Thursday, December 9, 2010

Discussion: Minis and Battle charts

As a GM I very rarely use minis, maps, or other aids for keeping track of location in combats. It is not that I don't see the strengths that those items have, nor understand what they can bring to a game, but rather I usually either can't be hassled with it, or simply don't have the space for it. Coming up as a gamer, table space was usually at a premium and we rarely had the room to set down a proper map for measuring out character movements and things like that. As such, distances were a lot more, well, arbitrary. It wasn't worse or better, it was just different.

What about you though? Do you use the minis and maps? Or like me, do you usually just go with arbitrary and shady numbers you keep track of in your head? Do you feel you gain, or lose, anything by doing it the way you do? Do you prefer having the sureness of an answer that "yes, you can definitely reach that guy in one round" or like being able to fudge it for dramatic purposes? Is there a particular reason you handle things the way you do? Or is it just how you do it and you never thought about it much?

Let us know!


  1. I usually keep track of things in my head I don't have a problem with remembering that NPC A is 34 meters away (I like metric) and the building is 10 meters away. Unfortunately I sometimes don't communicate my mental map perfectly and that has lead to confusion at times. As a result, I give the players a map and they mark where things are. I check periodically to make sure we're still on the same page. That way I don't have to manage it and the players get the visual reference they want.

    As for minis, we've tried them on occasion. One of my players loves them, but they tend to be out of scale for the maps and games that we play. Even when that hasn't been the case we still stick with dots on a map. It seems faster.

    It may also be that we don't have enough types of minis to represent all the different NPCs and so you have to say "Okay this isn't the right mini, but just remember who it is."

  2. I fudge it. I have in just about ever game I've played (except, of course, actually tactical games like Battletech). I give players a general idea of the lay of the land, the general distances involved. Sometimes I draw a little sketch just to clarify and bam, on we go from there. In a fast-paced game (the kind of games I like), I HATE to get bogged down in the minutia of 'you can only move such and such meters per round, now, everyone move in order of initiative...'. Bleh. From the standpoint of drama, a somewhat more 'vaguely' defined sense of space means that a GM and players can fudge a little bit in order to keep things exciting- rather than have everything reduced to mathematics.

  3. My club have the luxury of a community hall with 2'x 6' collapsing tables which we put together in pairs but there's always a ridge down the middle. We cover these with large sheets of 1" squared kitchen linoleum as battlemats and they're nice and thick which masks the ridge. We can then draw our maps with eraseable markers and use whatever minis the DM brings.

    When DMing and playing I find the visual element invaluable for tactical play. I don't worry too much about exactly how far my players can move, but we've just got into the habit of doing it over the past 10+ years I can't imagine a game without it, even though I've played con games without any aids.

    I use 3x5 record cards for initiative, just write the player's name and important combat info like Init Score, HP, weapon etc (how detailed is up to you) and we cycle through the cards in init order. It makes for fast combat and the players spend their between turn time watching and planning their next move. It also makes the DMs life easier because you can tally HP and wound effects in addition to your players so if a lucky roll ends up killing a player you don't have to embarrasingly ask the player how many HP they have

    I find without init and a visual aid some players have difficulty judging distance and try to "teleport" from one enemy to the next.