Mechanics Battle Grids with MapTool in Ten Easy Lessons - RPG Crossing
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Old May 8th, 2021, 10:19 PM
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Battle Grids with MapTool in Ten Easy Lessons

Why use battle grids?
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A battle map that depicts not only a grid, but darkness, illumination, and line-of-sight, brings tactical depth to combat and exploration, and enhances the sense of mystery and danger in your game.

A grid map, updated every combat round, saves time and speeds up posting rates in play-by-post, because dungeon masters have less to explain, and players ask fewer questions. The more you can show, the less you must tell.

A map with realistic visual effects can transform your whole perspective on the game. For instance, in a pitch-black dungeon, where spotting traps and monsters means life or death, you may value the Light cantrip, darkvision, or even a simple torch, like you never have before.

Why a MapTool tutorial?
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MapTool is designed as a shared virtual tabletop where several gamers play RPGs simultaneously. You can also use MapTool for its fantastic image compositing and visual effects, and ignore its many other features. MapTool can make torches that illuminate a dark dungeon, walls that block torchlight, and creatures that "see" when moving among the torches and walls.

If that's all you want to learn about MapTool, you're stuck. Because the MapTool instructions, which use over 700 articles to explain its vast set of features, leave you, the simple grid mapper, with no obvious starting point. That is, until now. This tutorial shows you, in one 75-minute session, how to make battle grids for your games: everything relevant and nothing else. You'll learn in ten short lessons how to:
  • Get and set up MapTool and TokenTool.
  • Make creature tokens using TokenTool.
  • Arrange and manipulate creature tokens and objects on the MapTool grid.
  • Create creature tokens and objects that emit light, block light, and 'see' the map.
  • Export screenshots of the grid map to use in your game thread.

How to use this tutorial
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This tutorial assumes that you install MapTool and TokenTool on your computer and follow along, with each new lesson building on what you learn and do in previous lessons. Read or skim the text, watch the screencast video, and put the current lesson into practice with MapTool on your computer before you proceed to the next lesson. Reply to the main forum thread if you get stuck or have questions. Ready? Let's do it.

Lesson One
Sign up for image hosting

About image hosting. Images of your grid maps must be online and public so you can embed them them in your game posts. This tutorial uses Imgur to host images but there are other options. Pick one and sign up, first thing.

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Consider using a paid image hosting provider (some charge as little as $2.99 per month) to ensure uninterrupted service and easy migration to a new image host.

Lesson Two
Get MapTool, TokenTool, and GallupsMirrorPak

Get MapTool and TokenTool. Visit the download page on to download and install the latest versions of MapTool and TokenTool. Installation is straightforward but help is available by operating system type on the RPTools downloads page.

Get GallupsMirrorPak. Download GallupsMirrorPak, a folder of .png image files, as a zip file ( and unpack it on your computer. You'll need it for this tutorial.

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Your computer needs Java and at least a 2 GHz processor, 4 GB RAM, a mouse, and a 1080 display to make MapTool easy to work with.

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All GallupsMirrorPak image files are in the public domain, free to use without attribution, or were created by me, GallupsMirror. If you find this is not the case about any included image, notify me and I'll remove it.

Lesson Three
Install the GallupsMirrorPak folder as a MapTool 'resource'

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Understanding resource folders. A MapTool 'resource' refers to any folder displayed in the Resource Library file manager in the pane on the upper left. Any .png image files within a resource folder appear as thumbnail images in the pane on the lower left. When you drag and drop a thumbnail image onto the map, you place the corresponding full-sized image in that spot.

Installing a resource. Use the main menu commands 'File | Add resource to library'. A popup appears. Select 'Local Directory', navigate to the GallupsMirrorPak folder, and click the 'Install' button. You're ready to make grid maps using the .png images in GallupsMirrorPak. Do this to install any folder of .png files as a MapTool Library resource.

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MapTool grid maps are composite images. That is, you make new images by combining two or more existing images. For instance, to make a small map, you might stack two creature tokens on the image of a boat, which is stacked on an image of water.

Lesson Four
Create creature tokens from portrait images of PCs and monsters using TokenTool

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Understanding creature tokens. TokenTool lets you quickly Crop means cut out and keep a part
of the image and discard the rest.
crop an image of a creature to fit a picture frame. Once saved to a resource folder, this framed image becomes a creature token that you can drag from the Resource Library panel and drop onto the map. You typically do this with PCs, NPCs, and monsters, but you can crop any image into a creature token frame.

Create creature tokens. Launch TokenTool. Drag the portrait of the tabaxi from the GallupsMirrorPak folder into TokenTool. Choose a token frame. Pan and zoom the face in the image to fit the token frame. Save the token to the GallupsMirrorPak folder. Quit TokenTool.

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TokenTool offers circular, hexagonal, and square picture frames in many colors, patterns, and textures. Solid colors and simple textures are usually best because the creature token frame is too small to see fine details at the zoom level used in a typical map.

Lesson Five
Setting up the basic grid map

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Creating and naming maps. Launch MapTool. Use the main menu command 'Map | Quick Map | Grass'. A grassy map appears. Use the main menu command 'Map | Rename'. A popup appears. Rename the map from 'Grass' to 'Dragon Cottage' and click the 'OK' button. Use the same main menu commands to create a Quick Map using 'Cobblestone' and rename it 'Dark Dungeon'. Click the main menu button 'Select Map', shown with a globe at the upper right. A menu appears, where you click 'Dragon Cottage' or 'Dark Dungeon' to switch between maps. Click the 'Dragon Cottage' map to work with grassy map.

Enable a grid and coordinates. Use the main menu command 'View | Show Grid'. The grid appears. Use the main menu command 'View | Grid Line Width | 2'. The grid lines get thicker. Use the main menu command 'Map | Show Grid Coordinates'. The letter and number coordinates appear.

Orient the map. Use the main menu command 'View | Zoom | Zoom Out'. The map shrinks so you can see more of it. Put the pointer over the map. Hold down the right mouse button, drag the pointer, and release the mouse button. The view of the map scrolls without changing or selecting anything.

Save your work. Use the main menu command 'File | Save Campaign As...' to save your campaign as MyCampaign.cmpgn in the GallupsMirrorPak folder. MapTool saves both maps, 'Dragon Cottage' and 'Dark Dungeon', in the same .cpmgn file.

Lesson Six
Working with layers

Understanding Layers. Imagine you're looking at the battle map through a stack of clear glass plates, which are named, top to bottom: Token, Hidden, Object, and Background. Each glass plate is one layer. The 'Layer' tray in the upper right corner of the map shows which of the four layers is currently selected. Any creature token or object that you drag from the image Resource Library pane and drop onto the map appears in the selected layer. Creature tokens and objects in layers which are not selected are fixed in place and unresponsive, so you don't accidentally move or modify them while you're working with creature tokens and objects in the selected layer.
The Token layer is for creature tokens, which depict PCs, NPCs, animals, and monsters.

The Hidden layer is for objects or creature tokens that you want to keep handy but out of sight, like ambushing orcs, hidden traps, secret doors, or frequently-used spell effects like fireballs. Images or creature tokens in the Hidden layer turn invisible when you select the 'Show As Player' view of the map, a setting explained in an upcoming lesson.

The Object layer is for medium or small images in the environment, like barrels on the deck of the galleon, ballistae on the castle battlements, and a campfire on the beach.

The Background layer is for the largest images, which create the setting and environment, such as the landscape of a beach, atop which sits other large images, like a seaside castle and a galleon anchored offshore.
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You'll do most of your work in the Background and Object layers when you're preparing a new battle map before a game.
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You'll do most of your work in the Token layer, and some in the Object layer, when you're updating an existing battle map, round by round, to show PC and monster creature token movements during combat or dungeon crawls.
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The immovable tiles (such as cobblestones or grass) which fill the entire map when you use the 'Quick Map' feature appear in their own unnamed layer below the Background layer.

Using Layers. Click to select the Token layer. Drag and drop the human fighter creature token onto the map. The creature token appears in the Token layer, the topmost layer in the stack, superimposed over any images in the layers below it.

Moving objects between layers. Right-click on the human fighter creature token and use the menu command 'Change To | Object'. The human fighter creature token moves to the Object layer and becomes unresponsive to clicks because the Token layer is still selected. Select the Object layer. Right-click on the human fighter creature token use the menu command 'Change To | Token' to return it to the Token layer.

Working with stacks in the Token layer. Select the Token layer. Drag a skeleton creature token from the Resource Library and drop it directly on top of the human fighter creature token, in the same square on the map. A tiny white cube appears in the upper right corner of the square to indicate that two or more creature tokens are stacked. Drag the human sorcerer creature token from the Resource Library and drop it on the same stack. Right-click on the stack and use the menu command 'Arrange | Send to Back'. The human sorcerer creature token moves to the bottom of the stack, out of sight, behind the human fighter creature token and the skeleton creature token. Double-click on the stack. A popup shows all three tokens in the stack. Right-click on the human sorcerer creature token and use the menu command 'Arrange | Bring to Front'. The human sorcerer creature token returns to the top of the stack.

Working with stacks in other layers. Objects stacked in the Hidden, Object, and Background layers are sorted just like creature tokens stacked in the Token layer. Right-click on the stack and use the menu command 'Arrange | Send to Back / Bring to Front'. Stacks in the Hidden, Object, and Background layers do not have 'tiny white cube' indicators like stacks in the Token layer, and no popups appear when you double-click to show you what's in the stack.

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Can't select or modify a creature token or object on the map? You may have selected the wrong layer or have multiple objects stacked within the same layer. Try selecting a different layer or reordering the stacked images.

Lesson Seven
Placing, sizing, and orienting creature tokens and objects

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Placing creature tokens and objects. Select the Token layer. Drag the tabaxi creature token from the Resource Library pane and drop it onto the map. (A popup appears. For a PC creature token, change the 'Type' option to 'PC'. For objects and all other creature tokens, accept the default settings. Click OK.) Now click and drag the tabaxi token across a few squares. Notice how, by default, the token snaps from square to square, exactly centered. You can toggle this feature, so that creature tokens or objects either snap to the squares or move smoothly for precise placement, by right-clicking the creature token or object, and selecting or deselecting 'Snap to Grid'.

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Creature tokens generally work best with 'Snap to Grid' enabled since by most game rules they must always fully occupy squares and cannot straddle the grid lines to partially occupy squares. Objects are usually easiest to work with when 'Snap to Grid' is disabled, since they often need more precise positioning and to partially occupy multiple squares.
Orienting. Drag the barrel object onto the map. Right-click the barrel, choose 'Change To' and pick 'Object'. (Note that, because the 'Token' layer is still selected, you can no longer click to select the barrel, which you just moved into the 'Object' layer.) Select the 'Object' layer. Right-click on the barrel, choose 'Set Facing', and circle the barrel with the pointer. The barrel rotates to face the moving pointer, either East, South, West, or North. When the barrel is facing where you like, left-click once and the barrel faces there.

Reversing. Right-click on the barrel and choose 'Flip | Horizontal'. The barrel image is reversed.

Square Sizing. Select the 'Token' layer. Drag the creature token of the dragon onto the map. Notice how, when the Token layer is selected, any creature token or image you drag onto the map is automatically scaled to fit one square. Make the dragon into a size Large creature, which takes up four squares, by right-clicking the token and choosing 'Size | Large'.

Free Sizing. Select the 'Object' layer. Right-click the barrel and choose 'Size | Free Size'. Left-click on the barrel. The barrel is outlined in black-and-white and a resizing tab appears; left-click, drag, and release the resizing tab icon to make the barrel bigger or smaller.

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When adding new images, select the Token layer and drag-and-drop images onto an isolated area of the map. This ensures that the image at first spans only one square and helps you select, size, and orient the image without accidentally effecting other images or creature tokens around it. Once done, right-click the image and choose 'Change To | Object' to put the image into the Object layer, then select the Object layer, and drag the image into the desired position.
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Objects in the Object and Background layers have a 'Free Size' option under the 'Size' menu. 'Free Size' displays the object image at native size, which is usually very large and more difficult to work with. Avoid 'Free Size' and use the options (Small, Medium, Large, etc.) under 'Size' to size images to fit blocks of squares. Very large background images, such as buildings or complete dungeons, are the exception.

Lesson Eight
Draw and erase walls, blocks, rooms, and dungeons

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The drawing tools. Click the 'Drawing Tools' button on the tool bar. The button shows a paintbrush inside a blue circle, and is located right above the 'Resource Library' pane. Several buttons and a tool tray appear. Click on the large square in the top left corner of the tool tray. A popup appears. Click the 'Texture' tab, scroll down, choose the 'Sand' texture, and click the OK button. Do it again, setting the large square in the top right corner of the tool tray to use the 'Sand' texture too. Set the Brush Width to 7, using the up-down arrows in the tool tray, located next to the tiny paintbrush. The paint brush is ready to draw lines and rectangles on the map using the 'Sand' texture.

Draw a wall. Click on the 'Draw Straight Lines' button. Enable 'Snap To Grid' by clicking the Z button, located right above the tiny paintbrush in the tool tray. The cursive Z becomes a crisp Z. Select the Object layer. Click on the corner of a square, move the pointer, and click on the corner of another square. A wall appears between those two points.

Draw a block. Click on the 'Draw a Rectangle' button. Enable 'Snap To Grid' by clicking the Z button. Select the Object layer. Click on the corner of a square, move the pointer, and click on the corner of another square. A rectangle appears between those two points.

Erase. Click on the 'Draw a Rectangle' button. Hold down the 'Shift' key. Click on the map, move the pointer across a wall or block, and click on the map again. Release the 'Shift' key. Any wall or block under the Shifted rectangle is erased.

Draw a room. Enable 'Snap To Grid'. Draw a block. Disable 'Snap To Grid'. Use Erase to 'cut out' the center and leave the outer edges of the block as the walls of the room.

Draw a dungeon. Enable 'Snap To Grid'. Draw a very large block. Use Erase to 'cut out' many rooms and hallways inside the very large block.

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Layer rules apply. All drawing or erasing of walls or blocks occurs only within the selected layer. A wall won't erase? Select another layer and try again.
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Drawings in the Object and Background layers are displayed behind the grid lines. Drawings in the Token layer are displayed over the grid lines.
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Made a mistake? Use the menu command 'Edit' and click 'Undo'. Do this several times to undo the last several drawing actions that you made.

Lesson Nine
Working with map view, light sources, token sight, fog of war, and vision blocking

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The effects explained in this lesson are optional to use but necessary to grasp, because your map won't look right unless you use the correct settings for View, Light, Sight, and Fog of War.
Understanding light and vision effects. MapTool lets you show or hide areas of the map by making creature tokens or images that emit light, "see" light, or block light and vision. This lesson explains:

DM View and Player View
Fog of War
Sight (Making a creature token that can 'see' light and obstacles)
Light (Making a fire object 'illuminate' part of the map)
Vision environment (Day, Night, and Off)
Vision Blocking (Make walls or objects which block Sight and Light)

DM View and Player View. You must disable vision and darkness effects, which hide areas of the map, so you can see as you work. This is DM View. You only enable vision and darkness effects to inspect your work and when you export maps for the players. This is Player View. Use the main menu commands 'View | Show as Player' to toggle this setting. (Remove the check mark while you create or update the map. Restore the check mark right before you export a map.) Or, if you're not using light and vision, always leave it unchecked.

Fog of War. Fog of War shrouds or reveals areas of the map depending on what a creature token with Sight can "see" from its current location. Fog of War usually depicts darkness and obstructed views, but it could also represent blindness or the maximum range of darkvision, among other possibilities. So, Fog of War, while pitch-black, is not necessarily darkness. Use the menu commands 'Map | Fog of War' to toggle Fog of War. If you're not using light and vision effects, always leave Fog of War unchecked.

Sight. Sight lets a creature token "see" by removing Fog of War from areas of the map based on the token's location, sources of Light, vision type (darkvision or normal vision), and obstacles which obstruct Sight with Vision Blocking. By default, creature tokens have no Sight, so if you're not using light and vision effects, no action is required to disable it. Otherwise, you must enable Sight on every individual PC creature token. (Non-PC creature tokens never need Sight.) Right-click on a PC creature token and choose 'Edit...'. A popup appears. Ensure the pulldown in the extreme upper right corner of the popup is set to 'PC' and not 'NPC'. Choose the 'Config' tab, check the 'Has Sight' box, and use the pulldown to select either 'Normal' or 'Darkvision'. Click the OK button.

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Sight has no visible effect on the map until you enable Fog of War. Once you do, selecting one Sight-enabled creature token makes Fog of War shroud the entire map and reveal only that creature token's point of view. Deselecting all tokens (by clicking on an open area of the map) makes Fog of War shroud the entire map except for the combined points of view of all Sight-enabled creature tokens, which you use whenever you export a screenshot of the map.
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Light. Light makes a creature token or object cast "illumination" which removes Fog of War from the surrounding area. To activate Light, right-click on a creature token or object and use the menu commands 'Light Sources | D20 | Torch - 20'. (The 20 refers to bright light in a 20-foot radius with dim light for an additional 20 feet. In 5e, the Light cantrip and a torch both shed 20 feet of bright light plus 20 feet of dim light, so you'll use 'Torch - 20' the most often, although the menu has other Light options.) To remove active Light effects from a token or object, right-click on the token or object, and use the menu commands 'Light Sources | Clear All'. Tokens and objects by default emit no Light, so if you're not using light and vision effects, no action is required.

Vision environment. The map environment must be set to Day, Night, or Off using the main menu commands 'Map | Vision | Off / Day / Night'.
Off: All creature token Vision settings are ignored. Everything is always visible unless hidden by Fog of War. If you're not using light and vision effects, always set 'Map | Vision' to Off.

Day: Individual Light sources, if present, are irrelevant because bright sunlight illuminates everything on the map except for Fog of War, Vision Blocking, and any creature tokens concealed by those effects. Day is for outdoor maps and well-lighted indoor maps.

Night: Individual Light sources are the only illumination in an otherwise pitch-black environment. For creature tokens with active Sight, the individual Light sources reveal areas covered by Fog of War, except where prevented by Vision blocking. Night is for dungeons, caves, and indoor maps.
Vision Blocking lets you establish the boundaries of a Sight-enabled token's visual range by drawing Vision Blocking shapes on the map. For example, if you draw a Vision Blocking line along a wall, a Sight-enabled token cannot "see" through the wall. Vision Blocking shapes, which are shown in dark blue, are invisible except when you enable the Vision Blocking Layer Tools which are used to draw them.

To draw a Vision Blocking shape, click the 'Eyeball' toolbar button, which has the tooltip 'Vision Blocking Layer (VBL) Tools'. Several buttons appear. The two most useful Vision Blocking shapes are rectangles and lines, since walls are the most common objects that require Vision Blocking effects.

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Draw a Vision Blocking rectangle. Click the button with the yellow square, which has the tooltip 'Draw a rectangular VBL'. Left-click (and release) on the map to "pin" one corner of the Vision Blocking rectangle to that spot. Move the pointer to another spot. Left-click again to make the other spot the opposite corner of the completed Vision Blocking rectangle. Now, when you enable Fog of War, any area of the map that is behind the blue rectangle, relative to a light source or to the view of a Sight-enabled token, is shrouded.

Delete a Vision Blocking shape. hold down the shift key while you draw a Vision Blocking rectangle. Any blue Vision Blocking in the rectangular area is erased.

Draw a Vision Blocking line. Click the button with the yellow pencil and yellow S, which has the tooltip 'Draw poly line VBL'. Left-click (and release) on the map to "pin" one end of the Vision Blocking line to that spot. Move the pointer to a second spot. Right-click (and release) to extend and "pin" the Vision Blocking line to the second spot. Move the pointer to a third spot. Right-click to extend and "pin" the Vision Blocking line to the third spot. Move the pointer back to the first spot. End the Vision Blocking line with a left-click.

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Draw a big Vision Blocking rectangle over a room or entire dungeon, then use rectangular Vision Blocking deletion to "cut out" the areas inside the walls. This is faster than drawing Vision Blocking separately for individual walls.
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It's often best to draw Vision Blocking shapes a bit smaller than the objects that you're assigning them to. If a wall or a tree trunk is completely covered by Vision Blocking the players may not realize what object is obstructing their view. Let enough of the object show for the players to identify what objects are in the way.
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Draw a Vision Blocking line or flat rectangle across a closed door. Delete the Vision Blocking when the players open the door. Redraw the Vision blocking when they close the door again.

Lesson Ten
Export a screenshot of the grid map

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Prepare the map. Enable the visual effects, switch to player view, and center the grid map in the pane, using the following steps.
1. Enable Fog of War. Use the menu commands 'Map | Fog of War' to put a check by Fog of War.

2. Refresh 'currently visible' for all Sight-enabled tokens. Right-click on any Sight-enabled creature token and use the menu commands 'Expose | Only Currently Visible'. Left-click on any open area of the map to deselect all creature tokens and objects.

3. Switch to Player View. Use the menu commands 'View | Show as Player' to put a check mark by this setting.

4. Zoom, center, and crop. Resize the window to frame the map. The exact map view in the window becomes the exported image.
Export a screenshot. Use the main menu commands 'File | Export | Screenshot As...'. A popup appears. Select 'Type: Current View', 'Layers: Current View', and 'View: Player'. Click the 'Browse' button, choose a destination folder, name the file (myscreenshot.png), and click 'Open'. Click the 'Export' button.

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MapTool permanently removes Fog of War in real time from every area that a Sight-enabled PC creature token has already "seen". Play-by-post makes this unnecessary because you can refer back to older screenshots. This is the reason for step 2.

Demonstration A
Putting it all together: a dungeon map from scratch

Content here

Demonstration B
Beyond MapTool: Making objects with an image editor

Content here

Demonstration C
Is there anything more?

Content here

Demonstration D
Is there anything more, more?

Content here

Tutorial: 3D Combat
Tutorial: MapTool Battle Grids
Cover Artist: Explosive Runes 25 & 31

Last edited by GallupsMirror; May 16th, 2021 at 11:54 AM.
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