Exploring the DOTS Guild: Cartographer


DOTS Cartographer logo

The DOTS Guild is a place where people come together with a common goal: improving #AccessibilityInGaming for disabled gamers wishing to play tabletop roleplaying games. There is much work that goes into this project, some of which we follow traditional standards on and others we break tradition and create something new and improved. Join us on this journey as we take a deep dive into the volunteer positions of the DOTS Guild, and learn what makes them so special.


Cartographers play an important role in creating braille volumes for visually impaired gamers. They are responsible for converting printed maps into tactile versions for the most imaginative tabletop gamers to unfold adventures and solve mysteries. Tactile maps put information directly at the gamers’ fingertips, serving as an alternative to a detailed image description of a map that may be pages long. Once completed, these maps are included in braille volumes and donated to our DOTS Family members to become part of lending libraries around the world.


Embossed map displaying four levels of dot height.

Tactile maps are used when a location has a great amount of detail that players might want to reference regularly, like a city map, combat map, or a complex dungeon. Giving a tactile representation of the imagined space allows for better immersion in the world without relying on reviewing image descriptions of maps again and again. Following the raised trails of the map encourages exploration and faster information gathering when a party finds themselves delving into a maze-like dungeon, battling enemy combatants, or exploring the vast wilderness.



Map Preparation

Graphic depicting steps to prepare an image for embossing.

Preparing an image for embossing is an involved process, this graphic serving as a simplified example:


- First, the original image is selected. For the purposes of this example, it is a picture of a hawk with wings open and head turned to the side. The picture focuses mainly on the shape of the hawk's head, which is what we want to communicate to the reader.

- An outline is drawn over the image, using as few lines as possible to highlight all important areas. On the sample we can see the outline is detailed on the hawk's head with eyes, nostril, beak, and feathers. Some additional lines are drawn on the chest and shoulder area, providing detail on how the feathers are positioned on the body.

- The original image is removed, leaving only the outline as black lines on a white background. At this point, we want to ensure all relevant information is part of this simplified drawing and it accurately portrays what the original image was.

- Depending on the image and information, some areas may get accented differently. In this case, the beak is filled in with black to emboss dots across the entire beak instead of just an outline around it.

- Using programs compatible with the embosser, we convert the image and check for any changes that may need to get made. This displays how the image will be embossed into the paper. Our embosser uses the same dots it uses for braille cells while other embossers can create images with solid raised areas.


Two overhead maps of the city of Kintalla, one drawn with lots of detail and color one with less detail in various shades of gray.

Maps often have much more detail that needs to be communicated to the reader, so simplifying a map while retaining important information can be a tricky process. Cartographers render lines and details of maps in grayscale with a shade gradient of 0 (white) - 9 (black) which corresponds to our embosser's capabilities. Level 0 is white, meaning no embossing, and levels 1-9 are the 8 different dot heights our embosser can create. Depending on the map and level of detail, not all of the dot heights may be used. This map of the city of Kintalla from Ebonclad has been prepared by a Cartographer for embossing. In the final version braille text labels or markers are added to identify certain areas as shown on the drawn map. As with the hawk sample image, some intricate details are removed to give a broader scope of the map. Since this specific map is more of an overview of the whole city, individual buildings in the city sections would not be present in the tactile map, instead allowing the player to identify where the main streets are and how they divide the city. For maps that are a closer view of city sections, individual buildings can be depicted. The 0 - 9 shading was used to differentiate between land, water, city walls, sections, and primary buildings. Here is a close up picture of how the prepared map looks when embossed:

Map embossed with dots at varying heights.

Production

VP Columbia braille embosser - a long rectangular device with buttons on the top and opening for embossed paper in the front

Cartographers work closely with our Sages to ensure maps are optimized for embossing, as there are some limitations. Depending on the size of the map we may include it in the book where it appears in the printed version, or we may add it to an appendix if it spans multiple pages.


The embosser we use in house is the now discontinued VP Columbia from View Plus. They have recently come out with the VP Columbia 2, which has some minor improvements but overall has the same functionality. By using a combination of their proprietary software, BrailleBlaster, Duxbury, and/or Microsoft Office programs, we are able to emboss many different types of content. Some programs are better suited to handle text and the formatting necessary, while other programs work best for graphics and tables.


The act of embossing the paper is fairly straightforward once the settings are configured for the first time, everything is as simple as hitting the "emboss" button just like you would the "print" button on an ink printer. The major difference in process is the paper itself; the thicker than average paper is sheet fed, much like an old dot matrix printer. The volume length and contents determine how long the printing process will be, but on our embosser a 50 sheet volume (100 pages of interpoint braille) can take roughly 30 minutes to complete. When creating our braille volumes, we have opted to use paper that creates an 8.5" x 11" book, instead of the 11" x 11.5" pages normally used for braille books. This is so our content can sit on the shelves alongside printed books at our DOTS Family locations, and no one needs to consider alternate storage options for larger books. Once embossing is complete, all pages need to be separated at their perforations and organized into the proper volume size to prepare for binding. There are multiple binding systems available, but we use comb binding with rectangular holes on the paper and plastic spines to hold the pages together. The paper we have is pre-punched with the holes for binding, saving us some time and potential for error if we punch holes on the wrong side of the page. Over the first and last pages go a clear front cover with a vinyl braille sticker on the front that has information on the volume including title, author, volume number, and possibly more depending on the content.


When preparing braille volumes to be donated to areas with sighted users such as a DOTS Family location of a FLGS or community center, we also add a printed front and back cover as well as a label over the spine. The front and back cover makes it easier for a sighted staff member to ensure they are pulling the right book for the visually impaired user, without requiring them to know braille or bring out every single volume at once. This front and back cover contains information about the volume, title, author, volume number, and more depending on the content, as well as information about DOTS and how to contact us should they need any assistance.

If you have any questions about our services and want to get in touch, please contact us. If you are interested in volunteering, please fill out our volunteer form.

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