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I found a big easel pad of one inch grid paper on Amazon ([link]), I draw each section of the dungeon on one sheet so they can be replaced on the table as we go. I've tried a few approaches and this is my favorite. Sections take only ten minutes each to draw out, less of I don't care about details like coloring in terrain and stuff. I also think the drawn aspect encourages the players to imagine the terrain instead of relying on the printouts, but maybe I'm projecting
I grabbed a few pads of 1-inch gird easel paper on Amazon. I draw out dungeon, town, and various maps on it before the session, and it's great. It's awesome watching the players explore a dungeon when I have the whole thing mapped on battle-ready squares already, so I can just drop a new sheet of paper as they travel.
Under that, I have a wet-erase Chessex battlemat, which is good for when I haven't planned something out . . . which seems to be happen more than I would like.
Yes, I drew it on two sheets of gridded presentation paper. It’s this one:
TOPS Standard Easel Pads, 3-Hole Punched, 27 x 34 Inch, 1" Grid, White, 50 Sheets/Pad, Carton of 2 Pads (7902)
Thank for link! It's not exactyl what I'm after, though — I am basically trying to find the equivalent of this, in hexes.
I use a chessex map for on the fly encounters, but pre-draw all my dungeons on 1" gridded easel paper. It's a little more up front but has been working great.
TOPS Standard Easel Pads, 3-Hole Punched, 27 x 34 Inch, 1" Grid, White, 50 Sheets/Pad, Carton of 2 Pads (7902) [link]
IMX, you'll also eventually need to clean the whole mat with something stronger than just water. Wet erase works pretty well, but eventually there's a buildup that you need soap and water and some time to clean off. And you absolutely must clean the mat at the end of every session. Never leave it for a week, or you'll never get the marker off cleanly.
I also really wish they would put "Wet erase only" around the edges. I've seen them that have that and I feel like it would result in fewer dry marker triggered murders.
Personally, I still prefer the 1" ruled easel tablets. With a bit of shopping you can find them for about $0.25 per page. You also have the advantage of being able to draw your maps before the game begins and placing them as needed or switching back and forth as needed.
I don't like this idea, as most of those pads are only going to be good for one or two uses. However, best of luck.
Alternatively, I recommend these guys: [link]
They end up being about $0.30 per page, nice and big, and allows you to draw new maps whenever you need them. I use them for big special battles or dungeons, with a small battlemap for positioning in smaller battles. I don't use maps for towns and cities, and just use descriptions.
TOPS 27x34 1" Grid Paper. I used regular grid paper at first and just taped them together, but buying these has helped tremendously. I've found paper grids are pretty helpful because a) I can draw all of the maps for a campaign at once and just use them as needed, and b) I can reveal sections as the PCs move. All you needs a pair of scissors!
> Does cheap grid paper suffice or do I get one of those mats?
I use this:
It's a little expensive to buy up front, but I bought a two-pack two years ago and I still have a bunch of sheets left. I sketch my battle maps out in pencil and then go over them with magic marker.
> Do I really need a DM 'screen'?
No, but it's useful for a few reasons. First, a screen like this one has quick-reference stuff on the back side, which is very handy. Second, you can paper-clip your own stuff to the screen for more quick reference. And finally, you can roll dice behind your screen if you're the kind of DM who wants to be able to fudge or ignore dice rolls (very handy at early levels where a critical hit can one-shot-down a player's character).
> Do I need to make copies of stuff like the player's character sheets?
Note the players' passive skills on a Post-It on your DM screen. Other than that, you don't need to refer to anything on the players' character sheets.
> Am I, or are they supposed to take them home?
Whatever. When we played with paper character sheets my group kept them all in a drawer in my house so they'd all be there whenever we played.
> Are there good ways to get the players to visualise stuff without being able to show images to them super quick?
Get good at describing things succinctly. Remember, less is more. "You're in a blasted landscape of cracked earth and dust" is better than a two-minute monologue of description.
> What are other arrangements or items I need that I might be forgetting?
If you're using battle maps, you're going to need some kind of miniatures. Do NOT go out and buy minis; they're incredibly expensive and you never have the ones you need. Instead buy yourself some cardstock for your printer and a box of small-sized binder clips and make paper miniatures like these:
Steal artwork from the Internet and scale it to fit in a 3/4" by 1" rectangle. Arrange them on the page, print out, cut out and attach the binder clips. Done.
I've copy-pasted this reply a few times now:
I'll tell you what we use, starting with this:
I prepare my battle maps in advance using these gridded sheets, first sketching them out in pencil and then going over them with magic marker. I'm not an artist, so I keep the maps very simple. (I also try to keep them kind of vaguely generic so I can reuse them.) It's a little expensive to buy the easel paper up front, but I bought this exact item two years ago and I still have plenty of sheets left.
For miniatures, I use paper minis and binder clips. I Google image searched this picture that shows pretty much what I mean:
The bases are small-size binder clips:
For the artwork, I steal. There's a ton of art out there of just about any creature you can think of available via Google image search. Since this is just for my home game, I feel pretty okay about using other people's art. I take them into Photoshop and scale them, then print them on cardstock and cut them out. Quick and easy.
For player character artwork I've used Hero Forge. Create the "miniature" to suit the character then download a picture of it. After that it's the same process: scale in Photoshop and print. Cut out, attach binder clip, done.
The only caveat is don't try using this method if you like to play outside. The slightest breeze and your minis will go everywhere.
I know your question was how-not-use-grid but you might like to know there's an extremely economical way to use a grid. I'm gonna copy-paste a reply I posted recently because I think you might find it interesting. Here goes:
"Affordable minis" is, in my opinion, a contradiction in terms.
TOPS Standard Easel Pads, 3-Hole... [link]
I think I picked up the same pad combo. It's $30 on Amazon US if that's available to you. It's not exactly cheap, but it'll last me a while. I used tracing vellum for a while and overlaid it on top of my battle mat. The pad was more straightforward for me, though.
You can also tape together copy paper and the battle mat grid should show through faintly. If you have accessible A3 paper that'd be great too. Or you can go totally gridless and use strings and rulers to measure things out as needed. Sometimes I wish I played gridless (sound!) so you can fudge distances more. Critical Role used to go without grids if you watch that. The DM was the only person who interacted with the grid, though, so the players never contested any distance rulings.
I bought these from amazon a few years back for use as battlemaps. They have served me well.
Hey my dude, congrats on taking on the DM role! Definitely a fun time, I’ve bee. DMing for 3 years or so meeting up weekly and it’s a fantastic hobby. I’ve gone a little overboard but I’ve noticed the following as great resources for both myself and players:
-Play mats ([link])
The mats above are super great for play. Be aware, most markers bleed through a single page. I use the large flat cardboard skinny box it shipped in as a backdrop as I draw maps from the DnD module books or from my mind.
-DnD module books: I started with the DnD start kits (lost mine of Phandelver and the dragon of ice spire peak), they both take place in the same village, one is sort of linear (LMoP) and the other is very sandboxy (DoIP) and I highly recommend combining them. I also purchased the Tales of the Yawning Portal book and the Candlekeep Mysteries book because both come with several standalone mini adventures, and eaxh book tells you what levels they are “balanced” for. All fun so far! Modules like Out of the Abyss are hard mode DMing but great fun.
-inspiration tokens: I use US golden dollar coins that I give out or the bard player can give out to show inspiration. Purely for fun
-healing potions: I use tiny cork bottles and add d4 dice to them so players can shake the dice in the bottle and add 2 or whatever to the sum for healing. A little bit cutsie but it helps them remember healing potions as an option ([link])
-miniature figurines: bro, I’ve purchased way too many minis that my wife and I paint sporadically. You can find amazing deals on Etsy for bulk minis ([link]) -this link is one of my favorite sellers who has cheap well made minis for the price and just starting definitely helps. My players and I are visual players so I definitely recommend minis if you are the same. It’s addicting though, watch your wallet!
-game cards: I’ve noticed I DM better when I know exactly what my creatures/NPCs have at their disposal. Quick access to their stat blocks via cards are what helps me, however having tabs open on an iPad could work too. ([link])
I would highly recommend a few different notebooks for yourself as well.
One notebook for combat, you can pre-draw a template for initiative (number 25 down to 1 on the left side of a page, then have name/AC/HP/notes columns. This allows you to quickly ask for initiative and randomly put your npc creatures in the line up without too much work later. Requires up front work though!)
One notebook for your own reference notes to take from the module books and your wacky ideas for the players. Should probably have some skinny sticky notes to be able to flip back and forth quickly. Skinny sticky notes are helpful for modules books too.
Last notebook to keep track of the actual campaign progression as it happens. Players will always forget to write things down and your memory could lapse with so much going on, so this is key.
Finally, I highly recommend this book (The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters (1) [link])
The book above is just super neat and helpful to create an immersive, realistic experience for players when it comes to encounters with pretty much any creature. Good reading and lore too, if you’re into it. The book itself came from a redditor who was the bomb diggity at that stuff.
Let me know if you have any questions my fellow internet stranger! Good luck!
Try out printing some maps and see how it goes - worst case, all it costs you is a bit of paper and ink, right?
If it doesn't go well - can you pre-draw the maps on your existing battlemap?
If you can't (it'll get smudged, you need multiple maps, etc) - Amazon sells large pads of 1" grid paper, for example: https://www.amazon.com/TOPS-Standard-3-Hole-Punched-Sheets/dp/B00AQDGJRO/
Worst case, just buy some regular graph paper, pre-draw the maps, and use some small tokens rather than minis.
I've posted this before so I'll just copy-paste it. The short version is you can have battle maps and minis quite economically if you're willing to put in just a tiny amount of extra work.
Start with this:
In the spirit of saying "yes, there are totally alternatives" I'm gonna copy-paste a reply I posted recently about DMing on the cheap.
I just bought these.
Second this, it's what gets used in the campaigns I'm part of. Something like this.
A simple way of doing maps if simplicity is something you value, is picking up a big pad of 1"x1" grid paper like this: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AQDGJRO/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Then just get some colored sharpies or something and you can draw up whatever you like. There are also dry erase mats you can get if you want to go that route, but I like these pads because it means I can draw multiple maps ahead of time if I want to. Biggest downside is finding a good place to store such large pads of paper. Under the bed works for me though.
I would check amazon. I have something similar to this, but this particular one is a big pricey
I bought one of these for my hand-drawn maps.
When I start a new AP, I'll go back and forth between reading the first book of the AP and looking at forum / blog posts about running it. I won't read the whole path, since it very well may not work for the group. I pay special attention to who the important NPCs are since I like to make sure that they're memorable, even if that book only has one short encounter.
Before a session, I have a list of things I try to get through:
I also tend to work a few sessions ahead, if I can, because I hate rushing stuff the day of the game.
Back when I did home brew, I tried to think of sessions as very episodic: What's the set-up for this session, what's the pay-off, and how does it move the story forward? I'd write out the first few session in great detail, but be more vague as I planned out the rest of the story, since who knows how the players would effect the world?
Your best bet to not get mired in world creation is to set a start date for the campaign. Whatever you have by then is what you're going with, and the rest will be improv, or will come to you between sessions. The best campaigns I've run have been ones where the background was fairly easy to grasp for most players. You can even start without a map. In my HBs, I started everyone in a small area and only bothered with mapping things out as they traveled.
Hey, finally something I can answer from personal experience.
I was in a similar boat where I didn't want to sink a bunch of money into the game for a projector until I was sure the campaign was going to last a while.
You can get set up for months for about $45. If this is a problem see if your players can chip in $5-$10 each or something.
One inch grid paper is your friend. You can get 27x34 sheets of it off Amazon for about 32 cents a sheet ($31.99 for 100 sheets )
For minis you can use paper as well. I recommend getting 1" binder clips and printing off your own minis. You can buy 144 of these off of Amazon for $11
I used Publisher, but there's a free version called Libre Office Draw. Make a bunch of 3x1 squares in it on an normal sheet of paper and put in images from Google for all of your monsters. You'll want to make them double-sided so the paper sticks up (One row right side down and the other right side up).
You can fit a lot on one sheet of paper. Then print them off either at home, work/school if they allow it, or do it at a print store for less than a dollar.
Let me know if you have any questions.
I do it a bunch of different ways. If it's a map I am coming up with on the fly, I usually just quickly draw it on a battle mat or dry erase board.
Sometimes I use donjon (like you did) and then draw it out on one inch grid paper. I just cover undiscovered parts of the map with paper.
I just tried out 2.5d for a battle with a vampire, this isn't the video I used to build mine, but it will give you an idea of what I'm talking about.
I've also tried the method of cutting the map into rooms to lay out as the party moves forward. This method makes it more difficult for the party to know the layout of the dungeon, which can be fun.
It's all just trial and error, in my opinion! Have fun!
I haven't used the D&D product, but I have a couple Paizo flip mats that I also can't get completely flat and only use when I'm using terrain pieces or other hefty items on the map. I understand Chessex isn't a good option for you, but I personally prefer paper because I can use them blank or I can pre-draw maps before the session.
I didn't extensively search, but if you can find something like these easel pads for cheaper that might be an option. They're my bread and butter.
A company called Gaming Paper may have a distributor you can check out. They come in rolls but they easily lay flat.
You've got a couple of options. You can scale everything down. I did that with the Temple of Annam fight, since the room in 1-inch to 5-feet scale is almost 5 feet wide. Doing something like "each square is 15/30 feet" works pretty well to reduce the size of the map but still let you use minis. You just have to make sure that the players know about this an are understanding of any potential issues with distances. If you're still using 1inch scale minis then it'll involve handwaving stuff like how characters can't share 30 feet of space.
You can make a giant map. I like this for major locations. For example, the Thane Kayalithica stone giant fight I used foam core board from the dollar store that I cut into 6 18-inch squares and then carved a grid on them and painted it with cheap craft store paint. It took probably three hours to make. Was it necessary? No. But it was cool adding tiles to the table as players explored the darkened room.
Also an option is using large pads of paper with 1-inch squares on them. I wouldn't necessarily go with that one from Amazon since I think it's more expensive due to shipping, but you can pick up something like that from Staples easily. Also you don't necessarily have to get all of the room, just the part of the room the players are in/near.
Also theater of the mind works well for large spaces. I like having a small drawing of the room and the general position of any creatures/features so the players can visualize something. With the exception of the encounters in chapter 2 and the final fight with Iymrith, you aren't usually dealing with a lot of combatants, so it's decently easy to keep track of everything.
I've used a combination of all 4 options, depending on the amount of setup time I have, the relative importance of the encounter, and other factors. For example, one on one fights with creatures work best in the theater of the mind.
We have been using something like this and it is working alright until we get a more permanent solution.
I make battle maps because I find that stuff fun - but you can make very simple ones!
I use this paper - it comes out to <50c per map.
Though you could just use butcher paper and a wooden dowel with one inch marks on it for for every 5 feet - that's what I'm doing after I run out of the grid Paper.
For city maps, I use this method.
Again, I spend more time with it because I like to, but less so when I too am pressed for time. You could likely make them very simple, and they would still look good and make sense.
I can post a few pictures of some of my town and battle maps when I get back if you're interested.
I tried to use premade maps to print initially, but it was both very expensive and hard to see. Again, I can post pics later if you want.
I'm trying to get my best friend into DMing, and I've encouraged him to look into these, which are available in many sizes. Wet erase marker for 30 seconds, bam a battle mat.
If you want something in the same vein that's a little more hardcore, there's these, which I may get if I run a less serious campaign in the future.
There's also Matt Coville's video onterrain that is very helpful. All of the stuff he puts out is, really.
Hope that helps!
I use this stuff:
and draw my own maps with sharpies. They come out looking like this:
Note that many locations in CoS are too big to fit on one of those sheets, which are 27x32. The amber temple I drew there is scaled to 10' per inch. It's not suitable for grid combat, but I still wanted to draw the map (and I plan on using a plastic battle mat and drawing the rooms real quick when combat occurs).
I just like to have maps for the players to move around on during a dungeon crawl because it helps them visualize the space.
So that paper works really well for the locations that are normal buildings, like the wizard of wines, the coffinmaker's shop, the basement of the church in barovia, even Argynvostholt is small enough that you can fit it to 5' scale on one sheet (you have to kind of leave the ruined side of Argynvostholt off the map, but no big deal). And if you need more room you can tape two of the sheets together.
As for Castle Ravenloft, I'm still not sure what I'm going to do. I could tape two sheets together but then my table isn't big enough to make that useable. The map of the castle that comes is an isometric 3d view which is really beautiful but even if you had it printed out, you couldn't really play on it...
On the other hand, Strahd will be hunting them through the castle since his main difficulty comes from the fact that he can just a lair action to just phase through walls--meaning he's going to be moving through the rooms pretty freely, so I think it's important to have them all modeled. I'm still not sure what I'll do. I want to draw the maps but it's just so huge. I might do the same thing I did with amber temple, and draw it in 10' scale, but then I'm stuck having to re-draw any room where combat takes place, and it makes combat between rooms cumbersome. IDK.
Things you can roll ahead of time to save time:
The content of the wagons at Tser Pool.
Initiative for all the monsters you KNOW will make appearances
Madnesses and traits for the mongrelfolk in the abbey
random encounters in castle ravenloft (lots of unoccupied rooms here)
the results of pulling the rope in K30
Some other random cool stuff I'd like to suggest you think about...
Think about who should get the Blood Spear at Yester Hill. When they get there, the spirit of Kavan, a barbarian warlord, calls out to the most appropriate PC and invites them to take up the spear and rule the tribes. The spear's temp HP gain on kill works for anyone but the chosen PC gets to use it as a +2 spear. If you have an obviously perfect PC for this, like a barbarian, or a ranger or something, then that's great. My suggestion is that you give them weird prophetic dreams of this Kavan, as he gazes out over yester hill sometime long before strahd ever moved into the valley. I like the idea that he keeps a wary eye toward mount ghakis in these dreams, as a kind of very subtle warning against the amber temple. Basically show him, show the spear, maybe even show him doing battle with a giant goat, or a roc. Nice foreshadowing for when the party crosses tsolenka pass and fights these themselves. The chosen party member will probably have the spear by then and will sort of feel like they're really chosen by Kavan. Cool.
Be aware of how dang easy it is to get on the bad side of the burgomaster of vallaki. As written he is very thin skinned. If you kick the party out of vallaki too early you're gonna cut off a bunch of quest threads. So be careful! If you have Izek play the way he's written, and immediately try to abduct Ireena, that is almost certainly going to lead to a fight and lead to the characters being kicked out of Vallaki. So definitely think about what you want to happen here. I kept Izek's creepy obsession and the dolls and all that, but I did not have him try to abduct her immediately. I may not have him do that at all because it's uncomfortably rapey. It just says he takes her to his bedroom...yeah idk, I didn't want to mess with that, you know?
Also, don't feel like you have to spring the Bluto-Arrabelle event the very first time the party might go by the lake. Sometimes they will be too busy to want to deal with anything and if you pull the trigger there's no going back and arrabelle will be dead. The party will be in and out of Vallaki a lot so it's fine for this to be something that comes up the second time they arrive--especially if they are, say, coming back from the west, that way the vistani can stop them on their way in and ask if anyone's seen a little girl around. Then once in town, people are talking about Bluto acting strange/not showing up at the bar today. Etc.
The 3 night hags at the windmill are beyond deadly for a level 4 party if you play them no-mercy. Just be aware of that fact. Lots of things in CoS are that way. The 6 vampire spawn in the coffinmaker's shop also qualify. Just be aware of this and make sure your players know that they can't necessarily kill everything they come across. Hags will be glad to make deals with the party rather than slaughter them, and the vampire spawn situation can be approached in such a way that it's manageable.
Curate your tarokka deck readings. There is a greater than normal chance that items wind up somewhere in the castle. You should make the decision on whether this is something you want. The sword and symbol make things a lot easier on the party. You don't want them showing up too early, like at Tser Pool or somewhere easy like that, but you don't want them showing up right before the end of the game, either, probably. If you think your party would enjoy the card drawing aspect, you have a few options. Let them draw cards, but then whatever card they draw, just give them the reading you want out of it. Or you could simply build in redundancies, so that x card and y card both lead back to x card's location, in order to prevent y location from happening, but preserve some randomness. Of course then you run the risk of drawing X card and Y card back to back... in which case you can designate a spot for that, and default to it if that happens. It's messy, but it's better than all 3 treasures winding up in the basement of the castle or something impossible like that.