Thursday, February 2, 2012

To Grid or Not To Grid, Is That the Question?

At last night's game (not to be named) we used a battle mat and dry erase markers. It reminded me of using a whiteboard in the Fantasy Grounds 2 VTT.

It wasn't detailed, it didn't look like a board game, and distances weren't accurately measured but eyeballed for the most part.

So, you could visualize where everyone was in reference to each other (and the baddies) without being sucked into the battle map / grid / work of art and without being locked into "move 4 squares, then spend a 1/3 action pivoting, counting diagonal moves as 1.2 squares, rounds up... yadda yadda".

Grids make me feel like I should be breaking out my 1st edition Warhammer 40k boxed set, and doing some unit on unit combat. Needless to say my old group used to balk at that. It was never our style.

Could a whiteboard styled battle "map" be a working compromise in the Hatfields and McCoys - er, I mean the Old School / New School divide?

I doubt it will satisfy the extremists (most vocal fanboys?) on either side of the argument, but it might be a way for the moderates to meet in the middle.

Then again, the US Congress is a dysfunctional entity with uncompromising extremists on both sides of the isle - why should our hobby be any different? ;)


  1. I've been thinking about this too. If I can game at home and don't have to lug around a bunch of stuff I like the Heroscape terrain. But for on the go like I ususally am, I've opted for a nice sized box of different colored felt and foam sheets. It's cheap. Light and easy to carry. It comes in a variety of colors and takes no special tools to cut. I have some standard area effect templates (The Savage Worlds set from Likto) and a few bits of dungeon dressing from various sources.

  2. Coming from a background in tabletop mini wargames in the Seventies, I'm still much more inclined to use a tape measure and a protractor than I am a grid.

    One of the things I really appreciated about AD&D was how minis-friendly the movement scale measured in inches was.

  3. I'm not really certain that there really is an old school/new school divide on this issue. I've been using battle mats since the mid-80's, so they are most definitely a venerable game aide.

    We adopted the grid mat after suffering through far too many misunderstandings about where, exactly, one's character was, where the bad guys were, and what the situation looked like. The player's perception often differed greatly from the DM's, causing confusion and unnecessary deaths.

    Owing to the fact that old school D&D uses a 1 minute combat round, you can move anywhere in a room in one round, so the grid was never used for tactical maneuvering - this use of the grid is a new school practice. Instead, we used the grid to help draw proportional dungeon rooms quickly and easily - the same reason we use graph paper to map the dungeon.

    So I'm not sure that a compromise is needed; either you like to play with visual representations on the table, or you don't. If you do, then the battle mat with a grid is easier to use than a whiteboard without one.

  4. We use chessex mats and my minis (I own WAY too many of both) all the time to quickly lay out a room. I also have a felt covered gaming table that I'll drop some terrain onto. When I use the hex or square grid with LL, I tell the players not to get too hung up on "counting spaces." Use the grid distances as a loose estimate, but it's not exact.

  5. A few months back, after running 3.5/Pathfinder for years, I finally realized how much I hated tactical maps. It's taken me a few more months to really put my finger on it.

    I didn't realize it nearly as much at low levels, but part of why I hate tactical maps has to do with the amount of effort to set up the environment if a fight breaks out versus the probability of the fight ending abruptly, peace breaking out, or a "quick exit" like teleport being used, thus making your 20 mins of set up and positioning 20 minutes of wasted game time.

    On top of that, I hated all of the little "tactical screws," where, due to the rules of movement in the game, this or that PC didn't get to act, or the villain got trapped in the corner and summarily executed because of "movement infractions" without ever getting to do anything memorable.


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