RPG Map Tiles

Posted in EpicTable Blog on March 8, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Dungeon Tiles: Dire TombsAwhile back, I wrote a post about finding maps for your virtual tabletop . This post is more general. I’ll be talking about map tiles–not full maps. I’ll cover tiles for your face-to-face game as well as for your virtual tabletop.

The Dire Tombs cover there on your left wasn’t chosen randomly. This post started out as my just wanting to rave about how much I like Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon Tiles. I’m still going to do that, but it struck me that there are many, many options when it comes to map tiles. So, I had a look around and thought I’d share some observations.

What are map tiles?

Before I launch into this, let me clarify what I mean by “map tiles”. These are map sections, scaled for the common RPG miniatures (i.e., 1 inch squares). You can assemble these tiles in a variety of configurations to produce your own maps. This makes tiles more reusable than full maps.

Some map tiles are sold as pieces of cardstock with maps printed on them. Others (many others) are sold as PDF files that you can print. The PDF-based map tiles have an obvious advantage to users of virtual tabletops in that they can be more readily composed into a digital map for use with a virtual tabletop.

Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon Tiles

First off, here’s my rave about WotC’s Dungeon Tiles. I own three sets, at this point, and I’m extremely happy with them. They are:

  • suitable for any game/genre, as long as you don’t insist upon hex grids
  • very durable—I have no corners bent or peeling, not scuffs, no warps, and I while I keep them safe in a gallon ziplock bag, I don’t treat them super-carefully during the game.
  • somewhat moisture tolerant—I haven’t gone out of my way to put this to the test, but minor drips wipe off instead of soaking in.
  • weighty—They don’t blow out of place when a player walks by on his way to the pizza.
  • portable—The combination of light and durable means I can carry them around in a gallon ziplock bag.
  • an excellent value—At $10 a set, they’re not much more than tile sets delivered as PDFs, and a lot higher quality than many, in terms of the artwork; and of course, you don’t have to print them and try to give them all the desirable qualities mentioned above.

What You Get

You get a fair number of tiles for your $10. I haven’t gone back and counted my older sets, but I’ve had no trouble running most encounters with the two older sets I have. Since I just opened the Dire Tombs set (not that this has anything to do with the upcoming desert adventure, in case any of my players are reading this), I’ll give you a quick count:

Tile (1″ grid) Count
8×8 2
4×4 2
4×8 1
3×8 1
2×4 6
2×8 5
2×2 3
1×2 4
1×1 1
5×5 diagonal half 2

That’s 27 tiles, covering a total of 192 square inches, for $10.

Dwarven Forge

I’ve said it before: If I had infinite funds, infinite space, and a half-ogre minion to lug my stuff around, I’d run every game using the Dwarven Forge stuff. Sadly, none of those conditions are true, so…back to discussing map tiles.

PDF RPG Map Tiles

There are a huge number of map tiles distributed via PDF files. While I can’t say that I like them as much as the Dungeon Tiles, they do have a number of advantages. PDF-based map tiles…

  • tend to be free or very inexpensive
  • are obviously very portable
  • can and do offer more variety than a printed product
  • are readily useful in a virtual tabletop—no scanning required!


However, it’s also true that they:

  • have to be printed (unless you’re using a virtual tabletop)
  • printing tiles can be especially troublesome if they’re dark—not only does it use lots of ink, but you tend to get banding and warping due to the volume of ink soaking in
  • aren’t durable without extra work on your part
  • are seldom as high-quality with respect to artwork as WotC’s Dungeon Tiles
  • can cost nearly as much as WotC’s tiles

It’s true that you can get around some of these issues, for instance, by mounting the printed tiles on something sturdy. The extra time and money involved makes that a fairly unattractive option, though, unless you’ve found something unique that you can’t get in WotC’s Dungeon Tiles.

PDF RPG Map Tile Roundup

Because the quality isn’t especially consistent across the tiles out there, I thought I’d share the results of my search for decent PDF-based tiles. These are in no particular order.

Greywolf’s Map Tiles

Kind of a mixed bag of stuff. The ships, while technically not tiles, make it worth a visit.

GameMastery MapPacks (Paizo)

I tend to really love Paizo’s stuff, so I’m surprised I haven’t tried these. You know why? I hate the flip mats—they won’t stay flat and my minis are always toppling. This hatred, my inattention, and the somewhat similar product names resulted in my not realizing that the map packs and the flip mats were different things until recently. So, what I say here is based on reviews I’ve read rather than personal experience. The map packs seem to be getting mixed reviews. One of the negatives seems to be that they’re not as weighty and durable as WotC’s dungeon tiles. More concerning is the charge that they’re not be very “mix and matchable”. That is, they reportedly are made to fit together just a couple ways, resulting in fewer distinct maps you can make from them. As you’d expect from Paizo, the artwork is universally praised. Also, I’d guess that the same qualities that make the maps not as reconfigurable also make them a little richer–containing specific elements that hurt their reusability, but make them uniquely appropriate to that special encounter you build around one of them.

Battle Tiles (Goodman Games)

Really nice quality PDF tiles, though at 11-15 tiles for $6.99, they seem a little expensive to me, compared to the WotC Dungeon Tiles.

Brios Canadian Online Flea Market

Nice quality Star Wars tiles suitable for any future and many of them suitable for modern settings. Not a lot of stuff, but what’s there is pretty nice.

SkeletonKey Games

Huge variety of tiles. Pretty consistent quality. Not stunning, but good and very consistent. The Cartophile line looks a nice innovation in this space. Definitely worth a look.

Dream Weaved Worlds

Nice quality tiles. Worth a look.

Organized Play Tiles (Wizards of the Coast)

Just sort of stumbled upon these. I didn’t expect freebies when WotC is selling physical tiles and seems to be moving towards a subscription model for their digital content. The artwork is very good, as you might expect. They were originally developed for organized play of the D&D Miniatures game, though, so there are some possibly annoying marks on the tiles indicating things presumably of importance to that game.

Flatlands: Modern Tiles and Tokens Megaset I (Dirty Unicorn Games and 12 To Midnight, Inc.)

Lots of interesting-sounding modern tiles, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to download them or even see a sample. Perhaps if I registered I could…but I don’t have the patience to register just to see if they’re worth consideration.

Final Thoughts

  • I find it hard to beat WotC’s Dungeon Tiles for best value.
  • If you’re using a virtual tabletop, the PDF-based tiles become much more appealing.
  • Aquilonien, over at the Red Golem Blog, has some good ideas for firming up PDF-based map tiles for real world use.
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