A road that consists of nothing but packed earth and ever-encroaching weeds, a vibrant and thriving tavern stretching three stories tall, a sprawling warehouse district at a newly defunct dock. Wherever your Dungeons & Dragons adventures take you, maps can be incredibly useful tools for immersion, fleshing out your gameplay, and even making it easier.
There’s three types of maps:
Region maps – this kind covers a larger area, from whole villages to entire kingdoms or continents, showing you the terrain, roads, and main points of interest. Sometimes this is just used for illustrative or reference purposes so your players can better grasp the world they vicariously live in and therefore plot their travels accordingly. If you play a more sandbox type of game, then this map can take on a more functional role; as it will likely be divided into hexes, your greater exploration charted by which hex you wish to explore next.
Battle maps – (or battlemaps) theatre of the mind (TotM) games can be very fun and exciting, but it can also lead to a lot of confusion and time-wasting, as the players need to ask repeatedly for clarifications. The battle map solves this, allowing the players to see themselves, visible enemies, and measure the distance in between themselves whilst waiting for their turn to come up. Visuals on the map itself can help fuel a mental picture of the heroic tales the dice are telling, and make keeping track of environmental hazards and hurdles easier.
In-character map– typically seen as a handout or something a character makes in game. Think of it as the kind of maps you’d get at the mall, but with more tea staining. These maps are fantastic for immersion in the area and lend a more in-the-moment feel to dungeoneering. Devious DMs will want to note that maps the characters have need not tell the whole story, if they’re accurate at all.
Now you know what types of maps there are. But what about where to get them from? How would you go about creating the masterpiece in your mind on screen? Well, since you asked:
If you’re looking to create beautiful region maps (in colour or parchment style), then Inkarnate is a great tool. It offers a variety of ‘stamps’ and models to decorate your maps with, to create the terrain you envisioned when you first sat down and decided ‘this, this is the world I will start the apocalypse in.’ They regularly update the art available and recently added a battle map style for creating encounter perfect maps in which to terrorize your players. You can add a grid during creation or leave it sterile and use the grid in your virtual tabletop (VTT) of choice. The best part? It’s entirely free to use, with a reasonably priced paid option if you want thousands of more art assets and the license to use the maps you create commercially.
Another great tool, Dungeon Fog, takes a different strategy, with a free account you have access to all assets and the full public gallery, the catch is that you can only have 3 created maps at a time and all pro assets will be watermarked. Commercial licensing is separated out into a higher tier, so if you don’t need it you don’t have to worry about paying for it. Overall, a fantastic map maker, best suited to battlemaps and smaller region maps.
One of the oldest options, Dungeon Painter Studio offers a wide variety of tools for creating battlemaps, as well as a choice of online tool (like our other entries) or a standalone app, sold and managed through the Steam store. Since the decline of Flashplayer, the browser based version is now offered as a download. Don’t worry if you aren’t running the latest and greatest from the tinker gnomes, Dungeon Painter will run on most laptops and PCs.
Born from a video game developers desire for a good looking, but simple to use map creation tool, RPG Map Editor 2 is a great tool that can be ran in browser or downloaded. The assets support traditional fantasy maps as well as more modern or futuristic settings if you find yourself chasing hover cars rather than carriages. It’s pay what you want and the developer makes sure to say that includes free!
Best DnD Premade Maps
Inkarnate and Dungeon Fog
Whilst both of these sites are great map making tools, they also provide large libraries of community-created maps you can download and use at leisure.
This fantastic website has over 200 map and asset packs for use in your games (with easy to print pdfs if you play at a physical table). You’re probably thinking this is really expensive, right? Well that’s entirely up to you, many maps and assets are pay what you want (PWYW) with a recommended price of $1, but you can get them completely free to try out or if you’re on a tight budget. Other maps are a fixed price of a dollar or bundles are available for more.
Many talented artists now take to Patreon to support their craft and provide their audience with great art. A few great map-orientated Patreon pages are: Afternoon Maps, Cze and Peku; for the more technically-minded, Animated Dungeon Maps, provides maps that feel alive, whether it be through dancing flame or flying arrows.
Actively in development, Azgaar’s generator can provide maps for a whole continent. You might be thinking that would be random shapes, but the generator even draws borders, roads, and names the various kingdoms and towns it creates. Go ahead, zoom in and see all the details for yourself!
If you’re looking for a more barebones map, or want to give your session more of an old school feel then look no further. Donjon’s Random Dungeon Generator not only generates a map, but will also generate encounters, traps and environment details for you. A few clicks and you can have an entire session of content created for you, for free!
Versatility may as well be this product’s middle name, this is a mat with a square grid on one side and a hex grid on the other. So whether you’re dungeon diving or in the middle of your hex crawl, this mat’s got you covered. Not bad at all! And if you want to add some details, and walls, etc., but don’t have any fancy terrain, you can draw right on the grid as they’re wet erase! Clean it well after each use, and this staple of tabletop gaming will see you through many campaigns.go
Running a module your friends have been talking about for months, but worried about conveying how epic the world is at the table? Want to use the maps in the book but don’t want to cut the page out or keep flipping it to the players? Grab some full size maps to put on display, like this lovely set for the Tomb of Annihilation or this set that’s cherry picked from some of the best adventures across editions.
Maybe you prefer a more modular approach. If so, then dungeon tiles are for you. These are small sections you can arrange to create the dungeon layout you want, some are preprinted with art like this official set, or are blank canvases for your imagination, like this dry erase set.
Feel free to ease up on the sharpie marks on your table; you’re now well-equipped to prepare beautiful backdrops to your parties (mis)adventures. Just be careful you don’t fall into the age-old trap of map prep: getting sucked in and forgetting to prep anything else! If you’re happy with the hoard of maps you’ve just created, then you should head on over to our campaign ideas article and get some inspiration for what to do on those maps. Happy DMing!