Active from 2005 to 2007 and dedicated entirely to system-neutral GMing advice, Treasure Tables was one of the earliest RPG blogs. It was also the precursor to Gnome Stew, so we decided the best way to keep all of its content -- over 750 articles and more than 7,500 comments -- accessible to as many GMs as possible was to move it here, which we did in 2012. Comments are turned off, just they as were when Treasure Tables closed in 2007. The GMing material and discussion archived below was originally featured on TreasureTables.org. Enjoy! --Martin Ralya

Treasure Tables is in reruns from November 1st through December 9th. I’m writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month, and there’s no way I can write posts here while retaining my (questionable) sanity. In the meantime, enjoy this post from our archives.
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Setting aside digital map projection, the two most popular reusable RPG mapping solutions out there are dry-erase boards and wet-erase mats.

The former come in a variety of sizes, from commercial white boards to options designed specifically for RPGs, like the unbelievably awesome Tact-Tiles. The latter most commonly come in the form of gaming-specific flexible mats, offered with a wide range of grid and hex options.

I got my start with reusable gaming maps using one of those giant wet-erase battlemats, and have since switched to Tact-Tiles. I much prefer dry-erase maps to their wet-erase counterparts — here’s a point-by-point comparison of dry-erase vs. wet-erase mapping options.

Dry-erase

  • Options: Dry-erase boards come in tons of sizes, from versatile hand-held boards to wall-mounted monsters. Tact-Tiles offer a modular solution unlike any other mapping tool. (+)
  • Portability: With the exception of small boards, dry-erase maps are less portable than their flexible wet-erase counterparts. (-)
  • Cleaning: Easier to clean off, and require fewer tools (just markers and an eraser, vs. markers, water and something to wipe with for wet-erase). (+)
  • Messiness: No water means dry-erase boards are a lot less messy. (+)
  • Stains: Dry-erase boards rarely stain, and when they do the stains are easy to remove. (+)
  • Grids and Hexes: Unless you like blank surfaces or 1″ grids, you’re out of luck — no hexes, no other grid sizes. (-)
  • Price: Somewhat more expensive than comparably-sized wet-erase mats. (-)

Wet-erase

  • Options: Wet-erase mats come in a wide range of sizes, from mini-mats to mats that will cover your whole table and then some. No modular option, though. (-)
  • Portability: Flexible mats are easier to transport than all but the smallest dry-erase boards. (+)
  • Cleaning: More tools required, since you not only need markers and something to erase with, you also need water on hand. (-)
  • Messiness: Not so tidy, because of the wet paper towels and soggy sponges involved. (-)
  • Stains: Retain certain colors, particularly red and orange, unless you wipe them off shortly after use. (Stains can be eliminated, but that can be a pain in and of itself.) (-)
  • Grids and Hexes: Different grid sizes and hex options available, including double-sided mats with both hexes and squares. (+)
  • Price: Generally cheaper than dry-erase, especially in larger sizes. (+)

Conclusions

Dry-erase wins on options, cleaning, messiness and stains; wet-erase wins on portability, grids and hexes and price.

If toting your map board/mat isn’t a problem and you’re willing to throw a bit more money at a good mapping solution, there’s no question that a dry-erase board or a set of Tact-Tiles will be easier to use and stay clean longer.

If you don’t have a permanent gaming space available, if you travel to run games or if price is your main concern, then a wet-erase map may be a better option overall.

Different options may also matter more to you than they might to other GMs. For example, I’m pretty anal about cleanliness, so the messiness of wet-erase mats bothers me more than it might bother most GMs.

Knocking over the water, having sopping paper towels to deal with and getting to see the dungeon I stupidly drew with a red marker a year ago drove me up the wall — your mileage, of course, may vary.
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Normally there’d be a discussion going on in the comments below, but due to time constraints I’ve turned off all comments during reruns — sorry about that! You can read the comments on the first-run version of this post, and if you need a GMing discussion fix, why not head on over to our GMing forums?

About  Martin Ralya (TT)

"Martin Ralya (TT)" is two people: Martin Ralya, the administrator of and a contributor to Gnome Stew, and a time traveler from the years 2005-2007, when he published the Treasure Tables GMing blog (TT). Treasure Tables got started in the early days of RPG blogging, and when Martin burned out trying to run it solo he shut it down, recruited a team of authors, and started Gnome Stew in its place. We moved all TT posts and comments to Gnome Stew in 2012.



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