Complete guide to using Dungeon Tiles

I like Dungeon Tiles. They look good at the game table, while costing far less than fancier alternatives such as Dwarven Forge terrain.

Basilisk encounter on Dungeon Tiles

As nice as the tiles look in play, they present a bunch of problems. Thanks to my own ideas and some suggestions from other gamers, I’m ready to offer solutions.

Problem Solution
Tiles slide on the table during play. Spread shelf liners
non-slip drawer liner
Arranging the tiles on the table takes time, even if you gather the correct tiles ahead of time. Temporarily affix tiles to presentation boards
Scotch removable mounting putty
Finding the tile you need from among more than twenty sets is difficult. Refer to my complete list and gallery of tile sets
Loose tiles defy organization because they lack set markings. Color code tiles by marking edges
Striped Dungeon Tiles
Loose tiles require storage. Choose boxes for tile storage
Dungeon Tiles in hanging project cases
Arranging maps from assorted, loose tiles is cumbersome because of the volume of tiles and the need to keep flipping them to see both sides. Use Pymapper to design layouts
Pymapper

Spread shelf liners to keep tiles in place on the table

Spread sheets of non-slip drawer liner, available anyplace that sells housewares. The liners grip the table and keep loose tiles in place. The lightweight material easily rolls up for transport. If you create a map that you want to recreate later, snap a picture for later reference, and then drop the tiles in a bag or a project case.

Temporarily affix tiles to presentation boards

For all but the simplest layouts, loose tiles take too long to arrange on the table, so I like to assemble maps in advance. Use removable mounting putty to stick the tiles on foam-core art boards. Office supply stores sell both the boards and the putty. Get the white putty, and not clear removable mounting dots, because the clear stuff sets after a while and will damage the tiles.

Dungeon tiles on a foam core board

Once you attach the tiles to boards, you can transport the maps by slipping them into an artist portfolio case. Portfolio cases can be purchased for as little as 10 dollars.

Color code tiles by marking edges

Did your mom force you to keep each color of Play-Doh separate to keep it bright and pristine? Like colors of Play-Doh, Magic cards, and miniatures, Dungeon Tiles work best when you mix them up. Magic cards and plastic miniatures come printed with set markings, so you can mix them up, then put them back where the belong. Because Wizards of the Coast lacked the foresight to print set markings on each tile in invisible, UV ink, we must find our own solutions for the tiles.

A quick web search for “invisible uv ink pen” will turn up pages of vendors selling selling pens that write with invisible ink that appears under an ultraviolet light. Many of the pens come with battery powered UV lights. I have yet to try these pens, but they suggest a simple way to mark tiles.

Update: I tried an invisible UV ink pen. The ink doesn’t stick to the tiles well enough to provide an invisible marking. However, as inexpensive favors for a kids’ party, these pens will thrill the youngsters.

In Dungeon Tile Storage and Really Useful Boxes, DigitalMage gave me the idea of marking tiles by using a marker to add stripes to the edge. This provides a brilliant solution because the codes are clear to see, but do not mark the printed surface of the tiles. You can add the stripes easily, and even mark a stack of tiles with a few, quick strokes of the pen.

Striped Dungeon Tiles

Rainbow markersThe DigitalMage suggests making from 1 to 3 stripes to represent a set series and from 1 to 7 stripes indicate set number—up to 10 stripes per tile. I lack the patience for that, so I recommend using color codes. I purchased a couple of eight packs of permanent markers, and then tested the markers on the edge of a punched tile sheet. This revealed ten markers with colors distinct enough to work as color codes.

For color-coding tiles, select 7 or 10 marker colors that appear distinct on the edge of a dungeon tile. When you punch tiles from a sheet, mark the edges.

Three colors for Dungeon Tiles master setsRefer to my complete gallery of Dungeon Tile sets for recommended codes. My system repeats the same 7 hues for the seven sets in each of the DT, DN, and DU series of tiles. I use peach, pink, and sky blue for the Master Sets.

Sorry kids, I have no solution for the Play-Doh problem.

Choose boxes for tile storage

Schemes for organizing tiles fall into two broad categories:

Organize by content

Organizing by content works best if you like to spread out the tiles and build maps on the fly. Start by arranging tiles by into terrain types such as dungeons, caverns, sewers, cities, outdoor, and so on. From there, you can sort by size.

Really useful boxes and Dungeon Tiles

The DigitalMage presents an terrific example of this approach in Dungeon Tile Storage and Really Useful Boxes. Really Useful Boxes recently launched their product line in the United States, opening this option to gamers in the U.S.

Organize by set

Organizing by set works best if you want to recreate layouts from sources like Living Forgotten Realms adventures, or if you want to build a map arranged on computer. For this system, just drop all the tiles for a particular set in a bag or a flat box. This slim  project case offers enough space to store unpunched tile sheets, but I prefer this hanging project case.

Dungeon Tiles in hanging project cases

The case lacks enough space for unpunched tile sheets, but punched tiles of every size fit. The hanging cases store easily in file cabinets or in boxes designed for file folders. Use file folder labels to mark the cases. In this EN World thread, Buzz shows how to pack tiles into hanging project cases, and then into an easily-transported tote.

Use Pymapper to design layouts

I’m certain some Dungeon Masters enjoy upending a box of tiles on a table and arranging a dungeon, but not me. For one, no table offers enough space. And you cannot see both sides of a tile at once, so arranging scattered tiles inevitably involves a lot of flipping.

Designing dungeons with the PyMapper program

Designing dungeons with the PyMapper program

For designing tile layouts, I highly recommend the Pymapper program. (‘Py’ because the program is written in the Python programing language.) Pymapper lets you draw maps by dragging Dungeon Tiles from a palette onto a map grid. The palette shows both sides of each tile at once. The program allows easy rotating, flipping, and layering of tiles. Pymapper’s developer works actively to provide updates and improvements to the software.

The one hassle with Pymapper is that, for copyright reasons, the program does not include images of the dungeon tiles. However, you can some tiles on the Pymapper site.

Do you have any suggestions for using Dungeon Tiles?

For similar advice on miniatures, see my post on organizing miniatures.

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23 Responses to Complete guide to using Dungeon Tiles

  1. NarinaTiger says:

    Your website is amazing! It is not only super helpful for the organizationally challenged (such as myself) but it is also well laid out, easy to navigate, and easy to read. Thanks so much for posting these very helpful suggestions. Especially helpful was pictures of the unseparated dungeon tiles. It not only helped me decide which ones to buy, but also helped me organize the ones I already have. I’m going to peruse the rest of your site now for more helpful hints. Again. Thanks.
    P.S. I LOVE the really useful boxes.

  2. DM David says:

    Gee thanks, NarinaTiger. As I arranged out set after set of tiles to photograph, I wondered if anyone but me would find the pictures or my advice useful, so I’m delighted that some folks do.

  3. NinjaKyri says:

    Oh my gosh! My boyfriend and I have quite a few sets of tiles, not quite all, but most of them. I was having insane amounts of aggravation due to him constantly dumping all the tiles on the table and informing me to find all of a certain set so he could dungeon build. After finding your site, not only do we know which sets we have (which we separated out into their own containers, yay!) but we also agreed on the storage we need to get so we’re both happy. Plus, the online mapper is already got me thinking about a dungeon I was planning to build. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! You are the organized DM I have dreamed of being, lol.

  4. Wren says:

    OMG! This site is fantastic. I just got a set of loose DT1-DT5 and I needed to make heads or tails out of them. I got way more than I bargained for with your site. Very very useful. The tips are great too.

    I bought these for my son, 13 years, to help him with his D&D play. He is going crazy as the worlds newest DM. I love watching his imagination and story telling grow every time he picks up a tile. TV is off, Xbox on indefinite standby and heroes & Monsters are crawling all over the place. When he’s not planning the next campaign he is playing out scenarios making sure it’s balanced before challenging the rest of us to play.

    Thanks again for your time putting this together for us. Great job.

  5. Rob says:

    Finally…a site that has a wealth of information and organizational ideas and tips. Your links to other helpful sites are also very much appreciated. You have helped me to feel more organized and able to run enjoyable adventures for my children.

    Awesome, awesome, awesome!!! Thanks so much!

  6. Pingback: Dungeon Tiles Tips | Thirdwalling

  7. Awesome stuff! I was researching for a similar article on my own blog and just linked to this instead! You said it better than I could have – and included pictures! I hope you don’t mind my linking to your site here.

    On tile storage boxes, PLANO makes tackle and craft-supply organizer boxes that have adjustable dividers inside. They’re really cheap, and there are (also really cheap) duffel bags made specifically to carry them in their various sizes. It makes it easier for organizing variable-sized stuff like dungeon effect tiles and the like.

    Walmart and most sports and outdoors stores sell them in different sizes and shapes – and did I mention they’re cheap?

    Another bonus to the Plano boxes: You can use them for fishing, too!

  8. Brett Phillips says:

    I have looked at these tiles before but haven’t purchased. I wanted to know if you can use any type of markers (dry or wet erase) on these tiles. If not, do you have any suggestions for adding things that aren’t on smaller tiles?

    Thanks!

  9. Snacke says:

    Hi bro im newbie in mapping d&d tiles, but im luving ur website, tks a lot!!

  10. Kereminde says:

    Just found this site browsing for “images of dungeon tiles” so I could see what some of the sets were before buying. (Important since some are no longer cheap, upwards of $40 US)

    I’ve always kept my tiles largely unpunched until I need them . . . then I put them back in and into the folder they came in originally. Except for the Master Sets – those I punched and left that way.

    I have a few observations:

    1) If you don’t want to rely on a program, you can also do the tile work yourself and use a digital camera to take a picture of the layout. Or break out the quadruled (i.e. graph) paper and make notes the old fashioned way. I know when I wanted to set up a map of a crypt I cleared the table and started with my Master Set tiles before adding dressings.

    2) The tile faces themselves supposedly are also dry-erase markable. I tried it but immediately wiped them off rather than letting it sit, so beware of letting it sit overnight. If you have a good (and quick) hand with them, you can approximate tables and furniture.

    3) Furniture not being strictly necessary, but you can find it without needing to go too crazy. Find a craft store which sells dollhouse furniture and you should be able to pick up some tables or furniture pretty easily. Of course, for myself, I cheated. I got mine both off the HeroQuest board game (also has some nice orc/goblin minis) and the old MageKnight Dungeons “Artifacts” sets which had tables, chairs, and some other stuff in them.

    • DM David says:

      Hi Kereminde,
      I’ve never been brave enough to try dry-erase markers on dungeon tiles, although it seems like a good trick though.

      Thanks for pointing out the Mage Knight Dungeons Artifacts set. Now I want them. I’m going to hope I spot them at a reasonable price.

  11. Cathy says:

    Tried to get the boxes from the US site of Really Useful Boxes (a horrible website), and the Sorting Tray does not fit the 9 litre box, it is slightly too long. I contacted them and they said that only the hobby tray and stationary tray fit. Just wanted to save others from my problem!

  12. Thanks for the recommendation on using Pymapper! We do now have some tile downloads available on pymapper.com (plus, the yahoo group is pretty much dead at this point). Would you mind changing your link for tiles from Yahoo over to pymapper.com/tile-downloads for us?

    Thanks!
    Mike

  13. I recently got a very good deal on some Dungeon Tiles and just wanted to thank you for discussing them so thoroughly. Do you know if they’re safe to use wet or dry erase markers on?

    • David Hartlage says:

      Hi Austin,
      Don’t use wet or dry erase markers. I’ve heard that they can damage the tiles. Get a Lexan clear-plastic sheet from your local hardware store, lay it on top of the tiles, and then mark on the sheet.

      Dave

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