Role-Playing Accessories (RPG)

So, you were intrigued by the recent reviews of Starfinder and the D&D Essentials kit and want to know what else you can spend your hard earned cash on. Look no further! Here’s a brief roundup of various other bits and pieces one can purchase to add a bit of zing to a night of RPG gaming.

I find the best adventures primarily rely on “theater of the mind” style gaming where everything goes on in players’ heads. There is no artificial limit to where players may go and what can happen. However, from time to time it is fun to run a type of “capstone” encounter that lays out the environment with a flourish to distinguish some of the more memorable encounters in an ongoing game. Creating such an encounter can be assisted by two main things: some sort of map of the area, and miniatures or some other representation of the people and creatures present.

There are many options for maps. They can be professionally done, drawn by hand, or even digitally constructed. Unless you’ll be projecting the map on a screen (we’ll discuss that later), you’ll need something on which to write. Here are a few popular options. (And if you want drawing advice from a famous DM, check out Chris Perkins’ article on Map Fu. )

  • Chessex Wet-Erase – Sometimes old-school is the best. Chessex makes vinyl mats designed for wet-erase markers (think old overhead projector markers.) They com in a range of sizes and typically have a square grid on one side and a hex grid on the other. One of my favorite features of these mats are that they roll up easily and then lay flat again with minimal effort. Since they don’t rely on dry-erase markers, the ink doesn’t smudge and your art will not be disturbed between game sessions. The BIG caveat here is that you MUST use wet erase markers. Permanent markers are permanent (surprise) but dry erase markers will also permanently mark the surface. If you are forgetful or maybe have forgetful players, you will want to be sure to hide any dry erase markers for the duration.

  • Gaming Paper – If you have a common location you want to draw and keep on hand for future use, Gaming Paper provides a line of poster-sized paper printed with a grid. Draw on the paper like any other sheet of paper (markers, pencils, pens, crayons, whatever) and then keep the map around as long as you want. The big advantage here is the price. You can get a roll of paper that is 30 inches wide and 12 feet long for only $5. They now sell other items like individual sheets (that you can print on or draw) as well as tiles (sheets that lock together like puzzles) that can be used with dry erase markers.

  • Paizo Flip-Mats – If premade maps are your thing, Paizo has a wealth of maps available for their fantasy Pathfinder and sci-fi Starfinder games. Their standard Flip-Mats are 24” x 30” in size and fold up by threes to store at a 8” x 10” size. You can get them in all sorts of patterns: space hospitals, dungeons, forests, town squares, etc… They also come in blank versions that only have a grid and some type of background (stone/sand/etc…) The big draw for these maps are their erasing possibilities. You can use whatever style pen you want (dry erase, wet erase, even permanent – although not recommended.) They all can be erased. Since they fold up nicely, they also are easy to store. Their main disadvantage lies in the whole issue of lying flat. It takes a bit of work to get them perfectly flat after they’ve been stored folded up. Some folks overlay a sheet of plastic (from a hardware store) on their maps to keep them flat. Of course, by that time you’re not taking advantage of the erasing properties.

  • Paizo Flip-Tiles – I like the variety of Flip-Mats out there but many of them feel a bit too specific – players may get a little jaded when they encounter the same dungeon rooms for the nth time. One way to get around that is through another line from Paizo, their Flip-Tile line of maps. These are smaller (6”x6”) tiles made of similar stuff as the Flip-Mats so they’re also extremely erasable. While one has to have a method to deal with any jostling of the grids when they line up, I like the versatility of tiles that contain paths (forest or dungeon for example) that allow a variety of setups. Whereas a Flip-Mat may contain a nice forest clearing, it will always be the same, but you could put a wide variety of them using Flip-Tiles. They’re fairly inexpensive (about $20 for 42 double-sided tiles) and provide a wider variety of options than a standard map setup.

  • Dwarven Forge Terrain – If you have money to burn, many gamers drool over the option of putting together fully 3D models of gaming environments (dungeons, caves, forests, etc…) and the current top of the line terrain (unless you print some yourself) is from Dwarven Forge. Made of a very tough type of plastic (you can run it over with your car) these come in 2”x2” pieces that you lay out together to make a larger diorama. They aren’t cheap, figure between $100 and $200 for a set of tiles that will make a configurable small dungeon, but I suppose that could be compared to a few trips to the fancy local golf course.

OK, you have a pretty little map setup, now you need something to put on it! One can spend nothing, using handy bits of candy, dice, or other markers to represent the players and other creatures, or you can drop a lot of money buying pre painted miniatures, or something in between.

  • Print your own – The cheapest (aside from just using Skittles) would be to print out your own miniatures. Those with a 3D printer can find models on Thingiverse or other sites (such as Miguel Zavala.)  Another option is to print out paper stand-ees. These are simply a strip of paper with two images that are folded over and taped together to make a triangle (sometimes supported by putting a penny on the bottom.) There are free sets out there (Printable Heroes provides free and sponsored ones) as well as some with minimal cost (I like the cute, cartoony A Monster for Every Season sets from the maker of Order of the Stick.)


  • Purchase cardboard pawns – The folks at Paizo once again have your back with cardboard. They have a line of Pathfinder Pawns (or Starfinder Pawns) which are thick double-sided cardboard tokens that are inserted into plastic stands. These are a great cost-effective option as they provide some nice artwork but also have a bit more substantive heft to the pawns. You can get a set of around 300 pawns plus some stands for about $36.



  • Buy Plastic – The Cadillac of miniatures has to be the line of painted miniatures put out by Wizkids. They have several brand names, one for D&D and one for Pathfinder, but all the creatures are interchangeable. Packs of these miniatures are not cheap, typically running $15-$20 for a box of three small and one large miniature. In addition, the boxes contain randomized miniatures so you don’t even know what you’re going to get. That said, the “sets” seem to be fairly balanced so you will get a good selection of different creatures if you buy a few boxes. However, it is much easier (and cost effective) to go to a reseller if there’s one or two miniatures you just have to have. Each set of miniatures release typically line up with a recent D&D or Pathfinder adventure, with a few pieces included to represent key figures in that adventure. Last fall saw a D&D release lined up with the Dungeon of the Mad Mage adventure, with the Pathfinder line entitled Ruins of Lastwall. The Mad Mage set includes the funny Flumph and Grung as well as the more sinister Beholder Zombie or Balor. The Lastwall set seems to have a somewhat undead bent to things, with a large Purple “Time Dragon” as one of the cooler items in the set.


  • Wizkids also has their own specialized brand of miniatures entitled Wardlings. I am a huge fan of this line. These are a series of miniatures designed to look like kid-adventurers, typically also including a small pet of some sort. These are sold as individual pieces (hero and pet) so that one knows exactly what they’re buying. As a gamer parent, I think these are great for games with my kids. Even if they don’t want one of the heroes, they’re always wanting to get one of the cute little pet/sidekicks from the set.

It is the digital age, so of course there are digital options galore. You can project a map onto a screen for all to see, or more commonly, use aids to play with friends remotely.

  • My current favorite setup is the site. It is free to use, with additional options if you pay a subscription fee. The free option is great for casual players. While it isn’t necessary, if you are running the game as a DM, paying the nominal subscription fee is useful. You can upload and use maps and pictures you have made yourself (or downloaded) or purchase entire commercially made modules, such as those put out by Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, or other independent studios. Purchasing a module like that will provide a DM with all the needed maps, creatures, and other information already programmed into the game and ready to be used.


  • Another good resource is the D&D Beyond site. It doesn’t allow online play, it is simply the official D&D website for all the rules and adventures put out by Wizards of the Coast. It is a great searchable reference document and has a very robust character generator. You do have to purchase each digital item to use them (even if you own the hardcover books.) However, a DM can set up a “game” for their players and then the players would be allowed to access all the materials owned by the DM. Thus only one member of a group would technically need to own the majority of the digital items.

It is clear that role-playing games have gone mainstream and it is easier than ever to put together a night with friends. At its lowest level, RPGs are some of the cheapest entertainment around. However, dedicated players who want to invest in their hobby have plenty of options, from small purchases all the way up to supplying everything needed for a 3D epic battle between good and evil.

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