How to build maps for your tabletop roleplaying games

Maps are useful tools in tabletop roleplaying games. Whether drawn with pen and pencil, colored marker, or created online, they transport you and your players anywhere and everywhere for the story. You don’t have to be an expert to make a map either. From online tools to Lego pieces, we’ve done it all and no matter what our players have loved it. Here’s how to build a map for your next session.

Hand drawn

Keeping it classic is a simple way to make a map for your games. Just grab a piece of paper and a writing utensil and start drawing. It doesn’t need to be fancy or colored. Giving players a visual cue helps them understand where enemies, NPCs, and objects are. You can even add in art on the fly. If a player asks if there is a tree to hide behind, you can just add one in. Having everyone work together makes map building more engaging.

Craft store terrain

When we first started playing at the table, we didn’t have a digital or VTTs. We barely had minis let alone terrain to build maps with. Occasionally we drew a map but mostly we visited our local craft store to make our own. They are great for building 3D maps with varying levels of terrain. Grabbing a set of trees, rocks, and a patch of grass can bring a whole new dimension to your tabletop game.

One of the best ways to build is by using plant foam. It’s moldable and can be shaped or cut into nearly any object.

Made with

Licensed maps and terrain sets

You could of course use maps made by third parties. We’ve had a handful over the years. They fit together like puzzle pieces and can be arranged in numerous ways to bring your map to life. What makes them great is you can build so many different maps with just one set or combine them together to construct a large one. Paizo has plenty and as players who’ve used them before, they are fantastic.

Terrain sets are larger more robust sets that bring 3D elements to the table. You can find a handful on Etsy or use Dwarven Forge.

Digital toolsets

Going digital, completely digital is where we ended up after years of playing. Our go to toolset is Inkarnate. It offers several unique tools you can use to build maps. You can make practically anything you can think of. Once you lay the groundwork — grass, water, snow, etc. — you can add in finer details like buildings, trees, creatures, people, and more. It’s a versatile way to build maps that can be as dynamic as you see fit.