So you’re running late to game. The only thing you need is a map, and you need to do it fast. Here are 5 quick mapping options.
1. Dry Erase Board
Dry erase markers and a whiteboard make for great mapping options. The only problem, for the tactically combat inclined, is their lack of gridlines. Some places sell dry erase boards with grids on them. Some of these more professional “presentation” boards can get expensive, so do some web searching and find a good cheap one.Â You can always make a grid yourself by scoring a regular dry erase board with an exacto knife, using a permanent marker (comes off over time) or using thin black tape with a strong backing.
2. Office-Mart lamination on a gridded mat
A slightly cheaper dry erase solution can be found at your local office supply store of choice. Most office supply stores with a copy center can print on large 2 foot by any length blueprint paper. I’ve whipped up a quick 2ft by 5ft 1 inch grid for you here, but you can probably find better ones online or make them yourself.
3. Wood Blocks/Dominos
One problem I find with all dry-eraseÂ or wet-erase options, is that they eventually get neglected and lose some of their ability to be cleaned. Quick solution to map out an area and make a nifty 3-d feeling area? Use wood blocks or Dominos. Easy to arrange, easy to change and a nice raised wall feel. Wood blocks can be a bit bulky, but they are more stable on a mat.
4. The Plain Old Piece Of Paper
Who needs a grid? If you’re working a map up quick then just throw it on a couple of pieces of scrap paper. It works for quick encounters and can be moved off and on the table as needed. Still need a grid for it? Pick up some graph paper and do every 4 boxes. Ok ok, fine. I’m too good to you. Here is an 8.5 by 11 grid, if you feel like using the ink.
5. Print just the Objects
Any mapping program, google search or a trip through mapping sites can wield a plethora of objects that you can print for game. Print a few basic pieces (woods, corridors, tables, evil altars, etc.) and keep them in a folder. Throw them on the table to set up a scene in just a few seconds.
These are just a few quick mapping tips and they cover some basic ground. There are a lot of other great mapping ideas out there. What other mapping solutions do you use at your table? What is your preferred method of mapping?
I’m a big fan of gridded dry erase board (like, say, Tact Tiles) for games like D&D, though the premade maps in the WotC adventures are very nice and set the scene much better.
For the many game systems that care less about exact positioning, I like dry erase maps for quick sketches. Updating them can be a bit of a hassle as people move, but it’s very good at quickly conveying a scene.
My gaming group doesn’t use a map in the traditional sense. The DM and at least one PC always have laptops so we use Map Tools. It’s an online tool that completely eliminates the need for minis, dungeon tiles and the maps you describe in your article. The tool allows for quick map creation on the fly if you forget your maps at home. This is certainly not going to appeal to everyone but it changed the way my group plays D&D (for the better).
I keep a bunch of dungeon tiles organized by category (cave, dungeon, outside, etc.). If I get into a tight spot, I just grab a handful and start laying them out randomly. It can make for some interesting tactical challenges for the players.
As a variation on the “Plain Old Piece of Paper” method, office supply stores usually sell easel sized (27″x34″) flip pads printed with a 1″ grid. For 4e adventures I can pre-draw the maps with as much (or little) embellishment as I feel like spending time on. Then when it’s time for the combat I can just throw the map down.
@Scott Martin – Premade maps are nice. I’d love to see pre-made maps from adventures printed large size. That would totally be a money sink for me.
@Ameron – I’ve seen their stuff before. That might work out well. I’d love to do it connected to a big TV, or the mother of all mapping options, the projector. Thanks for reminding me about them.
@Troy E. Taylor – Chess boards are great, but I stopped using them after my players started moving their cleric minis 2 squares up, then 1 square left.
@Nicholas – Dungeon tiles are a great tool, but I find them somewhat limiting for the types of games I run. Random sounds fun. Are you talking truly random, i.e. lava next to swamp?
@dpierkowski – I’ve seen the easel flip pads, but not the gridded one. That is awesome. I may need to check some of those out. I’ve also used big packing paper with permanent marker. Its coarser than regular paper, but cheap and big.
I have a folder of house and castle plans. Obviously, that doesn’t work for outdoor scenarios but for the quick castle visit/raid, it makes life so much easier.
It did take some prep time, but now that I have them, I can use them over & over again.
It was nice to see dominos mentioned. The guys I gamed with in high school (some 30 years ago) used those a lot. We used the pseudo-ivory ones, about 2 inches long. Perfect for 10 foot segments, and the lines on the numbers sides allowed us to measure 5 foot lengths, too. 🙂
I just bought one of the big easel flip pads. It was $20 for 50 sheets of 27×30, which is bigger than my Chessex erasable mat and will hold most modules I’ve played so far. The nice thing is if the party delves down the spiral stairs, does the dungeon, and then comes running back up the spiral stairs with the flooding water rising behind them, you don’t have to redraw that map. Just flip back to the page. And if they get water breathing later and go back down, you still have the map. In theory, anyway.
I tend to be an ad hoc mapper myself, so I’ve used most or all of the above methods at one time or another (and still mix it up on occasion, although the dry erase board is a staple in my games). However, I was surprised that nobody mentioned cannibalizing boardgames for minis, props, and terrain layout; games such as Heroquest, Heroscape, Mystery Mansion Electronic Edition, even Settlers of Cataan. Any of these can provide useful tiles and bits of furniture to populate your dungeons. Obviously, they may not be as quick as some other methods, depending on how much detail you include, but they make for some great graphics!
@Sewicked – Do you find those work well for generic scenarios? I’ve got a few maps collected, but they always seem to be a bit off for whatever I’m running at the time.
@DocRyder – I like dominoes. They’re great for quick mapping and rearranging, but I find they make it hard to do 5 ft hallways and minis. I’m tempted to cut some of mine in half and get 1 inch sections.
@Noumenon – That’s awesome. The price is a bit high, but that is a whole boatload of convenience.
@pseudodragon – That is a great idea. I remember going with my mom to the craft stores and seeing the doll furniture. I always thought that would be great to use for gaming. Mage knight had some small accessories with some of their sets. Bits of modeling clay can also make some great dungeon romp accessories.
My first dry erase board which eventually gave birth to our product Battlegraph Dry Erase Boards, was a non metallic board from walmart that I just removed from the frame and scored using a metal yardstick, a pair of vice grip pliers, and a kitchen knife. I still have it, and have been thinking about hanging it on the wall just to pay homage to our origins. The tools I use today are just a little more high tech! : )
We are prepping for the release of hex boards and custom boards, and I would love to hear if anyone has ideas for grid types other than the standard 1 inch.
@John Arcadian – It depends on what the scenario is. I have a couple inn layouts, three or five each of ‘house’, manor and castle.
That doesn’t help if I need a temple, of course. But if my players suddenly decide that they just _have_ to investigate the house of suspect #1, aka Redd Hairing, I can pull out the appropriate plan and go from there.
We use a 2″x2″ grid because our minis fit neat in a corner of the grid and it’s still plain sight to break down mentally into 5 foot chunks. Also alot less lines to draw.