3 Pieces of Dungeon Masters Gear I Love and 1 Failed Experiment

Whenever I unpack my dry-erase maps and tiles, I reveal the remains of past games. Today, this residue includes the usual battlegrounds drawn in 5-foot squares, but also names like Syndra Silvane and Ytepka, experience numbers, damage totals, a sketch of the Chapel of Kukulkan from Tamoachan, and a rough map of the Nangalore in Chult.

As much as dungeon masters serve as a referees and facilitators, we need to act as communicators. So I use my dry-erase grids as white boards to help reveal the game world to the players, to remind players of place and character names, to emphasize key details, and so on. At any Dungeons & Dragons table, I’m never the only one who tends to think visually.

This habit led me to discover an advantage interlocking gaming tiles boast over the conventional battle mats. I can pick up one tile, write or draw, and set tile back down. No more struggling to write “Ytepka” upside down for the players to see.

Compared to a conventional battle mat, interlocking, dry- or wet-erase tiles bring other advantages. You can draw tiles in advance, and then reveal them as characters explore. As characters travel, adding tiles extends your map. Characters and their miniatures can roam without leaving the table.

Dry- and Wet-Erase Interlocking Tiles

Two companies now sell dry- or wet-erase interlocking tiles with either 1-inch grids or hexes.

Gaming Paper’s tiles consist of heavy cardboard like the board in your Monopoly game, but thicker. I can hold a rigid tile in 1 hand and draw with the other. The glossy surface takes dry-erase markers. The 8×11 size fits with your game books in a bag or on a bookshelf. The construction makes the boards inexpensive, but it means that careless erasing will peel the paper surface from the boards.

I haven’t seen the tiles from Role 4 Initiative. They come on 1/8-inch-thick chipboard, so they should prove more durable than cardboard. The tiles work with both wet- and dry-erase markers. Dry erase marks lift without water, but they tend to smear during transport or storage. Wet-erase marks stay sharp. These tiles come in both 10×10 and 5×5 sizes, which makes packing a bit more awkward, but which helps DMs fit dungeon walls within tile borders.

Wire Templates

Nothing stalls a fight on a grid like an area-effect spell. Everyone waits while someone counts and recounts squares, and then figures angles like a pool shark. For fireballs and other circles, my macrame rings trim minutes from the process. To make 30-foot cones just as simple, I shaped 12-gauge, aluminum craft wire and electrical tape into a template. For Cone of Cold, I bent an 30-foot extension.

For improved versions, I would like to find stiffer wire. My wire holds up at the table, but packing requires care. I nestle the pieces under the flat cover of my compartment case.

Bags for Games Masters

I used to think that scrapbooking served as lonely fun, but scrapbookers gather together to craft. And companies design amazing bags suited for their ventures. We DMs lack the same market clout, but a bag made for scrapbooking holds my Dungeons & Dragons gear so well that only an embroidered ampersand would improve it.

The 360 Crafters Rolling Bag from We Are Memory Keepers holds a compartment case full of miniatures alongside a stack of hardcovers. Pockets cover the bag inside and out, offering a place for everything. Plus, mesh reveals each pockets’ contents, so I can find things without digging. Plus, the bag stands open beside my DM’s chair, keeping everything in easy reach. I can start a game without unpacking.

Admittedly, the selection of cheerful colors and breezy patterns hardly says killer DM, but I can add my own green, devil patches.

Wet-Wipe Chalk Marker

Until technology brings me a video display that I can unroll at a convention table, I’m stuck using paper maps. To bad, because I dream of using electronics to show a map and reveal only the features within the characters’ sight. I experimented with a low-tech alternative.

  1. Set a players’ version of a dungeon map under the Lexan sheet I sometimes use to keep battlemaps flat.
  2. Conceal the map with a wet-wipe chalk marker—the sort of marker a school’s homecoming committee uses to decorate the windows of businesses on Main Street.
  3. As players explore, wipe away the chalk marks, revealing the map.

Unfortunately, the chalk coating proved too hard to remove. Scraping caused it to flake off in ragged patches, revealing too much and leaving a blizzard of white powder. A wet paper towel left white smears and also lacked precision. I count wet chalk as a failed experiment, so I’m back to waiting for a packable, 30-inch display.

Related: Photo Guide to Dungeon Masters Tools

13 thoughts on “3 Pieces of Dungeon Masters Gear I Love and 1 Failed Experiment

  1. Matt

    Awww I was really hoping for the chalk to work 🙁

    I wonder if you took a dry erase marker and opaqued the sheet with that if it would work well enough.

    It is a super clever idea. There has got to be something that would make it work. I have also felt the yearning for a pre-drawn revealable map. But for the first time, with your failed expirement, it feels in sight!

  2. Chris

    have you looked at arcknight for their spell effects? my only complaint there is they don’t have a way to pop them out so you have to cut them.

  3. Dan P

    Roll20 allows you to create maps ahead of time with exquisite detail and hide it all. Then you can reveal piece by piece during gameplay. Solves most of the issues in this article as well

  4. Jeff

    The technology exists to reveal what your characters see as they explore. Someone already mentioned Roll20. In general, any VTT does this and a lot more.

  5. coriolanusdelawesome

    I started using dungeon tiles over interlocking grid tiles, but I found that it becomes an “if you give a mouse a cookie” situation. Now that I’ve got dungeon tiles, I need 3d dungeon dressings. And any features need to be represented physically. And all my miniatures have to be accurate, etc, etc. Thankfully I don’t think my group minds much if everything isn’t perfectly represented.

    I’m jealous of people who game via Roll20 since they have access to maps that can take advantage of line-of-sight and darkness. Please make an update post if you think of a better way of revealing rooms in maps! I’ve seen some youtubers recommend cutting pieces of paper the size of the rooms and using double sided tape to put them in place. It seems like a good plan, but it can be time consuming to cut out squares of paper that are perfectly sized. Maybe it’s not too bad if you use an exacto blade?

    1. Matt

      I have done the pieces of paper thing. It worked okay. I ran a dungeon from PotA the black stone monastery or something. I cut out each room from paper, redrawn from the book. Then, as the party explored and opened a door, I placed the new room down in from of them. When they left and returned, I replaced the pieces they had explored, although all of the monsters had moved around.

      Here are my thoughts on that:

      1. Annoying to make. To be fair, I probably worked harder, rather then smarter. I had to keep going back to the book, checking my measurements, drawing things vaguely squarish, and try to fit as many pieces as possible on a page. If I had to do this again, I would use an image editor and draw the rooms and print them out, and cut it from there.

      2. Flimsy. I used just standard printer paper. On the plus side, I could use a paper clip to hold everything together, but I ended up with a few bens and crease that ended up with parts of my map sticking up at weird angles. I’d probably redo it with cardstock if I did it again.

      3. Not designed for it. The dungeon I was running was not great for this type of map. It was a tight knit building and every wall was used for at least two rooms. That turned out to not work very well, as when the pieces were laid down, they weren’t exact and the overlap cause, well, not really issues, but it didn’t look as nice as I had hoped.

      Also: this method isn’t great at depicting 2 stories or if a passage goes underneath another bit.

      4. Not easily mutable. A common thing for predrawn tiles. If the party, somehow, stupidly, decides to break through a wall somehow, there’s not much you can do to alter the papers. Maybe have a replacement for next week, but nothing for now.

      I think this type of dungeon would be amazing for someone with access to a lase cutter, where they can get precise shapes with lines drawn on and everything. Failing that, if you’re willing to put in the work, it can be good, but I don’t know how much better a solution it is as opposed to drawing a map on your own.

      If there was a piece of software that made it super easy to design the map bits for printing, it would be a different story.


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