Greetings to our amazing community, and welcome to the seventh 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. She creates battle maps to help you bring your worlds to life, tell your stories with friends, and create amazing memories of all your adventures. And she does them well, with various versions of the map for your every need. We are happy to present our interview with Angela Maps 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?
Angela: Hi, I'm Angela. I run Angela Maps, a creative name, I know!
I make battle maps for TTRPGs, sometimes static and sometimes animated, every week for my Patreon. I also put out a free one every week. And I set them up in Foundry VTT modules and for Fantasy Grounds as well.
What’s one random fact about you?
Angela: Hum. Random. Well, I can tap dance, I guess that's pretty random!
How did you get started creating TTRPG content?
Angela: A friend of mine, the one who got me started playing TTRPGs in the first place mentioned to me that I might like making maps. I didn't do it right away, but it sat in the back of my head for a few months. Eventually, I just tried making one... And loved it. And I am still doing it!
And how did the map creation become professional?
Angela: Well, before I made maps, I did iOS apps. Specifically, I made apps for use in special education classrooms. That did okay for several years, but as time went on, it became harder and harder for a small company to compete with the giant ones on the app store. So I just sort of phased from one thing to the other...
As my apps made less money, my maps started to make more to fill the gap, and until now most of my income is from maps. I still get a few app residuals.
How did you end up getting into creating content for Foundry VTT?
Angela: I actually did Fantasy Grounds first, as that is what my first DM used.
About six months into my map-making, some patrons asked about Foundry VTT, and I thought I would check it out! Now our group uses Foundry VTT.
You started Spooky Action Games, a TTRPG company in Finland, in 2021. How much success has the company achieved in these 2 years? From this point of view, are you satisfied with everything you did?
Angela: Well, I am happy with the fact that I get to spend my day making maps! I love making maps.
But there is a lot more I want to do too, like write the adventure that's banging around in my head, as an example. And put more time into the (not TTRPG) game I am working on with friends. But there are only so many hours in a day!
What kind of adventure it is? Or is it shrouded in mystery?😊
Angela: It's D&D, and takes place in Waterdeep sometime after the Dragon Heist!
Do you ever have difficulties preparing content for your games after spending your day making RPG content? We know it can be hard to do something that's kind of work-adjacent like that.
Angela: Well, I know it's gonna sound weird since I make maps... But I actually don't DM. I am in two games a week as a player, and sometimes make content for those if asked, but I am just a player. I know my turn to run it is coming up, but we have some long-running campaigns that need to see their ends first!
Where does the inspiration come from in the work you do? Or perhaps, your “muse”?
Angela: Oh, lots of different things.
Sometimes it will be that we have a battle somewhere in one of our games, and I will think 'That map wasn't quite right, I bet I could make one', or sometimes it comes from other games I play... Like Ardenweald in WoW... I loved that place and several maps were inspired by it. Sometimes a friend or DM will suggest something. Sometimes I get a random idea and I have no idea where it comes from.
Usually, I go into a map having an idea of what it will be like in the end... But sometimes I even just start with no clue what I am making or how it will end! Every map is different!
What are your goals moving forward with your content?
Angela: That is a good question!
To be honest, sometimes it feels hard to think more than a week or two ahead when I am trying to keep up with a weekly content release. But I hope to refine my maps and keep improving my skills, and be able to make things that are useful to DMs. And try to keep having fun while I do it, of course!
When designing battle maps, what factors do you consider to ensure the map enhances the gaming experience, and what are some major issues you’ve experienced with?
Angela: Well, one thing I was talking about with a friend just the other day is that most of my maps have some sort of animation. And, of course, the only way anyone knows about any of this is through social media. But the kind of BOOM! WOW! BANG! effects that might catch someone's eye while on a phone scrolling social media would be pure hell to have looping on your screen for 45 minutes while you did a battle. So while I want things to be animated a little and feel magical or alive, I don't want them to be distracting or annoying.
For mapping in general, I try to keep in mind the sort of situation the map is for, so I can do my best with it. Is part of the hard part of this battle a lack of space, and it should be mostly unusable squares? Would the GM want something for bad guys to hide behind on this sort of map? Or is this a giant space and I just need to give them lots and lots of room to maneuver?
You know, try to think of different ways people might want to use it. This is also why doing variants on a map can be fun. You can make the same thing playable in totally different ways without redoing the whole map.
I don't know that I have experienced any major issues!
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?
Angela: Certainly having patrons has helped to keep me going. I have been doing this for almost three years now, and the fact that a lot of my income has been able to slowly shift over time to map making makes it easier for me to put more time into it than if I was trying to do 40 hours a week on something else, and put out all my content. If that was the case, I think I would have burned out.
I see it with a lot of new creators. They make beautiful stuff, but they burn out after a year of trying to do a full-time job and a Patreon.
My patrons are the ones that got me started on Foundry VTT. They are also the ones who first suggested animating. They told me .mp4 sucked and .webm rocked. And occasionally, I even get a map idea from them!
I am mostly grateful that people choose to spend some of their hard-earned money to help me be able to spend my time doing something I love.
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?
Angela: Nothing outside of the normal weekly map packs is currently in the works, unfortunately. But I am always keeping an eye out for cool new ideas to explore!
Are there any specific genres or settings within the TTRPG industry that you particularly enjoy creating battle maps for? How do you adapt your style to fit different themes?
Angela: Oh... I LOVE anything Underdark or Feywild. If I can make it glow or sparkle, it's totally my thing! Honestly, I could just do these every week, but I use a little restraint and make myself do less sparkly settings too, haha...😁
But even when I do something totally not in that style... I will still sometimes do a 'Fey variant' because I can't help myself!
In an industry that's always evolving, what do you do to stay up-to-date with the latest trends, technologies, and player preferences when it comes to battle map design?
Angela: I try to pay attention on social media to what other people are doing, or talking about. Being social is not my strong suit, but I try! Also, all my friends are into TTRPGs, so sometimes they will see something or read something and always pass it along to me.
Do you work with other creators in the RPG space? If so, how does that collaboration look?
Angela: I work alone. But I do have a couple of Discords with other creators. A small one I am very active in, and a large one I mostly lurk in.
It's nice to have people with similar experiences to talk to and bounce things off of.
Can you share some examples of memorable or unique battle maps you've made, let's say your favorites?
Angela: I have a few that I like more than others, I guess.
I made one called 'Cavern of Life' back in 2020, and I remember it fondly because it was the first map that really started to look like my maps do now... Kinda of Fey, with lots of water, playing with some light. I could do it a lot better if I was to make it now I think, but I remember being really happy with it at the time.
I like almost all my Underdark maps. I just did one last week called 'Mushroom Crossing' which may be my favorite to date.
I think as a map 'set' my favorite is probably my 'Endless Wizard Tower' because it has a lot of floors... 40 something, I think. And I tried to make them all look enough alike that you could mix and match and do any order, but still all different and crazy. I want to do another big project like that soon!
And what's your least favorite piece of content you've created? (If it exists).😊
Angela: I try not to release things I don't like, but there were some early maps (I have a not-great auction house I made as a patron-only map in December of 2020 in mind) that I definitely rushed on to get done before I had any sort of schedule or rhythm. Fortunately, that monstrosity is buried in the archives and not on my website, haha.😁
You also created HERO KIDS, TTRPG adventures for children. Are there any unique challenges that arise when it comes to such ventures?
Angela: Ah, yes!
I dipped my toe into that when I first got into creating. I would like to revisit that and do some more when I ever find the time.
At the time I was playing Hero Kids with my daughters. They are 7 and 9 now but would have been more like 4 and 6 when we started and I wanted some new adventures. Having kids that were the target for the game helped a lot.
Would highly recommend Hero Kids (the base adventures are great, you don't have to buy mine!) for people with little kids who might wanna get into TTRPGs. Very easy, just a D6, and very child-friendly adventures.
The spicy question- what is your favorite VTT to run on? What kind of improvements do you want to see in it?
Angela: Haha.😄 Well, I hope my FGU and R20 patrons won't kill me... because we are all one big TTRPG family...
But from both the perspective, of setting up maps and as a player, Foundry VTT is my favorite!
Improvements! Oh, that's hard. I am quite happy with it. If I really had to come up with something, I guess a circle and square wall tool without needing a mod for it.
What is your opinion on AI, especially in the TTRPG space?
Angela: That's a tricky one, isn't it?
I certainly don't want to be replaced by an AI. And I totally get that some people feel like a machine that might have trained on their work is stealing from them. But... realistically speaking, technology doesn't go backward no matter how much people are upset or vocal. It's here and I think it will only become more and more present in our lives and our games. And denying that fact won't change it.
I am optimistic that while a trained AI can do a pretty good job of recognizing a forest and a road, it can't actually think or be creative so we won't all be out of a job. Someone has to make the crazy stuff!😊
Are there any specific ethical considerations you think TTRPG creators should keep in mind when using AI or incorporating AI-generated content into their games? How do you navigate those ethical dilemmas?
Angela: There are certainly a lot of shades of grey with it.
The other day on socials I heard Johnny Cash singing Barbie Girl. It's pretty easy in that case to say... "Yeah, ok... That belongs to Johnny and Aqua". (It was Aqua that did Barbie girl, wasn't it?) So, if they release that on an album, people could easily point to it and say... "Oh, no... You didn't make that... These 2 creators did".
Where it gets hard is... Let's say, I ask it to generate a dark-skinned elf with ginger hair and blue eyes. It's gonna generate that based on thousands and thousands of photos and pieces of art it has scanned. In that case, it is a lot harder to say how ethical it is because it's not directly ripping anyone off.
I guess we all have to make our own choices. When people are creating content with basically no budget and generating some art that is such an amalgamation, it isn't really anyone's and it becomes its own thing... I don't think they are thieves or any other bad thing. I think they are doing their best. But it's easy to see the slippery slope that can lead down.
I don't think human creativity is replaceable. I hope I am right, but I imagine in the next 5 years we will see!
I know right now you can't sell stand-alone AI work on Roll 20 or DMsGuild. But you can supplement with it... An adventure can have an AI-generated photo of a character. But I feel like, a lot of that is the honor system. If AI writes something or paints something good enough, you can't tell the difference.
And while most people might respect the honor system, there will always be people who don't. I don't know what those sites plan to do then!
Do you have anything you want to say to the greater TTRPG/VTT community?
Angela: Thank you for letting me be a part of your community!
And remember to be kind to each other and the creators. If someone makes something you don't like, you can just scroll by without leaving that mean comment or critique. If someone is clearly just starting and learning, be supportive. Find something nice to say or keep scrolling.
The world has enough negativity, we don't need it in our community too!
What advice would you give to aspiring battle map creators looking to break into the TTRPG industry? Are there skills, experiences, or resources you believe are essential for success in this field?
Angela: First of all, stick with it. It takes time to build a library of content, to get your name out there, and to just find yourself as an artist. But also, making pretty content, sadly, usually isn't enough to do this as more than a hobby.
I would encourage people who want to make this their business to really take the time to try to understand the business side of things. Learn social media. Learn about search engine optimization. Learn how to do business taxes! You have to wear all the hats.
Thank you Angela for your time and willingness, this was a really interesting conversation!
Angela: Awesome, thank you for including me and chatting with me!