Google’s Sketchup is a free 3D modeling application that runs on Windows and OS X. I’ve looked at some models in it before, but never really played with it much until this morning when I started goofing around with the map of the Caves of Chaos in it. I don’t know the first thing about using this software but can already see its potential. In most cases I’d prefer to quickly sketch something by hand for my players if my descriptions aren’t good enough, but I can see building a model beforehand with Sketchup in certain cases. The screen grabs below show a very quick and dirty draft being generated from the inside cover of B2. In this case, a visual aid isn’t really necessary for the location (which I’m not using in our game anyhow, players) but they do illustrate how you could easily build your own 3D models from topographical maps using it.Tracing lines of relief.Elevating lines of relief.Connecting lines of relief - drawing contours.Another view.Exploding the bottom map onto the created contours.
Obviously a little strange and an unrealistic view but at least you can get a sense of relative elevations. In further revisions I'd probably use more lines of relief, make certain sections much steeper, and use my own painted-in landscape (removing the dungeon view among other things).