So I’m putting off my article on between game prep to talk about maps and minis a bit. In the past year or so, I’ve been using maps and minis in my D&D games- They make a great way of showing players exactly what happens without constantly describing what’s where- It used to be that at the start of every players turn, they’d ask me what’s around them and what they could do- Though maps have fixed that problem. Getting into maps and minis posed a new issue- Which maps/minis should I use, and where can I get them? So, in this article, I’d like to discuss a few different answers to those questions. Let me preface this by saying not every D&D campaign has a map, and not every D&D campaign needs a map- I’m not telling you to use maps, I’m just telling you what I recommend if you do want to use them
Okay, so there are a lot of options for combat maps. For a beginner, I’d recommend a plain battle mat- Chessex makes a 26×23.5 inch double sided battle mat, with a square grid on one side, and a hex grid on the other, it’s vinyl, so you can draw on it with wet erase markers, and they cost about $20- One of these will last you a long time, they’re relatively easy to store, and they’re great for representing a battlefield in game. That said, after a while, some may get a bit bored of looking at the same map over and over, with different boundaries drawn on, that’s why I’ve taken to using Pathfinder Maps. They come in all different types- From specific terrain, to specific rooms and dungeons. They also release map backs which can be laid next to each other to create your own specific dungeons. Like the Chessex map, they’re relatively cheap, and can be drawn on, downside is, if you want to represent each location with a unique map, you may be spending quite a bit of money, and storage becomes an issue after a while. That said, they’re still great for what they are. If you REALLY want to go all out, look into Dungeon Tiles. They’re small often painted tiles that you can clip together, to create what may look like a genuinely realistic representation of a dungeon. Some come with textures, such as stone, grass, etc, and they look amazing. You can also buy small furniture, like doors, walls, benches, barrels, etc. To make your dungeon really stand out as unique. Downside to this is whilst probably my favourite way of making a map, it’s easily the most expensive, and the hardest to store, so at the end of the day, no matter what you do, you’re going to have a win/lose scenario- Cheapest/Best to store is probably the least aesthetically appealing, and vice versa. THAT said, I’ve played entire campaigns with a single Chessex battle mat, and never once complained about the way it looked- It’s about what you as DM thinks is best, players will go with anything you choose- As a final note, If you REALLY want to go all out, you can make your own map, out of materials you find in your house, and paints. There are some really cool looking homemade maps online, and I’d genuinely consider it if I had more time on my hands.
So world maps are funny, in that they can really make a campaign unique and quite interesting when present, though when absent, people don’t often realise. As DM, you should kinda know where everything is in your world- This dungeon is X number of days from this city, and there is a river in the middle, and so on. When I started, I’d note down how far everything was from home base, otherwise, that was it. About 2 years ago, I got my hands on the Forgotten Realms campaign guide from 4th Edition, which came with a map. I started setting all my games in the Forgotten Realms, just so I could pull out that map- I’d stick it on a wall, or in the middle of the table, and players would often comment on how it made the game fell like a more complete world, as opposed to a town and a few dungeons. Then about 6 months ago, I got bored of it. I like the Forgotten Realms, but I wanted to try something different. I downloaded a program called Hexographer, which YouTube DM Matt Colville recommended, and I gave that a go. I worked from the ground up- Initially, it was one town and the surrounding areas, and as I needed new locations, I made new maps. Hexographer however is not an artists’ mapping tool. It’s clearly for those who just need a representation of their world. As of yet, I’ve not been able to find a way to make nice specific maps that looked really good (Short of doing it myself or getting someone else to do it), however, the site 2-Minute Tabletop releases maps on a regular basis, some of which are free, so if you need general maps (e.g. a ship, a small town, a bridge) and don’t need them to be too specific, I’d certainly recommend using them. Finally, I should note that there are a lot of maps online, if you don’t need anything too specific, alternatively, you could buy map posters from your favourite films and books (e.g. The Hobbit), or, a number of video games come with maps you can use that you can use, either at a superficial level, or you could set a game in one of these worlds (The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher 3 are both great examples).
Minis are the hard one. There are official Dungeons and Dragons minis, they’re really great, but they come in packs of 4- 3 small and a large, and certain monsters have unique minis you have to buy separately. As much as I love them, you need a lot to run a game- You can’t guarantee you’ll get a mini you need, and you get a lot of doubles- 6 beholders doesn’t help me when I need a Yuan Ti. Furthermore, they’re expensive. If you have the money and the space to store them, I’d certainly recommend buying some, however, you need a lot before you can run a game using them exclusively. I’ve been casually buying minis whenever I’ve had the money for about 6 months now, and I still not run a game using them alone. Luckily, eBay exists. You can find a lot of really cool mini lots on eBay (And other sites- Craigslist sometimes has them), and yeah, you’re paying money, but you can usually select which minis you get, and it’s still cheaper than buying the official 5e minis. You can also get custom minis for player characters on Hero Forge- They’re quite expensive, but if you’re gonna be playing for a long time, or if you’re a player who wants their own unique mini, go for it. The big issue with minis is storage. They take up quite a lot of space, which is one of the reasons I try to avoid buying them- Luckily, Piazo makes cardboard pawns- They’re the size of D&D minis, but flat, so you can store them in a cardboard box, then stick them inside their bases when you need them. Furthermore, they’re cheaper- One $40-$60 box will have at least 100 minis, usually a lot more. I’d totally recommend them if you don’t have the budget or room for bigger minis. Finally, I wanna point out that ANYTHING can be a mini. Dice, Coins, M&Ms, old chess pieces- So long as you and the players know what everything is.
Okay, so I want to end this article by once again mentioning that maps and minis are by no means a necessary part of D&D- Not having them won’t ruin a game, and I still prefer to play without them. That said, they’re good for helping keep track of battles, and player location in relation to the world as a whole. Personally, I’d rather have just a world map than combat maps and minis, because world maps give the game a nice level of context, and help players get a feeling for just how epic your world (And sometimes, their action) can be.
Do you use maps and minis? Let me know in the comments, also let me know if you have any alternatives to the stuff I’ve mentioned so I can check them out, maybe let you know my opinions on them some time in the future.