Tabletop Visual Aids


Over the years, our gaming group has used a number of different visual aids for our tabletop gaming. From simple graph paper, to miniatures atop gridline paper, to wet-erase battle mats, to magnetic boards with gridlines, we have experimented with many different methods. I am interested to know the method of choice with other gaming groups. What do you guys use? Any suggestions for evolving our visual aids?

pen & paper & dice
each one picks a distinctive dice to represent his character.
nothing fancy, every buck we put in visual aids we can't put in snacks.

Scarab Sages

I like to use my wargaming terrain.

Also - I like to draw up treasure maps and print out excerpts from mysterious tomes.

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Currently using a Chessex wet-erase Mondomat and a huge box of minis. (some from Pathfinder some from D&D Minis Game, plus the mono-colored ones from Descent, Castle Ravenloft, and Drizzt board games)

The board game minis were probably the best addition, since you're getting another actual game when you buy those instead of just figures.

The Pathfinder minis are also great because this first set contains things a typical game group will use (lots of PC classes, goblins, orcs, skeletons, zombies, giant spiders, and the inevitable lich or vampire boss)

We also actually spray-painted a grid in my yard one day last summer and had a ridiculous LARP day (but with actual mechanics, yay!)

a map.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Tabletop projection setup and MapTool.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8

When I GM:

I like the flip mats, whether blank or with suitable terrain. Dry erase markers for various needs.

I have painted metal minis for the PCs and usually major big-bads. All the other enemies get represented by any assortment of plastic minis, old HeroQuest figures, toys, and 1-inch plastic squares (sold as "math manipulatives" for $18 for 400)--some of which have pictures of monsters glued to them.

The 1-inch plastic squares also double as terrain, filling in spaces to show where area of effect things are, or even as condition markers (I write on them with dry erase markers) to note which creatures are affected by something or other.

I sometimes use pebbles, sticks, and glass beads I bought at Michaels (or scavenged from the ground) to help create terrain. Oh, and what old HeroQuest furniture I haven't broken yet. I do this less often than I used to just because it takes up room and I am usually running at someone else's house and don't want to drag stuff with me. But sometimes it's easier/faster to throw some pebbles on an area and say "that's difficult terrain" than take the time to draw it on.

I run with my laptop and so can look at any area maps on that and share visuals that way as well. I wish I could host in my own home (I need a much bigger place) and had a projector, or I would totally run things out of Campaign Cartographer and project the maps.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Flip mat and dry erase pens with self made paper minis for PC´s and major enemies, lately also a growing number of NPC´s and other enemies. Mostly in OOTS style so far made with inkscape (free).

Silver Crusade

Dry/wet erase flip mats with minis. The more clutter the less room players have.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

We alternate between grid maps and dungeon tiles. I really dig the dungeon tiles, as they eat up less space, and flow nicely. I pick up anything that can be used as a mini. Stands are way cheaper than a lot of minis.

Second monitor + computer + MapTool.
* Frees up table space. (More room for snacks n stuff)
* Easy to change/update maps as needed.
* There's no question as to where the PCs were in relation to the monster (or number of monsters) from game to game.

Silver Crusade

I use wooden blocks, a mondomat, my enormous collection of figures, and handouts that I create.

I like wooden blocks because I can build out almost any building and it gives a sense of solidness to walls. You can pile them up to make platforms or hills and cliffs.

Grand Lodge

Depends on how much time and energy I throw in to prep.

We use the minis I have acquired over 30 years, including a recently completed Heroes and Monsters set with 30 'extra' goblins and zombies, Beginner Box tokens, carved props sometimes, I have 2 large Chessex dry erase mats, I have all the WotC tilesets, 7 sets of Dwarven Forge, I am a Hirst Arts addict and have made 2 modular dungeons as well as a few inns etc. I collect Paizo Flipmats, I also build Galleons but I have yet to be able to toss minis or players at my model ships. They take too long to build.

I also have a box of different colored checkers that have 1's or 2's or held or sleeping etc around the edge so they sit under minis without me having to write 1 2 3 7 etc on the bases

I also use and really enjoy the game mastery magnetic initiative tracker.

If I use flipmats, i color the whole thing in either dry erase or window paint, and wipe it away as the explore.

Lastly, I use Dundjinni a lot and what I do with my maps is print them then glue it to foam core then cut it up room by room or hallways etc based upon line of sight common sense. So as they enter a chamber I set down 'room 6' already detailed and laid out, as they open a door i put down the next "homemade tileset" for that hall. Its easy, cheap, and amazingly professional looking even though it is just a hp print on copier paper and some $2 foam core poster board.

Edit- and do not forget legos, spray painted primer or with textured stone spraypaint

Scarab Sages

Legos. We use legos to build scenes, to create our mini's, and those green boards are already nicely laid out in grid size and format.

Sometimes we pull out a battlemat and a dry erase marker.

Occasionally I'll use some music to set the tone. There's a dimmer light in the room we play with and I'll adjust that occasionally for atmosphere. I also like to print off notes and puzzles so that the players can try to work them out in person. A few months ago, I wrote a letter that had a secret code hidden within it. That was fun to watch them work over it.

For my online games, I usually use maptools.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Yeah you really use Lego?

I had that idea too and was up´náway getting my old stuff outfrom my fathers storage, especially the pirate ship. Unfortunately my Gm and fellow players didn´t like it so much because of the time investment building the scenes.

Grand Lodge

Hayato Ken wrote:

Yeah you really use Lego?

I had that idea too and was up´náway getting my old stuff outfrom my fathers storage, especially the pirate ship. Unfortunately my Gm and fellow players didn´t like it so much because of the time investment building the scenes.

A little touchup and a Mega Blocks Ship or Lego Pirate Ship would make great props for sea battles. If you can find em in a toy box or garage sale.

Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

All my legos have disappeared into Evil Stevie's Pirate Game

EDIT: I've changed a location now and again to make use of a flip-mat that I already own rather than draw out exactly what's in the module.

We use a large battle map, beautifully painted minis that includes PC's, NPC's, and monsters. If we have a lot of time I break out the UNBEATABLE dwarven forge. That includes over 10 sets and various pieces of furniture, chests, piles of treasures, stairs, etc...If you can get your hands on Dwarven Forge old or new, it will elevate your game!

This is a topic that starts to merge gaming with other hobbies. I enjoy creating what some people might consider overly elaborate gaming experiences. I include maps, battlegrids, three dimensional terrain, lots of minis, including many I've sculpted myself, buildings, trees, carts, etc. I also have a digital game table that allows me to have dynamic, interactive maps as well as a way to quickly display images and/or sounds to represent things happening in the game world.

I am currently working on a large-scale cavern using Hirst Arts cast plaster blocks.

We use:
3 large laminated 1" grip paper sheets
A handful of minis we have which of coarse, never represent what we want them too.
Pirate ships that I have drawn out grids on and cut out and glued on to pieces of foamy stuff (ill take a picture)
Tons upon tons of tokens I have made by scouring the internets and various PDFs of game books I have then taking out the art, photoshopping out the background and then compiling many many token sheets and printing them off on colour card stock. I have like thousands of these now, they rock and cost about the same as like 6 minis -_-

Some of the tokens

Silver Crusade

Alex the Rogue wrote:
We use a large battle map, beautifully painted minis that includes PC's, NPC's, and monsters. If we have a lot of time I break out the UNBEATABLE dwarven forge. That includes over 10 sets and various pieces of furniture, chests, piles of treasures, stairs, etc...If you can get your hands on Dwarven Forge old or new, it will elevate your game!

Dwarven Forge looks great but it you need to be able to set it up beforehand because doing it during the game takes too long. That is why I started using blocks; they are great for on the fly set up.

Our group hand-built a 4' x 8' gaming table, with a removable plexiglass top on which we drew a 1" square grid. In addition, we use flip-mats, map packs, hand-drawn maps, preprinted campaign specific maps on cardstock, prepainted and hand-painted minis, and most recently, things like this.

We use plexiglass covering a while hex mat. You can print a massive sheet of hexes or squares at Kinkos. the pdf can be generated at this link

Cover it with some plexiglass and you have a nice large clean surface to draw on.



Also some cheap scenery like roman columns, ruins and rocks can be purchased at Petco or any store with fish tank accessories. They add a bit of flair.


We use lots of D&D and Pathfinder minis, pewter minis for PCs. My buddy built a gaming table with a projector to project the map on the table top. D20 pro is the mapping tool. If we don't play at his house, it's flipmats.

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Here's the best, cheapest, most productive way to quickly work everything out you need to:

Go to Home Depot and buy a sheet of what's called "Shower Board." That is identical to what they make dry erase marker board out of, and it's cheap. typically comes in 3'x6' or 4'x8' sections.

Take a ruler and a dry erase marker and draw a 1" grid on it.

Take a sharpie (permanent) and put a dot at each vertex in the grid, then wipe the dry erase off. What's left is a white dry erase board with dots on a grid.

This alone makes for a fantastic gaming table, but what my group does, is accumulates knick knacks in a couple of shoe boxes to work for impromptu scenery. In there we have:

champagne corks, (make great bushes)
bottle caps,
real rocks of different sizes
five or six large pine cones (use for trees)
..that sort of thing. We have a couple dozen Homies... use for miniatures for townspeople. That sort of thing.

With maybe fifty bucks investment tops you can have a full compliment of everything you need to set up an immersive battle map, if you know what you're doing.

Things I have done:

1) Set up an entire adventure as a Power Point presentation and used the TV to show each room to the players. I had sounds for the rooms. They were hyperlinked so they could easily go from one room to another. I also had the description on the screen so I didn't have to read it every time they entered the room. Worked pretty well but it was hours of work.

2) I used to type up scrolls and print them out. I would then roll them up and tie them with a ribbon. I usually had two copies, one in a font they couldn't easily translate (wingdings for example) and one in English. I would give them the wingding version until they could read it. This worked better in 2nd Edition than it does now.

3) When thieves could read languages X% of the time, I modified that to be X% of the document. The more they could read, the more words I would translate. It was fairly easy but a little time consuming. It did make for some interesting times when they weren't exactly sure what a document said.

Liberty's Edge

I found some 11" x 17" sheets of plexiglases at home depot. I bought 6 of them for about 3.00 each. I took a knife and cut a 1" grid on one side. Then I took a dry erase marker and filled in the lines. Flip it over and place it on a white surface and you have a pretty good dry erase board. If you have any maps to print, tape them to the back ahead of time. Use sections as you need them. They are pretty portable too.

They may scratch up a bit over time, but short of any major accidents, I think they will last a few years or more.

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