Thoughts on visual aids in RPGs

Time to come clean: I’m a map nerd, especially Fantasy/Sci-Fi ones. Whenever I picked up a new book in one of those genres, I’d always look for one and would wonder “I bet exploring that impossibly-rugged-and-scary-looking terrain feature would be fun, if I was a character” or “I wonder what’s on the other side of that ocean?”. I guess that curiosity, and the fact that I tend to be a visual learner, that got me reengaged in RPGing, for as much fun as computer/platform games may be to play, there’s more freedom in getting to go where you want (as long as you can stay alive) versus where the system will let you go.

However, there seems to be a definite split among players regarding how many “visual aids” one could/should include in an RPG; old-school players tend to push back against the use of minatures, and I’ve seen some on YouTube and elsewhere say that the entire game should be in your head to facilitate full immersion in your character.

So which are you? I guess I lean more toward using 'em–particularly maps and city diagrams–but aren’t sold yet on figures. Sure, I’ve painted a ton for my miniature wargaming, but I don’t have any experience with 'em in an RPG.


My experience so far is limited, but I certainly preferred having a map and miniatures when exploring a dungeon. Not so much for the visuals but to have something to interact with.

GMing my first module (and first PFRPG game :open_mouth: ) I decided to draw out an entire level of the dungeon on a flip mat and while the session was great, I felt the map didn’t really work out as well as I’d expected. I felt my players were getting too much detail of the dungeon. AmLash suggested that we draw the map together for the lower level…in miniature and when it came to an encounter we drew the room out “full scale” on the flip mat to use the miniatures.

As for miniatures, I think they’re great. I’m much more attracted to the cardboard “pawns” that Paizo produces as they take up far less space. My brief stint with Warhammer 40k both introduced me to painting minis and completely put me off doing it within a period of about 3 months!

Stuff like Player Handouts is something I’m totally into though, I really plan on using these a lot in future.

At least for combat a grid map and some kind of marker – even if it’s just a tiny rock – is absolutely required. Can my character that was bringing up the rear move enough squares to combat on one move? Yes, wait, no, there’s a rock in the way, you have to go around which slows you down. I need to SEE the rock and be able to count squares.

A rough sketch is also minimally helpful for searching room purposes… “I check this wall.” More detail is very nice but not required.