Monthly Archives: April 2013

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

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.

A complete list and gallery of Dungeon Tiles sets

This table describes all the Dungeon Tiles sets released by Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons & Dragons. The gallery links show the front and back sides of the tiles.


Set Name Date View Edge code* Features
DT1 Dungeon Tiles 2006 A B 1_black_1 Core dungeon, tavern, and a house
DT2 Arcane
2006 A B 2_purple_1 Hazardous terrain, a 2-story stone tower
DT3 Hidden Crypts 2007 A B 3_blue_1 Underground crypts and a barn
DT4 Ruins of
the Wild
2007 A B 4_green_1 Fields, tents, standing stones, a lodge, and a ruined tower
DT5 Lost Caverns of the Underdark 2007 A B 5_yellow_1 Caverns
DT6 Dire Tombs 2007 A B 6_orange_1 Crypts with a desert palette
DT7 Fane of the Forgotten Gods 2008 A B 7_magenta_1 Traps and hazards, a surface temple, and a jail
DU1 Halls of the Giant Kings 2008 A B 1_black_2 Earthen pit, an underground prison, and giant furnishings, doors,
and stairs
DU2 Streets of
2008 A B 2_purple_2 Streets, rooftops, sewers, and a cellar
DU3 Caves of
2009 A B 3_blue_2 Corpse strewn caverns, an underground river, and rotting bridges
DU4 Arcane Towers 2009 A B 4_green_2 Curved tower walls and stairs, magical laboratories, crenelated
DU5 Sinister Woods 2009 A B 5_yellow_2 Overgrown ruins
DU6 Harrowing
2009 A B 6_orange_2 Living quarters with wooden floors, a banquet hall, a grand
entrance, and a 3D stair
DU7 Desert of
2010 A B 7_magenta_2 Desert and oasis tiles, plus 3D stairs, platforms, and wagons
Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The City 2010 0_peach_1 Essential urban tiles
Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Dungeon 2010 0_ice_1 Essential dungeon tiles
Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Wilderness 2010 0_pink_1 Essential forest tiles
DN1 Caverns of Icewind Dale 2011 A B 1_black_3 Ice, snow, and caves
DN2 Witchlight Fens 2011 A B 2_purple_3 Swamp and shacks
DN3 Shadowghast Manor 2011 A B 3_blue_3  Thin walls above and below ground
DN4 Cathedral of Chaos 2012 A B 4_green_3 Diagonal halls, a ziggurat, plus trap and hazard tokens
DN5 Urban
2012 A B 5_yellow_3 Caverns meet worked stone
DN6 Castle
2012 A B 6_orange_3 Thin, above-ground castle walls, and a moat
DN7 Ruins of War 2012 A B 7_magenta_3 An army encampment
Dungeon Tiles Reincarnated Dungeon 2017 Dungeons and caverns
Dungeon Tiles Reincarnated Wilderness 2017 Forest, swamp, and desert
Dungeon Tiles Reincarnated City 2017 Civilization inside and out

* Mark tiles with these edge codes to indicate the set they come from. For more information on this system, see my complete guide to using Dungeon Tiles.


Which two D&D roles are too effective?

When designers of fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons devised the roles of controller, defender, striker and leader, they focused attention on granting characters of each role equal time to shine. At this, I think they succeeded.

Despite this success, the game would play better if the game made two roles worse at their job (and made everyone but strikers better at dealing damage).

Too hot: Strikers need to share the damage

When compared to characters in other roles, strikers deal too much damage. Striker-heavy parties perform better in combat, because dead is the best condition to impose on enemies. Sure the fighter can mark, and the wizard can daze, but dead is better, and who needs a healer when dead monsters inflict no damage? In difficult combat challenges such as the Lair Assaults, parties dominated by strikers almost always do best. Former D&D designer Rich Baker acknowledges, “4th Edition is, for better or worse, a striker’s game.

Temple of the Sky God

The 4E designers struggled to enable every class to make a damage-dealing attack on every turn, so no one feels bad about “wasting” a turn buffing, dispelling or—heaven forbid—healing. How ironic that unless you play a striker, your puny damage is hardly worth the arithmetic. I routinely see a single striker deal as much damage in a round as the rest of the party combined.

In ordinary, level-appropriate fights, a party without strikers can still grind out a victory eventually, but who has the time?

Several times a year, I act as a dungeon master at conventions. Typically, conventions strictly limit scheduled game sessions to 4½ hour time slots. As a convention dungeon master, managing time and the game’s pace becomes critical. I strive to bring every adventure to a satisfying conclusion within the time allowed. When I seat a table with a few strikers, I know that I can spare some extra time for that role playing encounter. When the table lacks any strikers, I face the delicate task of rushing the session without making the players feel rushed.

As the 4E designers worked out the game’s math, they should have pushed some of the striker’s damage potential to the other roles. Even with the adjustment, we would never see a party where no one wants to step up and play the striker.

Too cold: Defenders are too sticky

Defenders are too sticky; they make fights static and boring. I could go on, but Liam Gallagher makes this argument very well in “Make D&D Better, Remove Fighters From the Game.”

The fourth edition design tries to make combat fun by making it fast moving and dynamic, but the game undermines this asset by included defender abilities such as Combat Superiority that can stop a move. Defenders play best when they damage creatures that attack vulnerable characters, not when they lock monsters in place.

Just right: Exactly one leader works best

Fourth edition D&D seeks to make parties viable even when they lack a character to fill a role. Traditionally D&D parties required a healer/leader. The 4E design succeeded in making a leader optional, but more than one party leader limits the fun. With more than one leader, the monsters lose the ability to threaten the party, while the party reverts to a five-minute work day. And as I’ve discussed, if the extra leader replaces a striker, combat grinds to a crawl.

In fourth edition D&D, healing surges represent a character’s reserve of vitality. Logically, you might suppose that a character could expend a surge’s vitality to perform feats unrelated to healing. Players would readily trade surges for something like an extra encounter power. After all, how often do you run out of surges? By design, the game rarely, if ever, uses surges as a resource for anything but healing. If characters could spend healing surges willy-nilly, they could easily burn through a day’s allotment in a single fight. Afterwards, they need an extended rest and the five-minute work day returns with a vengeance.

In effect, characters in parties with multiple leaders can spend surges willy-nilly—more healing surges than intended by the 4E design. Monsters cannot deal enough damage to endanger characters with access to such deep reserves, but a single, tough fight ends the party’s five-minute work day.

The game would play better if characters could only spend a limited number of surges in a single encounter.

Controllers shine at objectives

Controllers are the only role that varies widely in effectiveness depending on nature of a battle. In the base 4E encounter consisting of one, roughly-equal strength enemy per PC, controllers stink. The usefulness of the role improves in a few scenarios:

  • Against lots of enemies, a controller’s area attacks can shine. But in 4E, characters only face lots of enemies when most are minions. But in practice, minions rarely last more than a round or two, even against non-controllers with access to powers like cleaves and whirlwind attacks. Even the surviving minions typically lack enough damage potential to matter.
  • Against solos and elites, a controller’s action denial can become decisive, but action denial makes encounters into boring grinds or one-sided romps. As fourth edition matured, the design of new solo and elite monsters has evolved to nullify attacks that deny them actions. Overall, this change benefits the game, but it weakens controllers.
  • When a party battles against overwhelming opposition, but has objectives to accomplish, the controller really shines. In fourth edition, I think the most enjoyable encounters pit the players against creatures they cannot hope to defeat, but which give the characters an objective that ends the encounter. In these battles, the striker’s damage hardly matters and the controller’s ability to hinder and obstruct becomes truly valuable. A party stacked with controllers works well in a goal-oriented challenge like the Temple of the Sky God Lair Assault, and I love playing a controller against overwhelming odds in the D&D championship. Alas, most D&D encounters remain battles to the death—or at least until one side gives up the fight.

Fourth edition’s mature design now locks each role in place with all its advantages and drawbacks. As a dungeon master or adventure designer, you can make the most of game by adding encounters that include more objectives than slaying the opposition. And as a player, if you want time to explore and interact, bring an extra striker.