I’ve mentioned quite a few of the tools I use to make the job of game mastering easier, but I’ve somehow never discussed one of my most useful tools, the flip-mat. There are photos of them all over my blog, but I thought they deserved their own post.
Simply put, flip-mats are reversible 1-inch-gridded mats, perfect for using minis on. They have some sort of plastic-like coating that allows one to draw on them using dry erase markers (like whiteboard markers; the website claims that permanent markers can also be used on them. I’m not brave enough to test this!) The mats also fold up (to just less than A4 size) for easy storage in a file or box.
Paizo produces a variety of flip-mats with different designs on them. The ones with designs on them feature great art and would look amazing at the gaming table. Given infinite funds, I’d probably own every one of them. However, the smartest way for me to use my money is to buy several of the basic flip-mats. These are blank (except for the grid, of course), with just a colour to vaguely indicate some sort of terrain. Paizo also now sells a Basic Terrain Multi-Pack, though at this moment, I can’t find any online store besides paizo.com itself that has stock of it. Also, I’m not sure how much use I’d get out of the blue water map.
These allow me to draw whatever I want, instead of trying to find a place to fit in a specific building or landscape (or worse, having to say, “I know this map has desert terrain on it, but you’re actually in grasslands, and no, that bush is not really there”). I have used my basic flip-mats dozens of times, whereas I only use my specific ones when I run the beginner box (in the case of that dungeon), or when I run out of basic flip-mats.
I also occasionally use Paizo’s map packs like forest trails, mostly printed from PDFs and laminated, if I want to create a random and open-ended area. Most of the map packs of buildings and such tend to be too specific for me, though.
Some common problems people have with the mats are worth mentioning:
- The mat won’t lie flat: open the mat and fold all the seams backwards, then lay it on your table and put several of the Pathfinder hardcovers on the folds. After a few sessions of use, this will no longer be necessary. My basic flip-mats lie completely flat on their own now.
- My markings rub off: this can be a problem with dry erase (whiteboard) markers. One solution is to use dry erase markers (if you can find them) or permanent markers (as I mentioned earlier, I haven’t tested this, but they do allegedly come off).
- What I do to get around this problem: I draw most of my maps ahead of time using whiteboard markers. I then leave the map on the table for a while to let the ink dry (if you can easily rub the markings off with a finger, then it needs a bit longer, or you need to try different pens). Then I fold the map up and carefully store it in a box (specifically in my Beginner Box). Some of the lines may need a touch-up come game night, but they generally last quite well.
- My markings are hard to see: You may need to try several different brands of marker before you find one that show up nice and clearly on your mat. I find the strong colours like black and blue to generally be the best.
The bottom line is, I highly recommend the basic flip-mats as essentials in any GM’s toolbox. It’s great to be able to just whip out the mat, draw the layout of a room, and get started. I also use them to draw areas ahead of time.