When my son asked me to play Dungeons and Dragons, I was happy to oblige although, at the time, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for. I had played a bit when a teenager and had a sense of what happened. But as I found when coaching a soccer team, being a dungeon master and sitting at the table are two entirely different things. Our game play has evolved over time, as I found a balance between creating a world and providing a bit of a rail for them to follow.
Our party has 2 early teens and a pre-tween. The order of the day tends to be (a) hack and slash, (b) accumulate XP, and (c) accumulate loot. In that order. There have been far more near death (or outright deaths) than I remember from my own game play. A surprising number have come from one party member, inadvertently or purposefully, taking a whack at a comrade.
One thing I have struggled with in particular was how to provide them with the mental images they needed to imagine where they are. We have played for the past 2 years without any board or play mat. I would occasionally draw a bit of a map or diagram for them where they were (I like the Donjon random dungeon generator although I use PowerPoint too) and create a player’s map as well as my own.
I finally decided to try something a bit more tangible to help them visualize their combat. The first thing was to put together a play mat. This was easy after reading how others have done it. I created a page full of hexagons in PowerPoint, printed off about 15 pages, and taped them together. I then placed two large sheets of glass over the top so nearly the entire table is our game board. The glass means I can mark directly on it with dry erase markers and erase it when we’ve finished.
We have been using a trio of metal game counters to represent the three party members but I was struck by this set of player tokens. I hadn’t really thought about what, other than miniatures, others might be using for the game. Of course, there are loads of ideas for creating small standees. I decided to stick with flat tokens and see how they work. It will be easy, now that I have them, to make them stand if necessary.
They’re easy to make in PowerPoint. I created an empty circle shape (hold down your SHIFT key to make it round, and then you can right-click to edit its size). Since PowerPoint 2007, you can add an image to a shape and it will conform to the shape (circle in this case) that you’ve made.
I did a web search for dnd 5e halfling and came up with my first image. I right-clicked on the image in Google’s search results and selected copy image, switched over to PowerPoint, and went into the properties for the image.
If you select the FILL option, you can fill your circle with a picture. Since you have one on your clipboard, click on FILL, then Picture or texture fill, and then the Clipboard button. If you can see the circle, it will change to reflect your picture. You can then duplicate the circle – I gave mine a nice thick edge line – and fill with additional images. I made one for each of the NPCs that our party interacts with, and a large number of NPC combatants and monsters.
There’s a lot of cutting involved once you’ve printed them out but it’s manageable. I used photo print paper because it was to hand and it’s thicker than normal paper. Alternatively, you could print on cardstock or print on regular paper and stick it to cardstock. And next time I’ll get the boys to do the cutting!
The downside of this – like the addition of any accessory or miniature to the game – is that it starts to suggest what the person or creature looks like rather than leaving it entirely to the imagination. But in light of their game play, they may not be conjuring up much anyway! If I find that they’re less creeped out when my description is spooky, I may retire the tokens but I doubt that will happen. Now when they hack and slash their way across the map, at least we know where everyone is in case the Burning Hands go awry.