2011 Poster Map Buyer's Guide

by Mike Shea on 12 December 2011

The Battle Map Comparisons article on this site continues to be a popular draw. We all love our encounter maps and there's a lot of potential options available. The more we use these options, the more we can see the advantages between one and another. Today we'll pick out the best buys for awesome battle maps.

The polycarbonate sheet

The poster-sized polycarbonate sheet, available at Home Depot for about $22, is the best accessory you can buy for poster maps. It's one of those great finds that has so many uses, you keep discovering more as you use it. When placed over a poster map, this polycarbonate sheet protects the map, keeps things perfectly flat, feels great when used with miniatures, and lets you draw on it with a wet or dry erase marker. It works just as well over dungeon tiles and dry-erase maps as it does over pre-printed poster maps. It's the best money you can spend for your encounter setups.

Poster maps

For the money, the most detailed battle maps you can get come from pre-printed poster maps. The best value you're likely to find come from the upcoming Map Packs: Haunted Temples and Vaults of the Underdark, due to come out next year. Each of these packs will contain three double-sided poster maps. That's twelve maps for $18, a deal that is very hard to beat. If you can't wait, however, there are a few great options for poster maps you can get right now including the following:

D&D Starter Set Red box: Includes two versatile poster maps including the Monster Lair / Crossroads and the Inner Dungeons.

Dungeon Master's Kit: Includes four very versatile maps; the roadside shrine / arcane sanctum, the skull cave / tavern and stables, the keep wall, and the road-side farmstead.

Monster Vault Includes the winter village and a detailed dungeon.

Monster Vault 2: Includes the small temple / swamp lair and the cracked cave lair / rocky hillside.

Madness at Gardmore Abbey: Includes the large temple, the entry hall / crypts, the throne room / outer temple, and the tower complex.

These five products contain a total of 21 detailed encounter areas you can use and re-use throughout your campaigns.

The dry-erase battle map

For pure versatility, the fold-up dry-erase Gamemastery Flip Mat is still a great purchase. At about $12, it can let you draw any environment your imagination can dream up. The more detailed you want to be, however, the more work it will take. You're never likely to build out an environment as beautiful as you'll have with poster maps, but it can fill in those gaps that poster maps don't fill. It's always worth having one of these on hand.

What about dungeon tiles?

Over the past five years, I've tried and tried to use dungeon tiles well and never had a lot of luck. While more flexible than poster maps, they take too long to set up and never quite build out the dungeon you want. Unless an adventure specifically calls for them, like the Monster Vault adventure, they aren't generally going to fit the environment of a pre-published adventure. I ended up giving away most of the tiles I have except for a set of the Dungeon Tile Master Sets. Even those I can't really recommend. You're simply better off with a dry-erase flip map and a pile of poster maps.

Where's the Dwarven Forge?

I've talked a lot about Dwarven Forge in the past and have used it for years in my own games. As much as I enjoy it, I cannot recommend its purchase for four simple reasons:

  1. It's too expensive. A single set of Dwarven Forge can pay for nearly all of the other recommendations on this list and two sets of Dwarven Forge isn't enough to build a good battle map layout. A good set of Dwarven Forge can quickly get into four figures.

  2. It's too heavy. Unless you run your D&D games at your own house every week and you have a wife willing to let you keep twenty one plastic shelves in your dining room, Dwarven Forge is simply too heavy to transport.

  3. It takes too long to set up and tear down. It takes just a couple of minutes to set up a battle map. It can take an hour or more to set up a good Dwarven Forge setup. That's time you're taking away from the planning of the rest of your game.

  4. It doesn't lend itself to dynamic gaming. If you and your group like heading in any direction at any given time, Dwarven Forge isn't for you. While you can quickly put together an encounter area using maps, dungeon tiles, or a dry-erase mat; Dwarven Forge just doesn't have that flexibility.

While Dwarven Forge setups are still the best looking set-ups you can have for your D&D game, the four reasons above keep them out of this year's buyer's guide.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide. Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.