Of all the board games I could raid for props and DM tools, Scrabble tops my list, especially for D&D 4E. Enhance battlemats, track minis, and make combat easier with those crazy, square lettered tiles.
Use Scrabble Tiles for the Monsters
Wizards of the Coast uses letter identification in its modules for monsters. For example, a Hobgoblin Torturer would be designated (T) in its stat block and on the battlemat for initial placement. Goblin Sharpshooters = (S), Goblin Warriors = (W), and so on. You can do the same for your homebrew encounters.
Scrabble tiles make a natural fit as pre-labelled minis. Next combat, place your S, T, and W tiles down and use them as monster minis. Clear and simple.
To further distinguish monsters during combat, place a poker chip or coloured tile beneath the Scrabble tile. For example, if you have four Goblin Sharpshooters fighting the PCs, one would be S tile + green chip, one would be S tile + blue chip, etc. This makes tracking damage, status, and initiative easy. Green S is dazed? No problem to note that now.
Use Scrabble Tiles for Cool Terrain
So, you’ve got a fancy printed battlemat or a gnarly one sketched out for your combat encounter. Enhance these further with Scrabble tiles. Design special terrain with special effects that will make combat more dangerous, dramatic, and exciting. Use tiles to mark these special squares on your battlemat. Use letter codes to track what each type of terrain does.
For example, you beef up your combat encounter design with three additional terrain types: unexpectedly deep puddles (P), a wasp nest (N), and razor thistles (R).
You Can Turn Tiles Face Down
The designers of Scrabble were incredibly cunning. They only put the letters on one side of the tiles! Diabolical.
Use this to your advantage by placing some tiles face down to increase the mystery and drama of combat.
For example, you might locate all visible monsters on the battlemat with tiles, but the ones far away are placed face down until the PCs get a better look through Perception checks or by getting closer.
Same with hazards. Leave hazards as a surprise. The players will know there’s something interesting in a square with a tile on it, but they’ll need to investigate to learn more.
If you make sure some tiles are beneficial during combat, then PCs will be motivated to investigate the terrain during battle – more opportunities for meaningful tactics and options.
Example beneficial tiles might be dropped treasure, hazards the PCs can use against their foes, and clues (that get scooped up before the enemy can grab and destroy them).
Buy Used Sets
An obvious tip, but keep an eye out for used Scrabble games. Build up your collection of tiles. They have more uses as DM tools and for minis and battlemats than what I’ve listed here.
If you have tiles set aside just for RPGs, then you can paint or mark them as you please, giving you more use possibilities, including puzzles, coinage, clues, status markers, condition tracking, and more.