Earlier I blogged about how to successfully combine miniatures with playing dungeons and dragons, specifically about how to keep the imagination fired up by having players describe their character's actions - and rewarding them for it. Today though, I'm going to blog about a different problem that I have experienced with miniatures - representing the dungeon itself.
I looked at various different options. My wilderness battles are just fantastic with the Heroscape hexes and I wanted to get something equally good for the old school dungeon crawls too.
Here is one such outdoor battle from the session tonight. Here, the party return to their wagon to find it surrounded by a patrol of six gnomes with Dire Badgers - they fight to get their wagon back! The battle went well for the party, with the Dire Badgers causing surprisingly few problems (good tactics from the players paid off).
I considered using scenery from Dwarven Forge for dungeons but, while it looks incredible, its just too expensive. Anyway I'm not really sure how useful it is to have walls in 3D... doesn't that get in the way of moving the miniatures around?
I decided to give some ceramic tiles a go that I picked up off eBay. There were 300 of them and just over an inch square, I spray painted them brown and glued a few together to make corridors easier to lay out and we played a couple of sessions using them. They are quite cool, you can effectively make any layout with them but not so good at large rooms ... and we had to keep packing them up and starting over as the table we play on isn't exactly massive as the party explored the levels. They did prove useful for the caverns that the party were crawling through at the time as they were quite nonstandard shapes, but a lot of set up time and work involved with clearing them up to layout new areas.
So, I figured I would try something else. Last week we used a roll up square map that you can write on with non permanent markers and this was quite good - however, I'm not sure if it was the pens we used but erasing them (both wet and dry erase markers) left smudge marks. Also, the square size was exactly an inch, meaning we couldn't really put doors or scenery on the map and some miniatures with slightly larger bases would push other miniatures slightly off their squares. It was pretty far from ideal for these reasons - and also, in quite a few of the battles, only two characters (of eight) would really get involved in the fights due to problems with narrow corridors and the layouts.
Which brings me to what I tried tonight and my final solution. I figured, what the hell. Who really cares if the battles scenes don't exactly match what is down on the map, if its abstracted a little, I can make the rooms and corridors a little larger and start creating opportunities for more tactics and also for other characters to get involved in the fights a bit more. Plus I like hex systems [blame Heroscape!], you don't require stupid half moves or whatever for diagonal movements. So I thought about what I could do to implement a similar system but for dungeons / indoor fights.
I took out my Lexan terrain mat and wondered about perhaps putting walls on top of it. It might look a bit odd, I thought, as it features a very nice water effect (you can see it on the pic above, its below the hex tiles), then by chance noticed that upside down, you can still see the hexes. Perfect! All I needed were some lowish walls to use as dungeon walls...
So here was the first battle fought in this way, in a medium sized room in the gnome stronghold. The figure with the casino chip under him is injured and is one of the enemy gnomes. At the side, are lots of dead gnomes lol. The four bits of scenery were representing beds, which currently I don't have, and are from Heroquest. Note my new dice tray for the players to roll dice into!
Here the (anti)heroes burst into a blacksmiths in the gnome stronghold and begin their assault. By this point, it was becoming clear, this new approach was paying off - most of the characters were getting involved (actually, they all did).
Finally, here's one from the party's perspective - the storming of the command post which went well, except for the loss of the gnoll to one of the gnome sub-officers that is; all in all, clearing out the stronghold cost the party two war dogs and the gnoll shape-shifting character.