In this instructable, I’ll show you how to make reusable “terrain sleeves” that can take any top down maps, aerial photos, building layouts or drawings and make them usable battle grids for tabletop gaming.
When running tabletop games (let’s face it, it’s almost always dungeons and dragons) I have a lot of fun role-playing the NPCs, setting up drama and intrigue, and having great “theatre of the mind” in all of my campaigns. But, eventually, there’s going to be some kind of combat. And the most common way to manage that is minis and some form of battle mat.
Now there are many commercially available options for maps and battlemats, that are pre-drawn with gridlines (and many are compatable with dry-erase markers too). And I use them as much as the next guy, but in your average homebrew you’re going to find you want to run a scenario that doesn’t fit any of the maps you’ve got in your collection. That means trawling the blogs and stores for a map that looks like you want, or trying to draw something up yourself. I can’t draw, so I try and avoid that.
Many years ago I had an idea for a solution to this that involved drawing a 1inch grid on a large sheet of flexible plastic and using that as a “table cloth” for games, but that was heavy, difficult to transport/fold, hard to keep clean and eventually I just threw it out between moves.
For this project I wanted to make an updated version of that design, that was more portable and actually practical to use on tabletops at my local gaming café.
- Access to a printer (I have access to an A3 printer)
- Plastic document sleeves (I used A3 ones, because I have an A3 printer and wanted larger maps)
- Clear adhesive tape (like cello tape.
- 2 Rulers, one of which should be longer than your longest edge of your protective sleeve.
- A craft knife, scalpel, or other sharp blade,
- A fine-liner permanent marker.
-Some isopropryl alcohol or methylated spirits, some q-tips, and some tissues (for cleaning up your traces towards the end).
Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.
Step 1: Step 1. Prepare and Print Out Your Grid Patterns
There are many places you can get printable grid paper in customisable sizes. I got the three grids I use in this project from Incompetech (incompetech.com/graphpaper), but I have edited the hex grid paper to go to the edges of the page. I have attached pdf with the three grids I use in this tutorial here. They are scaled for A3, so if you’re using an A4 printout you’ll need to go to the source and download the A4 scaled prints yourself. If you print the ones I put up at A4, the squares will be too small for 1 inch minis.
Print out the grids you’re working with, and assemble your equipment.
Step 2: Step 2 – Cut Open Your Document Sleeves
So first we’re going to cut up out document sleeves, don’t worry we’ll tape them back up later.
Now at first I tried to run my knife down the inside of the folded edge on the side, to follow the fold and open up the sleeve. I had far too much trouble following the edge, however, as my knife easily cut the plastic in any direction, so following the sleeve was impossible.
In the end what I did was take my long ruler, and lay it along the edge of the sleeve, leaving 2mm protuding from the edge. Then run your sharp knife along the ruler, cutting the whole folded edge off your sleeve. Don't worry, the sleeves have a fair amount of extra space around a page, so you'll have plenty of space left when you tape the sleeves back up.
BE CAREFUL WITH SHARP KNIVES, always make sure you’re cutting away from yourself or anyone around you, so if the blade slips of the material gives way unexpectedly, you’re not cutting yourself or others by accident.
Step 3: Step 3 - Cut the Bottom Edge.
Now cut off the bottom of the sleeve, so you can open the two pages of the sleeve up like a butterfly. If (like mine) your sleeve has a thermally bonded edge along the bottom, make sure you're cutting along the inside of that bond, otherwise the pages will still be joined.
Step 4: Step 4 – Tape Up Your Grid Patterns.
You should now have a sleeve you’ve butterflied open to only be attached along one edge (the binder edge on these ones). The reason we’ve done this is that we are going to be drawing on the inside of the sleeve. If we draw our grid markings on the outside, even with permanent marker, they’ll rub off if we use dry erase markers with them.
The next step is to take your print outs and tape them face down to the outside face of the butterflied sleeve. Do your best to get them taped up straight, it’s often easier to line up one edge of the paper with the edge of the plastic, then smooth the two surfaces together and tape the other 3 sides together.
Step 5: Step 5 – Trace the Grid Patterns
This step was by far the most time consuming, and probably the most frustrating. Extra care at this step is important, as you'll spend more time trying to correct any mistakes you make along the way.
Now flip the taped together sheets, so the inside of the sleeve is facing up. You should see the grid pattern through the plastic. Now take your ruler and fine liner, and on a flat surface) trace the grid pattern onto the inside surface of the sleeve.
If you overshoot any lines, or smudge any lines (my ruler was terrible for doing this) you can clean them up and retrace them at this point. This is where the alcohol and q-tips come in. Just put a drop or two on one end of the q-tip and rub the permanent marker off the page. Then flip the q-tip over, and use the dry end to mop up any left over solvent.
Once you're happy with how it looks, leave it for at least half an hour to dry, without touching. Ypu don’t want to smudge or lose your grid. NB: Permanent markers will eventually fade or rub off with handling anyway, but by marking the inside of the sleeve and letting it dry fully you can extend the life of your markings a lot. Plus you can always reopen and remark your sleeves if you’re unhappy.
Step 6: Step 6 - Remove Your Grid Patterns
Just peel the tape off from earlier. I flipped the grids over to check my tracings against the white background. Then you can throw out the grid patterns from earlier (or recycle the paper, for sustainability). You can see in one of the pictures that I've traced a different grid pattern on each side of the sleeve.
Step 7: Step 7 – Re-seal Your Sleeves.
So now take your remaining uncut side, and fold your sleeve back so the two sides line up. We’re going to tape up the edges we cut earlier. I find it’s easier to line up the bottom side (the one with the adjacent to the uncut side) and tape it first, so it’s easier to align. Then use the corner from that edge to line up the remaining cut edge, and tape it up.Use scissors to trim any extra tape that overshoots the edge.
Step 8: Step 8 – Find and Print Your Terrains
This step was a lot harder than I expected it to be. Theoretically any top down image of a landscape or ruin should work fine for this project. But I had difficulty finding any photos free online that were sufficient resolution. A lot of aerial photography wasn’t “top down” projection, and most satellite images didn’t have the resolution I needed to blow stuff up to A3. I don’t think you’d have as much issue for A4.
Here are some examples I found and how they look in the sleeves, of some ruins and landscapes (forest paths, a glacier top etc) .
Step 9: Step 9: Get Your Players Around to Play!
Ok, so arguably THIS is the hardest step sometimes. But get your friends together and have some fun.
Participated in the