Tuesday, February 14, 2012
I love maps. Especially I like the kind of maps you can play on, and the combat system which very much supports that sort of maps is a strength of the D&D system in my opinion. I love maps. And that is my excuse for the fact that I probably wasted too much money on buying half a dozen GameMastery Flip-Mats from Amazon. I got them in the mail yesterday, and on unpacking found them less useful than I would have thought them to be.
The Flip-Mats are 24" x 30" maps with 1" squares and glossy print on both sides of not too thin cardstock. So far so good. There is a "Basic" map, which only has grey or light brown texture under the square grid, to be used with wet or dry erase markers. There are even instructions on how you can use a dry erase marker to erase a drawing with a permanent marker, but I'm not sure why I should want to use a permanent marker in the first place. The material appears to be good quality, although that results in the mat not being easy to flatten after unfolding it. And depending on the lighting, the glossy print can cause annoying reflections.
I bought two Flip-Mats with buildings: A keep, and a country inn. These to me appear to be quite useful, as they can be used for any generic keep or inn the players stop at. The country inn map shows the same inn on both sides, one side with roof and the other without. I'm not totally happy about the roof side, as I don't see my group playing on that. Easier to play on the side which shows the interior of the rooms too, and just imagine the roofs if necessary. At best I could show the roof side to the players as outside view before they enter, but how long is that going to be? The keep map fortunately did better: One side shows the keep, the other side a winding path you could imagine leading up to the keep. Just hope you don't want to play an assault on the keep, because then you would need two of those flip-mats to show both sides at the same time.
Besides the buildings I bought three wilderness Flip-Mats: Pirate Island, Forest, and Mountain Pass. I don't know what I expected the Pirate Island map to be, but it is rather useless. One side shows a beach, with half the map taken over by water. Maybe useful for playing an encounter where the players defend that beach against pirates in rowing boats, but that is about the only idea I have for it, as it doesn't have many features besides sand and water. The other side of the map shows a complete island. But as the usual scale has a 1-inch square representing a 5-feet square in the real world, the whole 30" x 24" map ends up representing an island less than 150 feet x 120 feet big. Complete with 2 x 3 square pirate hut and 8 square diameter volcano. What self-respecting pirates live on such a ridiculously small island? I'm also not happy with so much of the island being covered by vegetation, leaving very little free room for a combat.
One side of the forest map also suffers from excessive vegetation, in my opinion. There are paths through a forest, but they form several circles, which doesn't make much sense. The other side is a lot more useful, showing a clearing in a forest. That is one of the generic encounter settings likely to happen often enough in a typical campaign. The mountain pass map has one side which suffers from the opposite problem: Lack of features. Two thirds of it are just white, and the last third shows the approach to the pass, with walls rising left and right. The other side then is in the pass, and that side looks more interesting. Two towers, some rocks, and a good amount of space for some encounter where the players either ambush or are ambushed, or either blockade or try to break through a blockade. Lots of possibilities for a good combat.
At $12.99 from the official site the flip-mats aren't outrageously priced. I'd rather have the print version for $12.99 than the pdf version for $8.99, especially since I am not sure how well those ones print out over several sheets of paper.
But then of course there are alternatives. It isn't all that evident that a map that already has everything printed on it still needs the ability to draw on it with a wet or dry erase marker, unless you want to mark things like spell effects. So in many cases a double-sided poster-map is just as good, and usually cheaper. You can get packs of 2 or 3 poster maps of the same size for the same price as the Flip-Mats, and in some packs (e.g. the Fantastic Locations) series you'll get a small booklet with encounters with that. Or you could buy an official D&D adventure, which have 1 to 3 double-sided poster maps and two adventure booklets for $24.95 to $29.95 (official price).
I love maps. Which is why I spent far too much money on Campaign Cartographer 3 and Dungeons Designer 3 with which I can make my own battle maps. But that is a different story.