A fast and easy tool for making old-school hex maps
Hex map authors have always enjoyed their ability to quickly create vast tracts of land simply by applying a terrain icon to a blank hex. Hexmapper lets you do this electronically, and for speed and ease-of-use, this free software is a great tool for busy game masters.
What It Does
Hexmapper is a tile-based mapping package for Windows, meaning that it gives you a blank, user-defined grid of horizontally arranged hexes and a set of hex tiles that represent different terrain types. All you have to do is place the tiles on the grid and—presto!—instant hex map. The package comes with a handful of hex tiles reminiscent of those used in TSR's Known World Gazetteer series of old, and it supports an auto-fill option that lets you apply a terrain type across a broad area with a single click (or you can click and drag across blank hexes to place the currently selected terrain). Tiles are 24-bit BMP files, so with a little work and creativity in your favourite image editor, you can expand the hex catalogue with additional terrain tiles.
You can also toggle into a freehand drawing mode, which is useful for creating roads and rivers of varying thickness; you can also use this mode to draw coastlines. It's possible to create borders with the drawing tool, though it takes a steady hand, since there's no "snap to" command that aligns with hex edges or vertices—in my experience, this is a task best left for post-production in an image editor. Similarly, there's a text mode, which you can use to add labels using any font on your system, but I prefer to use a dedicated graphics package that allows me to apply text effects.
One very helpful feature is the ability to import an existing bitmap and apply a hex grid, which allows you to "trace" over an existing map with your hex tiles (the map of Trid, above, was done this way, via a raster image exported from another cartography package). The benefit is that converting other campaign cartography to hex maps may be easier than you thought.
What it Doesn't
Hexmapper's easy interface and rapid map creation come at the price of a few desired features. First, there's no Undo or Erase command: once you place a tile or draw a line, it's there until you write over it. This means that fixing errors is tantamount to using a new terrain tile to cover the mistake. You'll also find that you can't apply hex numbers; for these two reasons, certain edits should be done in post-production, which obviously requires more time and effort.
Hexmapper is also limited to opening one terrain tile at a time. If you have tile sets with different styles, you'll have to either combine them into a single catalogue or create multiple configuration files and swap them out each time you run Hexmapper. Finally, depending on your hardware, you may encounter memory issues: Hexmapper won't open in less than 24-bit colour resolution, and the BMP format itself is bloated (albeit easily accessed). As a result, systems with low on-board memory or limited video cards (like my laptop) may not be able to open large hex maps.
Probably the biggest disappointment is that Hexmapper is no longer supported by the developer, who has stated (much to the chagrin of Hexmapper fans), that he has no plans to add new features or release any updates.
For a free program, Hexmapper's shortcomings are easy to dismiss. If you use Hexmapper's core competency (making a map from terrain tiles), you can save your map as a BMP file, convert it into something a bit more manageable, and use an image editor to add text, vector lines, and other symbols. You can also overcome memory issues by creating smaller maps and "stitching" them together in a dedicated graphics package.
You can grab a copy of Hexmapper by joining the Hexmapper Haven Yahoo! group and checking out the Files section, which also contains user-contributed hex catalogues, how-to documentation, and sample maps.