Monday, February 24, 2020

Comes with the Terrain

Ogre Lair, Great Dungeon of the North.

I am a sucker for using figures and terrain for tabletop RPGs. I appreciate the “Theatre of the Mind” approach, but left to my own devices I prefer to have some sort of grid, particularly for complex encounters. Over the years I’ve experimented with a lot of different solutions, but have’t found the perfect solution.

I own a pretty decent set of Dwarven Forge terrain and I think it’s great stuff: sturdy and very attractive to the eye. But it’s also expensive and fairly cumbersome to schlep around. And you really have to organize those components so you can assemble the dungeon as quickly as possible. This can be fine if you have a smaller, set dungeon: you just bring the components you need. But with a megadungeon, when you might have players frequently running off the map, it’s a drag to halt play while you locate and assemble the necessary pieces.

Dungeon Tiles have the benefit of being fairly inexpensive and fairly portable. They also look pretty decent, to boot. But they have similar problems as Dwarven Forge, in that you have to organize the tiles to allow quick assembly and even then it can be easy to slow down the game to hunt for the right component. They also tend to inadvertently slide around on the table without some sort of stickum material to hold them in place.

Much easier, then, to have a blank gridded surface to draw on. It doesn’t look nearly as good as Dwarven Forge or Dungeon Tiles, but it has the distinct advantage of speed. I have a couple of Chessex Battlemats that I like very much: these are rollable, heavy fabric mats that come in both hexes and grids. The biggest downside is that they need to be fairly large, but are sometimes too large to fit on a kitchen table cluttered with game books, dice, character sheets, miniatures, and so on.

I loved the original Tact-Tiles, which were heavy plastic interlocking tiles that could be connected together to create grids that fit whatever open space was available. They used wet or dry erase markers and were easy to assemble and clean. I got a ton of use out of my set, which I considered one of the better game investments I ever made. Unfortunately, the original company that made this product stopped making them, so they were hard to come by for several years. They were also fairly heavy to lug around.

Battle in the Streets of Waterdeep.

Enter the Role 4 Initiative Dry-Erase Dungeon Tiles. I got a set for Christmas and finally had a chance to try them out this last weekend. They work very much like the old Tact-Tiles, but they are made of heavy duty chip board—so they are far lighter. They also have smaller sized (5 x 5) tiles, so they are a little more flexible.

We used these for a session of our Out of the Abyss game, as the party explored the Underdark looking for the duergar city of Gracklstugh. And we also used them for a couple of sessions of the Waterdeep Dragon Heist game, as we fought a couple of pitched street battles in the City of Splendors.

Long story short, these new tiles worked great. They had all of the advantages of the old Tact-Tiles but with none of the disadvantages.

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