How do you play without a grid?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


another nooby GM question that i didn't pick up from reading the books is how to do a battle without the actual grid. i'm starting a pre-made campaign (RoTRL) and it describes a scene with goblins running amok in a festival. though it doesn't give a battle grid for this encounter.
i don't quite know if it is mentioned in any of the rulebooks on how to run an encounter without the grid. and i'm quite lost on how to keep track of my characters movement and interaction when they are free roaming the village afterwards.
i'm also not sure if this rules discussion is a touchy topic with paizo since these rules probably exist somewhere. so please private message me if it is an issue...

in fact, what i need is an example scenario showing me the gameplay mechanics of how to run a full scene without a battle grid

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16

For that scene, feel free to make up some of your own maps. Don't worry about whether they are "right".

As I recall, I sketched out the north side of the plaza (West of the new cathedral) and Church Street up toward the White Hart Inn. I added tables, wagons, and barrels in spots along the side of the road.

After you've been GMing for a while, it's easier to let go of the battle grid. You can practice going without one for the "fox hunt" and see how it feels to you.


I've recently done away with a battle map entirely in my games. Yes, things are a little less precise, but I've been finding that when my players stop seeing everything as a piece of plastic and a square, they start getting a lot more creative in battle. When they have to pay attention to the battlefield as you describe it, they're more apt to utilize that terrain.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Describe things in terms of 'actions' instead of 'feet'.

"You'll have to take two move actions to get next to him. His buddy is closer, you can move and attack him."

"You can either use a move action to tumble past him and attack the wizard, or you can double move to get around him."

It will require more description of the area, but it will free you up to use the terrain in completely ad hoc manner that counting squares makes harder.


If you want to keep the minis but not have the grid I recommend simply doing what most war gamers do and use the Inch = one square. You can use terrain then and "build" a map instead of drawing it.

Dark Archive

As others have said. You don't really need one. Many use them and if you want to use them. just use the map of the town as a template and make your own off that.

Me I just do a quick sketch of the area when combat is about to start, then put x's for mobs locations and initials for the PC's. they look it over and then we go from there. fast and lose like others have mentioned.


I'd love to see a writeup of good rules to use when you don't have or don't want to use a battle mat - especially ones that don't devalue increased movement speed.


martinaj wrote:
I've recently done away with a battle map entirely in my games. Yes, things are a little less precise, but I've been finding that when my players stop seeing everything as a piece of plastic and a square, they start getting a lot more creative in battle. When they have to pay attention to the battlefield as you describe it, they're more apt to utilize that terrain.

A 6" ruler is part of my game. You can hit that square in a straight line. Usually, there are terrain factors or AoOs involved, but not always.


thanks for all your help guys. i think i've decided to just have them ask me if there is anything around them that they can interact with. this should make things easier for them. i'm also going to go one step further. i saw a dm who uses a reward system for players that act quickly (making their decisions in one minute or less) where they are granted an extra action point. i think that will help them out alot when they're first starting out. it's basically baby steps with all of us since this will be our first rpg

Liberty's Edge

I've liked using a grid ever since the D&D minis came out, but there are times when it just doesn't work, and that's okay.

I've had plenty of times when one party member is scouting well ahead of the rest of the group, and rather than lay out a massive area for a battle grid, I just pick a reasonable period of time for the rest of the party to cross the intervening space.

Something else that you can do is to have several (precise) small mapped areas with imprecise spaces between them. Just tell the players that it'll take two (or three, or whatever) full rounds to move from Area A to Area B.

Most players shouldn't mind sacrificing exact measurements, in order to run a fast-paced and exciting combat that doesn't bog down in details.

The Exchange

SonofSanguinius wrote:
i saw a dm who uses a reward system for players that act quickly (making their decisions in one minute or less) where they are granted an extra action point.

I would intentionally take over a minute for every decision...unless action points are good towards pizza or something.


Gads, I have trouble playing WITH a grid. For 20+ years we just improvised, using dice or whatever was handy to show where are characters were in relation to other objects, characters, monsters, etc. "Flying without a grid" just seems to make things flow quicker and more naturally for me.


Hiya.

DungeonmasterCal wrote:
Gads, I have trouble playing WITH a grid. For 20+ years we just improvised, using dice or whatever was handy to show where are characters were in relation to other objects, characters, monsters, etc. "Flying without a grid" just seems to make things flow quicker and more naturally for me.

I'm with him. :)

I've been playing for 30+ years and I can count on one hand (and have fingers left over) the number of times I've "used a grid and mini's". The question is, to me, akin to asking "How do you get to Point B without a GPS?"...you use a map or ask someone for directions.

Anyway, in regards to your question, just play and use your imagination. Personally, we (me and my group) all know what and where things are 90% of the time in regards to characters, monsters, etc. simply by the initial dimensions of the room/area and the descriptions. I'm thinking this is an "old dawg" thing...where we (old grognards) 'grew up' using our imaginations playing these games, so our imaginations are more "experienced" in terms of, uh, "imaginative spaceial recognition"? It may take a bit of time, but once you get away from the initial confusion of it all I think your game will be better for it. :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming


When you play without a precise map in combat, what generally happens tends to follow these principles, at least from my experience:

The PCs start in place A, the enemies in place B and possibly also place C. The distance between these places is effectively thought of in move actions, just so you know how much people have to work to get there. This also includes bad terrain or obstacles.

When in typical combat situations in at least somewhat enclosed environments, these distances amount to one or two move actions, i.e. when you get there, you have either one or no actions left.

Again, in typical such situations, people do not stop halfway between the places. Melee combatants charge all the way there, ranged combatants stay put, move slowly out of the way of a nearby enemy, or flee.

If you make an area attack or something like a whirlwind attack, it is fair to assume you CAN hit everyone in one place, but no others. If you want to discriminate in one area, require an Int check or the like.

Ignore attacks of opportunity when moving unless someone is retreating. Goofing off in combat still gets you one, if there are active enemies in your place.

Eventually, the combat breaks down into subcombats. When two combatants focus on each other only, they have one. Typical is one or two subcombats and one place with more participants.

Some things will not work well in this system. Traps and effects in certain smaller areas will not work, at least not well. Tumbling will not work well as written, but can be partly made to work at least a bit (i.e. getting close to a 10' reach monster will require one check).

The point of this is that it makes it much easier to remember the details of a combat without a map. The things you miss, like detailed positioning and movement, will hit both sides equally. However, it also makes things rather fluffy and a bit uncertain, even if it generally goes faster than combat with little fiddly bits.


In my groups we use graph paper. As the DM, I typically have the battlefield drawn out, but it's easy enough to sketch a quick battlefield as well. The PCs and villains are written in pencil and represented by a letter. When someone moves, we just erase the letter and place the PC where he needs to be for his movement.

I don't think I've ever seen a game with an actual battle grid and miniatures.

Contributor

I've never once used a grid in D&D, both as a DM or as a player. Just a play style thing. :)


We use heroscape tiles for our battles, which can take a few minutes to setup since you need to snap them together. Sometimes if there is a quick encounter I'll just put the mini's on the table and just estimate distances.

I used to not use minis at all, but I actually found that even though minis make the setup take longer they make up for it by speeding up the rest of the combat. With no minis my players were constantly asking "How far away is X" or "Will a line hit X and Y?" etc. Also, I'm running a game with 8 players right now so there are just too many guys in combat to keep track of in my head sometimes.

Silver Crusade

Thought I would revive this to see if there were any sort of updates or alternate systems introduced in the last 6 years.


Imagination coupled with detailed descriptions.

Silver Crusade

kyrt-ryder wrote:
Imagination coupled with detailed descriptions.

I was expecting this


Violating expectations in good ways is what I do.

On that note, take great care to make sure your player's expectations don't cloud their view of a scene. If your trolls are different very clearly explain how (within the limits of what their characters can percieve or results from their knowleges/divinations.)


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A lot of the rules break down without any grid. This seriously skews balance. Spells with templates either become far stronger or far weaker depending on which way they fudge. Same for AoO builds. Flanking reliant builds usually get boosted because they don't have to actually count tiles and find that their move action can't get them into flank without eating an AoO. Movement speed differences are devalued. Archers get better and improved precise shot becomes redundant because LoS is impossible to adjudicate.


Atarlost wrote:
improved precise shot becomes redundant because LoS is impossible to adjudicate.

It requires more focus on the part of the GM but not impossible at all.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I almost never use a map with minis, though I've played in plenty of games that have used them. Both are fun and have strengths..

Gut feeling and a lot of imagination is needed for mini-less games. It's important to let your characters know what they sense, so be descriptive and don't forget to think in three dimensions. I ask for combat manoeuvre checks a lot as part of move actions to allow players and monsters to get into favourable positions (flanking etc) and often ask for spell craft checks to allow spells to target enemies correctly.

For example a rouge and a fighter see half a dozen Goblins causing chaos in an open air market square. Players want to charge in and tackle the nearest one, rogue wants to flank while the fighter wants to hit it. Ask the rogue to make a CMB check to flank. Meanwhile the wizard on the roof wants to use fireball to get as many goblins as possible without hitting any villagers, if you think it can be done, I'd USA spell craft check to get it right. This sounds like a tough one to pull off to me so DC 20 to miss every friendly or DC 15 if he doesn't mind catching one or two friendly villagers (or heros?) in the spell effect.

I also some times allow my players hero points they can use to add extra favourable details to a scene I have described. For example the wizard could a Hero point to add in the large decorative flowerbeds in the centre of the market square, currently being smashed to bits by four goblins and otherwise empty...


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
CaniestDog wrote:

I almost never use a map with minis, though I've played in plenty of games that have used them. Both are fun and have strengths..

Gut feeling and a lot of imagination is needed for mini-less games. It's important to let your characters know what they sense, so be descriptive and don't forget to think in three dimensions. I ask for combat manoeuvre checks a lot as part of move actions to allow players and monsters to get into favourable positions (flanking etc) and often ask for spell craft checks to allow spells to target enemies correctly.

For example a rouge and a fighter see half a dozen Goblins causing chaos in an open air market square. Players want to charge in and tackle the nearest one, rogue wants to flank while the fighter wants to hit it. Ask the rogue to make a CMB check to flank. Meanwhile the wizard on the roof wants to use fireball to get as many goblins as possible without hitting any villagers, if you think it can be done, I'd USA spell craft check to get it right. This sounds like a tough one to pull off to me so DC 20 to miss every friendly or DC 15 if he doesn't mind catching one or two friendly villagers (or heros?) in the spell effect.

I also some times allow my players hero points they can use to add extra favourable details to a scene I have described. For example the wizard could a Hero point to add in the large decorative flowerbeds in the centre of the market square, currently being smashed to bits by four goblins and otherwise empty...

Sorry I forgot to mention, acrobatics skill checks are often used in the place of CMB checks to get into position. Depends on the character...


I've been know to ditch grids and use my Warhammer/Warhammer 40k scenery. Just convert feet to inches. It works well enough.

kyrt-ryder wrote:
Atarlost wrote:
improved precise shot becomes redundant because LoS is impossible to adjudicate.
It requires more focus on the part of the GM but not impossible at all.

Dirt simple for anyone with experience playing 40K or Mageknight.

I've always favored using a piece of string to check LoS, though I do have a small periscope that I use with 40K.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

I just switched to 5E. ;)


Jiggy wrote:
I just switched to 5E. ;)

I really dislike their skill system.


Snowlilly wrote:

I've been know to ditch grids and use my Warhammer/Warhammer 40k scenery. Just convert feet to inches. It works well enough.

kyrt-ryder wrote:
Atarlost wrote:
improved precise shot becomes redundant because LoS is impossible to adjudicate.
It requires more focus on the part of the GM but not impossible at all.

Dirt simple for anyone with experience playing 40K or Mageknight.

I've always favored using a piece of string to check LoS, though I do have a small periscope that I use with 40K.

That requifes minis. I don't like to use minis


kyrt-ryder wrote:
Snowlilly wrote:

I've been know to ditch grids and use my Warhammer/Warhammer 40k scenery. Just convert feet to inches. It works well enough.

kyrt-ryder wrote:
Atarlost wrote:
improved precise shot becomes redundant because LoS is impossible to adjudicate.
It requires more focus on the part of the GM but not impossible at all.

Dirt simple for anyone with experience playing 40K or Mageknight.

I've always favored using a piece of string to check LoS, though I do have a small periscope that I use with 40K.

That requifes minis. I don't like to use minis

To each his own.

I play both Warhammer and 40k.
That should tell you about my relationship with minis.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Snowlilly wrote:
Jiggy wrote:
I just switched to 5E. ;)
I really dislike their skill system.

It's got some cons to go with its pros, I'll give you that.

But the point of the thread was that it doesn't need a grid. :D

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