Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wizards of the Coast's Dungeon Tiles DN2: "The Witchlight Fens"

I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for swamps and bogs, and so when Wizards of the Coast announced that they were releasing a Dungeon Tiles set along those lines, it was just about a given that I would be buying them. The set in question, Dungeon Tiles DN2: The Witchlight Fens, however, ended up being not exactly what I had in mind.

This is my first dungeon tiles set, so I didn't exactly know what to expect, but it was largely smaller pieces that one would have to fit together with some degree of precision in order to keep any sort of continuity with fitting together larger tiles; in other words, you have the option of either dropping a smaller tile directly on top of a larger tile, making a difference in height (and allowing for the possibility that it could slip around), or else take a good number of smaller tiles and match them to the length of the side of the larger tile they're up against, rather than just use one. One would have to do a lot of pre-planning with fitting these together, because you can't just drop one and have that be the encounter location. Once you pop them out of their sheets, they immediately become unwieldy, so it would be very well worth it to have another of the Essentials tile sets that came with a box to store them in, otherwise I've been sort of popping them back in to the sheets wherever they fit just so I can keep them on the shelf like a book; not an ideal solution. How do most people store their dungeon tiles? Freezer bags? I honestly want to know, I'd like ideas.

For being a tile set for a "fen," there is not much water space. Every single tile has land on at least one side, so there is no way to create a large expanse of boggy, brambled, waist-deep water to trudge through, nor is the water by and large marked as "difficult terrain" (which seems reserved for small brambly patches). It would be difficult to create any sort of feature like a path with water on either side, either. The set lends itself to small dry paths around smaller puddles of water. Even most baffling, there are several tiles that don't have anything printed on them at all in some places, and it's just black. I have to assume that that's standard dungeon tile topology for a "bottomless pit," but that doesn't make much sense in a bog because it's a place where the water table is very high. There wouldn't be a pit if there was an expanse, it would be filled with water. I therefore consider any of the tiles with black on them to be useless, since why would you use them? It makes no sense. Most of the tiles with black attached to them also just have stone paths on them, which is completely inappropriate to a "fen" as well; give me more squishy tiles, and leave the black pits and stone walkways for other sets where those features are more appropriate. Why would I want a pit... in a swamp? I want a swamp.

There are also quite a few tiles that don't have land OR water on them, but instead have constructed objects like a house, a boat, a bridge. While these are cute little flourishes, it seems like there's probably enough tiles like that in other sets that you could combine with this one for those sorts of features that it ends up feeling just like you've been cheated of yet another useful square for creating an ample amount of boggy terrain. I've read that many people end up buying two or three sets of the same tiles, and that's why: they don't give you enough useful tiles of any one thing to really make it really useful. Maybe if I had a lot of money and I felt comfortable buying multiple tile sets I would be happier with this product... or if there were a couple more sheets of tiles?

While I don't want to leave a purely negative review, I will note that the art, overall, is very nice. I wish I did have more tiles in this set so I could build larger things with them. Each of the tiles is double-sided, so most often if you don't like what's printed on one side you can flip it over and hope that there's something more useful on the other. They also seem quite well made; I can't envision them fraying or falling apart too quickly, barring water damage or cat attack. I can imagine that for one or two encounters, these tiles would work really well and you'd probably be able to do really fun things with them. But after more than two, the terrain might get a little repetitive because there's just not enough there.

I fully expected to love this set, and being my first tile set, sort of colored my opinion of the usefulness of Dungeon Tiles overall. If somebody offered me money to take these off my hands, I would take it, but if somebody offered me another set of the same tiles, I would take that too. I don't plan on buying any more dungeon tiles, either. Perhaps what I was expecting were tiles that were more like geomorphs, where you could stick any tile next to any other tile and have a more or less consistent topology? Regardless, I can't say that this product really knocked my socks off and, in the attempt to be too varied in features, ended up having too little of anything. They sort of dashed my dreams of having a large adventure that took place entirely within the Witchlight Fens (or some other bog that was considerably less witchy)... but just as easily all of these problems might be a non-issue to people more experienced with utilizing dungeon tiles to their fullest capacity, and in which case I'll sound sort of like a deranged lunatic for all these complaints. That's fair too.

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