Maps! – Virtual Tabletop Tips, Part 1

Posted in EpicTable Blog on January 3, 2008 at 3:47 pm

wet-erase battlemat and digital mapI wanted to call this “Virtual Maps are Better than Physical Maps…Unless You Use Dwarven Forge…And Have Unlimited Funds…And Unlimited Room…And a Really Indulgent Spouse”, but that seemed a little long winded for a title. So, “Maps!”, if only because I’d exhausted my own patience by then.

So, obviously, if members of your gaming group have moved apart, or you for other reasons find yourself playing pen-and-paper style roleplaying games online, you need tools to do that. (Maybe not obviously–there’s a contingent out there playing RPGs over general purpose IM or IRC. I think there are good reasons why they should consider a virtual tabletop instead, but that’s a topic for another post.) What this post is about is maps. Or rather, “Maps!” More specifically, I want to talk about why you may want to use a virtual tabletop even in your face-to-face game.

I can’t draw maps. I mean ,I can–I have graph paper, I’ve been drawing maps since I was 10 years old. But I can’t draw maps that look like Christopher West’s maps. And it both saddens and shames me. Worse, I have this brilliant map from Dungeon or Pathfinder or whatever in front of me, while my players are stuck with my hastily-scrawled rendition of it in wet-erase marker on a battlemat. Now, as the DM and the guy who paid for the subscription, I’m entitled to bask in the sumptuousness of the map I get to look at , but maybe my players chipped in, or maybe I’m naturally magnanimous, or maybe I just think that playing on really nice maps is an experience that everyone deserves. For whatever the reason, I feel compelled to share the beautiful, professionally-designed maps with my players.

In the past, I’ve printed player copies of some maps, but that’s really not been very practical. Often the players shouldn’t be seeing the whole map. Here’s where a virtual tabletop comes in. Some virtual tabletops (including my own upcoming EpicTable) support sending the battlemat to a separate screen or to a projector. Now, your players get to see the same map you’re seeing. It looks cool, and you don’t have to interrupt play to draw it out on the battlemat. (If you’re having trouble visualizing this, check out the tabletop projection topic over at Pen, Paper, and Pixel.

You might never go back to physical battlemaps. …Well, yes, you might–there’s no substitute for playing out the climactic battle with hand-painted miniatures in a cavern built entirely out of the gorgeous stuff from Dwarven Forge. But unless your pockets are a lot deeper than mine, your spouse a lot more indulgent, and you’re a lot faster at tile arranging than I am, it’s really not practical to run the whole adventure inside a Dwarven Forge cavern system. (The GameMastery Map Packs are nice too, and affordable, but still a bit of a pain to setup for more than the special encounters.)

Using a virtual tabletop, all your encounters can use high-quality maps, and you can still break out the Dwarven Forge stuff for that climactic battle with the evil frog-priest and his fiendish bullywugs. (Admit it, you think that’s a little cool….)

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