.

And what's your least favorite piece of content you've created? (If it exists).😊

Vaank: The only one is The Silent Walker map. It was supposed to be a giant stone quadruped that slowly walked the planet, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. The idea was that combat could happen on top of it. But the execution of the map ended up being bland, ugly, and not interesting at all.

As we did with many other old maps, we will remake them from scratch to fit our current quality standards. But this has yet to be done.

You mentioned above the collaboration with the musician. Do you otherwise work with other creators in the RPG space? If so, how does that collaboration look?

Vaank: I can't draw nor can I compose, so I need other people to help me with some stuff. We love working with other people. So whenever we can, we try to pay some external artist to make something cool for us, like Bione the Necromancer and her undead farmer minions from the Graveyard Farm illustrations and tokens that we animated.

We've also had other kinds of collaborations like with theripper93, you also interviewed him. His content is amazing! He saw our Modular Maps on Reddit and asked us if we would like a Procedural Generator for it, so of course, we accepted. He also likes to do cool stuff just for fun, so he had a prototype of a procedural generator that he quickly adapted to our Modular Maps in Foundry. I don't think we (basically he did all the hard work) will be giving the generator much support, but hey, all our Modular Maps can be randomly generated in seconds with his tool in Foundry VTT.

Can you tell us a bit about your commercial creator license? Have you faced any problems with people using this license?

Vaank: Can't say much about it, really. We released it a few weeks ago because people were asking to use our content. It's a pretty open license, we just wanted to have a place to refer to them when asked about it. We love that people use our content to create other cool content. It's the basic principle of the rework I was telling you about earlier that I can't say much about yet. We haven't faced any problems so far. We have the best community ever.❤️

Do you have the opportunity/time to play games by yourself? If so, what game systems do you play? What VTT do you use?

Vaank: I do have some time! And I think it's absolutely necessary, and a vital part of my job. I'm currently the GM in Abomination Vaults for PF2E (my favorite system), and we use Foundry VTT, of course! We have all kinds of secondary endeavors going on around. For most of them, we use our own maps. Out of TTRPGs, I still play League of Legends from time to time, and I'm currently playing Star Citizen, which is only helping the desire to build a space exploration project.

The spicy question- what is your favorite VTT to run on? What kind of improvements do you want to see in it?

Vaank: Foundry VTT, without a doubt. I love it and I can't recommend it enough.

For improvements, I would love to see some native features that require external modules implemented. Like the possibility of making "prefabs", objects that contain other objects within them. This way, I would be able to make Modular Map Tiles easier. Just drag and drop into the scene and you get the tile with walls and lights attached to it. That would be awesome! And also the ability to make levels, both, for phased maps and multi-level maps.

What is your opinion on AI, especially in the TTRPG space?

Vaank: Well, I think AI is a great tool and it can't be stopped. It may form a vital part of our lives and work in a few years.

First, we don't use it and I don't think we will ever. I don't support it, and I don't think creators or anyone should use it for commercial purposes.

The concerns I have with generative AI "art" are mainly in terms of copyright. But I'm not anyone to tell anyone what to do. I'll let the experts talk about it, but until it's regulated I wouldn't start a business around it.

On the other hand, I don't fear for my job. AI art is constantly getting better, but as of today, the images it generates are ugly and with zero consistency. It's ok for random images, but if you stop for three seconds instead of two, and look at an AI image or video, you'll notice lots of mistakes. And I can't even imagine creating a consistent series of products with the same details, themes, and art styles.

Drawing tablets and cameras were created and we are still painting today. People will keep drawing. And I'm here to do it myself because I love it, so I'll keep doing it.

Do you have anything you want to say to the greater TTRPG/VTT community?

Vaank: I've never said that in public, but I'm very happy that I have found such a great community, so full of love, so supportive and caring. We, the community, create the TTRPG world, and won't hesitate to fight whoever needs to be fought to protect what is ours. I'm grateful to be part of such an amazing community. Keep dreaming. Keep playing. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Oh, and thank you to all the people behind the VTTs for allowing me and many other people to keep creating memories with our loved ones even though we may be miles away.

What advice do you have for creators wanting to get into the VTT space? What advice would you offer them?

Vaank: Enjoy the process. Go step by step and don't rush things. Have patience and create whatever you love. What worked for others doesn't necessarily have to work for you. Don't push yourself too much. It's not worth it. Enjoy life, find your space, and take it slow.

Looking ahead, what are your plans for the future as an RPG creator?

Vaank: We would love to keep steadily growing to create more and better stuff. We have a lot of plans for the future we would love to share with the community. Get some people on board to help us create cool stuff.

But most importantly, we would love to keep being part of this community and enjoy playing RPGs as much as we do now.

Thank you Vaank for your time and willingness, this was a really interesting conversation!

Vaank: Thank you all for the opportunity.❤️ You guys are the best!

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