So something I want to discuss today is a comparison between the D&D Dungeon Tile line of products, and Pathfinder Map Packs (And similar thin laminated map products). This is in light of recently getting the Pathfinder Forest Trails map pack, and looking back on my changing opinion on how I do my maps and layouts for RPGs.
Note that this isn’t referring to the larger 2’x3′ dry-erase maps, both of specific areas as well as blank grids; I would actually strongly recommend any GM get a blank one, as they help for stat-tracking and sketching a scene even if your game isn’t as grid-based as D&D/Pathfinder. I’ve also never regretted getting specific larger maps as well (I currently have one for a small island/coast, and a daylight/night temple), and have found that these can be invaluable, especially for a larger setpiece battle.
Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Tiles:
This is the product I started with, getting them shortly after starting D&D 4e. Between my wife and I, we have all or nearly all of the Dungeon Tiles offered, with some extras in the outdoor forest category since I tend to run outdoor RPGs rather than dungeon delves. They cost about $15 for the tiles shown above. The boxed sets for The City, The Wilderness, and The Dungeon are also fantastic deals, getting around 2.3-3x the number of tiles you normally get in a pack for only a smidge more than twice the price. Plus, they come in a cool storage/transport box that is gridded itself to allow for use as even more play area.
- Incredibly Durable, since they’re made of thick cardstock.
- Good value. You can cover most of a table with them, and they’re double-sided for even more options
- They combine with other Dungeon tiles and other grid-map products very easily due to their modularity, and have a huge range of possible configurations.
- While I think they’re technically OK for dry-erase, the surface is textured enough that I’m personally not comfortable doing so. However, since I can count on a blind carpenter’s hand the number of times I’ve desired this feature, it’s no loss for me.
- Not a lot of large tiles, meaning you either have to get more packs for the larger stuff, or worry about stuff being knocked around
- Several small fiddly 1×1 and 1×2 square pieces. They add nice detail, but can be hard to keep track of
- Lots of components means setting a scene takes a lot longer
Pathfinder Map Packs
This also includes similar products from other companies, whose names escape me at the moment. I had gotten one of the larger fold-out maps a while back, and currently own several of those, but this refers specifically to the smaller ~6″x9″ laminated one-sided maps tiles. I currently have only three sets, those for the Forest Trails, Ship’s Cabins (The name is a misnomer, it has a full set of decks for a large ship, as well as a skiff tile), and Swallowed Whole. I’ve used the Ships Cabins an inordinate number of times, have yet to use the Forest Trails as they are a new purchase, and only used the Swallowed Whole once or twice so far. Still, these are simple fantastic and even the ones I haven’t used as often will still doubtlessly see use soon.
- The larger size means you often only need 2-4 of them to set a full scene, speeding up gameplay and prep time.
- Smooth laminate surface readily takes dry erase and wet erase (I have not yet been brave enough to test the permanent marker indicated on the packaging)
- They’re less than a quarter of the thickness of the Dungeon tiles, meaning they store and transport incredibly easily.
- They’re somewhat lightweight, so it’s easy to knock them out of place. Usually popping the map back into the original setup isn’t an issue, however, so this is really minor.
- Very thin material makes me worry they’ll wear out after a much, much shorter time than the Dungeon Tiles.
- The larger set designs means that you can’t as easily customize an area, and the somewhat eclectic options in some tilesets means there are some tiles you will use nearly constantly, while others never get touched.
- Given that they’re just laminated cardstock, the $15 pricetag doesn’t feel like anywhere near as good of a value as the Dungeon Tiles are in terms of materials
Overall, while I started with Dungeon Tiles, I find myself more and more often reaching for the Pathfinder Map Pack tiles. In the interest of full disclosure, we live in a somewhat small house, and so we don’t have a lot of space to set up a battle area ahead of time using Dungeon Tiles, which definitely colors my decision in that regard. This combined with my preference for much more unstructured GM prep means that using Dungeon Tiles is too long when making a map on-the-spot, and setting up an encounter ahead of time might easily end up being wasted time if I decide the story is better moving elsewhere.
However, for those of you GMs who prefer traditional dungeon delves in a decided-beforehand map, Dungeon Tiles are the better choice. There’s far more customization than the Pathfinder Map Packs allow, and if you stick the whole affair on a rough cloth like black felt, the Dungeon Tiles won’t slip hardly at all compared the the laminated thinner tiles. This would also be a fantastic use for other grid-based games like Heroclix or a wargame, as the map doesn’t need to be changed over the course of multiple hours of play.
So let me know in the comments what you think! Do you use Dungeon Tiles, Map Packs, or some other product? Do you have a favorite memorable encounter using a specialized map setup, or not using a map at all?