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Author Topic: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid  (Read 3951 times)

Offline Alex Karaczun

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Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« on: May 16, 2016, 10:33:40 AM »
I am slowly, but surely gearing up to run a 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game once we move to a new house with (hopefully) a finished basement. What I am looking for in this thread are explanations of how other 1E AD&D Dungeon Masters interpret the rules governing non-tactical combat (or as it is now known, Theater of the Mind). I am not looking for heavily house ruled, or 1E/2E mixed descriptions. Just 1E (with UA if applicable).

My earliest recollections of running non-tactical combat are of assuming both sides "formed up" and fought 1st-Rank vs 1st-Rank with back ranks providing cover fire, or casting spells regardless of the width of the fighting space. When a 1st-Rank combatant for either side went down, someone from the back ranks filled in. We used the # of attackers vs size of opponent rules, so that often times front rank fighters would have several smaller opponents able to attack them. When a "gap" finally appeared in the front rank then enemies could begin attacking back rank combatants. This had the advantage of letting the players choose who they felt could take the most punishment, and put them up front. It also allowed the squishies in the back rank to only have to defend against missles for most, if not all of the battle. The biggest disadvantage was it removed a lot of the chaos and creativity that can happen in a combat. Characters weren't vaulting over tables, swinging from chandeliers and so forth.

The second method we tried to use was way more dynamic allowing anything the players could think of, like jumping off ledges onto opponents, or trying to outflank opponents, but it soon devolved into arguments about where characters or monsters were actually standing, and why some things were allowed and others weren't based on the DM's mental picture of the battle.

After the above method caused more arguments than I can count, there was a change to pseudo-tactical combat where we penciled in letters and numbers on the players' map and erased and rewrote them when someone moved. This helped clear up positonal questions, but became a chore and really led to using a larger grid and miniatures.

I've considered using a similar method to the first one I described, but after so many years of doing tactical grid combat it seems kind of strange, and I want to know if there are any tips and tricks, or simply actual rules I have forgotten that help keep track of it all, or clearly explain how to do it.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2016, 10:35:24 AM by Kalex »
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Offline outlander78

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Re: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2016, 01:31:43 PM »
My early RPG experiences were CRPG, so Final Fantasy and the SSI gold box AD&D games inform most of my ideas about combat.

FF is close to 'theater of the mind', where any given combatant can target any other one, and relative position means nothing.  This works fine, and lends itself to fast resolution, at the expense of dead magic-users.  If you group isn't going to include low-level thieves or magic-users, this may be all you need.

As I play magic-users, I prefer SSI-style, with an idea of where each combatant is positioned, and movement near or past opponents being costly and requiring time.

To me, FF-style works better for basic D&D with group initiative, while the latter is better for AD&D with its detailed rules.
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Offline sgtslag

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Re: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2016, 02:45:27 PM »
I used markers (usually spare dice) on graph paper, before we got into miniatures.  Prior to that, we did 100% 'theater of the mind' combat, and it sucked, to be honest.  We had endless arguments about who was actually where -- not because folks were unreasonable, they weren't, it was just that we all pictured the layout differently...

I eventually went with a vinyl Chessex mat, with water-erase pens.  I have Fat Dragon Games' Copper Dungeon Tiles, as well, but the most used, most versatile, is still the Chessex Battle Mat.  I won't go back to 'theater of the mind', as it just did not work well, and the arguments really slowed the game, caused a lot of anger, which all took away from the game.

I've never played beyond 2nd Ed. rules, so I never got caught up in the grid play of 4th.  The 'gridless' movement espoused by DM Scotty, took me a while to figure out what the fuss was about, as I was totally ignorant of 4th Ed. play.  I still play mostly "gridless", even with the Chessex mat, as I don't measure much by the square, but by the dimensions mentioned in the rule books for A of E.

As for rules which make 'theater of the mind' work better?  Never encountered any.  Sorry.  Cheers!
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Offline Fjw70

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Re: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2016, 08:34:27 PM »
I like both. In larger battles I prefer minis. I prefer gridless most of the time but don't mind a grid sometimes.

Offline ian54

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Re: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2016, 08:48:22 AM »
When I started playing it was part of the genre to accumulate all the miniatures and map sets, so they got used for something!

As I recall we did not appear to have paid too much attention to where you could move, just approximate positioning, so it was just a visualisation tool, to be honest I prefer this way and especially now I play PbF, I much prefer little diagrams.

Offline Pladohs Ghost

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Re: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« Reply #5 on: July 03, 2016, 11:02:13 PM »
For smallish fights, theater of the mind worked just fine. Players asked about getting to advantageous positions instead of assuming what they imagined matched the DM's vision. That could slow things down a bunch if the fight was a long one or complicated in other fashions.

For those, I simply sketched out the space on a blank page, pencilled in the terrain and positions, then adjusted that during the fight. If a player had a question about positioning, the sketch helped keep them in contact with how I saw it playing out. Picked up a battle mat eventually, though never regulated movement by number of hexes, always used rough measurement of inches.
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Offline Shiftkitty

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Re: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2016, 08:35:51 PM »
I only use tactical maps when necessary. If something needs clarification, for example, I'll sketch up a quick map and we'll use that until everyone has a better idea of what's going on.
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Offline DocMindwipe

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Re: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2016, 04:09:55 PM »
I'm with SK, a quick'n'dirty map to clarify things if people are uncertain, but on the whole I prefer a more theatre-of-the-mind like approach

Offline Dizzy

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Re: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2016, 09:22:55 PM »
I'm generally the same as Doc and SK. On Roll20 I usually have the map and reveal it to players, but I almost never use tokens.

Offline Alex Karaczun

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Re: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2016, 07:34:15 AM »
I think I am going to try having the players set up an initial battle formation with miniatures and then describe what happens from there without tactical movement, or visual aid. I may do the same with the monsters, and just remove models from the formation when one goes down or dies.
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Offline Maegnarval

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Re: Combat: Theater of the Mind vs Tactical Grid
« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2016, 09:41:25 AM »
I think I am going to try having the players set up an initial battle formation with miniatures and then describe what happens from there without tactical movement, or visual aid. I may do the same with the monsters, and just remove models from the formation when one goes down or dies.

On Roll20.net, we move the tokens to, not only where they are when they bump into a group of baddies, we also move to where they are going to attack, when it's their turn in the turn order, so that we can all see whom is attacking whom & where they are exactly. The player moves half his movement rate during a melee, and can for example, move 30 ft, attack & retreat 30 ft.

It's the same way I moved the one box of Dragonlance miniatures I have, around for tabletop, way back then.

What you are describing, is the old way with the X's & O's drawn on the graph paper, (only now with using the miniatures), then we finger pointed, where the character would go, what they would do, etc.