The 'Grid'

Why can’t I post a poll here? I’ll have to have a word with whoever runs things…

This has come up at various points in the past but it’s still something that I think about and I wanted to ask the lovely people of™ what your thoughts are on it.

The ‘grid’ I’m talking about is, of course, the battle map grid. It’s the point where in my experience, my eyes glaze over, things slow down to an absolute crawl and we spend the next three hours figuring out 5 minutes worth of combat.

When 5e was introduced, I loved the fact that the battle map was once again optional. It wasn’t necessary to spend a small fortune on miniatures just to illustrate how a combat section went.


I also realise that many, many people really like the battle map.

If I had a poll I’d ask you to vote for the following options.

  1. I LOVE the grid!
  2. I don’t like the grid
  3. a bit of both is fine.
  4. something else entirely.

For me, personally, I’m more interested in the bits between the combat. What about you?

I would vote 1. From my experience, battles without a grid actually last longer than battles with a grid; also a grid allows for a lot more tactical deicisions.

When playing in the theatre of the mind (that is, without a grid), the exact placement of AoE spells and efects for example is difficult, and can lead to a lot of time being spend on explanations and discussions. Where exactly was the Sleet Storm/Hunger of Hadar/Black Tentacles… cast two rounds ago, do I have enough movement to get around that? Are there two enemies adjacent to each other for Green-Flame Blade/Death Cleric’s Reaper? Where can I place my Fireball/Cone of Cold, so that it affects enemies, but not allies, and how many enemies can I get with it? And so forth…
Also terrain can be used a lot better when it is visualized by a grid/battlemap than when using the theatre of the mind.

Hmm interesting question. I guess for me the closest thing is option 3.

I feel like combat has an important role to play in DnD and many other role-playing games, especially since a lot of the rules in any system are usually for combat related stuff. Just look at any DnD Character, about 80-90% are combat related stats and abilities.

But just because there is a lot of material there it doesn’t mean that combat should be the main focus of every group. You just have to try to find the perfect balance of RP, story and combat within your group. Some players really like fights others less so.

Some (most) players at least occasionally want to flex all of their combat abilities and skills, which is understandable as they are part of their characters just as much as their backstory.
For example: A barbarian who never goes into a wild combat rage just feels wrong after a while. It feels like some part of their identity was taken from them.

In my case/ in my current campaign I’ve made it an unofficial rule for myself to make sure that combats happen on occasion BUT only if there is a reason to fight.
i.e.: I as the DM will only initiate a fight if the story calls of it. (or my players are really asking for trouble)

I also tend to try and mix RP elements into the fights if possible. Even if it is just smack talk.

So yeah. Summing up: While I also enjoy the RP elements more than combat segments, combat in moderation gives most games a really nice change of pace as well as a feeling of catharsis, especially if you are ending a story arc with a final battle!

As for battle maps: General rule of thumb for me is: If there are a lot of people/creatures involved in a battle you will need a map at some point to avoid confusion, unless the space is very limited (if the battle is happening in a kitchen for example) because in that case precise positions don’t really matter anymore. For everything impromptu theatre of the mind is the way to go.
Also: You can invest in a bunch of minis but I didn’t, some sort of tokens you have lying around will do just fine as most of the action will still be happening in your mind regardless. (although I will concede that it is nice to have a physical representation of your character)

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Battle maps aren’t for me.

As you say, spending hours on what would be a minute-long combat isn’t ideal. The sudden switch from a first-person point of view to a top-down perspective, from incomplete subjective information to perfect and objective information is jarring, too.

But mainly, there are other games that do this sort of thing so much better than RPGs. I’ve frequently found myself wondering in the middle of a protracted combat: why aren’t we playing a board game instead?

For me it is also option 3 but I tend a bit more to 1. Some things are really great with maps and helps with strategy and reduce discussion.
BUT because of the maps some player don’t think about all the option and how to use what is inside in room just because it is not on the map.
I must admit I love minis and I love well designed maps, as a GM its important to be aware that maps are just covering some aspects and if you use them too much you loose on other sides. Therefor I’m for a mixture just if you once get used to use maps. Maps are just one of many possible tools it’s always worth to remember that.
Like always that something a group and the DM have find out for themselves. In my experience its always good sometimes go for the option you personal do not prefer just to extend you experience.
To confuse my player I like sometimes also to use a map if an encounter can be solved socially but how they solve it would their choice - some this situations just turn into a battle.

3 - I do love battlemaps, but prefer to only use them for major battles (either in scope, number of combatants or story impact), while I do go for theatre of the mind most of the time (partly because I’m too lazy to draw up a battle map or even worse: prepare one in advance)

Also I love collecting minis, but I don’t think that is necessary even if a battlemap is used as Ted already pointed out any kind of token will be fine

Some really good discussion here!

The way I’ve been introduced to DnD I assumed battle maps are an integral part of the experience.
And used them for everything while running DoIP as my first campaign.
I also bought minis even before running a game simply because I like them as collectables.

Maybe because of that my players prefer having a map to look at but it does slow things down and turns up the micro managing dial.

But overall I like having it for more strategic encounters. If it’s a random tavern brawl or similar I just run it as theater of the mind.

I vote definitely 3.
What I love in RPGs and make my soul have so much fun, is not combat, is not game mechanics to adjudicate actions/encounters…it is Role Playing…it is diving into the soul and thoughts and actions of “someone” totally different from myself, who can live stories and experiences that I cannot normally in my life live…my Character.
That said, for the topic of “grid yes/no”, I think that the grid is useful for games like D&D, where combat mechanics are so detailed spelled out, while it is totally useless for RPGs that instead are mostly focused on the role playing aspects (e.g. CoC, World of Darkness…which btw are my favouite, as you can have already guessed ;))

Totally with you, I also have this preference when it gets down to RPG.

" Maybe because of that my players prefer having a map to look at but it does slow things down and turns up the micro managing dial."

Exactly. For me instead, living the story like as we are in a “living movie” with the pace of a movie is the most attractive thing that RPGs offer. Too much game mechanics breaks the “magic” of truely “living” your character.


I would also vote 3

It depends on the game I want to play
(and therefore on the system I would use - going so far as playing settings with different rules, because they emphasize something I want)

In my earlier RPG-days (read: highschool) I was against the use of Grids, because I thought they would limit me
but years later @AmLash showed me that a Battlemap adds to some games (in that case D&D), because in some gamesystems it is super important to exactly know who stands exacly where
(Area of Effect, Attacks of Oppertunity, flanking in D&D3.X, 5ft Steps in D&D 3 / shifting in D&D4, …)

opposed to say in (my beloved) Star Trek Adventures, which operates more in “narrative zones”
a way which I generelly prefere

but it can be fun sometimes to add a boardgamey effect to your RPG experience
(my favorite Grid-RPG would be Fragged Empire)
or even be creative and paint your own maps for some games

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As @Darthbinks. said: it’s all about what kind of experience you and your group want to have. Every system can be played just in the theatre of mind, but some systems intended balance (which is fine to ignore, it’s your game) doesn’t hold up.

What I personally like are systems that in important scenes draw areas instead of grids, like in mansions of madness. As a player you at least have some common ground with the DM as of where you are without having to count every single square for every action. I think the fate system does it like that.

So it’s a 3.

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Would go for 3. Early on it was theater of mind accompanied by sketched maps (A4/5), and when it gets complicated unused dice and chess pieces.
Today, i substituted these unused dice and chess pieces with minis (which are, thanks to kickstarters, affordable and in abundance available) and use the the battemap a bit more (or any flat surface).

i’ve recently stumbled over owlbear rodeo, which basically is a vitrual battlemap including features for fog of war and hidden tokens/notes … it’s not a full vtt, but it looks interesting and pretty much everything you do will be saved in your local browser cache (no cloud saves as far as I can tell), might be of interest to some

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