D&D 5E Mapping Solutions (poll)

How do you share maps with your players

  • Players draw their own maps / Theater of the mind

    Votes: 10 21.3%
  • [in person] abstracted maps

    Votes: 8 17.0%
  • [in person] Dry erase mat or board

    Votes: 26 55.3%
  • [in person] Large printed maps

    Votes: 8 17.0%
  • [in person] Terrain

    Votes: 5 10.6%
  • [in person] TV in table

    Votes: 7 14.9%
  • [remote] Theater of the Mind

    Votes: 7 14.9%
  • [remote] Simple B&W map

    Votes: 6 12.8%
  • [remote] Color map with room features

    Votes: 12 25.5%
  • [remote] VTT with as many bells and whistles as possible (animated maps, sounds, 3d)

    Votes: 7 14.9%
  • other

    Votes: 7 14.9%

As are several discussions about current and possibly future VTTs, I was wondering how everyone prefers to handle maps. So how do you map? Are maps mostly things for the DM? Do you have a simple set up, drawing out the basics of walls and doors and leaving the rest to description, or do you prefer maps with a lot of filled in details (furniture, various textures, statues, etc)? How fancy do you get with terrain/minis or VTTs with dynamic lighting, environmental sounds, or more?

Bonus: Mini's, tokens, or random objects to represent the characters?

Players draw their own maps / Theater of the mind


[in person] abstracted maps


[in person] Dry erase mat or board


[in person] Large printed maps


[in person] Terrain


[in person] TV or screen at (or in) table


[remote] Theater of the Mind


[remote] Simple B&W map


[remote] Color map with room features


[remote] VTT with as many bells and whistles as possible (animated maps, sounds, 3d)



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Victoria Rules
In person: I either draw the map on the chalkboard or describe the area including dimensions, and the players make their own map(s) from that.


I happen to be a pro game cartographer, so I create all my maps, and I have a large format inkjet printer and color scanner, not more than 3 feet to left of where I'm sitting at the moment, which means, my table gets awesome, full color printed maps. And because I play on a live table, I have no needs for virtual tabletop. That said, I'm also a publisher, and as a map creator, I sell map products, map tiles sets, map symbol sets (as well as third party products for Starfinder RPG). All my map products include a 300 ppi full size, print ready PDF map, the same map sliced into 8 x 10 chunks as a PDF, so you can print them on a desktop inkjet printer yourself, the same map as both a 100 ppi, and a Roll20 ready 70 ppi map for use in virtual tabletop. So I create for VTT, I just have no needs for it at my game table. We've used terrain before, but tend to stick with maps for most gaming, and we use miniatures, of course. I have maps and symbols for fantasy games, for science fiction games, a few for old west games, some for feudal Japanese games, and post-apocalypse. As a pro, freelance game cartographer, having done work for Paizo Publishing, Legendary Games (over 400 maps), Kobold Press (dozens of maps), and many others, there's a good possibility, you've used one of my maps in your games, even if you've never purchased directly from me.

I have been in situations where an unexpected encounter occurred, and was forced to draw up a quick map on a dry erase board at the spur of the moment - I draw fast, and I am an artist, so it isn't that tough for me to create on-the-fly, but I rarely need a dry erase board.
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At the table, nothing beats a big fat marker on a white board or mat. When the players inevitably jump off the railroad and you need to make a dungeon on the fly, this is the only option.

[Edit] I also considered voting "other" because I do print out world maps or regional maps with roads and towns, which the players can find as loot. But I guess the thread is about dungeon maps, not world maps.


In person touch enabled tvbox on the table being run from a pair of laptops and a vtt that definitely fits under the title of having "many bells and whistles as possible (animated maps, sounds". Although personally I don't much use sounds and use a lot of light/fow I know that plenty of people are the other way around or have their own style.

edit: The way touch screens are handled by windows clashes in some ways with how a ttrpg wants to use them, one computer is basically a potato that fixes that.
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Great Old One
I'm curious about why you choose to have "theater of the mind" as a standalone option only for remote. Why do players have to draw their own map if we are playing Theater of the mind in person ?

Whether in person or remote we use a lot of TotM for many situations and no-one draws a map. We also use abstracted map in remote, for example just putting the tokens on a blank canvas on the VTT so that people can remember who is with which group, for example.

We are also using a lot of this techniques, even today, even in one given session, just using the appropriate one. The only real trend is that, on VTTs, because it's really what people are focussing on more than in person when you focus more on the people, we tend to have really elaborate maps if we have the time to prepare them. But if we don't have the time, then the maps are simple.


I generally break down combat vs. exploration when DMing IRL. I don't own minis or anything, so I usually go with a rough layout when necessary for combat (using dice or chits), and TotM for exploration. As a player, it's usually easier to just mark intersections & room on a sketch map than to try and perfectly map everything. Unless you need to find a secret room (which is bad form these days), it gets the job done.

We've been using Roll20 since before 5E came out, which makes combat pretty easy with minis. Because of that, I draw out the entire dungeon, using it for both exploration and combat. I just draw out the walls, adding in doors, stairs, and other necessary background token, leaving it rather simple. Outdoors I either have a hexmap I've imported for exploration, or just a battlemap I've downloaded for combat. I know other DMs that put in a lot of bells and whistles, but I feel the return on investment of time isn't worth it.

Li Shenron

My favourite and most used methods are terrain for small-scale and printed maps for large-scale.

Terrain is only approximated, using a mix of Lego and other stuff to highlight important features or details, but leaving most to the imagination (mainly due to the staggering amount of time it would require to prepare everything). I don't use a battlemap, but a ruler for distances, so there is no need to have a grid indication on the table.

Printed maps are to show large areas, assuming the PCs are supposed to know. That is often the case for overland travel or when playing in a more "sandbox mode" (when I show regional maps) or for exploring a town, basically anytime when "fog of war" doesn't matter much. I normally don't show dungeons maps, unless the PCs have happened to find an actual in-game map (typically as a reward).


In person - whiteboard that I use dry erase markers on. I have a fairly large one that is a nice size - it's big enough to draw a map on but small enough that I can transport it easily.

Virtual - usually a virtual whiteboard. We use Roll20 and so I have a blank map set up that I can draw on with their drawing tools to create a simple map. If I have a planned encounter that I have appropriate maps for I'll use those instead, but often we're improvising and if a combat comes up when we're improvising I'm not going to stop to look for an appropriate map to play on. The whiteboard is good enough for table play, it's good enough for virtual play.


Moderator Emeritus
I use a wet-erase battle mat and minis, homemade terrain, and pre-(hand)drawn maps for areas I know we'll be going. I also draw maps to hand out as props sometimes. I use these for both my face-to-face and remote game (using a table camera and zoom). However, we also use Owlbear Rodeo for that latter game for the exploration mode and then "zoom in" to an area moving to the mat, if there is a battle.

Edit to add example of pre-drawn map + scatter terrain

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the Jester

Other- hand drawn maps. Players must map themselves or purchase maps if they want to have one. We do use a battlemat in person (sometimes), and I sometimes take pics and upload them to discord when we're playing remotely, if needed for clarity.


Registered Ninja
In person is a mishmash. Sometimes I hand draw maps ahead of time on gridded paper. I have also have some preprinted battle maps that I use. I also have a wet erased mat for unexpected encounter. For low-stakes fights I'll often do theater of the mind.

For VTT I use color maps, either stuff I find on the internet or make with Dungeon Draft.


He / Him
In person I draw a small abstract map when they are exploring a town, terrain, dungeon, etc.

Then when combat begins I transfer over to one-inch grid paper. I like to buy these big poster pads of grid paper, they last forever and aren't as restrictive as an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper.


Playing online, I've really been enjoying using Inkarnate to build big, beautiful maps!


As much as I adore maps, especially adding tactility and verticality to in-person maps, I've noticed that the benefits – the "wow" factor and clarity of positioning – seem to always come at the cost of increased "board game think."

Increasingly, I find the setup time required for full-blown VTTs just isn't worth it – it encourages artificially inflating the length of a scene that might otherwise be over pretty quick, and seems to detract from the roleplaying when the focus is on the map and not the videos of other players' faces.

My current approach has evolved into a medley of hand drawn maps, digital maps, theater of the mind, and Owlbear Rodeo for highly tactical scenes. By trying to pick "the right map for the right job" I try to keep players' minds flexible so that even when they dip into "board game think" it's not quite as deep/entrenched as it might otherwise be. Still very much a work in progress, as like many of us, I had a big learning curve with how to DM online.

I'm thinking about: what is the purpose of the map for dnd gameplay? Should the map, however presented, just be a layout of rooms or most prominent features of an outdoor space, or try to present a scene to the players, with specific objects (tables, bookcases, etc). And in presenting a scene, the players become more immersed in it? For example, I found a video where someone was talking about how in Foundry you can associate sounds like running water with certain parts of the map, and those sounds will automatically play when the tokens are close to it. Is that better than a DM having a note to describe the sound of running water? Would the next step be fully 3d virtual environments?

I think map-as-game aid and map-as-immersion are meaningfully different approaches to the game, even if the latter also accomplishes what the former is trying to do. And probably you need to know what your users want maps for when designing and selling a VTT. I could see WOTC imagining that people want a really immersive experience, but I wonder if that undercuts other aspects of the appeal of the game


I used to be Team Battlemat for the longest time until I got access to a really big touch screen where we play and (a VTT as simple as) Owlbear Rodeo. I really appreciate not having to prep and transport minis and the players like the screen better as they can clearly see what is going on. Having one player go up to the screen and move the figs around while I do other stuff is chef's kiss
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Which entry would you say Dungeon Tiles fall under-- [In person] Large printed map or [In person] Terrain? I chose Terrain since I also use large printed maps too (as well as dry erase)... so I voted for all three of those options.

Which entry would you say Dungeon Tiles fall under-- [In person] Large printed map or [In person] Terrain? I chose Terrain since I also use large printed maps too (as well as dry erase)... so I voted for all three of those options.
That's a good point I forgot about dungeon tiles. They are 2d, so maybe similar to a large printed map?

I'm curious about why you choose to have "theater of the mind" as a standalone option only for remote. Why do players have to draw their own map if we are playing Theater of the mind in person ?

I was thinking of having a mapper, like in basic dnd.
One player should create a map of the areas being explored, based on the referee’s descriptions. Details such as monsters or traps encountered, clues to puzzles, or possibly interesting unexplored areas may be noted on the map as it is drawn.

In person, the mapper can show their map to the other players easily. Remote, you may as well just use a VTT with a map, though I guess you could just have a blank digital whiteboard and have players draw

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