While theatre of the mind is some peoples’ preferred method for gaming, I think it suits the Call of Cthulhu RPG much better than the Dungeons and Dragons game. For me, the D&D experience is totally taken to the next level with battle mats!
Battle mats; grid maps full of miniatures, hand-drawn notations and delicate plastic walls that fall over as soon as someone rolls a D20 anywhere near them.
But with so many battle mats and adventure maps out there – how do you know which one to buy?
Below you’ll find my suggestions of the best battle mats, maps and adventure tile sets you can buy for D&D, Pathfinder and many other role playing games. The first two suggestions are my two highest recommendations for battle mats – the remaining mat suggestions aren’t in any order.
Big and Basic Mats
If you’re looking for your first battle mat and don’t have any other maps or tiles, I can’t recommend this simple and cheap Pathfinder Flip Battle Mat enough. In fact this battle mat was the first one I purchased when I picked up the mantle of Dungeon Master.
Double sided, this mat has both a dark and a light stone texture printed on the dry-wipe surfaces. Yes artistically they’re not the most intricate exciting designs, but the generic pattern makes these gaming mats very versatile. The can be used for everything from town streets to cave interiors, Elven monasteries to Dwarven mines. In fact, I think I have used them for all four of those!
They’re pretty rugged too. Fold-able, roll-able and printed on thick-card. If you leave board marker on them for months – a bit of elbow grease may be needed to shift them, but I’ve used mine dozens and dozens of times and couldn’t be happier.
The one I use is the ‘bigger’ variant, measuring a very decent 100cm x 70cm (39″ by 27″). I have the luxury of having a gaming table that would accommodate the dimensions, however there is a smaller Pathfinder basic flip-mat with the same pattern if table space is of concern.
- Very affordable
- Large gaming surface
- Generic & versatile!
- Folds to small portable size
- Generic & bland
- Maybe too big for some DM setups,
Looking for grass or water textures – check out the pack of 4 textures later on…
Giant Book of Battle Mats
If you’ve already got your basic large-scale battle mat sorted (like the Pathfinder bigger basic mat mentioned above) I would highly recommend Loke’s Giant Book of Battle Mats as your next purchase.
I hadn’t heard of these books till I stumbled across a finished Kickstarter campaign by the author. I quickly snapped up this larger variant of their Battle Mats book (as they also do a smaller A4/letter sized one).
Each book contains over 60 laminated pages of highly detailed adventure mats to play across.
What is nice is that all the designs are double paged – so you can game on one page for an intimate or claustrophobic encounter – or open it up and use a double-page spread.
Double page is big enough to accommodate the center of most tables.
All Loke’s books use a tight spiral binding, so if you’re playing across the double-page you technically have that in the center. However once the gaming is underway, I’ve forgotten about it 100% of the time.
(Note: the dimensions listed on Amazon are wrong. Closed, the book is 30cm x 42cm (12″ x 16″) and opened its 60cm by 42cm)
Each page is wipe clean and contains a 1″ grid. Perfect for any beginner or experience Dungeon Master looking for their next battle mat fix.
- Gorgeous artwork & designs
- Large gaming surface
- Can be used single sided or double
- Can be matched with other Loke products (see below)
- Spiral binding might annoy some if the book is used double-paged
- Large even when closed. Won’t fit on most book cases (see below)
As the name suggests, this is NOT a standard sized book. The height of the book (~17″) makes this much larger than your DM handbook (etc), so would be difficult to throw in a rucksack if you D&D on the move.
Didn’t bother me, but couldn’t review the battle mats without pointing that dimension issue out.
WOTC Dungeon Map Tiles
Question: Could I really have written a Dungeons and Dragons article without suggesting something from Wizards of the Coast?
Answer: Of course I could. They don’t pay me.
That doesn’t stop me from wanting to recommend their Dungeons & Dragons Tactical Maps Reincarnated set. This product contains 10 double sided poster-sized battle mats. Naturally all with 1″ grid markings too.
Unlike the rest of the battle mat suggestions on this page, these tactical maps from WOTC are re-prints of RPG adventures they’ve previously published. This means most of the maps are encounter maps, such as the Orcs of Stonefang Pass or the Red Hand of Doom.
If you’re looking for very abstract locations you use once in a blue moon, these truly beautiful pieces of artwork are for you. If you want generic open battle mats for use in every-other session, you may want to give these mats a miss. The picture above shows what I mean, a nice generic open rural track in the foreground … in the background a stepped alter in a water filled dungeons, followed by a ritualistic stone circle encampment.
- Top notch WOTC artwork that is second to none,
- Very varied designs and themes,
- Great source of inspiration for designing encounters for,
- Cheap for a WOTC product!
- Specific ‘encounter’ style maps; only a handful of the 20 maps are generic scenes that’d be used frequently,
- Thin card-stock makes these feel somewhat in danger of dogged-corners and edge rips,
Towns and Taverns Battle Mat
I’ve already mentioned above about Loke’s Giant Book of Battle Mats, well now I’m going to suggest their latest Kickstarter (it’s smashed its final target) – Loke’s Towns & Taverns Battle Mats.
This set of books contains THREE books of Battle Mats. Volume 1 and 2 contain 80 wipe clean modular adventure maps, each measuring 30cm x 30cm (12″ x 12″), or opened up for a double spread again, as 60cm x 30cm.
One thing I love about Loke’s books is that they can be placed next to each other for larger environments (See my photo below). On top of that, the foot paths, rivers and battlements from one book flow into the designs in the other books.
They’ve been pretty clever with how they’ve done this.
Loke now produce a ‘tiny book of battle mats‘, to accompany their bigger books… so cute! This tiny book measuring a dinky 15cm x 15cm (6″ x 6″).
- Really gorgeous and thematic artwork,
- No folding or rolling up means each page lays flat,
- Two smaller books means more portable and easier to place,
- Two books mean more options,
- Very high quality products,
- Fairly heavy when you’re not going to use 90% of the pages in any given session,
- Not massively available in all the shops (yet!),
UPDATE! Alongside their Towns and Taverns set, Loke also now produce an incredible twin book set of Dungeons!
Multi-Terrain Battle Mats – Grass, Cobbles, Stone and Water flip mats
One thing that I missed when I bought my first battle mats was grass! Now that I think of it, it seems strange the Pathfinder Basic set has a double sided battle mat, both of stone!
For a couple of quid / dollar more than the Pathfinder Bigger Basic pack (listed at the very start), you can get this Pathfinder 4x terrain mat pack, including the precious grass mat!
I also think the artwork on the stone work is slightly nicer (they’ve gone for a cobbled stone effect in this pack).
This pack contains two double-sided battle mats, each one is still a very usable 24″ x 30″. You get water, flagstone, grass and cobblestone. The only thing that stops me from rating this as the ‘go to’ or default purchase is they don’t do it in the big variant.
I can tell you from experience, you can’t substitute anything for water if you don’t have a water-mat. Your players will notice if you sail your pirate ship over cobbles!
- Simple grass!
- Water – nothing else comes close,
- Good size for encounters, less ideal for dungeon exploration
- Doesn’t come in the bigger size,
- … that’s about it!
Interlocking Cobblestone Dungeon Map Tiles
One thing that always plagues me as a Dungeon Master, is that my players can always see the whole map or battle mat when the encounter starts. Obviously you can cover bits up with spare card etc, but it gets a bit faffy.
Enter – these amazing interlocking modular dungeon map tiles!
This simple and ingenious product from ‘Role 4 Initiative’ allows the DM to draw up rooms, corridors and streets beforehand, but only play them onto the table when that door is finally opened, or the corner turned.
It basically allows you a mechanic similar to fog-of-war!
Made of some pretty sturdy chip board, they’ll last you for many, many adventures. Stylistic wise, they come in either ‘dungeon grey’, ‘warm natural stone’ or plain white. All sets have a standard 1″ grid worked into their design, but its pretty hard to spot on the dungeon grey design.
The set pictured above is probably the best bundle IMHO, supplying you with five 10″ modular square tiles and sixteen 5″ tiles. You can also get a pack with just thirty-six 5″ tiles – but I find the lack of larger tiles more of a nuisance and isn’t worth the extra flexibility IMHO.
At the time of writing, the following packs all cost £40:
- Earthtone – Pack of 5 large and 16 small tiles,
- Earthtone – Pack of 36 small tiles,
- White/Blank – Pack of 5 large and 16 small tiles,
- Grey Stone – Pack of 5 large and 16 small tiles,
As mentioned previously, the grey stone (pictured right) is made with their 5×5 grid in mind, but its a lot less noticeable than the Earthtone or blank designs.
UPDATE I’ve noticed a few more variants are now available, such as the nine pack of large blank tiles and the mixed pack of greystone.
- Hefty & sturdy tiles,
- Can place already drawn tiles,
- Most tiles have tiny details, like moss, trickling water or puddles,
- Interlocks nicely with their other products / designs,
- May require more than one pack for large sprawling setups,
- Not double sided – limiting use to 1 environment (cobblestone etc),
- Most costly solution listed here,
There we have it, my best SIX suggestions for the Dungeon Master looking to pick up their next Battle Mat! I really hope these mat suggestions have helped.