This article goes through various Tactical map and map tile options that can be used with Roleplaying games.
I've spent a lot of time to browse through different rpg maps and tiles, and I thought of making a post to show a bit about what I've learned and what's available. This post doesn't go through large maps much, but there are a lot of great-looking gaming mats available. But for roleplaying purposes, tiles generally work best as they allow greatest customization possibilities. That said, I bought myself Pwork wargames Valley gaming mat; I wanted 3'x4' and as there's no such size available, I decided to buy 6'x4' one and halve it, and I still have the other half left if anyone in Finland (preferably Tampere/Lahti region) would like to buy such at a way cheaper price that it would cost to order.
TL;DR: If you want quality tactical maps/tiles for your fantasy games, go for Heroic maps & Black Scroll Games. HM has a huge collection of maps and tiles for numerous situations (also some Scifi), BSG has great quality tiles you can conviniently order as cards.
Why large base map?
The reason for this is that I got tired of buidling exterior terrains from small pieces; I wanted to have one large base on which I could place elements, instead of having to build everything from beginning. I chose Vinyl as I wanted to be able to carry it around but still be strudy (canvas wouldn't be good on our uneven table surface, mousepad would be heavy and I heard wouldn't have as good graphic quality). For the graphics, I chose the valley, as it would have a lot of grass for fields and forest base, but it also has pieces of rock/gravel so if I place rock/gravel element on the green parts it would look a lot rougher terrain.
Expanding the existing possibilities
Another note I'd like to make is that I've used Photoshop and existing resources/created some of my own or modified ones I've found online or purcased. Most pieces you see are vanilla, but there's stuff I've created myself or customized.
But now, let's get to the topic!
First, a few words about D&D Dungeon tiles: I have all three (original) base sets, and they feel good. I've used them a lot and they are handy, as they are thick enough to put nicely together. That said, I've now put them on sale. I'm still a bit hesitant about it, as they really are handy and do well what they are supposed to, but I've decided to move to better-looking (but I'm afraid not-that-handy) solutions, which you can see below. Also, that thickness that makes them handy makes them also harder to transport. Some pairings (things that are on the opposide sides of a piece) are not always optimal.
Dungeon tiles are excellent; Generally they have empty floor on the other side, allowing easy construction of dungeons, and various details on the other side. City tiles are cool, but there's a lot of room parts (interior, exterior,wall) which I've really never used – they aren't really optimally sorted IMO, but not horrible either. River bank/harbor tiles+bridge and sewer pieces are my favourites from this set. Wilderness is good too, although wider river would be better than narrow stream. There's not enough base tiles, which is why I destroyed the box and cut it's covers to get me two nice big base tiles.
The new Dungeon tiles have some more variety, which I think is nice, but I think there's not enough material to build desert for example; Swam might work as you could use base pieces to expand it. I have a gut feel they need more than one of each base set to work in some cases.
Other Maps and tiles
After getting the base map, I wated to get stuff on it, so I went all-out on Heroic Maps stuff on Drivethrurpg. I bought forests, rivers, roads which you can see in the pic below. The ruin is something I found online (Dundjinni probably). First I was making one-sided prints and I was trying to figure out the best way to do the terrains. I used self-adhesive plastic sheet that's commin in Finland, and it wasn't bad. At the same time I was working on caverns and gluing them on 1mm cardboard, which I later regreted as I started to run out of space – you'll see pictures of those later.
A few words about laminating map tiles
Allright, to the caves mentioned above then. And a few more words about lamination. I had bought matte lamination pockets as I believed they would look better than glossy ones. Something I didn't know was that they aren't all clear, they are a bit milky and colours and dark parts lose their intensity when laminated with such. In addition, the ones I had were I believe a bit old, and there was a lot of small bubbles of air between the paper and the plastic. Running through the laminating machine thrice helped a bit, but results are still not optimal.
Later I bought clear lamination pockets for the pieces I felt were more important to keep their colours and black parts; I've still used matte parts for desert city, snow and cave terrains, but cave terrains clearly suffer from this. Another failed experiment was ordering lamination pockets that were clear/matte. I even confirmed when ordering that are these really pockets that are matte-surfaced that keep colors and I got positive answer, but the reality wasn't what I hoped for – the pockets were matte from one side and glossy and clear on the other side. Sigh. Needless to say, I returned them.
Aaand, back to the terrains. Caves, Mines, HELL!
Here you can see my caves and mines terrains. Like I said, caves suffer from matte lamination. One of my Grande Terrain Project's first parts was caves, and I just glued some of them on 1mm cardboard. While this makes them easier to put together and stay on place, they are harder to transport, which is one reason I'm giving up on D&D dungeon tiles.
Hellscape tiles are Pathfinder ones. Caves and Large Caverns are best ones I've found, but are quite basic. Mine tunnels look much better and are laminated with clear sheets, although they have a bit richer color anyway. But a bit grayish hue is fine with basic caves anyway.
Note that there may be some pieces I've edited a bit. I have also made a good amount of small objects to be used with these terrains. For example below you can see mine carts (that I'll share soon in another post) and piles of rock that are separate pieces.
For a long time I was trying to decided what was the best set to use for dungeons, as I wanted to use just one. And then I stumbled upon Heroic Maps' Mossy dungeons corridors & Chambers, and I knew I had found what I was looking for:
Crates, magic circle and the pit in the pic above are separate objects collected from elsewhere.
I've photoshopped many of the pieces to two-sided, that's why some pieces above have some extra grey on borders as they have larger/different shaped tiles on the other side.
On the right there's piece of Cemetery Crypts, which was at the time the most beautiful piece of dungeons I had seen, and originally drew my attention to Heroic Maps.
Maps for Desert, Jungle & Seas
Moving to different cultures, games in desert cities get EXCELLENT material from Heroic Maps! Their Desert city Rooftops & streets is something I've recently used a lot, as I've used them as rugged Star Wars city maps too.
A few words about printing tiles two-sided
I tried to print some Heroic Maps pdf pages two-sided. That didn't go well. The elements weren't placed precisely in the middle, so this caused some bad prints. I wanted to save paper & lamination sheets so I photoshopped full sheets of paper stuffed with tiles. This needed a good amount of work though. To save ink, test print settings first with faint lines the opposite sides are correctly aligned, and you are using right scale. Use thick enough paper that stronger colors don't spoil the other side. It might need a lot of planning to find logical pairs for elements, that you usually don't need together but eases sorting of them. Eg. Have statues on the other side and large rocks/piles on the other.
Then, next terrain type.
For Desert and Sea map, I went for Maps of Mastery, I like to have large base maps. I ordered their deluxe set for pracitcal reasons; Space stuff is great, I wouldn't have actually needed the scifi station map, but ordering single item reduced shipping costs, the extra map was free in the packet and deluxe pack had extra stuff. For Jungle, I have some Pathfinder tiles, some of which I have grown quite fond of.
I have some self-made/collected stuff for Seas, plus again some Pathfinder tiles. These aren't my favourite of PF tiles, but a few is handy to have and the few more fantastic ones might become interesting to have one day.
My winter terrains consists mostly of Heroic Maps' Winter pine forest paths and Winter Pine forest Glades. In the Pic there's also Coastal locations stone circle (there's a shipwreck on the other side) and Maphammer's mountain cliffside map. While Maphammer's maps weren't all to my liking and I had to reduce my expenses and stopped Patreoning him, this was my favourite map from him. There seems to be a good amount of good new stuff though... anyway, I photoshopped the cliff a bit, to make dark down-cliff whiteish and foggy. I also photoshopped it extra layer to be able to use it as a stormy cliffside along sea.
Then a view to a few random pieces, after a bit of photoshopping – a bath taken from Into the City Map 3, Corridor photoshopped from 0one Games Corridors & Hallways and a Heroic Maps Prison cells. I had high expectations from 0one maps but was a bit disappointed – the corridor needed some photoshopping to be used as a whole, and most of the stuff looked a bit chaotic. The end result is quite nice and there isn't much such corridors/hallways available.
And then, let's proceed to my latest favourite - Black Scroll Games. I guess it was a mistake to pass their kickstarter a while ago, but when I saw their castle set at DTRPG I was awestruck and had to order the tiles.
These maps are really, REALLY beautiful. Some tiles have night version on the other side, some have empty room. There's really cool ones that can be used also outside castles, like Kitchen (two different!), Theatre, Telescope chamber, Treasury, Bedrooms, Bath, Stable, Crypt and much else...
To add a bit criticism, the only actual flaw was how balconies were printed; If they would have been done differently, there's small black corners that could have been cut off, but now you just have to leave them there. Also I don't like to play with corridors as building larger structures from small corridor pieces is a bit clumsy, but it's hard to come up with anything that works better and looks as good (shades on the corridor pieces DO look good). There should be some kind of transparent holders to put these together. I'd be most happy to receive hints if there's such!
These items are very compact and easy to carry, and above really are tiny nitpickings.
For farmlands, I've used Pathfinder Farmstead tiles (no physical product available here) – while some PF tiles are a bit bland, there's a lot of great ones among them! But now I've started to wonder if I should sell my own, as I've laid my eyes on another countryside set – again from Black Scroll games. BSG's Village Modular Tiles just dropped my jaw – again. But the price point is a bit higher than PF tiles, so I must consider a while before getting it. Especially as shipping to Finland costs almost as much as the product itself, plus taxes/customs on the top of that!
Here you can see the PF tiles, plus swamp tiles (modified from Heroic Maps Wild Places 2); I laminated swamp tiles with matte sheets, which makes them look quite bland. Not happy with this. Maybe I'll just use my old swamp 3d terrain pieces.
Here's what BSG's tiles look like:
City & Rooftops
I got some Pathfinder rooftop & marketplace tiles at bargain price and am quite happy with them. Again, Black Scroll games has put some doubt into my mind with their various buildings AND their interiors, but still I like these narrow streets quite a lot. Below an improvised setup for my Pirates game, where the scale is much larger than would normally would be used. Quite cool session btw, as the players made a sudden decision to move to hostile city of Port Royal and rescued one Player Character's brother from being executed!
Storage of terrain tiles
Shoebox to the rescue! I've made custom cardboard trays (which I'm planning to reinforce) to fit insde a strudy shoebox. I still want to make some kind of supports to the sides to help take out the lower trays, and beautify the piece a bit (to fit together with my Base miniatures box!)
Oh, and one more thing. As I mentioned before, I've been making most of these tiles two-sided. Also River pieces. Guess what I made on the other side? LAVA! I laminated river pieces on a good-quality glossy sheets to maintain colors. I used existing lava texture images and photoshopped them myself, and using the original river pieces to help getting the form and structure for the pieces. Here's what they look like:
I used to be an active D&D miniatures player, and have a bunch of maps from that period, that I may use now and then. Few other maps I mentioned above, and one special one I'd like to mention is Paizo's Theatre map. I got it on budjet, so it didn't matter that the other side is plain wooden board, but the theatre piece is really cool. It's way larger than BSG's Castle/Theatre, so it fills different purpose. Despite of it's style, it might work better for modern games (Opera or Movie theater?)
A word on plastic
There's plastic everywhere that's a bad thing. Everyone's heard it's causing major issues to nature. Because of this I was a bit hesitant to laminate these, but I intend to use them for the long time and am ready to provide the terrains for my friends' games too. I'm careful to get rid of all the excess as needed, luckily there's good plastic recycling and waste disposal procedures at Tampere/Finland. Be careful to dispose any excess/unused plastic correctly!
Few other toughts: 2.5d and 3d elements
While I dropped use of 3d terrains (which you can find in huge amounts on this site) due to practicality issues as most of my games are played in places other than my home, using, buying and creating more keeps tempting me. I even bought Fat Dragon Games Highland Adventures as cliff terrain, but haven't gotten into creation process yet. It can be pack compactly and is therefore quite easy to transport, but is fast & easy enough for my demands I'm not sure.
2.5d creates some illusion of 3d, and allows some wall structures you couldn't see otherwise, but it easily will take a lot of space.
The most practical 3d elements you can have are separate objects that look impressive. Stalagmites, Pillars, doors, maybe even statues and braziers can be excellent additions to maps that do not take huge amounts of space. But this is a topic for another day!
Free content around the web
There's a great amount of stuff freely available around the web. Some preview images may be dead ends, which may be annoying, but if you're on budget (or just want to complement your collections) go ahead and do some browsing. My best tips for this is googling for your search word with site:dundjinni.com or browsing just pinterest or google with 'rpg map' (or map tile, or object or...) and/or anything you want to find. You can also try to use google image color search (pro tip: Use 'transparent' as color to make some great finds) or follow similar pictures feature when you find something resembling what you look for. Photoshop skills are great to have/learn when working with these.
Everything you choose to use has it's pluses and minuses. There's a great-looking Kickstarter project Immersive Battle Maps closing in a few days, which I'm considering to back despite my huge collection of maps – just to get variety and more mobile terrain solution when I don't have car at hands. Vinyl stickers look great and are something I've been looking (as clear ones, just to attach eg. those BSG castle pieces togteher). At least a bit sticky base would be great for tiles that should be placed in strict formation.
Many of these maps can be used for various genres, but for example modern games there's better solutions. I'm planning to make a post about these some day too.
While I've spent a good amount of time learning and getting experience with terrain tiles, I don't know everything. If you have something you can add to my information packet, feel free to comment or send me a message!
And if you want me to recommend something, It's Heroic Maps (with something good-looking for every situation) and Black Scroll Games (with a bunch of stunning collections) are The two Best choises there is – they are my absolute favourites for gaming terrains! To have best view to BSG content, browser their DTRPG page or take a look at their Kickstarter page (missing which I start to regret more and more!)
And right now as I'm ready to finish this post, I got a notification that BSG has done a Canals & Docks set, that would make a bunch of my stuff obsolete and add a good new amount of stuff. Curse you Black Scroll Games, there's so much stuff I want but I can't afford everything!