Making cool maps for D&D adventures on a budget

We’ve been playing a Hoard of the Dragon Queen, which is the first of two adventures in the Tyranny of Dragons story arc, published by Wizards of the Coast. In the hard cover version of the adventure, the artwork is… well, art. It’s gorgeous, but making color copies for my players isn’t cheap!

My challenge playing with 10-year-olds is that they aren’t great note takers or map makers, so to make it more fun for them, I usually photo copy the maps in the book and hand them to the players, but black and white maps aren’t that cool… and I’m honestly not that interested in paying for color ink (or buying a color copier).

I’ve found a way to take those black and white maps and add some fun to them:

  1. Copy the maps, and find a water color set (we have some laying around the house from kids art projects, for example). You can also make your own colored water using food coloring or even things like tea leaves, coffee, and the like:IMG_0998
  2. Paint your maps. I usually use a combination of a paint brush and a wet paper towel, so that the colors “bleed” together a little. I’d also recommend reading the published adventure before you paint, so you can add color where it matters. In the “Dragon Hatchery” map, if you zoom in, you can see that there’s a “red” room right in the middle… that room is full of poisonous mushrooms, for example, so it’s a different color:IMG_0999
  3. After you’ve got the maps painted and dried out a little, I sandwich them between a bunch of paper towels, under a few heavy books:IMG_1001
  4. When the maps are dried out, I then take a black fine-tipped marker and go over the important details so that they stand out… the process of wetting the paper sometimes makes the black ink from my ink jet printer bleed, so the marker helps a lot. You could be done at this point, if you want:IMG_1002
  5. I usually cut out the maps, and then laminate them, so that I can give the players dry erase markers, so they can add things to the map as they play the adventure:IMG_1009
  6. My laminated maps also get re-used quite a bit because they’re sturdy and easy to keep track of. I have a box (the D&D Starer Kit box, in fact) full of maps that we’ve played with.IMG_1015

The kids that I’m playing with love the “added color” and it really enhances their game, while at the same time being easy for me. It’s a fast way to add a little color to your game.

You can give your own personal maps the same kind of treatment. It really adds some depth, especially if you’re playing with a map that your characters find on an NPC after they’ve slayed that NPC. Protip: add a little red to add a little blood to the map… adds depth like you wouldn’t believe.

Try it during your next session and let me know if it helps enhance your game!