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Difficulty Eliminating the Grid

Reynard

Legend
I don't mean difficulty with changing the rules to not have to use the grid. Rather, I mean difficulty no longer using the grid, even when playing an edition where it is (largely) unnecessary.

Today, I ran a "New Year, Old School" one shot using the 1981 Moldvay Basic Set. During play, we used a standard 1-inch square Chessex battle grid. My intention was simply to have something to look at. In the end, though, I found that we used the grid too much, that we restricted ourselves and our play to the grid.

Some background: the players included myself and two players from my regular PF dungeon crawl game (plus my son, but as he's new, it doesn't seem relevant). I myself grew up with BECM and never used a grid until 3E, and hardly remember ever using even a sketch of the battlefield. For most of my gaming life, it was all mind space and imagination.

But since 3E appeared, any time I have played D&D, it has included a battle board -- sometimes more precise than others, but more or less always there. (There was a brief period where we played at Yale and used blackboards, which was quite freeing.) I am afraid that I have "forgotten" how to play D&D without some visual battle field reference, when I never even considered one for years.

To give specifics: there was one room in the dungeon with 12 skeletal guards, which would be awakened by either direct attack or touching the treasure vault door. In my mind's eye, I imagined a fast moving battle with characters constantly maneuvering between skeletal soldiers, drawing them into the cleric's "line of fire" for Turning and the like. What occurred (and, admittedly, it was near the end of a 4 hour session, so folks were starting to fatigue a little) was two PCs bottlenecking the door and a series of traded blows until all the skeletons were killed. I didn't even realize we had "Pathfinderized" the battlemat until afterward.

So, is it possible to "go home again"? Is there a balance between square by square control and imagination driven narrative? Have too many years of relying on minis and battlemats ruined my freeform DMing style?
 

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Ahnehnois

First Post
I'm a 3.X DM and I don't use grids (usually; we'll pull a blank one out now and then for complex situations). I never saw the need for them, and I do see where miniatures and battle maps can detract from the actual game.

I think especially for experienced players and DMs it's pretty easy to wing it. How far apart are you when you spot the enemy? Decide or roll some dice. If you move away from someone in melee, you provoke. If you 5 ft. step, they 5 ft. step to meet you on their turn. If two people are in melee with one opponent, the step to flank. Most 3.X spells are short, medium, or long. It's usually pretty obvious whether the target is in range or not. Most other ranged effects are 30 or 60 ft., similarly easy to guess. A lot of other things can be handwaved. Tactics are only complicated when there are multiple characters on both sides and both are interested in doing some kind of tactical movement, which is not that common. There are some very simple bottom lines. Can I attack? Can I be attacked? How far away am I from X? Usually, the answers to these questions are readily apparent, especially if you've described things well.

Then again, if you're off by 5 ft. here and there, who cares?
 


Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Agreed, the grid is not necessary...

But also this: if using the grid actually helps you play, why the hate? Why fight the grid if it's a actually a useful tool for you and your group?

I mean, using a grid in no way means you're less of a role-player or you're doing it wrong. Even though I've played games without minis, my very first session back in 1977 used them. And by that time, some of the RPG minis companies were pretty well established, so using them is really nothing new.

Or to put it differently...

I play chess, I play very well. I nearly always use a board. OTOH, I know people who can and do play chess without it, exchanging the moves verbally and keeping their boards entirely in their heads.

And while I've done so a smattering of times, I don't enjoy it.

Does that make them better? No- they were generally better players in general before reaching that level of mastery...and that didn't stop me from beating a couple of them. Keeping an orderly mental chessboard is a related but not prerequisite or necessary skill to be great at chess.

Likewise, gridless RPG play is not inherently superior, just different.
 
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Dice4Hire

First Post
While I believe that mapless combat can be a lot more fluid and dynamic, you gotta have the right system to allow it to be fluid and dynamic. And D&D, especially 3,5 and 4E is not that system. Too much range, areas of effect, and in 4E pushing, pulling, shifting, teleporting and the like for going gridless.

But going gridless does seem to open players up to doing wilder things. I think the grid does limit what people feel they can do, based on how the grid looks and how the combat is set up.

I love my dungeon tiles, but the 90 degree angles get to me after a while.

Gridless is a fun idea, I think.
 

ValhallaGH

First Post
I often put minis on the table to show relative position. But I do not put down a battle map, grid, or other meta-reference frame.
I'll describe the layout in broad details, and add specifics as required. Mostly I rely upon my players to add specific details by what they choose to do. "I'm going to flip a table over for cover," and there's a few light tables in the room (unless that just makes no sense). "I hop onto a bit of railing, grab a light fixture, and swing across to land behind him, punching him as a fly past," action-packed tactics combined with a bit of appropriate flavor text.

The goal is to get the benefits of the miniatures without the drawbacks of the detailed battle map. And it works pretty darn well for my groups.

Best of luck, and happy 2012.
 

caudor

Adventurer
No grid would be difficult for me since I like having a grid (during combat). Less emphasis on combat would not bother me as much though.
 

mach1.9pants

Adventurer
What I tried with Dragon Age, and it worked well, was a grid map and minis but no use of the squares or ruler rules wise. All distances were eyeballed, and having a grid 'in the background' made that very easy. I like minis and I like having maps to look at, this gave the best of both worlds. We had mini n map but weren't constrained to squares. I had burnt out on squares in 4e.
Unlike you I have always used a grid from BECMI onwards although it was normally just math paper and pencil dots.

Edit: Do a thread on your sig status [MENTION=55066]Dice4Hire[/MENTION] ... I am interested in why
 

Stormonu

Legend
I like the grid for mapping out a room for the players to see, but I wish I could get rid of the gridlines when we get into combat (and still use the minis for positioning).
 

was

Adventurer
-My group likes to take a break from the grid system from time to time. We use a hanging dry erase board to map out encounters or terrain. We record player positions with different colored markers and eyeball/guestimate distances. It is by no means precise, but it seems to flow well enough.
 

cignus_pfaccari

First Post
We have two games going.

One is 4e, and we put out the dry erase board that one of us scored into a grid for that.

The other is SR4, and we haven't used a grid for that, but do use some visual aids so people know who's where. There are a few runs coming up that'll need a grid, and I'm trying to decide if we should go 1.5m or 2m per square.

Brad
 

frankthedm

First Post
What occurred (and, admittedly, it was near the end of a 4 hour session, so folks were starting to fatigue a little) was two PCs bottlenecking the door and a series of traded blows until all the skeletons were killed.
To my understanding, that is what old school groups DID, at least at low level and against foes without the sense to switch to missile weapons. A group in that situation would only "wade out there" when the fighter had plenty of levels under his belt since only then he would be entitled to 1 attack per level each round vs 1HD foes. Basically until the DM told the fighter "You won't be able to make your full allotment of attacks this round because there are not enough foes getting to you" the players should hold out in the hallway.

Bottle necking big groups was and is a viable tactic, even if some players wind up skipping their turns. 'Losing' a few turns is less of a big deal when rounds go by faster and resources are more limited.
 


Argyle King

Legend
I prefer to use a ruler and measure movement in a manner similar to tabletop wargames. As a GM, I feel it allows me more freedom to create encounters and build by game world without needing to fit everything into square patterns. As a player, I find that I start to view the battlefield more as a smooth entity and a picture of what's going on in the game more so than looking at pieces on a game board without the lines of the grid.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Today, I ran a "New Year, Old School" one shot using the 1981 Moldvay Basic Set. During play, we used a standard 1-inch square Chessex battle grid.

Good gods, man! WHY!? :eek: There's no reason those two sentences should be next to each other...Ever!

My intention was simply to have something to look at. In the end, though, I found that we used the grid too much, that we restricted ourselves and our play to the grid.

You're supposed to be using your imagination. You don't need "something to look at"...you should be imagining what you're looking at.

But glad you learned better for next time. :)

So, is it possible to "go home again"?

Of course!

Is there a balance between square by square control and imagination driven narrative?

Dunno. Never have or will use a 'battlemat/grid" in my play. Player drawn maps...sure...maybe the occasional sketching out necessary for involved combats. So..I couldn't tell ya. Sorry.

On examination of the story your told...I'm inclined to say no. There is not. But balance in pretty much anything is always a nice thing to strive for.

But Have too many years of relying on minis and battlemats ruined my freeform DMing style?

Apparently so. Yes.

Happy New Year! :D
--SD
 

TheAuldGrump

First Post
Hmmm, speaking as a GM that has long used miniatures, even back into the '70s (don't ask why my paladin looks like a Minifigs Prussian... just... don't ask).

Bottlenecks happen - I still design scenarios where I expect a bottleneck. Sometimes to player advantage, sometimes not. Not edition based, I have seen it happen in OD&D at least as often as in Pathfinder.

Grids neither help nor hurt in my experience - though my preference is use a grid for drawing, use a ruler for movement and range.

For a doorway bottleneck in 3.X Bullrush is your friend. Area effect spells help, regardless of edition. (In my AD&D game the paladin and the fighter wore as much protection from fire as they could get....) Skellies... probably not real creative on busting bottlenecks.

Heck, in OD&D - 2e the fighter was typically a dwarf so people could fire over his head....

The Auld Grump
 

S'mon

Legend
IME, if you have the grid on the table, you will use it. I have no trouble running AD&D or Moldvay (or a clone) online in a text-chatroom game with no map or grid. 4e is the only game I've found myself referring to a grid even in a chatroom game. However, if I put a battlemat on the table, I'll end up using the grid, whatever the game.

So, if you don't want to be grid-locked, IME you need to not use the grid, or minis*, at all.

*If you play AD&D with its 1-minute combat rounds, 120' moves, and abstract positioning within a 10' battlespace, you may be able to use minis without getting locked down. The shorter rounds & movement rates in Moldvay can tend to encourage a tactical approach, though.
 
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TheAuldGrump

First Post
IME, if you have the grid on the table, you will use it. I have no trouble running AD&D or Moldvay (or a clone) online in a text-chatroom game with no map or grid. 4e is the only game I've found myself referring to a grid even in a chatroom game. However, if I put a battlemat on the table, I'll end up using the grid, whatever the game.

So, if you don't want to be grid-locked, IME you need to not use the grid, or minis*, at all.

*If you play AD&D with its 1-minute combat rounds, 120' moves, and abstract positioning within a 10' battlespace, you may be able to use minis without getting locked down. The shorter rounds & movement rates in Moldvay can tend to encourage a tactical approach, though.
Gods, I hated the 1 minute melee rounds - the first houserule that I can remember making was changing to a 10 second round, with 12 inch movement.

The Auld Grump
 

IronWolf

blank
I think you can certainly go back "home" again if that is what you want. Our group plays 3.x/Pathfinder and we have many sessions where we don't use a grid. Sometimes we just break it out for more complex battles with either more enemy forces or some interesting terrain condition that might make things a little easier. But even that varies on which GM is running.

In our experience it just takes a little trust in the GM and all seems to go pretty well. It definitely seems to shorten time spent during battles by getting rid of the careful scrutiny of the minis and counting of squares.
 

I didn't start using a battlegrid and minis until 3E, despite being an old-school wargamer.

But now I wouldn't play without the grid -- I like the clarity of position, and the tactical options it opens up. What's wrong with running combat as a tactical minis game, which is how D&D started?

Embrace the grid, I say!
 

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