Setting aside digital map projection, the two most popular reusable RPG mapping solutions out there are dry-erase boards and wet-erase mats.
The former come in a variety of sizes, from commercial white boards to options designed specifically for RPGs, like the unbelievably awesome Tact-Tiles. The latter most commonly come in the form of gaming-specific flexible mats, offered with a wide range of grid and hex options.
I got my start with reusable gaming maps using one of those giant wet-erase battlemats, and have since switched to Tact-Tiles. I much prefer dry-erase maps to their wet-erase counterparts — here’s a point-by-point comparison of dry-erase vs. wet-erase mapping options.
- Options: Dry-erase boards come in tons of sizes, from versatile hand-held boards to wall-mounted monsters. Tact-Tiles offer a modular solution unlike any other mapping tool. (+)
- Portability: With the exception of small boards, dry-erase maps are less portable than their flexible wet-erase counterparts. (–)
- Cleaning: Easier to clean off, and require fewer tools (just markers and an eraser, vs. markers, water and something to wipe with for wet-erase). (+)
- Messiness: No water means dry-erase boards are a lot less messy. (+)
- Stains: Dry-erase boards rarely stain, and when they do the stains are easy to remove. (+)
- Grids and Hexes: Unless you like blank surfaces or 1″ grids, you’re out of luck — no hexes, no other grid sizes. (–)
- Price: Somewhat more expensive than comparably-sized wet-erase mats. (–)
- Options: Wet-erase mats come in a wide range of sizes, from mini-mats to mats that will cover your whole table and then some. No modular option, though. (–)
- Portability: Flexible mats are easier to transport than all but the smallest dry-erase boards. (+)
- Cleaning: More tools required, since you not only need markers and something to erase with, you also need water on hand. (–)
- Messiness: Not so tidy, because of the wet paper towels and soggy sponges involved. (–)
- Stains: Retain certain colors, particularly red and orange, unless you wipe them off shortly after use. (Stains can be eliminated, but that can be a pain in and of itself.) (–)
- Grids and Hexes: Different grid sizes and hex options available, including double-sided mats with both hexes and squares. (+)
- Price: Generally cheaper than dry-erase, especially in larger sizes. (+)
Dry-erase wins on options, cleaning, messiness and stains; wet-erase wins on portability, grids and hexes and price.
If toting your map board/mat isn’t a problem and you’re willing to throw a bit more money at a good mapping solution, there’s no question that a dry-erase board or a set of Tact-Tiles will be easier to use and stay clean longer.
If you don’t have a permanent gaming space available, if you travel to run games or if price is your main concern, then a wet-erase map may be a better option overall.
Different options may also matter more to you than they might to other GMs. For example, I’m pretty anal about cleanliness, so the messiness of wet-erase mats bothers me more than it might bother most GMs.
Knocking over the water, having sopping paper towels to deal with and getting to see the dungeon I stupidly drew with a red marker a year ago drove me up the wall — your mileage, of course, may vary.