Whew! It’s been a busy week, but I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the gaming store tonight. Although it’s been available for awhile, I was pleased to see Gale Force 9’s outstanding Dungeon Master’s Mat set on the shelf. I’ve already discussed how impressed I was by the map of the Welcome Wench. Made of high quality materials with great graphics, the GF9 mats are sturdy, attractive, and easy to write on/wipe off.

That being said, some of the previous mats had strange graphic details that made made me leery of using them. The King’s Road map seemed, at first glance, to be infinitely useful; how many times a game does a GM need a plain path with a few rocks strewn here and there? Yet the handful of graves alongside the road had me cringing. I could get away with ignoring them once, but by the second time the mat came out, my players would be harping on the repetition like an insidious Internet meme: “My God, these roads are deadly! Is it a pothole epidemic? Should we stop drinking the water? And why do the people always die in sets of three?” If you have a group like mine, minor details in the art can lead to the players asking a major NPC in the next town about “all those graves,” and then you have to make a GM call about whether or not to roll with it and bring their metagaming into the fiction by having the NPC respond–and God help you if they decide to ditch the quest you had planned and instead go after the metaquest, which you’ll now suddenly need to create on the fly. Ugh!

That’s why I was glad to see the plain DM’s mat set available. One mat has a plain grassy background; the other has stone tiles. They’re perfect for placing under cardboard scenery, and since you can write on them, it’s easy to set up the buildings ahead of time, mark where they should go on the map, and wipe the outlines off after your session ends. Further, these mats would be great to throw in a GM’s convention gaming kit, as they have a bit more flair than plain brown grid maps.

I generally prefer detailed and evocative art, but sometimes, simple is best, especially if simplicity serves to focus your players on the details you want them to see.

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