Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mobile DM'ing Equipment - Combat Mat

Now that I have DM'ed my first Con game, I find myself thinking about my equipment needs a bit differently. For example, in the olden days (the 1990s), I used to use a huge, classroom-sized white board for drawing maps and diagramming complex tactical encounters for my home RPG'ing group. Now that I DM exclusively from Skype, I don't do that anymore -- my big whiteboard is down in the garage.

For OSRCon, I acquired a mini-whiteboard, and it worked really well during Con play for quickly drawing a room layout or diagramming a combat scenario.

But then I got back from Toronto and saw the above picture of James Maliszeski's Crystal Caste "combat mat" and then read this comment where he tells exactly where to buy it [and more recently, some other folks have jumped on the trend].  I got really inspired by this, for I realized that a flexible mat like that would be great for on-the-road DM'ing, and it even has gridlines and hexes on alternate sides to boot.  So now, thirty bucks (with shipping) later, I have a flexible combat mat on its way to my house.  

Oddly, at the time I ordered the mat, the revelation I share in the next paragraph literally did not occur to me at all.  It was not until after I ordered the mat and reflected upon my consumerist victory that this related idea emerged and I realized (too late!) that I may have inadvertently taken a step toward creating a huge monster.

For the purchase of this combat mat inevitably leads me to the topic of miniatures, an aspect of our beloved hobby with which I have never directly engaged.  Yes, you read that right, I have never owned nor painted a single miniature.  I have gamed a small handful of times using them, but only when someone else brought them along.  I don't dislike using them if they're on hand; I have just never felt the need to actively seek them out.  I have an ambivalent relationship with fantasy miniatures.

But now I have that damn battle mat coming, and there's also this recent news about a line of miniatures being released specifically to complement Labyrinth Lord. I have to admit, that second set of soon-to-be-released minis shown here, the "Level Two Monsters" box, looks kind of badassed:

Includes 3 Gnolls, 3 Ghouls, 3 Zombies, 4 Troglodytes, 2 Shadows, 3 Large Crab Spiders, 3 Berserkers, 1 Green Slime, 1 Yellow Mold and an Evil Magic-User.

So should I invest in a few minis (for practical purposes if nothing else) since I have already thrown down for the combat mat?  Or is this how a horrible obsession starts?  It just seems like having a few minis to accompany the mat would make a smart combination of practical materials for quickly sorting out combat situations at Cons and the like, when (real-world) time is a factor. 

I think the biggest down side to my collecting any minis at all is that I have no interest in painting them.  Sitting around painting minis does not (at this juncture) strike me as much of a good time.  But then again, once you buy them, have you not taken that critical first step toward the dark side? 


  1. If you want miniatures but not the hassle of carrying them around, there are a number of paper or card tokens you can use. The D&D4 monster boxed sets contain some decent tokens, and I have some here for download.

  2. "...I have never owned nor painted a single miniature. "



    I am such a minis junkie. Fortunately, the pre-painted plastic minis from WotC provide a cheap fix for talentless people like myself. Paizo is also coming out with a new line. There should be plenty of single available on EBay after the release.

    I dog those vinyl battlemats. Very handy indeed!

  3. @Kelvin: Thanks for the suggestion and the downloads!

    @Christian: I know you love them, as do so many others. THANKS for the leads for talentless folks like myself though, I will look at those pre-painted options for sure.

  4. I have a mini confession as well - all my warhammer miniatures I bought pre-painted from eBay. I have neither the time nor the artistic skill to paint.

    My recent use of miniatures with Keep on the Borderlands was a mixed bag experience. I used some warhammer and dragonlance miniatures. At it's worst miniatures were fiddly and reduced roleplaying. At it's best great for a chase sequence.

  5. The best thing to do is to take a minis grid map, get it laminated, and then use dry erase markers and brushes. Works like a charm and highly mobile.

  6. Seems like the wet-erase aspect of the combat mat would be a bit of a drawback, as you'd need a couple of towels handy if you were making changes as you went. Other wise, pretty cool!

  7. @kiltedyaksman: I like the dry-erase concept a lot.

    @Spawn: Yes, I think Maliszewski used his pens to draw corridors and dungeon features, but used miniatures as well. He must have had some wet-erase materials on hand.

    I'm starting to think Kelvin's card tokens may be the way to go. Easy to travel with and far cheaper than minis. Hmm.

  8. I got a paizo mat that is foldable and works with wet/ dry markers. Works pretty well; fits in my bag, double sided, got dry erase markers from work.

    I use scrabble tiles for named individuals but that takes some setup work. I use glass beads from the dollar store for bugaboos, sometimes poker chips if they're notable/ big.

  9. @ Telecanter: I think I've seen a picture of you with your mobile DM gear. Was that on Zak's blog or ... where?

  10. Ah hah. The Mule Adibes:

  11. And here's the link to Paizo's mats: