Without a conventional board, maps play a crucial role in DnD.
Maps display the world in the traditional, larger sense in that you need to know where you are in the world — but also in a more specific, more detailed sense in that they help the DM lay out the particular twists and turns, geography and landscape, settlements, and locations as the players encounter them.
Making Maps as a Dungeon Master
Many DM’s find making such maps one of the fun parts of the game. It is the starting point for world generation, the basic sketch of a part of your campaign world that you will fill in through gameplay and imagination.
But only some get the same kick out of this part of game preparation. If you are one of those people who can’t seem to come up with exciting and fun maps, or you don’t have the time and are happy to use or modify existing pre-generated maps, then this article will act as a quick guide to some of the best resources available.
Types of Maps
There are three types of maps, and depending on the nature of your campaign, you will rely on one kind more than the other. That said, most balanced campaigns will probably find a use for all three at some point.
Regional maps show sections of the world, everything from entire kingdoms to smaller wilderness regions, and can include town or city maps and maybe even large cave systems.
They are often needed just for cursory movement, to get players logically from one part of the world to another, or to put things in context. (i.e. “you have traversed the Forest of Gliad and crossed the Weeping Wastes and now find yourself on the edge of the estates of Lord Farros, your prospective employer.”)
Other times, if running wilderness campaigns, they serve a more detailed purpose as the players visit various locations to solve a riddle or hunt down and curtail bandit activity.
Battlemaps are more localized versions of the above and can even be used as the tabletop terrain where the players’ figurines are situated. If so, this is represented in mats and landscape features, such as huts, woodland, etc.
Such maps enable players to visualize the landscape entirely they find themselves in, able to calculate times and distances but subject to line of site obstacles and hidden dangers. These are often used for localized wilderness campaigns, urban adventures, and large-scale battles.
These are the most common, certainly in the early days of a campaign and most commonly take the form of blueprints to dungeons, castles, and temple floorplans. These are often held by the DM and revealed to the players as they explore through the laying out of floorplans and features.
Trust Me. I’m a Cartographer.
All such maps can also be the characters’ property, items they have bought, found, or won during their adventures. Of course, there is nothing to say that such maps will always be accurate. The map your party leader holds in their hand might be a complete fabrication or, worse, designed to lead you into a trap.
The Best Map Generators to Check Out
Not only an excellent online resource and can produce beautiful-looking maps in either full color or parchment style. It takes its lead from your suggestions so that you can lead it in specific directions to create something that is both partly random and partly planned.
The site has regular updates and has recently added the Battle Map option, suitable for encounters on the road or running a skirmish campaign. You can add. a grid feature to help calculate distances, or you can leave it blank.
Also, its free-to-use setting has plenty of resources, but if you need more, its modestly priced subscription gives you thousands more assets and a license to use these commercially.
This is another excellent map generation tool but it takes a slightly different approach. Even with its free account, it grants access to the full range of assets, but you can only have three maps at any time. All maps are watermarked and stay within the platform.
Commercial use is covered by a higher tier, paid account, but whatever you need it for, it is a fantastic map maker, especially if you want to generate battle maps and small region details.
This platform evolved from a video game developer’s need for a great-looking, easy-to-use map creation system. It supports all the requirements of fantasy maps but also is broad enough to incorporate more futuristic settings, should your characters find themselves time traveling or you want to use it for your other games apart from DnD.
It is also a “pay-what-you-like” resource that also includes free usage. But it would be rude not to drop a few coins in the hat… wouldn’t it?
As the systems mentioned above mean that DMs and gamers all over the world have been generating maps and dungeon plans for years now, it means that there are plenty of already generated maps available for use in places such as Patreon (check out: Afternoon Maps, Cze, and Peku, and Animated Dungeon Maps) Reddit or just via a well-worded Google search.
This site holds more than 200 map and asset resource sets for you to use, all with printable pdfs for those who play at a physical table… not everyone does these days).
Many maps and assets are marked as pay what you want with a recommended price of one dollar, but you can get them completely free as a free trial before you buy or if you’re on a tight budget, which more of us are these days.
There are also maps at a fixed price of a dollar or bigger bundles with a slightly higher price tag.
These featured sites are just the tip of the iceberg.
Add into that the many physical resources, such as battle mats and floorplans, physical terrain pieces, and online cartographic platforms, and there is no reason why you can’t create a thoroughly unique world and do so in the finest of details from the outline of The Endless Sea which washes on the shores of your adventurers home town, to the contents of the basement of The White Lion Tavern.