I was reading the latest excellent article by @TheAngryGM, about how to run a fast, fun combat encounter in D&D, when a thought struck me. That there should be more to role playing combat than a 2 dimensional chess game.
The first time I was playing in Denver with this group and they rolled out the big hex map for combat and began setting out figures I was struck by how cool that was. Because it turned the battle into a far more interesting game for me. And when I began doing the same with the boys it was fun, and made things more interesting for them. But after a while some parts of this began to lose their appeal for me.
So when I started up this new campaign for the boys I moved away from the hex map. Instead I just have the ‘felt’ I used for Warhammer rolled out, and I place terrain and then miniatures. I did this for visual reasons, but then today, reading that article, it occurred to me, I don’t much like the grid maps. I understand that they are handy to deal with things like reach, range, effects.
I have played a lot of table top miniature games over the years. And played a fair amount of the old cardboard chit strategy games before that. And those games are fun. But to me the thing that separates role playing from a war game is the extra dimension(s). And playing on a grid or hex map ties you down to 2 dimensions.
Your combats, and then by extension other interactions, become just little figures on a grid. Almost like playing chess. And then in combat you get players who act like every move is the final rounds of a grand master chess match. Thinking, maneuvering, lining things up just right. It can become quite tiresome. And it slows the game down.
Angry suggests including as much narrative in the combat as possible to get people to think about what they are doing. Which should have the effect of getting them to move quicker. But if the battle is a set of grid lines, and I have to think about things like how many squares I can move, and where should I move to maximize the size of this spell it creates a disconnect.
But, if I am just looking at my figure, and there are other figures, and pieces of terrain to move into or out of then things change. I start to say things like: ‘I run over and hide behind that tree’ instead of saying ‘I move 4 squares to get behind this covered square’.
And then this leads itself into more ‘role playing’ instead of ‘roll playing’ outside of combats. If the party is walking in the woods, even if there is no battle, you can still set the mood with the figures. Get the players out of their chairs and get them to think bigger picture, and even interact more with each other and their surroundings.
Essentially, the third dimension is ‘being in character’. To think about combat beyond, ‘I roll to hit, here’s my damage, okay wake me next round’. And I think that using the open felt, terrain pieces, and figures will do that far better for the boys game. And I think would help with the sometimes excessively chess like Pathfinder game in Denver as well.