Minis or Theatre of the Mind? (Survey)


Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that optional DMG rules are on par with 13A's standard rules, that's a pretty big failing when you think about it: the game is supposed to default to TotM, yet the mechanical presentation of the PH isn't conducive to that. Support for TotM - along with the 'tactical' module - is relegated to the DMG.

I never disagreed with that. Like I said, it's in the wrong book. It should've been in the same sidebar as the basic grid rules in the PHB and Basic rules, titled "Theatre of the Mind and Playing on a Grid".

log in or register to remove this ad

I never disagreed with that. Like I said, it's in the wrong book. It should've been in the same sidebar as the basic grid rules in the PHB and Basic rules, titled "Theatre of the Mind and Playing on a Grid".
It's not just that the rule is in the wrong book, but that it's tacked-on. 5e is full of references to distances in feet, geometric areas, relative positions and the like. 13A consistently uses its TotM terminology throughout - 1d3 Close Enemies, 'Engaged' and so forth - as well as providing some measures.

The former can suck you into trying to run TotM by visualizing and tracking everything down to the foot (and, y'know, some of us can do that). The latter works smoothly with TotM as the default (it also works fine when you pull out minis, without having to evoke a whole 'nuther set of optional rules). FWIW.

(Mind you, I'm saying all this while running 5e a lot more than 13A, so don't take it as too serious a complaint...)


Prefer TotM for smaller encounters and general exploration.

We use minis for bigger combats, but NEVER with a grid, distances/AoE are all estimated and the concept in 'one's own space' does not exist in our games.


Guide of Modos
TotM FTW! Although, the poll is a little black and white. I'm with Vex on using markers to assist with describing relative positions.

I've found that as DM if I use a drawn grid or poster map I tend to point to the map rather than describe things, so Ive started to use minis on bare tabletop just as relative distance markers.

Killing it (for having only two posts in the forum)!

The GM's job is to describe things! Sure, a board game can be fun, but it's also what your game becomes when you start moving pieces and counting spaces instead of saying "I dive to the side, rolling just behind a big piece of rubble, then pop up and fire my blaster at the combat 'droid with the red power unit."


100% agree. That's why when we do use the minis, they are placed on a white board with nothing more than the rough dimensions of the location sketched out.


I've enjoyed both, but I prefer TotM. Any time my group had to break out the maps, position minis, wait for everything to be set up and everything that goes into mini play, it just broke the moment for us. It took us right out of the drama and the excitement of what was about to happen. We found it a lot more fun when there was some tension that lead right into action smoothly rather than tension, take a break to set up as quickly as possible, then jump in for action. Plus many of us at the table had a hard time focusing on role playing our characters when moving minis around a map like a board game. So we prefer TotM style play.

I voted miniatures, and that's typically how I've played since high school many moons ago. However, when running in town stuff and even some dungeon exploration stuff, I've gone with a TotM approach. Really depends on the group and how "involved" everyone is at the table. If everyone is actually paying attention and not playing with their phones, painting miniatures, sleeping, playing video games, or reading a book, then I can go with TotM reasonably well and just set out minis to show where things are located at the beginning of a combat.


First Post
I prefer totm, but the guys at my table like their minis and i wouldn't want to deny them that. Thank the gods we aren't playing 4e

Sent from my SM-N920T using Tapatalk


Victoria Rules
Once again our crew seems to be unorthodox in that where many seem to have only started using minis with 3e or later, we've been using them since the early '80's. Handy for combat, marching order, who's on watch when, etc. They're intended (and usually work out to be) an aid to imagination rather than a replacement for it.

That said, we're by no means "married to the grid" for combat - fireballs are spherical, we're much less formal than 3e-4e on space occupied by someone, etc. - but having a grid is still a very useful aid for eyeballing ranges, movements, and so on.

Lan-"nothing is worse than seeing the character piece of a favourite character of old slowly corrode into metal dust"-efan


First Post
I love miniatures and I've been collecting them for decades, but although my collection is very extensive, it always seems that I don't have quite the mini I want for a specific encounter, or I don't know where it is.

You could say that I could just substitute another mini for it and let everyone know that what they're looking at is not what their characters are seeing. But that has real issues with suspension of disbelief; people are very much influenced by what they're seeing, and seeing a flying pig that's actually representing an ancient neutronium dragon creates a dislocation that hurts immersion.

For that reason, although I love minis and have lots of them, I very seldom use them in play. For tactical layouts, I tend to use chess pieces and the like, and let imaginations fill in the details.


I'm a very strategy oriented player, so I hate TotM for combat. Mainly because with minis I can see what the battlefield looks like and plan my strategy accordingly, aka position myself to be safe, and use the most effective spells I can.

Sent from my SM-T813 using Tapatalk

It’s minis all the way for me for D&D.

I played from about 1994 to 2002 using only theatre of the mind (mainly AD&D, but some other RPGs as well). I found that it made you more reliant on the DM. He was the one that could decide how many Orcs were caught in your fireball spell, or whether the Bugbears were lined up well enough to all get hit by your lightning spell. If the DM wanted the Kobold heading for the alarm to be just out of range of your charging Fighter, theatre of the mind allowed him to easily do so.

When I started running a 3E game there were many feats and combat rules that relied on quite precise positioning. So I switched to using 2d counters (monster artwork printed out to mini scale squares and laminated) on a homemade gridded battle mat.

After a few years of using 2d counters I bought some pre-painted WotC D&D minis. I loved what they added to the game and quickly grew my collection to a couple of thousand minis.

I haven’t bought any new ones for several years, but that’s mainly because I reached the point where for most combats I can represent the monster we’re fighting with an actual mini of that monster. For those cases where I don’t have the exact mini, I can still give a pretty close proxy, rather than having to pretend that the Orc with the axe is a Mind Flayer, and the Goblin with the bow is a Drow Sorcerer. There is just something really cool about mentioning that the PCs spot something flying overhead and then slapping a Huge Red Dragon mini down on the table.

The best reaction I got doing that was during our Shackled City campaign several years ago. The PCs were only 2nd level. They entered a room and I described this strange round creature floating in the air and plopped a Beholder mini down on the table. Eyes immediately went wide around the table! :D (FYI, it wasn’t an illusion, it was an actual Beholder they were facing!)

That said, for some RPGs I prefer to use theatre of the mind as I think those games work better for their style. For example, Feng Shui and Paranoia both come to mind as games that work better as theatre of the mind, due to the fact that they are more narrative-style games.

Theatre of the mind means that if the player needs the mooks to be next to a window so he can fly kick them out the window and into the garbage bin below, he can do that. If he needs the drinks cart to be near the stairs, instead of in between 2 tables, as it will allow him to jump on it and ride it down the stairs while shooting out the lights, it now is. No need to let stuff like that get in the way of a cool action scene.

The Human Target

When they start making a game where everything isn't measured in precise distances and knowing exactly where your character is located isn't often the difference between life and death, I'll start running games purely TotM.

Actually, that's a lie. We used visual representation (a much more accurate terms than minis) in my Edge of the Empire game.
Last edited by a moderator:



I love minis. They're not perfect but they're too much fun. Grids are nice for relative positioning and such but they get restrictive to creativity.

But some things minis & grids just don't work well for, mass combat, large-scale travel, player creativity.


I've had minis since the late '70s and used them extensively and moved wholeheartedly into 2.5e Combat & Tactics , then 3e/3.5e, we never really got going in 4e. I had cardboard passage pieces and so on, so the minis were an integral part of the game, not just pulling them out when there was a battle.

Then I sold thousands of minis and have only a few dozen left. While I love the minis, I don't have the space, time or budget for them anymore. When I do use them I do not use battle mats. I don't care for the counting spaces, and the way the game focuses more on the minutia of one combat than the story as a whole.

But with the last few groups, we've just done strict theater of the mind. All my PCs are specific characters (I would do one specifically for each character), and we don't have the table space for them anyway. I love the way 5e facilitates TotM and the new players jump right in without knowing they are "missing" anything. More importantly, I'm shifting back to an AD&D feel, and while I had the minis back then, and would still enjoy them, they certainly haven't turned out to be essential.

I absolutely love Tom Meier's sculpting, though, and still use his orcs and goblins along with a number of other minis to show people what I consider them to look like in my campaigns.


First Post
in our group theatre of mind tends to bog down in dicusion/confusion about exact positioning.
So ploping down some minis is usualy faster.
Even if you don't want to bother with exact positioning and counting hexes, sketching a small map and using some tokens (or minis) to indicate relative positions helps tremendously to avoid misunderstandings and thus unnecessary discussions.

Epic Threats

Visit Our Sponsor

Epic Threats

An Advertisement