GM Advice: Adorning Your Table

Tabletop Roleplaying games are unique in that there is no visual medium like a video game, movie, or TV show. The entire, ever expanding world is comprised in the shared imaginations of everyone at the table. Theater of the Mind, we used to call it in my halcyon days of Broadcasting School. Your budget is unlimited, allowing you special effects that would make Weta Workshop insanely jealous. As Game Masters, we can paint a scene in the minds of our players without need for things like maps and minis.
But, maps and minis are pretty boss, and an excellent-looking table set-up can be mighty impressive.

"Admit it. You're a little jealous."

Today, dear reader, let's discuss adorning your tabletop to impress your friends and delight your enemies. If you want to create a visual representation of the picture in your head, the first thing you are going to want to figure out is a budget. If you find yourself with a reasonable amount of money to throw down on some high quality resin terrain, then you need look no further than the beauty that is DwarvenForge.

"Ok, guys, this should be easy. It's just a left, a right, a letf, another left, a right, a left, another right..."

This mighty modular terrain is of the highest quality and caliber, expertly crafted by what can only be real dwarves, walls , floors, and other magnificent accessories will be sure to knock the socks off anyone that sits at your table.

High quality and high caliber unfortunately translates to high price. These buggers may stretch from “kinda pricey” to “prohibitively expensive”, especially if you want to crate large, expansive dungeons. Don't fault the fellows at Dwarven Forge, however. The price to bang these puppies is not cheap. However, if you are lucky enough to catch them durring one of their Kickstarter campaigns, you can snag a handsome amount of pieces for a fraction of the price you would normally find them in the store, plus a few extra fun pieces if they meet their stretch goals (These guys are very familiar with stretch goals). 
This may surprise you, but I am not what one would call “The 1%”. My budget is pretty small, so I need to be wiser with my funds. That, my friends is where thee terrain crafting gurus come in, and believe you me, they are good at what they do.

Up on deck is DM Scotty. If you are rummaging around YouTube, you may have happened upon the great bearded guru of the glue gun who operated theDMsCraft. DM Scotty is the creator of the 2.5D terrain system. What the hell is 2.5D, you may ask? Well, Scotty saw the high walls of the dwarven forge terrain, and saw in it a problem. The walls tend to block your visibility of what is happening, and they can be tricky to maneuver around when trying to get your fingers in there to move your minis. Scotty's system shears down the walls (or outright removes them for his new Tilescapes series) for maximum visibility and and accessibility. DM Scotty is also brings to the table Dirt Cheap Terrain (No, seriously, he actually uses real dirt), and whats better, he shows you how to make everything.

The terrain is gorgeous, especially when you realize most of it is made from cardboard, corkboard, toilet paper and paper towel rolls. With the hundreds of tutorials on his YouTube page and a loyal (and crafty) community on his Facebook page, it is easy to throw together impressive pieces that cost next to nothing to make. With new videos being uploaded weekly, DM Scotty is raising the bar on making an affordable visual representation to adorn your table.

If you like Scotty's stuff, then you are going to have to make Scotty's stuff. While some crafts can be completed in a couple hours, other, larger pieces could take days in terms of drying time. It can be a large time investment, especially if you really get into it, so what you need to ask yourself is how much is your time worth? Also, you may find yourself one day sitting in the bathroom, looking at an empty toilet paper roll and thinking to yourself, 'I could make a pillar our of this...'

Perhaps you are not a fan of things sticking up from your table. Maybe it's too distracting, and you would like things scaled back to something nice and 2-D, though still high quality. Paizo has an answer for you, my friend. Their Map Packs and Flip Mats are gorgeous to behold,

Made with high quality glossy cardstock, with a viable grid, and totally modular, the Map Packs are an excellent addition to any gaming table. The Flip Mats, likewise, are pretty damned awesome. They fold out onto massive maps that cover a moderate surface, giving your players plenty of places to explore. And if that wasn't enough, you can flip the damned thing over! Surely the folks at Paizo are warlocks. You can also draw on both with a dry erase marker, meaning you can make adjustments as you see fit. The best part? They are very affordable, especially if you can pick them up at your Friendly Local Gaming Store.

The maps you get are the maps you get, and they might not necessarily be the maps you want. For a good looking product, you give up customization, which as a Game Master, is a feature you want. Also (this is more of a pet peeve), if you don't tape them down or your table isn't made of rubber, the Map Pack cards go sliding all over the damned place!

Now, let's imagine for a moment that there is a piece of terrain that can meet any need, be any map, and has the highest level of customization of anything on this list. Sometimes, simple is best. Paizo seems to have seen that, and has introduced the legendary Basic Flip Mat.

"Size does matter."

It can be whatever you want. Any map that pops into your head, you just jot it down. You can use ANY marker on this thing, because it was forged by eldritch magics best left out of the hands of mortal men, no doubt in a volcano somewhere. It is easy to clean, even months after use. You can write things on it, keep track of initiative on it, and it will hold you in its arms and comfort you after a long day at work. It is so basic, that it's perfect. It is a design that cannot be improved on. Oh, and it's like... scary affordable.

What cons? Haven't you been listening? This thing! This friggin' thing! Its only con is not having enough cons!

Now, what about minis? If you are one of the folks like me that slummed through life without having collected any kinds of miniatures , there is hope. I offer four (count 'em, four) options to your delema if your are one of the mini-impaired, like myself.

D&D Minis: The go-to brand for most tabletop gaming minatures. They are reasonably priced for the amount of minis you get, and they are minis that (mostly) come from the books you are running you campaign out of.

"Suck it, King Ghidorah!"

Reaper Minis: Good gravy I love Reaper Minis. The sculpt is by far the best in the business, and there are a lot to choose from. Decent prices make them a pretty good option, but their Kickstarters make them a better option. You can often snag possibly hundreds of minis for a modest investment, and the collection only grows with every stretch goal they reach (and they reach all the stretch goals).

"Yeah, I think I will pass. One side, Greybeard."

Amazon: It's not hard to find minis here. They literally have all the things. With varying prices and flash sales, it would be wise to keep an eye on the might Amazon.

Pathfinder Pawns: Hundreds of cheap, good-looking, interchangeable cardstock minis. These guys certainly have a frightening amount of boxes. For a modest investment, you could literally have thousands of minis at your disposal. Dollar for dollar, this is the best deal. 

 "Goblin up all these pawns. Get it? Goblin? Gobblin'? I'm so lonely..."

Your table is yours to do as you please, and if it pleases you to make a spectacle to illicit Ooo's and Ahh's from your players, then by all means get your interior decorator on.

Make it look pretty,

+Ed The Bard 

 Looking for some extra aids to make your game really pop? Check out the Open Gaming Store. Tell them The Bard sent you.

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