Fog of War @ the Table

Something I’ve been grumbling and fretting over pretty much since I started DMing is how to present and slowly reveal a map to players.  For the longest time, I simply redrew on-the-spot while referring to a master key behind the screen, which I know works great for a lot of people, and also allows a greater degree of improvisation, but when you combine a penchant for perfection with mediocre drawing skills, you invariably get bored players.  I’ve had many thoughts on this over the years, up to and including such ridiculous ideas as drawing maps entirely in blacklight marker, sheeting them in plastic, and lighting them up from below a glass table with a blacklight-bulbed, magnetic flashlight whose bonding counterpart would be a moving iron ring on the map which circumscribed the players’ torch-range.  Urghklbthgurgle.

I tried using sheep’s wool, then teddy bear stuffing for fog of war, which worked OK, and looked awesome, but it was a little poofy and hard to form, resulting in some accidental reveals.  I also toyed with smooth pebbles and glass beads for a time, which again looked awesome, but god, it took a lot of work.  Then there was the dry-erase marker fiasco:  Covering a plastic sheet with a thick layer of marker, and rubbing it off as the map beneath was revealed.  Turns out it wasn’t all that dry-erase.  Or it just didn’t work with the plastic I was using, I don’t know.  And bringing wet cloths into the equation just ruined the night.

What I did take away from that brain fart was the idea of blowing up a map and printing it out in several A4 sheets, taping them together, and rolling them into plastic sheets for safe transport.  This worked for a time; I could draw PCs, NPCs, creatures, features etc directly onto the plastic sheet with an ordinary bic pen and wipe it off afterwards without too much ugly scarring.

However, I discovered that rolling up my maps was doing more damage over time than simply drawing on them would.  Plus, the plastic gets ratty after a few sessions, and that costs money too.  If I were to continue with that method, I’d need an artist’s bigass portfolio case, (you know, the big flat leather square ones with room for whatever you want to throw on the easel) so I could pack and unpack the maps without having to roll them.   I had to just say “hold up, there’s gotta be a cheaper way to do all this”.

Luckily, I now DM from the home, so I don’t have transport to worry about.  I can just keep a map’s sheets together with paperclips, and lay them out one at a time on the table, so: ImageAnd for the fog of war, I had a stroke of brilliance.  (Please don’t tell me if I’m reinventing the wheel here, I’m happy in my illusion of innovative grandeur thank you very much.)  Print out clouds!  A quick image search got me some nice clouds with a blank background, and I did some quick layering and resizing.  A few printouts and some very sore scissor-fingers later, and voila!

Image

ImageThese clouds had their maiden voyage last session, and I gotta say, they work like a charm.  With several A4-sized ones covering the majority of the unexplored regions, the medium ones being pushed around the far borders, and the small ones covering hallways beyond obtuse wall angles and such, it all runs rather smoothly.  And it looks almost as good as teddy bear stuffing.  Almost. 

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