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A little background:

Our terrain system has always been drawing on a whiteboard. We use blue for water, etc. People/Creatures/Objects are glass tokens (sharpied labels on ours, green for friends, blue for neutral, red for enemies, black for items).

However, as we get more tactical, estimating distances has become unsuitable. We have a clear plastic laminate sheet with hexes drawn on it, but moving it around is tedious.

Does anyone know how we could buy/print a large, clear hex-map? I would also accept a large, transparent dry-erase board + a large opaque hexmap.

Other alternatives and suggestions are welcomed.

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Chessex manufactures grid maps that you can draw upon, with water-soluble markers ("overhead" pens). These are available with a variety of pre-printed patterns, so you can get those with hexes, squares, and so on.

I personally use a mixture of one of these mats, "dungeon tiles" (tiles of various shapes with terrain pictures on them, plus pre-printed grid marks), printed out sheets for some floor plans and such. Often I place a large plexi-sheet over these: it keeps the bits and pieces underneath from moving around too much, is better to roll dice and move around counters on, and I draw on the plexi with dry-erase whiteboard markers (which are not usable on Chessex's mat material) and cleaning up after these is much nicer than the water-soluable overhead markers.

Also, I use the plexi-map as a cover for a variety of boardgames I have that come with folded up card-stock maps.

To get the sheet of plexi, I just went to a local glass-supply place and gave them the measurements I wanted and they quickly cut me a sheet. You can also get plexi at some large DIY or home supply or hardware places, but I found that the prices were cheaper at the glass supply place especially when it came to just giving them a set of measurements and asking them for a precisely sized sheet.

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How well does the dry erase come off of the plexiglass? –  user1637 Jun 21 '11 at 13:18
    
It depends on the material. Most of it works pretty well. Some requires some glass cleaner and elbow grease. –  Chad Jun 21 '11 at 16:45
    
My group has always used these Chessex "battle maps", and they're great. You can draw out important stuff with the markers, then plop down some terrain highlights to really make it "pop". I wholeheartedly endorse this suggestion, and also will add that you could look into "papercraft" terrain to really drive up the "wow" factor. –  Kromey Jun 21 '11 at 17:07
    
@user1637 Very well in the short term. I've been using the system for years, without cleaning with alcohol or anything, just a paper towel to erase, and I've only maybe got the very faintest of discoloration. Like white boards, don't let it sit too long is key (i.e. not for several hours, certainly not overnight). –  Viktor Haag Jun 22 '11 at 19:27
    
@Kromey Papercraft terrain is a nice idea; but it's storage-demanding which is why I don't use it -- all the things I use are essentially flat, so that I can store them with minimal fuss. 8) –  Viktor Haag Jun 22 '11 at 19:27
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Since you're open to alternatives, the tool of choice (coming from a wargames background) for non-gridded play areas is a flexible tape measure. If you're already comfortable with playing without a grid, the disadvantages of a tape measure are small and the advantages are significant:

  • Quickly determine both range and line of sight.
  • Minimal disruption of the visuals/aesthetics of the play area.
  • Doesn't obscure the area of interest like a moveable grid overlay can.
  • Can be used to determine areas of effect by measuring from the effect's centre to each model that might be caught in the area. (Slower than custom template overlays, but accurate and fast enough in a pinch.)
  • Cheap and easy to acquire. Sewing-supply stores are a good source.

The disadvantages of a tape measure are:

  • Arguing over fractions of an inch can become a problem with some people, significantly slowing things down and causing conflict. (May or may not be an issue with your group, and can be mitigated by a trusted GM.)
  • Not all tape measures are marked as accurately as they should be. (Either vet everyone's personal tape measure, or have one authoritative tape measure to share.)
  • Grid-free movement can encourage players to obsess over positioning of minis to game "in range" rules for melee and ranged combat. (You may already be dealing with this.)

The worst disadvantages really boil down to personality conflicts, so whether tape measures work for your group or not really depends on the personalities involved and on how much argument over small details is already a problem in your group.

For my money, a tape measure is the lowest-hassle way to manage minis in a grid-free context.

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