Excel Map If you’re like me, you love the old-school D&D adventure modules from the 1980s, with the white-on-blue maps inside the covers.

If you’re like me, you are overwhelmed and/or frustrated by almost every mapping program out there.

If you’re like me, you’ve resorted to the old “graph paper and pencil” technique from the late 70s.  (And I’m a self-proclaimed computer geek!)

But inspired by this article, there is hope, if you have a copy of Microsoft Excel.

The Basics…

Note: I used Excel 2007 for this.  I’m not sure if earlier versions will work with my instructions here, but it’s worth a try. OpenOffice may also be worth a try.

Open Excel. Select the entire sheet. Right-click on the column headers and set Column Width to 1. Right-click on the row headers and set Row Height to 9. Right-click in the sea of squares you’ve just created, and set the Fill Color to Light Blue. Highlight a stack of cells one column wide, and change the Fill Color back to No Fill. Highlight a rectangle at the bottom of that stack of cells, and change it to No Fill as well.

See where I’m going with this? Now, let’s get a bit tricksy…

Funny Shapes

Go to Insert > Shapes, select Octagon. Click on the map, and an ugly shades-of-blue octagon will appear. Drag it to just where you want it, and right click it, selecting Format Shape. Select Fill > Solid Fill > White. Select Line Color > No Line.

Great. Despite the nifty lines on your rectangles, there’s no lines on your octagon. But at least you have an octagon. (If you don’t need grid lines, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.)

But if you want gridlines, try this. Take a screenshot of a blank part of your page, slice & dice it with MS Paint, and save a section of ‘just grid’ as a bitmap. Here’s mine, in case it fits on your computer. You’ll notice that it has a ‘thicker line’ every 10 squares, because it’s a 10×10 grid and includes the first and last lines of the grid. In other words, if you make it a 2×2 grid and include the outside lines, it will give you an easy 10’ counter.

Right-click the shape and Format Shape as above, but this time select “Picture or texture fill”, click the “Insert from File” button, get your bitmap, and check the “Tile picture as texture” box. There; assuming the shape is squared to the grid, you should have gridlines in your octagon.

Natural Features

That was fun, but what about natural caverns? Well, you’re in luck, too. Insert > Shapes > Scribble. The trick here is to close your scribble so that you can fill it with gridlines. I scribbled a “natural” opening to the dungeon, and a “natural” room as well. On the first, I started at the edge of the spreadsheet, drew the features I wanted, and then ran across the top and side of the spreadsheet to close the drawing. It can be difficult to close some shapes, and you might get some smudges like I did, but you get the idea.

Can you keep a secret?

Want to show a partial map, either to hide secret doors or as a shared workspace for online gaming? Open the Selection Pane (Home > Editing Group > Find & Select > Selection Pane), and click the ‘eyeball’ of a shape to hide or show it. While you’re here, click twice on the name of a shape to rename it.

I haven’t figured out how to add in icons or shapes for doors and such, and I’m sure that there are plenty more techniques out there, but if you’ve got Excel or a similar spreadsheet program, you’ve already got a mapping tool that’s easy to use.

Sound off and let us know if this is a waste of time or a cool mapping option, or especially if you’ve got any other ideas for it!