The popularity of virtual tabletops and RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons have skyrocketed in recent years due to the increased viewership of popular streams like Critical Role, and the pandemic-enhanced need to play with others even when you can’t be in the same room with them. I started to get back into Dungeons and Dragons a few years ago and while I’ve always been a player, I’m going to try my hand at running a game. Running a game can be difficult and time consuming, and any tools to make your life easier are highly welcomed. With the need to create dungeons for either a homebrew game or a quick encounter in a module, there have been a few software applications that have come to the forefront to help a game master conjure up a quick or elaborate encounter with a nice-looking map. One of those tools is Dungeon Alchemist, which you can pick up on Steam. The folks at Briganti were kind enough to pass along a key for us to preview this early access tool and today we’ll take a quick look at what Dungeon Alchemist has to offer and how it can help you with your campaign.
Dungeon Alchemist looks to simplify the creation of maps, while also allowing you to get highly complicated with the scene if one so desires. For those who don’t have any artistic ability like me, this is the tool for you. You start out by defining a map size, some parameters such as the type of terrain, any vegetation, water, and so forth. The default map is a nice blank canvas for one to work on with nice-looking textures based on the terrain of your choosing.
Once the blank canvas is in place, you’re given a large set of preset objects, room types, and some sample tokens for you to work with. Creating the most basic rooms is rather easy, as you just select a setting type such as a bedroom, kitchen, treasure, or dungeon cell and then you just drag out the shape of the room.
Dungeon Alchemist then does an incredible job of creating walls, windows, and placing objects pertaining to that setting type inside of it. Create a tavern bedroom? Dungeon Alchemist will automatically put in beds, a table, and a washing bucket. How about making a mansion bedroom instead? Well, Dungeon Alchemist will pre-place higher-end furniture in there such as a better looking bed, some dressers, and maybe a houseplant. Of course, you can remove, replace, or add anything placed in the rooms that are made by the application, but if you really just want a quick map up with rooms that contain items that look like they belong in there, Dungeon Alchemist does a wonderful job at that.
Currently, you can easily create any rectangular shaped room using the tools. Making round rooms takes a lot more effort though as you have to place each rounded wall on the map. I’d love to have the ability to draw out a box and specify where one rounded wall starts and ends, but perhaps it will happen in a future update.
Dungeon Alchemist looks to have plenty of room types available to let you mix and match them on your map without too much trouble. When you connect rooms, the program will automatically create doorways, which of course you can move if you so desire. But things like this makes it really easy for someone to draw up a mansion, for example, and have it look logical and be ready to play with without too many modifications.
The program also helps ensure that you have the correct type of rooms depending on the terrain type you initially choose. For example, it won’t let you put a tavern kitchen in a cave setting, although the forest setting seems to let you put anything in there. One thing I would like to see in a future update if the developers intend to keep it this way is for some visual representation on the tool menu itself to let me know that these rooms aren’t valid for the terrain I decided upon.
There are plenty of objects that Dungeon Alchemist provides for you to decorate your rooms. They all look stellar, and even simple things like a bakery counter with three loves of bread on it look really well done. There’s plenty of variety of all the furniture and it’s really easy to put it on the map, move items around, and rotate them into place. You can easily change the color of the item and duplicate it if you want to quickly place a bunch of the same things on the map. There’s no shortage of prefab items for you to use and Dungeon Alchemist gives you plenty to make your map unique looking.
Because of the 3D engine that Dungeon Alchemist runs in, you can place things like lighting and see in real time what it illuminates and how it might translate to an exported VTT map. This is really great if you want to know exactly what your players are going to see when they play on your VTT since the program does allow you to export the lighting information of each map so you don’t have to recreate it in your VTT of choice that allows for importing.
Like SimCity, you can raise and lower the map’s terrain with a brush tool to make the land more dynamic. You’re not beholden to a flat piece of land as you can add some high hills or even some deep pits to your map. Because of that, you can really make some interesting landscapes for your RPG needs.
Dungeon Alchemist also comes with some sample monsters, heroes, and NPC tokens that you can place on the board. One really neat feature is you can go into first person mode with any of these tokens and walk through your creation as if you’re playing a RPG video game. It’s rather cool to get this sort of perspective on the map you built, and you can maybe find something you want to change in this mode that you didn’t see from an isometric or top down view of your map.
If you want more tokens, you can connect a Hero Forge account and buy tokens there. You’re given five free tokens when you connect your account, but more can be imported in from any one you purchased on Hero Forge.
And this leads me to one thing I wish Dungeon Alchemist has: asset import. Currently, you can’t import any of your own assets and you are limited to what’s provided. Well, I should say an easy way to do it. A quick search shows someone has some instructions on how to do it, but it’s not an officially supported method, so it might stop working.
That said, I wanted to use Dungeon Alchemist to create a map for a Mothership RPG campaign, but because you can’t import any assets and are stuck currently with fantasy assets, you’re limited in what RPGs you can use it for. This program is still in early access so there’s plenty of time for it to support it, but that is one thing I think that’s holding Dungeon Alchemist back currently.
Dungeon Alchemist does support a nice range of VTTs to export your creations to and one of the big time savers that this program can do is set up the walls, lights, and doors so you don’t have to. I created a quick house with some rooms and exported it to a Foundry readable format. Hopping into my Foundry server, I followed the four or so steps to import the map into my VTT, and was incredibly happy the walls, doors and lights were set up for me without any need for me to do anything. I placed a token down on the map and sure enough, I couldn’t move them through any walls and doors I set and with doors, I was able to click on them to open them up in Foundry allowing my token to pass through. That is the power of Dungeon Alchemist, and saving that much time in creating maps with the necessary information for Foundry to use in generating a full blown scene really makes this program a gem for game masters.
Because there are great animations involved in creating these maps, such as adding in moving fog, smoke, and other animated effects, you can export the map as a video file and import that into your VTT. For players with powerful enough computers that can handle animated maps, this will really help with the immersion and seeing maps come to life really can make VTTs a ton of fun visually.
With support for Steam Workshop, you get access to plenty of maps to download and use as well as the ability to publish your creations for others to play with. So, not only can you quickly design a map, you can just download one from the plenty of available ones out there to use in your game. Tweak the maps if you want to or just export them as is and put it into your game in very little time.
It all comes down to how easy it is to use and Dungeon Alchemist, for the most part, is pretty darn easy to use. As I said earlier, you don’t need to have any artistic ability to make really good-looking maps and the interface of dragging, dropping, and rotating is simple enough for most people to use and get you in there building maps right off the bat. The UI is fairly well done and easy to follow with good prompts and good visual representation of what it does.
With a solid 3D engine that really lets you visualize a nice battle map, tools for huge quality of life improvements, and the ability to create intricate maps, Dungeon Alchemist looks like a solid tool for fantasy GMs to enhance their RPG experience. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this program grows and it has the potential to be one of the best tools for game masters to use in generating maps and scenes with.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. As one of the original writers, I was tapped to do action games and hardware. Nowadays, I work with a great group of folks on here to bring to you news and reviews on all things PC and consoles.
As for what I enjoy, I love action and survival games. I'm more of a PC gamer now than I used to be, but still enjoy the occasional console fair. Lately, I've been really playing a ton of retro games after building an arcade cabinet for myself and the kids. There's some old games I love to revisit and the cabinet really does a great job at bringing back that nostalgic feeling of going to the arcade.View Profile