"Warning! Construction Zone!"
As a traveling DM, I’ve use different battlemats and a number of tiles for various encounters. Each method had its advantages and disadvantages. When D&D Tiles first came out I was an instant convert and began acquiring as many sets as I could lay my hands on. Now that I’ve had some experience with them, they haven’t replaced my vinyl mats, but they haven’t been all that bad either.
With the new master set out, a single purchase can set up a DM with enough tiles to run any general dungeon or generic indoor settings. Additional sets can accent that with themes – deserts, forests, even snow ( soon… ). They’re pre-printed on sturdy cardstock. You’re stuck with square tiles, but the method is modular – you can create areas of any size and shape given the right amount of tiles. Add the 3D
Given the ease and versatility of vinyls, poster maps, and gamingpaper – why use tiles if you’re a traveling DM? Because they’re easier than you think.
An often-mentioned method to display tiles is adhering them to a poster board using poster putty (also called stickytak), removable glue dots, or blue painter’s tape. So then what? You have to lug this gigantic poster board around? Awkward!
Well, yes. You can do that. You can also purchase or cut down a large poster board into smaller manageable pieces – I suggest pieces larger than your largest tile but small enough to fit into whatever traveling container you’re using. Office supply stores sell “mini” sheets of poster board in packs of 4 or so. Lay these down for the size and shape you need and plan your tiles on top of them. Line up edges so that once the tiles are secured in place, you can separate the boards and stack them for transport. Place these in a folder, envelope, or bag and you’re good to travel.
When you’re ready to play you and pull out the section needed and lay it down. You can use this to your advantage for map discovery as well – when your players discover a new room, lay down the board that connects this hallway to that room.
This method is it’s not very friendly to 3D tiles. 3D tiles should not be adhered to the tiles but instead removed and stored separately – either assembled and in a box for transport, or disassembled and stored in a bag, folder, or envelope which can then also be tucked in with the stacked poster boards.
A downside is that this doesn’t give you much flexibility. If an unplanned encounter occurs, you must either pry up and rearrange tiles hastily, or fall back on your trusty vinyl mat (assuming you have one or something similar). It can be awkward, but honestly not unexpected.
Setting up, arranging, taping, and then carefully stacking and packing takes considerable time. You’re already a DM so that means you’re already spending a lot of time planning this stuff. You’re lucky if you have time to pick the tiles you want to use an hour before the session starts! What do you do then?
Invest in a roll of non-skid shelf liner. Generally found in the house goods section of your local department store, this foamy textured mat is sold in rolls and comes in a variety of colors like black, white, green, etc. I chose a dark blood-red color. Durable, washable, and flexible this stuff can be rolled, folded, crushed, and creased with little effect. It can be easily cut with ordinary scissors if you need less length, but hard to tear or damage otherwise. On a flat surface, tiles laid down on this stuff will not slide or budge when your players reposition their minis. Since nothing is sticking the tiles to the liner, you can easily pick up and rearrange tiles as needed.
Unfortunately, only tiles directly on the liner are immune to sliding. If you have tiles stacked on other tiles, expect these to be slid, pushed, and knocked off at every inconvenient moment. Add another tile on top of that and you might as well play Jenga during an earthquake.
Of course you have to make sure to bring all the tiles you’re going to need, and don’t lose any of those tiny tiles! Your players have to wait while you fidget with getting the perfect arrangement of statues. But in return you have a great flexibility. Didn’t plan for a fight in the back room of the shopkeep’s store? Plunk down a door, a medium sized plain tile and you can roll initiative. If you happen to have a few extra tiles, even better – a bookshelf is a rack of goods, a blood pool is a barrel of wine, or a statue is actually armor rack standing in the corner.
Both methods have their advantages. At times I find myself using the liner method simply because I’m too lazy to spend the time taping down tiles. Other times when I have a great idea for a map, I’ll spend all evening meticulously pouring over my boxes for just the right tile.