One year ago you were reading this by Michael Harrison.
If you head out to your Friendly Local Game Store and observe the tabletop gamer in his or her natural habitat, you’ll see that every gaming table is different. Some gamemasters are hunkered behind laptops, others are peeking over their screens. At one table, the clatter of dice is constant, while at the next, it’s all about roleplay and the dice still haven’t left their pouches.
We all have our own styles when it comes to playing our favorite games. When I was younger, I preferred theater-of-the-mind RPGs with lots of vivid imagery and even the occasional prop thrown in. Lately, however, I’ve been hooked by games with a more tactical bent, like the most recent edition of Dungeons and Dragon.
While 4E offers more flavor and flexibility than your average tactical boardgame (Stratego, Risk), it focuses on position and movement of game pieces. Occasionally, the imagination and creativity of a roleplaying game gets lost in the mix. And if you’re using a plain old gridded game mat, the game may devolve into a series of back and forth dice rolls with no colorful narration. Unless you have a good DM, you may lose the “roleplaying” aspect of the game altogether.
When I traded in the flipmap for a generously-donated review set of Dwarven Forge Miniatures Terrain, my players were immediately drawn in. Instead of sketching out the battle map, I built the dungeon ahead of time with the hand-painted resin-cast pieces, covered the whole thing with cardboard, and introduced it to them a room at a time.
Tile-based, with a massive variety of sets and different looks, the Dwarven Forge pieces are sturdy and built to last. From caverns to castles to inns, each set has its own accessories to help round out the rooms. Tables and chairs, columns and pits, even plates and tankards and food. It adds a level of detail to your encounters that even the most talented artist would have trouble replicating on a dry-erase board.
Because of their quality, the terrain is not cheap. Each set runs between $70-$120, and if you’re aiming to create entire dungeons, you may need several sets. You’ll also want to make sure that you’ve got plenty of space. A dedicated gaming room is necessary, as you’ll need plenty of shelf space to store the Dwarven Forge boxes and a large table to build on.
I found that it was best to set up my dungeons ahead of time. On-the-fly dungeon design was tricky; my players sat idly by while I pawed through the boxes, trying to find the right pieces for the rooms.
For apartment-dwellers with limited budgets and even more limited space, D&D Dungeon Tiles may be your best bet for livening up the game table. But if you have a passion for miniatures and you’re not afraid to own “geek doll furniture”, then buy a few sets of Dwarven Forge and see where it takes you. Check out the video below to see my own gaming group enjoying our set:
WIRED: Modular, ultra-detailed, well-made, and a whole lot of fun
TIRED: Takes up a lot of space, pricey, hard for on-the-fly dungeon creation
Either way, this one definitely gets the GeekDad stamp of approval.