4e rules will make some games much harder to run


Iron Sky said:
Now we do gridded combat in almost every system. It takes less work for me as the DM and has cut down arguments by an order of magnitude, but it definitely takes everyone out of character and reduces the immersion alot.

I ran Dawn of Defiance for the first time yesterday and there were two major encounters, both on very large battle maps. I agree with you here, and my solution in the future is going to be to mix games up with non-map encounters and some full miniature encounters. Now, i spent a lot of time figuring out how i wanted the maps to look, and in one respect, there is less for the GM to describe when the players can just LOOK down and see everything.

But at the same time it does detract from being immersed in the story. And SW isn't as tactically oriented as D&D. In fact, after running the D&D skirmish game i'm a little disappointed with SW combat, which basically boils down to Aim & Shoot every round. Oh, and duck behind cover.

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First Post
sort of on topic

I am glad there are others out there with an aversion to the battlemat. Although the mat clarifies a lot it does remove me from the action inside my head.

So for those of us with more emphasis on narrative spatial relationships rather than concretely defined space, this brings a follow up question:

How can we use online tools to enhance our gaming experience? I am not talking about the tabletop. That's great for what it does, but by direct representation it still removes an element of immersion for me.

I have been toying with the idea of Ventrillo-based 4ed game with Diceroller and chat support. (And not to hijack the thread overmuch, but please send me a private message if you are interested as well. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming)

The benefits of almost complete story immersion without the break into skirmish mindset that I felt in 3.5 is a worthwhile goal as far as I am concerned. I am not sure it can be easily supported within the 4ed framework.

Perhaps limiting the classes allowed in the game? Perhaps a small restructuring of the existing powers into "narrative space" instead of squares?

I do like Keterys' explanation and it fits well with my playstyle. "You push him into the bookcase" rather than "you push him 10'". Also, FitzTheRouke hit the nail on the head: I remember battles without mats as my character sees things where with a mat I remember pushing minis.

My last observation on the matless game is this: the transition from battle to scene and back again is much less jarring and leaves open more options. My experience has shown that when the mat rolls out players limit thier options on when to end a combat scene to "victory or death". When the combat scene is gridless then I have seen other options emerge- negotiation, flight, cinematic stuff that just seemed squashed when the map comes out.

When you have to have the description of the encounter area held in your head you remember details you can use to spice up the encounter and work with the environment.


First Post
Given what I've seen, and run, in 3/3.5e the only additional difficulty in running 4e will be converting everything from squares back to feet. I've actually moved away from grid based combat in 3.5 in my most recent game and find that for any minor skirmish, like most dungeon rooms it works just fine.


Mod Squad
Staff member
WayneLigon said:
I can't imagine not using some sort of mat. Distance is always going to be a factor for someone (archer, anyone? Spellcaster?) and y'all must never get into arguements like 'I said I was going behind the tree to take cover'.

It isn't a digital thing - either you use a mat, or you must never get into arguments.

Using a mat takes time, and the picayune wargamng can cause frustration. Without a mat, you'll have arguments that take time, and the misunderstandings that arise without the mat can cause frustration.

A group should choose the method that uses up less time and causes less frustration. I, personally use a mat occasionally, for big or complicated combats, but manage to skip the mat without much issue most of the time.

One text of rules cannot serve both masters well, unfortunately - the same rules can be written to favor the matless or the matted, but to try to properly describe for both would make the text unwieldy. Maybe in the future, one of WotC's supplements can contain hints on runnign the combat withotu a mat. That'd be cool.


If you played 3e without miniatures, you'll have no problem with 4e. However, there are a few things to consider.

First, forced movement is much more common in the game. However, I don't think it will be any harder to adjudicate in the game than normal movement. For instance, if the dwarf fighter pushes the ogre 2 squares, you just need to note that the ogre has to move closer to the party before attacking, and that the rogue who was next to the ogre can now move away with an opportunity attack.

Second, the areas of effect in the game have been standardized. So, you need to look at the areas and come up with basic rules of thumb for each. Once you've done that, you're set for the life of the edition.

Third, even without minis I'd keep track of a general, spacial relationship between combatants. When I used to play without minis, I'd have a back rank and front rank, with the front guys in melee and the back guys using missiles.

4e promotes the use of more set pieces and terrain than older editions, so I'd suggest creating a list of notable features in a room, and grouping combatants accordingly.

For instance, the chapel to Tharizdun has three notable features: an altar where the high priest stands, a giant stone idol, and several rows of pews. You might slot each combatant into one of those areas. If the dwarf is in the pews and pushes the ogre back, you might just shift the ogre over to the stone idol's area.

There is one area where going without minis is helpful: it's much easier to track effects. Let's say there are three orcs in a room. The fighter attacks and marks one. When the ranger shoots an orc with her bow, you can ask the player if she wants to shoot the marked orc or one of the other ones. If you attach a little descriptor to each orc, that makes it even easier, like this:

Orc Warriors
One-eyed Orc
Orc in bronze helm
Orc with long fangs

Orc Archers
Orc with scars
Orc with wolf-skin cloak

That way, you promote immersion by giving little descriptions for each guy, and you also have references for conditions and attacks. For example, a player could say, "I hit the one-eyed orc with a flame spell, and now he's taking continuing damage." You mark that on your sheet, and you can use that as a reference.

Best of all, you can use the conditions descriptions to promote immersion - "OK Pallania, the one-eyed orc shrieks in pain as Mardallus' spell continues to burn him. The orc in the bronze helm cowers before Thorbard, while the one with long fangs raises his scimitar. He looks like he's ready to charge you. What do you do?"

I think this might work out a little *better* than minis, because most DMs use the same miniature to represent groups of guys. A purely verbal description makes it easier to differentiate enemies.

Dave Turner

First Post
At the risk of sounding confrontational, why does the OP still think that he should continue to play D&D? It's hardly the only fantasy game on the market and there are plenty of other games which feature non-tactical combat. There are likely many familiar D&D elements that the OP wishes to hold onto (such as fireballs, chromatic dragons, spontaneous healing, or what-have-you). I just wonder if the effort required to adapt 4e to the OP's needs is greater than adapting the cherished D&D concepts to a new, non-tactical system?

I, too, don't really like battlemats overall. Yes, they help clarify combat and reduce misunderstandings but for me they ravage immersion. Combat also take a LOT longer given the time it takes me to set them up and because it seems to encourage optimized boardgame thinking by players and doting over the mat, counting squares, etc., rather than doing what they feel their characters would do.

Even though you'd think everyone wants to know precise distances due to range constraints etc. I've always found that if as DM I am reasonable in my adjudication, players are fine with just asking, for instance, "How many orcs can I get in one fireball" and me just making an estimation on the fly and saying "6 if you include Bob the rogue there, 4 if you want to make sure he stays char-free."

I DMed BECMI and never AD&D1 or AD&D2 and never used mats. As many have said, 3.x has rules (like flanking) that make mats more difficult to avoid. I eventually settled into a compromise where any battle I thought could work without a mat and were the stakes weren't too high (high stakes meaning things like players really need to know how this is set up to avoid getting totally creamed) would go without one. This was pretty good, but it does kinda suck to have some of the most interesting or dangerous fights be the ones with the weakest in-character memories. I also do think that previews of 4e suggest more, not the same, level of difficulty going mat-less. I can't prove this but given fey step, shifty, white raven onslaught, etc. it seems as if it is going to matter a lot more where people go relative to each other. This is not bad, but I do think it will make matless harder.

I can appreciate the suggestion by some to find another game system but I'd like to think that many of the promised innovations of 4e can be used, the whole game in fact, perhaps with some alterations specifically to facilitate matless play. I have an intuitive but practically useless sense that there ought to be a way to keep the mechanics of 4e but revise some rules, powers, etc. to work in terms of what rob626 called "restructuring...into narrative space" instead of squares? Since matless narration relies a lot on DM guesstimation and adjudication, it would be perfectly fine for such a system to be based partly on probabilities, what fits the story well, etc., and not necessarily try to model space in the same way a mat does. Like Umbran said, maybe there could be a supplement aimed specifically at varying the rules specifically to accommodate this type of game.

If anyone has bright ideas or experience doing such a thing, please share!


First Post
Umbran said:
It isn't a digital thing - either you use a mat, or you must never get into arguments.

One text of rules cannot serve both masters well, unfortunately - the same rules can be written to favor the matless or the matted, but to try to properly describe for both would make the text unwieldy. Maybe in the future, one of WotC's supplements can contain hints on runnign the combat withotu a mat. That'd be cool.

I dunno about that Umbran, The text of rules that is 3.x appears to serve the people that use a battlemat fairly well and works well for my matless play. I have yet to see anything in 4e that will change this.


First Post
Dave Turner said:
At the risk of sounding confrontational, why does the OP still think that he should continue to play D&D?

This is very good question. There is a poll running in another thread which asks if people would buy 4e if it would be not named D&D (but still have exact same set of rules). At the moment, most people answered no.

For me, D&D 3e had following benefits over competition (in no particular order):

a) huge selection of well defined spells with interesting effects
b) huge selection of scalable monsters
c) large selection of magic items
d) high range of player advancement - from zero to hero
e) memories from earlier editions
f) very well defined campaign worlds with a lot of design history
g) large selection of books (including 3rd party) for pollinating with ideas/getting some extra content
h) generic fantasy feel, allowing to shape it in the way I want, instead of very specific color imposed by system

If I would have to chose single of those elements, it would be probably wizard spells. While magic system was far from perfect, spells were really nice. There are some systems with superior magic systems (Ars Magica or Mage comes to mind), but spells were underdefined, unbalanced or non interesting. My previous system was Rolemaster and while it had it's qualities, I was completly sick of Fire Bolt IV, Fire Bolt V, Fire Bolt VI, Cold Bolt III, Shadow Bolt X, Ice Bolt I, Vacuum A, Vacuum B, etc spell lists, with one-liner spell descriptions.

Will 4e have aspects I have listed here? I'm bit scared about a and d. Huge selection of spells turned into small selection of Diablo/WoW-like powers. Rituals MAY save the day, or might be house ruled into saving the day, but it remains to be seen. Range of advancement seems big from the numbers (30 levels !), but from what I can see so far, in 3e we got level 1 to 20+epics, in 4e we will get level 4 to level 11, just with many subdivisions. They have removed _on purpose_ one of the best elements of earlier editions - that after reaching certain threshold (5th level, 7th level, 11th level), your power was skyrocketing (not strictly combat power, I'm talking more about utility power). There was something to wait for. With 4e, it seems that powers are so 'balanced', that few levels here or there have just an effect of small modifier to hit and damage - there is no wow factor, again on purpose. I suppose that such wow factor is happening on 11 and 21 levels, when you cross the tier and get extra classes - but the distance between that is quite huge. In short, I'm afraid 4e will be too balanced for my taste.

So from 8 points, I got 6.5. I don't think I can find another system which will give me so many of them. For me, choice is staying with 3e, or moving to 4e - both with healthy amount of house rules obviously. I'll buy 4e anyway - I have skipped 3.5, so I owe Wizards some money ;).


First Post
i feel SO FLATTERED that Mr. Mearls posted in response to this topic :) and I loved his suggestions for the visual cues to attach to each monster in the room, i am absolutely going to use that from now on (and his other suggestions). Even better that i loved the idea and THEN realized who it was coming from!

to anyone who wonders how/why we play without a mat without argument - if there is ever an inconsistency between what I thought player A said and what player A thought he said (or any other possible argument topic) then

1: if anyone else heard player A's version, then player A is correct and I change my description/outcome/whatever to fit with what A said (so if he said he was behind the tree, and ANYONE else heard him say that, then yes he is behind the tree)

2: if there is ever conflict that cannot be solved that way, we either flip a coin and continue on (happens about twice a session btw, and takes 4 seconds to resolve the entire conflict) no one ever has hurt feelings because we all know the rules, and the coin is on your side half the time anyway

3: if i don't feel the coin is appropriate I will make the call how i choose, and the players always agree, because I'm usually very fair and this happens rarely and only for story purposes and everyone knows it

4: if I ever feel like a person might be hurt/sad/upset/mad then I let them win (and find some other way down the line to get my way... so if they end up slitting my big bads throat, he can make a deal with the devil and come back a demon lord or something - I'm very adaptable) - this happens maybe once every couple of years

any argument we ever have NEVER takes more than 10-15 seconds, and i would say we spend less than 5 minutes for every 5 hours arguing about who is where and who called out what actions

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