The Battle Grid

By Shamus Posted Monday Oct 3, 2005

Filed under: Tabletop Games 37 comments

We use a poster-sized dry-erase board for our dungeon-based sessions. I like this because it lets me draw the map FOR them. I don’t have to describe the dimensions of the room and wait for the mapper to draw the thing out on graph paper. Even better, we just place the minitures on the grid as we go, and the players move the pieces as they like. If an enemy shows up or a trap goes off, there is no debate about where anyone is. Nobody can claim they stayed in the last room just because they didn’t SAY they followed everyone else into this one. Your position is determined by where your piece is on the grid. It forces them to think about where they would really want to stand.

I can draw only parts of the map that they can see, which lets them intuit the shape of nearby rooms, even when they haven’t entered. If something changes the environment (for example, say oil is spilled all over, or a fissure opens in the earth) I can draw that right on the grid, during battle. I can depict the positions of furniture and other moveable items and we can move them around with a dry-erase marker as needed.

Here is the grid as it looked at the end of Session 3:

I absolutly love this. I would never go back to a plain paper grid after playing like this.


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37 thoughts on “The Battle Grid

  1. DVS says:

    Great idea.

    I once tried planning a fantasy campaign set in a small village, since at a local game store I had purchased some inexpensive map pieces of a small village and forest with nice pictures and a hex grid (intended for wargaming with miniatures, no doubt). But my GM skills were not up to the challenge of repeated adventures in one small location.

    Normally neither I nor my players make a map. Our adventures tend to only seldom be conducive to it (i.e., mysteries and political inrigue, not a “dungeon crawl”). But I appreciate what good mapping can do, and enjoy seeing it here.

  2. Just-When-You-Thought-It-Safe says:

    WoW…I have been struggling for a long time to find something that is a simple, afordable, and easy to use for a board. I would have never thought of a dry-erase board…thanks alot.

  3. GDorn says:

    How did you make the grid? I did this once using sheets of dry erase ‘posterboard’ and drew the grid on with a sharpie, but over time, the dry erase markers actually erased the sharpies as well.

    (As an aside, that’s useful info if anyone accidentally draws on your dry erase with a sharpie – write over it with a dry erase marker and erase it. repeat until the sharpie’s gone.)

    BTW – I stumbled here due to your comic. Keep it up, it’s great.

  4. Shamus says:

    The 3.5 D&D manual came with a poster-sized grid. We found some clear tape (packing tape, nice and wide) that worked well with dry-erase and taped the poster to a poster-sized backing. Then we covered both sides with the tape. One side was blank, the other had the grid.

    Note that not all tape will work. Write on the tape with dry erase and let sit for a few minutes. If it wipes off afterward, it’s safe to use.

  5. Kizan says:

    I built a 8’x4′ table and topped it with 1″ tan tile then grouted it with black grout. It’s really nice you can write on it with wet erase and it just wipes off with a little water. The space is big enough to have huge maps put out. I have a large collection of the Dwarven Forge peices and we use those for small stuff. The player LOVE building the rooms. For larger rooms or outdoor stuff we just draw on the table.

    For actual map archival purposes (i.e. maps larger than the table) I just scan in the DM map (if I have time I blank out the numbers and stuff) and then just cut it out with scissors as I go along. If I haven’t removed stuff they shouldn’t see then I only give them the part after they’ve had the encounter and I build the room on the table or hand-draw it on their map.

    Just my .02,


    P.S. Pics of the table at the website.

  6. Jeff says:

    We use something alittle more static then the battlemats.

    Go to a local hardware store (Target or Meijers can have these too) check for Contact shelf liner… it’s harder to find now, but you can get it in 1″ grid squares… also pick up a roll or two of clear contact paper.
    I varnished and clear coated a 4 x 8 sheet of particle board from Home Depot. Carefully laid down the gridwork contact paper, then put another layer of clear contact paper over it.
    Makes an AWESOME gaming table. You can use Water-base pens (overhead projector pens) to draw out your table. This method is great if you have a dedicated gaming area (like I in my geekyness do)

    For something more potable… you can go to Fed-Ex/Kinko’s and for a small amount of $$ can make a portable grid work.
    Take a normal sheet of graph paper (scalable works better, like 1/4 inch squares) Use Kinko’s drafting printer and scale up to 1 inch size. (you can make poster-sized sheets for about $5)
    After printed, you can have it soft laminated for another $5 or so – which lets you use water-based pens easily on it. (dry-erase markers work, but tend to leave residue permanently on the soft laminate)

    We’ve been looking at the dry-erase boards more recently for a new table… now, if you have alittle $$ – you can even have it pre-gridded!


  7. Gary says:

    You can buy a pack of two 20″ x 30″ foam boards with a half-inch grid at just about any office supply store for under $15. Kinko’s will laminate them for under $10. Thanks for the other great ideas!

  8. Andre says:

    Great ideas, guys. I just started playing (DMing, actually), and for my mapping needs I bought two 1’x1′ dry erase tiles, drew on a grid with pen, and then use the dry erase markers over them. The markers leave a residue that’s hard to remove, but a wet cloth wipes all of that off. But that leaves you with the problem of having to redraw the grid, as it fades a tiny bit every time you erase. That’s not a huge problem, either, because over a few sessions I’ve redrawn parts of the grid, but I’ve made it a point to only focus on redrawing the parts of the grid where horizontal and vertical lines cross… so now I’ve got a grid that fairly simulates a faded old tile floor, but at the same time the grid is still clear and visible.

    I’ll have to try some of your ideas out, though. Mine is not quite ideal.

  9. Kalamadea says:

    We’ve got a number of people that play at the FLGS I work at and we use regular poster maps like those that came in the DMG or the older D&D minis sets and place a large piece of clear plexiglass over it. I bought a 1/4″ thick piece that is about 3’x4′ at Home Depot for $30 and it works great. You can draw on top of it with wet or dry erase markers, it holds the maps down flat, and it’s especially helpfull with multiple small maps like the Paizo map packs since players can move stuff around on top and not worry about knocking the map pieces around. We also use it for D&D minis, axis & allies minis, star wars minis, battletech, heroclix, board games, anything that has a fold-out map that needs to lay flat or multiple maps that need to be joined.

  10. Xenovore says:

    Our solution was pretty basic: We printed a 1″ hex grid onto 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets, then taped the sheets together to form a 22″ x 34″ sheet. This was then photocopied and laminated at Kinko’s. (I think we did like 10 of them — it’s always good to be able to swap out maps rather than erasing/redrawing all the time.)

    We use dry-erase, which is much cleaner than wet. There is some residue build-up over time, but a light solvent (90% or higher isopropanol works great) will clean it up nicely.

    Oh and these are convenient to store as well — just roll ’em up and stick ’em in a tube.

  11. Garett says:

    Personally I always found this to be a brilliant idea:

    Using an LCD projector and a laptop (though technically a normal PC would work two if it was a static gaming room. A friend of mine the other day pointed me to this little gem:

    It is an LCD projector built by Hasbro for projecting video game consoles/movies onto a wall. It is old technology, but more then sufficient for projecting maps … it only has composite inputs, but many devices these days have composite out so it shouldn’t be a problem to jury-rig one of these bad boys into a very cheap projector map solution.

  12. Jeff says:

    We’re going to use a projector, but right now we’re using an electronic battlemat – You can use images from the web or scanned RPG books as mini’s, plus there’s several other features you can get from a virtual table top that a battlemat just can’t provide, like sound effects, playing over the net, and a neat fog of war effect. Plus, it saves time during play. I can do all the setup prior to the game.

    Sorry to sound like an ad, but so far, we like using this software a lot.

  13. Will says:

    a touch on the expensive/commercial side, but also super easy and convenient, we use vinyl battle mats and wet erase markers. They’re durable, portable and easy to use

  14. raven says:

    in my group, we have a large piece of plywood with a thick dry erase laminate layer applied to it. the key difference is that the grid is *scored* into the surface, so it never goes away no matter how much erasing goes on (including wet erasing and the occasional chemical-wet-erasing that happens when the surface starts getting ugly buildup).

    scoring the grid takes more time than using a permanent eraser, but it’s held up for years now and is as clear as it was from the beginning.

    (it’s believe that after scoring, the lines were traced over in permanent marker so they showed up a little darker. but as this marker is soaked into the substrate rather than on top of the proper dry erase surface, it never is affected by multiple erasures, even with cleaning agents)

  15. PuffTheDragon says:

    What I have been using to create hex maps is the tiles from the Heroscape game. I have three sets of the basic game and a number of the expansion packs. I use these quite often when I am running a game and need a large area hex map.

  16. JackInTas says:

    Our group uses a large plywood blackboard sheet. 15 bucks from the local hardware store. The grid is ruled on with a silver or white marker. Over time the surface becomes scratched, so the board is wiped down with a wet cloth, and resprayed with Blackboard paint.

  17. Matt says:

    In the last campaign I played someone had one of these they’d bought, with a regular grid on one side and hexes on the other, so they are out there. I plan on getting one for the campaign I’m preparing to run.

  18. Bold says:

    I’m surprised some of you have never seen battlemats–Chessex has been selling vinyl battlemats for over 25 years! You can draw on them with wet erase markers. Then just roll up the battlemat when you’re done playing: no large panels to store, no tables usable only for gaming.

    In addition to Chessex:
    …you can also buy similar mats from Crystal Caste:

    A new product is the Flip-Mat, from Steel Sqwire:
    You can use either wet erase or dry erase (or even permanant marker!) with a flip mat, and it folds up for easy storage in a book bag.

  19. Richard says:

    I made my own large battle mat. I realised at about 1am one night that I had a big D&D session starting at 10am, and nothing to play on, so I improvised with what I could find.

    I took a dressingmaking board that I found lying around my attic; it’s essentially a large (1m x 1.82m) strong white cardboard board, covered in a grid of 2cm squares.
    I covered this in clingfilm held together with tape (it’s quite hard to work with, but you just have to make sure that it doesn’t touch itself and stretch is taut before you tape it down).
    It can be drawn on with whiteboard markers that can easily be wiped off, and I don’t have any problems with the grid coming off. I use a mixture of lead figurines and little cardboard squares with stickmen on for players and monsters.

    It’s served me extremely well for quite a few sessions, so well, in fact, that I decided against buying a proper board on the basis that I had a perfectly good board that was effectively free.

  20. Tony Navarro says:

    Our DM and I decided to use an overhead shot printout made using the module construction system of Neverwinter. We end up with a lot of aligning and gluing together of several sheets of A4 paper to put our map together but the result is way cool to look at. I’m the one who inks in the grid. True, it takes about two days to prepare the maps for our once a week session, but the map really helps to get us into the swing a things. However since we use an inkjet printout, care must be taken to keep all liquid refreshments on a seperate table. Oh, we also use the dollhouse stuff from my sister’s old toybox.

  21. paul says:

    I use, and will continue to use, cause they are awesome, Tact-tiles (, easy to use, scalable to any size table, dry erase, so you dont get the wet erase stuff all over the place.

    map projections is nice, more expensive, not as easy to transport

    grid paper, with plexiglass over the top next best thing.

  22. Monk says:

    I LOVE that overhead projection layout. If I can get one of those cheaply enough, it’ll change the whole nature of the gameplay, adding authenticity to the imaging and increasing the pace of the game. Wow!

  23. Bren says:

    One of my DMs hated having to wait for us characters to map the dungeon that we were in so he solved it at the end of the first adventure. We received a quill that would draw a map of what one of our characters saw. Quite useful… that little quill!

  24. don says:

    we use a similar tactic for map drawing, but use wet-erase markers on transparent plastic with a grid underneath. the extra cool thing about this is that we tried hex-grid for a few sessions just to see what it was like, and all we had to do was put a hex-based nagahide under the plastic. switching back was just as easy.

    the other mapping system (which we haven’t used yet) is based on an old laptop which one of our more-techinically inclined geeks took apart and placed the main lcd on an old overhead projector from a school, then plugged a monitor into the back vga port of the laptop. He’s still writing the program that will allow the DM to see the whole map (and whatever else) on the main screen and the PC to see what he wants revealed on the ‘projector’ screen. also the light bulbs are *really* cheap compared to the ones you have to buy for the modern projectors.

  25. Pete!! says:

    we just use a tablet pc. it works great, is free for us to use (except for the guy who baught it in the first place), and doesn’t have any problems with leaving streaks or whatever. only prob is its a little small. but were it hooked up to a projector or a tv……..

  26. Anthony says:

    We do something similar, except that our white board is a 4’x8′ sheet of bathroom wall laminate. I dremelled dots into it at 1″ intervals, so it’s nearly gridded already making for quick wall drawing.

  27. Stormbow says:

    That’s an excellent battle grid!

  28. James says:

    Has anyone considered using a big screen tv flipped horizontally and raised up some instead of a projector? Connect it to a computer and instant playing surface. Either that or put a big piece of plastic over it. Used big screens are cheaper than projectors. I am also considering a 42″ LCD put at the center of a big game-table.

  29. Ewokskinner says:

    The problem I have always had with the various dry-erase options is that the ink always smears. Someone will need to lean in for a look, and smear the ink all over his or her hand.

    Office supply stores sell huge tablets of 1″ gridded paper for presentations. They’re like $20.00 for a pad of fifty, and it takes a while to go through that many. You just write on it with regular sharpies (which are far cheaper than dry-erase markers, and last longer, which offsets the cost of the pads.)

    This works great, and I can even keep the maps rolled up in case the party backtracks. It’s also convenient to mark the map as to what treasure was found where and so forth.

    It really is the best solution I’ve found, and I would never go back to any other way.

  30. Hercule Satan says:

    The thing that I always use for a sort of battlegrid is graph paper. I draw out the dungeon that I’m DMing for the night, usually a 1 sq. = 5 ft. version, and then draw a much larger version using sheets of graph paper taped on the underside to each other. Then I just use some colored pencils to add details and color to the drab black and white grid, and there we go. Of course, my grids that I make take forever and are only used once or twice, but I love drawing maps so I don’t mind.

    I tried using a large 24in x 36in corkboard, and used a grid cut from double ply cardboard glued to it. Then I took cereal boxes, cut out the 3d shapes that I was going to use for the dungeon, and printed out details like dungeon walls and such and glued it to the shapes, making walls and stuff. That took forever too, and it didn’t turn out the way I really wanted…But it was free.

  31. Refurbished computers says:

    It sure is but when the ink smears the words become unreadable.

  32. Barney says:

    As a gift for our GM of over 13 years we built a 4’x8′ custom wood table with a flippable grid board under tempered glass. The table also had inset computer screens at the ends for bringing up additional game material (and would revert to an aligned tile display when not in use).

    We had considered plexiglass but concerns of scratching and hazing led us to glass, which turned out the be the cheapest part of building the table.

    @James: Now with 42″ lcd’s commonplace, we just need a good glass touchscreen surface solution for the next gen table.

  33. Laharal says:

    I got some problems getting what is in the picture.. Shamus said it was a dry erase board but how come we can see the battle grid? Did he put the grid under something?
    Many thanks

  34. Jay Prater says:

    I just grabbed a poster frame and glue sticked some printed and cut 1×1 inch graph paper (google searched). Dry erase wipes right off. I put some foam tape used for insulating windows in the four corners and it doesn’t slip around on the table. Took me about ten minutes and we’ll test it tomorrow!

  35. Lisa says:

    I want a large, at least 18″ x 24″ but maybe bigger, clear plastic sheet with a 1 cubic inch grid on it so that it can be laid onto a drawing. That way many drawings can be done on different non-grid poster board sheets. Any idea where I can find something like this or have it made?

  36. Tryll says:

    We use an overhead projector that we bought back in the early 1980’s, along with a pack of clear acetate sheets. I lay the sheet over my DM map and trace what the group can see (using a wet-erase marker), then put it back on the overhead. When the group moves beyond the edge of the current sheet of acetate, just whip out the next sheet. If they decide to go back, I don’t need to re-draw anything – just get out the previous sheet.

    Another advantage to using an overhead projector: No need for everyone to crowd around a table. Everyone can spread out around the room and be comfortable, since the map is projected onto the wall where everyone can see it.

  37. dmDad says:

    As a long-time gamer, I’ve tried many of the DIY suggestions mentioned previously. The hobby turned into a passion and now into a small family business: Role 4 Initiative! (
    After going through 2 vinyl mats that were ruined by accidental Sharpie use, we now have something better.
    A Dry-Erase Battlemat that rolls up and even accepts Sharpies. Available in 4 colors; it measures 24″ x 36″. You can find them at our shop .They’ve been quite popular with our customers, so we’ll be releasing a larger 36″ x 48″ size in a few weeks.
    We hope you all find as much use out of these mats as we do. Happy Gaming!

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