This article series is aimed at that huge mass of players who use D&D Miniatures in their role-playing games. It's a big miniature world out there, but we're going to make sense of it for you and improve your miniatures experience at the same time.
If hand-drawn maps on erasable mats or oversized sheets of graph paper aren't your bag, you have other two-dimensional options. Specifically, pre-printed maps are available covering a wide range of combat environments. All you need to do is pick the one, or portion of one, that most closely suits your need and set up the fight.
D&D Miniatures Starter Sets
Since we're talking about D&D miniatures here, it seems logical to start with the maps that come with the miniatures starter set. The most recent starter, War Drums, included four battle maps -- the Broken Demongate, Teleport Temple, Dragon Shrine, and Field of Ruin.
Despite their names, these maps can represent a wide variety of locales. Broken Demongate includes both a cavern area and the interior of a well-appointed building that can stand in for a palace, a wealthy merchant's home, or an upscale inn. Teleport Temple resembles the artificially-constructed portion of a dungeon or the non-public areas of a temple. Dragon Shrine can serve as the worship area of any temple, or the entrance to a palace, or even a columned public square or forum. Field of Ruin is obviously a battlefield, but with a little imagination, it can just as easily be a ruined village, an immense boulder field, or the underwater resting place of a sunken ship.
Starter sets prior to War Drums (Harbinger and Aberrations) had blank battle mats and terrain tiles instead of maps with printed features. If you have them, even though the tiles are no longer legal for competitive skirmish play, they are still quite useful. They can be placed on blank or printed maps to alter their features or assembled by themselves, without an underlying grid, to form a wide range of tactically interesting layouts. Additional tiles can be downloaded here.
Beginning in 2006, Wizards started publishing Fantastic Locations. Each FanLoc packet contains two full color, double sided, poster-sized mapsheets (four maps in all) and a simple, 16 page adventure that uses them. Sixteen of those twenty maps are legal for use in DDM tournaments, and all of them are superb role-playing accessories for the discerning DM.
The five Fantastic Locations packs currently available cover the subterranean realm of the drow (Fane of the Drow), an underground region laced by lava flows (Hellspike Prison), a ruined castle (Fields of Ruin), a dragon stronghold (Dragondown Grotto), and planar locales (Frostfell Rift). A sixth title, City of Peril, is announced for 2007. All together, they give a thorough sampling of the varied terrain encountered by adventuring heroes.
If traditional dungeons with mossy floors, dripping walls, pit traps, and massive doors squealing on rusted hinges are your bag, then Dungeon Tiles should be on your shelf. Two sets were released in 2006 -- Dungeon Tiles and Arcane Corridors -- and two more have been announced for 2007 -- Hidden Crypts and Ruins of the Wild.
Unlike preprinted mapsheets, dungeon tiles can be arranged and rearranged into innumerable layouts. Not only does this let you set up any dungeon you want, it also lets you surprise players with what lies ahead. Until a corner is rounded or a door is forced open, the tile representing the room or corridor beyond isn't placed on the table. Better yet, as characters move deeper into the dungeon, areas behind them can be removed as they fade from torchlight. Someone had better be sketching a map, or there'll be trouble.
Strictly miniatures-related products aren't your only choices. From time to time, WotC also publishes D&D adventures that include miniatures-scale maps specifically for tactical play of certain encounters. Red Hand of Doom, for example, came with a map depicting the main road through a village, a wooded trail, and the inner sanctum of the Fane of Tiamat. Knowledge Arcana #7 contains a miniatures-scale map of an inn and its cellars.
Don't overlook other games. Eight different maps have been released with the Star Wars Miniatures game. Before you laugh, consider -- if you're willing to imagine that the road on your King's Road map is actually a river for the purpose of this encounter, is it so hard to imagine that the droid standing in the corner is a statue? Not all Star Wars maps will transition easily, but some will work very well indeed.
Dragon Magazine occasionally includes miniatures-scale maps in special issues. The excellent Drow Outpost from Dragon #337 is one such example.
In addition to official maps, many fans have tackled the job of creating their own maps using graphics software. The best of these rival anything that's been done professionally, and most can be downloaded for free. You just need to a) locate them online and b) pay to get them printed, either at your nearby quick-print shop or on your own color printer (and don't be surprised if you exhaust a color cartridge per map).
Finally, even though we make the best pre-painted, plastic gaming miniatures around, we're not too proud to admit that we're not the only game in town where maps are concerned. Other companies too numerous to count have published dungeon and terrain tiles since D&D first hit the scene in the 1970s. None of them were ever as deluxe as the current line of Dungeon Tiles, but that doesn't mean they weren't good. Some can be found through online dealers or auction sites. Older sets, like any classic game title, still pop up at convention auctions.
If You're Good With Your Hands
We'll cover one more option today, and it's as old-school as RPG accessories can be -- floor tile.
There was a time, long ago, in the dimly-remembered past, when the term "D&D Accessory" didn't exist. The only D&D product you could buy was the rules, and the entire set didn't add up to as many words as the current Player's Handbook chapter on character classes. That's right, young whippersnappers -- back then, we hoary old gamers had imagination!
The lack of commercial accessories led to lots of field expedients. Before miniatures manufacturers caught on to the enormous potential in the RPG market, miniatures were drawn from historical ranges. If you used 25mm knights and men-at-arms for humans and elves, then 15mm figures could serve as dwarves and 10mm figures as halflings and gnomes. Medieval priests filled in for clerics, lightly armored militia for thieves. Wizards generally needed to be modified in some way -- by adding a pointy hat, for example, or sculpting flowing robes from epoxy putty over a figure. Inexpensive plastic toys could make fine monsters.
But what to maneuver them on? The most creative solution was floor tile, available at any home improvement or specialty tile store. Floor tile comes in a huge assortment of textures and colors, most resembling stone or wood (or actually stone or wood). Finding styles that are already gridded into 1-inch squares isn't difficult. Best of all are vinyl tiles, because they can easily be cut into the shapes of rooms, corridors, and caverns with knives or heavy scissors. The toughest part was sometimes talking the store into selling just one or two tiles, because they'd prefer to sell them in boxes of a dozen.
Next installment -- going 3-D.
About the Author
Steve Winter is a web producer, writer, and game designer living in the Seattle area. When not lost in fantasy worlds of his own devising, he drops in on other people's fantasies. That's been interesting ...