I was thinking about the act of looking for battlemaps, and was wondering when, in pre-planning, did you ever decide that a scene was important enough for a battlemap?

  • Example 1: A room where you expect the heroes to be ambushed. Definitely needs a battlemap.

  • Example 2: A room where the characters are discussing work with an NPC that could turn on them at any moment if the discussion goes south. Definitely needs a battlemap.

  • Example 3: A warehouse where I expect no combat to take place, because all the enemies were supposed to have died long ago. Probably doesn't need a battlemap?

I was wondering what your own criteria are. In case it helps, I'm working with Pathfinder 2E.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As written, I think this is only going to draw opinions. I'm not sure if it can be re-written better but, if it can, we'll need more/better criteria to determine which answer is correct. For now, I would expect this to be closed. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 1, 2022 at 12:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm sure it can be written better. To the author, I'd suggest retooling it to ask how to optimize prepration in regards to battlemap. Possibly in situation where you are hesitant to reuse battlemaps. I suspect you'll get answers that fit your need and the question would fit better with the site's standards. \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Jun 1, 2022 at 12:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I tentatively vote to leave open because I already read the framing that 3C273 suggests. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jun 1, 2022 at 14:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Voting to close because I think this question needs details about your table's playstyle, preferences, circumstances, etc. Without this information, you got what Ifusaso predicted: a bunch of opinions. If you can define the problem well, you can get solutions instead of opinions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruse
    Jun 1, 2022 at 19:34

6 Answers 6


Always when you want them to think there will be a battle

Not showing a battlemap sends a clear message: "I expect not to battle here".

If you want them to know, it is fine, but it is better for suspense if some battlemaps mean no fighting, and the other way around.

If you only flip out the battlemap when combat begins, somehow they will always be in combat formation. If you use a map for talking to the shop owners etc., quite often the Face will be in the front row.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While the deception is important, I prefer to get the same effect by simply only revealing the map when combat begins. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 1, 2022 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think I've ever heard of the idiom "the face will be in the front row". Is this a local expression you tried to translate to English? \$\endgroup\$
    – Nzall
    Jun 2, 2022 at 11:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nzall: "The face" being the character with high charisma / social skills. \$\endgroup\$
    – DevSolar
    Jun 2, 2022 at 12:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nzall as in the face of the party \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Jun 2, 2022 at 21:58

Is the game online, or in person? Online, I think András gave a great answer. For in person, what are your group's preferences?

I play in one group where one of the players paints figures for the entire party for each campaign. With that group, we always use battle maps.

For another group, I know that at least one of my players prefers theater of the mind. With that group, I only use the battle map if I think it's necessary. For one example, the party was fighting multiple enemies. The enemy leader cast Spirit Guardians on itself, and began advancing on the party. In that situation, I needed to see where the PCs were, in relation to the enemies. In other scenarios, generally if the party is fighting a single enemy, I avoid the map and let the players just tell me where their characters are.


Whenever position matters, however...

Maps aren't only useful for battles, but also for traps and secrets. In theater of the mind there can be ambiguity that may sometimes be perceived as unfair.

I meant I was just looking, not actually stepping on the dais...

Allowing players to move their miniature or token makes them the decision maker of where exactly the character is.

The downside of only laying out a map when it matters, is that without one, you are broadcasting this isn't an important encounter.


I typically use a battlemap when:

  • I have one prepared
  • I intend to spend more than 5 minutes there with every character present

I dislike theatre of the mind for combat and generally have ample maps prepared, even for ad-hoc surprise encounters.

But if the players split up and go shopping for example - I don't bother, just do it by chatting.

If the whole party is going to an NPCs house then I might pull out a battlemap for that for sure, it adds flavour, just make sure you don't skimp on description - don't let the map run the game for you.

also this has the side effect of never letting them know if there is a combat coming or not!

Edit: If it wasn't obvious from the post - I play 100% in foundryvtt where it's quick and easy to play with .png/.jpg maps

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    – V2Blast
    Jun 2, 2022 at 23:30

Counterpoint: I don't use battlemaps primarily for battle. Theatre of the Mind works perfectly well.

I do use battlemaps whenever the scene is so complex that a visual aid saves the group from confusion and lots of time spent on stating where everyone is. In any kind of maze, dungeon, house they are searching, etc.

For your examples:

a) No battlemap. It is a single room, it is easy to describe where everyone is, there is minimal potential for confusion about the location, no need for a map.

b) Probably no battlemap. If it's a simple location, no map needed. If it's a warehouse full of stuff, a map can be useful to show clearly where cover is available, where the possible exits are, etc.

c) 50/50. If I want them to search the warehouse, for example, I might use a map. If there is something to discover in a specific place, I would use a map so that my questions about where exactly they are searching doesn't telegraph that location matters.

Advantages of my approach: I need far fewer battlemaps, I use visual aids as a storytelling tool (such as showing a specific atmosphere of a place instead of describing it) and my players can't guess from the presence of a map whether or not there will be combat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For a game like Pathfinder (even 2e), where positioning is important to the rules, any combat should have a map, even a simple one. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jun 2, 2022 at 22:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @YogoZuno you can do that if you want to play like this. In nothing I've ever played was a map essential. Even positioning can be described, as long as the scene is not too complex. But again, whatever works for you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom
    Jun 3, 2022 at 4:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ You certainly can work around lots of impediments, but when things like AoOs and flanking exist, not using at least a basic map makes those things much more difficult to use and appreciate, which in turn tends to downplay their importance and role. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jun 6, 2022 at 1:41

When a battle starts

The main issue is that using a battlemap only sometimes means breaking it out is telegraphing there is a potential battle and this gives the players information their characters do not have. Information that is hard for them to ignore in their decision making.

We therefore normally use it only when an actual battle happens.

An exception to this is when dungeoncrawling in a dungeon on a virtual desktop: there the battlemap (with fog of war) effectively serves as a map drawing proxy, and we just move a single pog marker around on it to highlight were the group is. When at the real table, where we are charting the dungeon on graph paper, as it often is too large for a standard-issue battlemap, and we want to have a map afterwards anyways.

In all cases in city adventures, overland adventures, when visiting the count's estate, there is no battlemap, just descriptions. Once hostilities break out, then you bring out and set up the battlemat.

That way, there is no way for the players to draw conclusions about what is going to happen that their characters cannot. Who is standing where will depend on the situation. The DM can modify the setup if the players optimize too much in a way that they feel makes no sense for the situation. In dungeon exploration, we have a standard order of battle configuration (who goes in front, middle, back) that we set up with all the pogs when battle happens.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not the downvoter but if you're mapping things out why not use the battle mat? What's the advantage of having separate graph paper? \$\endgroup\$
    – SkySpiral7
    Jun 2, 2022 at 20:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SkySpiral7 Often a dungeon layout is too large to fit on a standard-issue battemat. Plus you want to make a map to keep anyways. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2022 at 20:36

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