Game masters face a challenge where they want to describe a room or encounter to players, but have a hard time successfully capturing the specifics of this imagined place. Were there four doors or just three? How precisely does that cave tunnel wend through the earth? One solution is a set of Dungeon Tiles, printed cardboard shapes that represent hallways, tombs, chambers, caverns and other locations common to fantasy roleplaying games. With each element on its own card, game masters can assemble a custom dungeon in a matter of minutes.
I played around with Caves of Carnage and Arcane Towers, two of Wizards of the Coast’s newer sets. Caves of Carnage feature underground elements like tunnels and caverns, while Towers showcases a huge tower (obviously) with magic-oriented trappings like glowing sigils carved into the floor. With both sets, smaller tiles provide such details as trap doors, pits and so on, while larger ones show entire rooms or portions of rooms. Some of the areas are so huge that you need to combine several of the larger tiles into one.
While some tiles have limited use elements like the glowing sigils I mentioned, most are more generic and all tiles feature different graphics on each side, giving you a lot of options. For instance, the giant spiral staircase in Arcane Towers doubles as a curving hallway if you flip it over.
I was talking to kid #1 (who’s 13 and sassy) about Dungeon Tiles, and she wanted to know what was the point — aren’t roleplaying games supposed to be about the imagination? I responded that, having done it both ways, that acting out a battle with participants imagining what’s going on is nowhere near as feasible or enjoyable as having a figure-scale map to see the events unfold. Imagination is great, but if you have to continually remind the group that there’s a pit in the middle of the room, or a door they haven’t checked yet — or worse, if you forget yourself — it takes away from the fun.
Similarly, using miniatures for playing out fights is a must. D&D 4E uses a miniature-optimized fighting scheme where special combat maneuvers, feats and so on are described in terms of squares rather than a real measurement. For instance, a spell might have a range of 30′ in previous editions of the rules, but now it says 5 squares. Because of this, products like Caves of Carnage and Arcane Towers simply make things easier for everyone, players and DM alike.
Image by Flickr user Mike Shea (Community Commons).