by Mike Shea on 8 February 2016
"When art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine."
- Pablo Picasso
We dungeon masters have lots of favorite tools. Some of us like to go big with tables full of glorious Dwarven Forge. Others love to talk about the zen-like simplicity of the 3x5 notecard. Some love detailed and lovingly painted miniatures. Some love the unlimited special effects budget of the "theater of the mind".
We all have our favorite tools and this one is mine: the Paizo basic poster map.
Why do I love this laminated fold-up map? For many reasons. Today we'll look at a few ways to use this map beyond its obvious use as a gridded battle map for miniature combat.
The flip mat makes a perfect horizontal white board. You can fold it up and take it whever you plan to run a game. It weighs little and packs nicely. When you put it out, it makes a good-sized 24" by 30" surface you can put right in the center of the table between you and all of your players.
You can draw anything you want on this surface. You can sketch out the town in which the PCs explore. You can draw a strange glyph or symbol they saw on a wall. You can write down the stats for monsters so everyone knows what they have to roll to hit them or how much damage those monsters have already taken. If you're not into using 3x5 cards for simple initiative you can write out the initiative list on the flip mat so everyone can see who is up and who is next.
Though the tendency is to draw top-view maps, you can just as easily draw the front of a castle or the side of a cliff full of caves. You can sketch out a huge statue the PCs are attempting to scale. If you're particularly skilled, you can draw three-quarter views or cut-away drawings to give players a different point of view.
There's no limit to what you can draw or write on these things but, because we're used to using them as tactical maps, we tend not to think that way. While tactical maps are the obvious intent, there's a lot more we can do with these wonderful mats.
If you do end up using the flip mat for tactical combat, you have quite a few options. First you can use it in the typical 5 foot square method. Every square on the map equates to 5 feet in the game.
There are other more abstract ways to use it though. You can draw out a room and then designate zones in the style of Fate. You can also set up bad guys on one side and good guys on the other in a Final Fantasty style abstract combat. This lets you write out damage right next to a monster and move PC miniatures around to designate who is targeting who and how close they are in relative terms.
Like drawing things out on the mat, there are no limits to the styles of combat you can run on such a flexable tool.
While the Paizo basic poster map has fine whiteish and sandy terrain on its two sides, you might want to invest in the Paizo Flip Mat Terrain Pack. This one costs a few dollars more but comes with two different fold-out maps with grasslands, caverns, worked stone, and water textured maps. My personal preference is for the darker caverns / grasslands map since the whiter stone doesn't look very dungeony to me. It's nice to have a variety of base textures to use if you do happen to use these mats as a tactical battle map.
I've tried a variety of different markers on my flip mats over the years and the best ones I've tried are the trusty Expo black dry-erase markers. You can get fancy with colored ones but that can end up taking a lot of time when all you really need is a quick sketch to get everyone on board and then dive into their own minds for the imaginative details.
While we tend to think of these maps for games like Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons they can work just as well for more story-focused roleplaying games like 13th Age, Numenera, or Fate. All of these games benefit from having the ability to sketch some things out so everyone can see them.
There are a lot of tools we DMs try from time to time. Some of them work really well. Some of them end up in a box in the closet. One accessory I continually use and find useful is the Paizo Flip Mat. If you don't already have one, give it a try.