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Projected map vs. terrain objects

Which 'enhanced battlemat' would you prefer?

  • Total voters


First Post
Hi all!

For a while I have been contemplating two options to enhance my battlemaps.
In one hand there is the projected map where electronic maps are projected on the table by means of a beamer. Examples of this can be found here

In the other hand I am thinking of brining dungeons and other terrain to life with models such as dungeon walls, doors, rocks, trees, etc.
In this case I am thinking of casting things with Hirst Arts mold. Examples of this can be found in this thread and more info on constructing dungeon object with casted blocks is found here.

I've made a short list of cons and pros for each option:

-Works faster during play.
-No limitation on types of terrain
-It's also possible to use nice and easy templates for spells and such (e.g. a fireball)

-High set up cost
-Editing maps for adventures remains time consuming for each new map (masking secret doors, scaling the map to the right scale, etc).
-The rig is somewhat fixed to one location (can't easily take it with you and set it up at a friend’s place)
-Requires the use of a computer/laptop at the table (this is a con for me personally)

Terrain objects
-Terrain objects speak more to the imagination since it's in 3D!
-Once a good set of objects are present it requires little work (apart from an occasional unique new piece)
Relatively cheap

-The available terrain limits the map (e.g. of you don't have a round wall you can't use a round tower)
-A lot of initial work (creating the objects)
-Still delays play (setting up objects as the map grows)

So what would be your personal favorite and why?
Also, if you have other con's and pro's that I can take in to the equation i'd be happy to hear them!


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I voted 'map projections', although I am also considering using the projections in 'electronic whiteboard' mode....

That would reduce the preperation time/requirement (would make it the same as with normally drawn battlemap) while at the same time allowing for fireball templates etc.
The initial equipment cost and difficulty to move the equipment remain the same, of course.....



First Post
I like 3D terrain too. There are lots of very affordable options, and for me, part of the fun is in building/painting/designing it.


New Publisher
Terrain is fun for several reasons:

it adds to your players' use of 3D stuff, like chairs and tables and walls
it looks cool
you and your players get to touch it
it can be fun to build, especially if you have kids and they get into it with you

Project is good for:
more control over the map
DDI will likely come with pre-made maps for adventures you buy (we don't KNOW this, though).

I like the 3d stuff, myself, but if DDI is really, really good, it might be good to go with projected if you use a lot of WotC modules/adventures.

blargney the second

blargney the minute's son
Tough call!

In the end I'd probably go with projection. Molded terrain takes up a fair amount of space to store because it's fragile. Besides, there are tons of gorgeous 1" scale tiles in digital format that you can't really replicate in any other way at the table.

Finally, there's nothing stopping you from using both projection and terrain at the same time.


First Post
I had that same decisions two years ago and at first, I chose the terrain.

Big mistake.

The cost to set up is a lot higher over a period of time and the time to set it up is a lot longer. I'd have been better off drawing. YOu also are limited to doing things on the fly as anything outside of what you have prpeared may take 10 to 20 minutes to set up.

I ended up scrapping it (and wasting a ton of time and money building the models) and saved up for a cheapo projector. The projector was 500 bucks, the harness was 100 and the white out curtain was 10. We've been using it a year and a half now and its been very satisfactory. I"m able to set up tons of maps ahead of time using maptools, an open source project at rptools.net. And with all the neat stuff that thing can do, i have eliminated the need to purchase tokens of any kind, instead the pcs have their own mouse and light pointers. We're using 3d gifs as character tokens while the other npcs get flat tokens.


I, too, vote for projection, for many of the reasons listed above. Also, if you have 3d terrain, some portions of the map might be difficult to see for some players.


First Post
I vote for terrain, but I am a bit biased on the subject! ;)

If the cast-yourself route is too expensive, you may wish to consider cardstock terrain like we produce (here ends the shameless plug...)

I vote for terrain, but I am a bit biased on the subject! ;)

If the cast-yourself route is too expensive, you may wish to consider cardstock terrain like we produce (here ends the shameless plug...)

I saw the Fat Dragon Games terrain at Gen Con. It’s nice because once you buy the pdf you can set up some pretty expansive dungeons on the cheap. (The caverns set is neat.)


I see a lot of advantage to projection (particularly if you can work in 'fog of war' &/or lightsource shading - those would probably switch my vote).

That said, I voted terrain - having once played with it, I can never forget how much it stoked my imagination to actually move my character mini behind a tree, or up a hill, or across the deck of a ship. Being on the player side of the equation, of course, probably made it a bit easier to like as I got to skip any of the cost/prep negatives.


First Post
I have a huge collection of Dwarven Forge scenery -- it looks amazing and gives such a clear picture of the combat environment. But it takes time to set up, and you can't save a layout between gaming sessions.

A projector would be really neat -- I'd love to try that. Maybe use Dwarven Forge for scenery, and a projector for lighting and spell effects?

I've also used Second Life to create modular scenery and run D&D games in a 3-D environment.



I voted 3D because there wasn't an option for "both." After having experimented with maybe a dozen different ways to present tabletop maps, I now believe you need a variety of methods in your arsenal for different purposes.

I only used a projection system once, and it had too many drawbacks to use long-term.

I use printed color maps / tiles most of the time. Super cheap, quick set-up/removal, easy to transport, can slide along the table during exploration, etc.

I use 3d terrain only for important climactic scenes that I know the PCs won't avoid and will take much of the session to play out.

I draw on a big blank battle grid whenever the PCs go somewhere I didn't prepare for.

Occasionally I'll whip out other resources for variety sake, such as Tactiles, etc.


First Post
3D terrain = "I can't see around that wall. Can you move it? How'd I end up there? That's not where I wanted to be."

Projection = "How much for a replacement bulb?"
We wanted to do projection, but the cost killed that pretty quick.


First Post
First of all: thanks for the reactions and mostly your experiences with both methods.
The reactions so far are a good representation of my own position on the subject. Almost evenly balanced with a slight preference for projected maps. Right now i am leaning towards using the projector as the main tool and adding some tarrain objects for added flavour.
My biggest problem with the terrain objects is that i'd need a huge collection of different pieces in order to remain somewhat flexible (and not present my players with very boring dungoens build from simple, straight walls).
I do agree that the objects add a lot of flavour and enhance the overall experience.

As I said, thanks for your comments, keep them coming!


I've recently started using the projector method and I'm really enthused with it. Your cons are valid ones to consider. For me, a couple of factors made it easier:

  • I'm a Dundjinni user, so I was already spending the time to design the maps.
  • I'm a Photoshop user, so the fog of war effect and other uses are easy to do.
  • Any artistic talent I have does NOT translate to painting minis or terrain. I truly wish it did.

I really wish I was good at terrain and modeling. I've always envied the wargame boards I've seen out at Origins. But I know my limitations. I may get the items, but then I probably wouldn't use them. I don't even use the cool Dungeon Tiles that WotC published.