Miniatures Battle Mats

You need some kind of grid to represent encounters, especially combat encounters. A good battle mat of some kind with one inch squares (2.54 centimeters) is best. You want to be able to draw on your battle mat.

Your battle mat serves these purposes:

  1. Draw out encounter area
    • rooms
    • trees
    • roads
    • water
    • etc.
  1. Represents the placement of players, non-player characters, and enemies such as monsters

Option 1: Commercial Battle Mats

The most convenient option is to purchase a commercial battle mat, such as the ones made by Chessex, shown to the right of here. These durable mats are easy to transport. They roll up nicely, fitting easily into a cardboard tube. You can also just put a couple of large rubber bands around the rolled up mat for transport.

I use washable markers on mine. I have found that sometimes dry erase markers can stain commercial battle mats, so stick with the washable markers.

Also dry erase is easily smudged off as you move miniatures around. Washable markers stay put, even between gaming sessions. However, the oil of your skin may smudge your lines a bit if you move your hand across markings made with washable markers, though not nearly as easily as with dry erase markers.

Option 2: Large Graph Paper

Some players use large sheets of 1 inch graph paper, drawing directly on it with dry erase or washable markers. This is good in that if you save the sheets, when players move back the way they came, you don't need to re-draw the encounter area. You just pull out the previous sheet.

The downside to using graph paper sheets is that this can get expensive. The last time I purchased these sheets, they cost about $20 for two pads of 25 sheets each, coming to around 50 cents per sheet.

Option 3: Laminated Large Graph Paper

One option is to purchase a pad of large graph paper and have the sheets laminated. This way, you have many pages on which to draw, but they become re-usable, cutting down the long-term cost.

However, depending on where you get the sheets laminated, you may have more up-front investment than you're happy with. Kinko's and other printing and copy places can be somewhat expensive, so what are your options? If you know someone who works at a school, you may have an in. Often, they charge much less than copy places.

A cheap way to laminate graphs and maps is to use common, clear Contac paper. This is the kind of clear, sticky plastic that comes in rolls, used to cover shelves. You can find it at Walmart or other department stores. It typically costs under $5 per roll. Buy the widest rolls you can find (up to the total width of your graph paper). This way you can cover as much area as possible with the fewest areas of overlap.

You can draw on the laminated sheets with dry erase or washable markers. I have found the washable markers work best, because they are more resistant to smudging and accidental erasing.

Option 4: Shower Board/Whiteboard

Also known as melamine, shower board is an inexpensive option. You can buy a 4x8 foot sheet at your local home improvement center, such as Home Depot. Shower board is a sheet of hardboard covered with a thin layer of white plastic. This is more or less the same thing as commercial whiteboards, but at a greatly reduced cost. If you have a whiteboard laying around, that works too.

Now you'll need to come up with a way to permanently apply a grid to the shower board. One possibility is to draw a grid on the shower board with a yellow or other light colored permanent marker. When done, cover the entire sheet with a layer of clear contact paper to prevent the eventual removal of the grid lines. You draw on the clear plastic covering. Even when using spray cleaners, you won't erase the grid lines underneath.

Another option for putting grid lines on a sheet of showerboard is to lightly score the hard, white surface with an Xacto knife. Use a washable marker to darken in the lines. As you draw on the surface and wash it afterwards, the color doesn't easily wash out of the scored lines. I haven't tried this option myself, so I can't attest to how well it works in practice.

As with laminated graph paper, use dry erase or washable markers on the top surface. NEVER use permanent markers, as you may not be able to remove the color. If you accidentally get permanent marker on your white board, one option may be to use rubbing alcohol to remove it, making sure that you do so in a well-ventilated area.

The upside to using a whiteboard is that you have a large, reusable surface on which to draw. The surface is somewhat rigid, so even if you place this board on a somewhat uneven surface, your minis tend not to fall down as easily. What I personally use is a whiteboard onto which I tape laminated graph paper with blue painter's tape, which is easy to remove. This gives me a stable surface on which to place my minis, while still having the flexibility that having many sheets of laminated graph paper provides.

Option 5: Naugahide

Some companies produce battle mats specifically for roleplaying made of naugahide, or fake leather. The upside is that these are ready-made. They roll up nicely, making them easy to transport.

The downside is cost. I purchased one of these for $40 at one point, much more than the cost of the homemade options. A friend of mine found a cheaper option. He took a piece of light-colored naugahide, which you can buy at a fabric store or at Walmart, and drew thin graph lines on it with a permanent marker.

He draws his maps on this with washable markers, which seems to work well for him. This is cheaper than buying a ready-made mat, and since the naugahide is purchased by the yard, you can buy a pretty large peice. This is useful if you often do encounters with large areas, such as outdoor encounters.

I did find that if you use dry erase markers on these, it sometimes stains the mat, making removal difficult to impossible. When I tried to get all of this off with dry erase spray cleaner, it started removing the printed graph from the battlemat.

Learn How using Miniatures can enhance your roleplaying game





miniatures roleplaying battlemat grid
A battle mat makes it easy
to see where each player
character and monster is
located and the distance
between them.

I find this kind of
battle mat works great, especially when used with Crayola's
washable markers


You can buy large pads of graph paper at an office supply store and cover it with adhesive Con-Tact clear plastic.

This kind of battlemat works well with washable markers, such as the ones made by Crayola.


Dry erase boards like this one are portable and provide a stable surface to place your miniatures on.

Draw a grid on the dry erase board with washable marker, then cover with Con-Tact self-adhesive clear plastic. You now have a great grid battle mat that works great with washable markers, such as the ones made by Crayola.

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