Experiences playing D&D without miniatures?

edited February 2007 in Story Games
D&D has become increasinly "boardgamey", culminating in D&D 3.5E and the minis games. Some old-school players claim they didn't use miniatures or battlemaps. I'm curious to hear any experiences or advice about playing D&D without miniatures.

I've been thinking about running a Red Book/Rules Cyclopedia OD&D game but without miniatures.

Comments

  • My experience with D&D has been almost exclusively free of miniatures.

    In one on-going campaign, we all had miniatures, but they were used mostly free-form - representations of our appearance, general layout of a situation. I can honestly never think of a situation where I have used battlemaps and the strict boardgamey rules.

    In retrospect, that probably means I have always been a Story-Gamer. I've always been much more interested in the whys and whats of the story and not the hows of combat. (My one exception is Champions - we loved the hex map for Champions combat in college).

    So to more directly answer your question, I've played in some wildly successful D&D games without miniatures.
  • To be honest we rarely (my old HS Group) rarely used minis at all, not in normal play.

    we did do the mapping thing, graph paper, when we were in our dungeon crawling mode.

    We didnt really get into using counters or minis or maps until we mostly migrated to Champions and it was a heck of a lot more useful for superhero battles.

    Otherwise for me, i kept track of the fights when they occurred in my head, etc. Or jot little notes down.

    At this time, were i to run a 3.0/3.5/d20Modern game,unless it was like a "Show us what is happening" sort of deal I would not use minis to speak of at this time. Unless it is Hero System or some other superhero game when there is an actual brawl going on, then it matters due to the genre much more so than in a Fantasy game. Come to think of it, a Spy Genre game might want more details, hallway maps with the detection devices in it, etc. But not fantasy for me.
  • edited February 2007
    I've never played with minis!

    What we do is a) use a flowchart as the dungeon map, b) sketch out the encounter geography on a white board when we hit it, and then c) keep a running estimate of the distances in squares from each character after each move.

    To be honest, we play it pretty fast and loose, with lots of negotiation about the exact positions breaking out when things get hectic. The last fight we had was on an ice covered floor against a white dragon, amid ice stalagtites - it was all like "I'm taking cover from the ice breath behind this pillar!" "Oh, really? Roll to keep on your feet - and behind it!"

    I cannot really say *why* we never used the figures - i have lots of them for wargaming - but my guess is that we kinda feel they intrude too much on the flexibility of the imagined space...
  • So long as by not using minis, you don't abstract the combat too much - a lot of the feats are very tactical (spring attack, cleave, that sort of thing) and you don't want to short change the players who have chosen these by glossing over where people are in combat.
  • Back in the AD&D2 days, we experimented with minis now and then, but they never really caught on. Probably because, the minis rules for all versions of D&D before 3.0 are kinda shit. There's huge swaths of stuff that probably should be covered by some sort of rules that just ends up being handled by case-by-case DM fiat. Hey, that guy's running away, do I get a free attack or something? Also, the scale of 1"=10 feet is pretty lame.

    As I understand them, the Red Box/Rules Cyclopedia assume you're not using minis. Those rules make you come up with your own rules if you want to use minis. So you really shouldn't have any problem playing OD&D without miniatures.
  • I played 3e without minis once. I was so cockblocked. Never again.

  • I have something like almost a decade of (A)D&D DMing experience with several editions, additions, supplements, variant rules, house rules, player's options, you name it and I'll say I tried it. Yet I never used miniatures. Not even once.

    I guess I have just always been a little bit story-gaming and not playing the Rules-As-Written way that gets so popular nowadays. And I've never tried dungeon crawl - maybe that's where the miniatures belong and that's what they're great for.
  • One thing I have noticed about playing with miniatures vs playing without, is that the games I have been in with miniatures have more combat. And I think the using/having miniatures led to the more combats, rather than the other way around. Sort of like, 'Hey, we've got these cool miniatures, let's put them out and use 'em!' I like using miniatures especially because, to me, their use for combat scenes signals something important is about to happen. I recently played in a Champions game without miniatures and the experience was underwhelming. Fights were either handwaved, or devolved to a series of 'I attack/You attack' sequences in fight of attrition. "But whaddabout the Knockback, man...?!"
  • When I DMed OD&D/AD&D, I never used miniatures, but I did run a pretty tactical game. My method was similar to what I later saw recommended in Feng Shui. I would privately keep track of the relative positions of everything on a sheet of paper, behind the DM screen, and I would describe everything from the perspective of the players. When I later saw games being played with miniatures, counters, or with the "battle diagram" openly displayed on a blackboard, I thought it felt a lot less vivid and "you are there". (I still kinda dislike miniatures even though I like the tactical clarity and flat counters of games like Melee and Dragonquest.)

    Note as someone wrote above, the tactical maneuvers of the older game weren't as finicky. I think I did apply common sense to the idea of what would happen if somebody tried to break off combat at full speed, i.e., the opponent would get a free final attack or something.
  • When I played Red Box and 1st Edition AD&D, we never used minis. Didn't know that that was an option or don't remember it being an attractive option.

    It was all like:

    DM: 10 skeletons attack you. 5 are in the back of the room and 5 are in your face.
    P1: I'm going to arrow those in the back. My THAC0 is blah. Roll. 1d6 of damage.
    P2: I'm going to fight one in the front. I roll. I hit. 1d8 of damage.
    P3: Magic Missile ho! (Thunder Cats imitation commences.) I hit. 1d6 of damage.
    DM: Looks like all the skeletons have closed in.

    Kind of foggy on everything though.
  • edited February 2007
    I played on a D&D 3.0/3.5 MUSH for awhile, and one of the many consequences of the medium was that fights were generally run without miniatures or a map. Occasionally maps were hosted and referenced, but they were not generally grid-maps, just 'general idea of the area' maps.

    When I was running stuff, I usually had a sketched map on hand and often I had an actual grid-map which I used for personal reference. I described general distances to players, and in cases where it was tactically relevant I gave specific numbers -- how necessary this was usually depended on the tactical situation. For me, the reason I kept these references on hand was as a check against my own permissiveness -- in general, I was 'winging' it, but in cases where there were characters in the party who had movement-oriented abilities (monks, barbarians, etc.) I would try and pay more attention to keeping things 'fair.' But this just as often came in the form of letting them do cinematically-relevant things, not toning down everybody else's freedom of movement.

    It's true that movement is often an important tactical element in D&D fights -- but in my experience, it's not often a very interesting one, at least not at the level of 'is it 20 feet away or 25?'. The mapless approach also affected things like flanking (it became easier, as a rule) and ranged combat (cover and the like). Given that the norm on a MUSH is usually some form of Illusionism, it really didn't bother many players that I was often filtering things through the lens of GM fiat. I also feel like my experience, overall, was that the lack of miniatures simply led GMs towards framing different sorts of tactical challenges -- ones less tied to finicky concerns about location and more to an overall scene element.
  • Instead of minis, we use a whiteboard and a scribbled, not-to-scale map, updated only when necessary.
  • I still am of the opinion that minis are not required. Sure you can say it will help.
    But I suppose if after playing RPGs for about 30 years, if I HAVE to use minis to play a game, maybe there is something wrong with my GM skills, that I cannot effectively describe and bring to life via words and maybe a scribble what is happening.

    Yes in Superheros, a map and counters or minis is Essential, but that is part and parcel of the genre.
    Fights in Fantasy novels tend to not be so detailed.
    My doubled pennies worth.
  • I played in a short Ravenloft campaign (using 3.0 I think) without minis. It was a lot more fun than other D&D games I've played in, but I did notice how many of the bsaic feats in the game (at least in the main rulebook) and how various rules were pretty much useless when not playing on a map. We didn't think about things like Attacks o Opportunity or the like.

    Though, in my estimation, that's *why* I liked the game. It was a cool story about four guys who found Revelations-style a prophecy stating that the were to fight Strahd at the end of time, not a tactical board game. A D&D game I'm playing in now does use minis and combat can take at lest an hour, so it does become a board game at that point.
  • edited February 2007
    Ryan raises some good points, first and foremost being that a lot of tactical feats (especially those relating to attacks of opportunity and movement) become significantly less useful when you ditch the map and minis. If you ever end up running a 3.0/3.5 game without 'em, make sure your players are aware of this or at least let them shift their feat choices around later on if it turns out that the one they took isn't useful in your game! And for old-school red-box style D&D, man, I don't think there's anything that miniatures can actually do for you, except give you cool little figurines you can paint; I don't remember anything in the rules that is particularly geared towards their use.

    I agree with Ryan about having more fun without the map and the minis. Our miniatures-free 3.0 combat scenes were much faster, more free-wheeling, and typically all it took to keep everyone on the same page about everything's positions was to sketch out a quickie map on some scratch paper from time to time. The idea of going back to maps+minis with all its headaches (like having to set up the map in the first place, and the incessant square-counting) just doesn't appeal to me at all anymore.
  • Posted By: tadk
    Yes in Superheros, a map and counters or minis is Essential, but that is part and parcel of the genre.
    Fights in Fantasy novels tend to not be so detailed.
    My doubled pennies worth.
    This boggles me.

    Superheroes require minis, but dungeons and dragons doesn't?

    To me, just the reverse. The scale of Superhero games is SO broad, people would be knocked out of/fly out of/run out of the play area on a regular basis. I just can't see it.

    Back in high school we played Basic and Advanced 1.0 without miniatures except the "This is my guy" mini we'd pass around to show the other players. If the layout was complicated, there'd be a sketch map, but usually the monsters would each pick someone to attack, usually spreading out their attacks, and the battle would be on.

    It wasn't very exciting.

    Now, with the maps and minis, I can create all kinds of gamey tactical situations. I love it.
  • Posted By: VaxalonThis boggles me.

    Superheroes require minis, but dungeons and dragons doesn't?

    To me, just the reverse.
    I have to agree here, at least with supers not requiring minis. My supers gaming is pretty much Truth & Justice nowadays, and I'm all about describing awesome than playing on a map. That, and I don't see how T&J could work better on a map than without. But then that gets me veering off on a tangent about how I just didn't like supers games until I played T&J, because they were (at least the ones I tried playing) so, well, not about being a superhero.
    Posted By: VaxalonNow, with the maps and minis, I can create all kinds of gamey tactical situations. I love it.
    I find it hard to shift from "man, I'm telling an awesome story" to "it's board game time," which to me is what minis combat in D&D is. More than that, I know when I'm in the mood for one or the other, but when I go into an RPG that has both, I have to deal with times where what I wanted to enjoy that evening isn't what I'm going to get because the GM (or another player) had other plans. Over the years I've found that I like to segregate my fun.
  • As a counterexample, I give you the totally awesome original Marvel Superheroes maps. Everything was done in 'areas'. Which means you could get knocked through buildings, across parks....it was rad.

    I would also note that our positioning/attack of opportunity feats got plenty of workouts without minis, don't know why it would be that not having them would mean you weren't using those feats a lot. It sounds like a symptom rather than a cause.
  • Why are we talking about "feats"? The original poster said he was thinking about OD&D.

    Chris, is there something in the OD&D rules that's giving you trepidation? Or is lack of experience with earlier incarnations of D&D just leaving you wondering "How'd that work?"
  • Posted By: Ryan Macklin
    I find it hard to shift from "man, I'm telling an awesome story" to "it's board game time," which to me is what minis combat in D&D is. More than that, I know when I'm in the mood for one or the other, but when I go into an RPG that has both, I have to deal with times where what I wanted to enjoy that evening isn't what I'm going to get because the GM (or another player) had other plans. Over the years I've found that I like to segregate my fun.
    In that case your DnD GM is giving you too much story before pulling out the battlemat. The story should be just enough to string the action together. "The Baron wants to build an outpost tower on Ghostlight Hill. He wants you to go there and figure out why the locals think it's haunted, and straighten things out so that construction can start." The PC's go there, poke around, find a dungeon, and start exploring. Story done, action starts.
  • I'm currently playing in a Rules Cyclopedia game, we don't use minis, it's not once been a problem.

    Incidentally, we didn't decide not to use them, it simply didn't occur to us and nothing in the rules makes them necessary.

    Were I playing 3.5e or a similar d20 game I might view matters differently, but I'm not a huge fan of those games so it doesn't arise.
  • Posted By: VaxalonIn that case your DnD GM is giving you too much story before pulling out the battlemat. The story should be just enough to string the action together. "The Baron wants to build an outpost tower on Ghostlight Hill. He wants you to go there and figure out why the locals think it's haunted, and straighten things out so that construction can start." The PC's go there, poke around, find a dungeon, and start exploring. Story done, action starts.
    Not sure I really follow that, why is D&D different to any other rpg in this regard? We're playing it at the moment because it was a good ruleset for more tactical play which is part of the idea of the current game, but we don't roleplay any differently really playing this than we did when playing OtE.

    I'm not sure there's anything in the game requires you to approach the balance of action and rp (assuming those are separate things, which I don't really think they are) that differently to any other game.
  • Posted By: VaxalonSuperheroes require minis, but dungeons and dragons doesn't?
    If you cut your SHRPG teeth on Champions, then I can see making the connection. HERO also distinguishes between combat and noncombat movement, ergo, you can run a supers battle pretty easily on a standard battlemat. M&M, otoh, allows a PC to buy crazy amounts of movement for a pittance, so I can see how one would avoid a 'mat (even though, IMO, every other aspect of the system demands a 'mat). And something like T&J, I'd think minis might actively get in the way.

    To get back to Chris' question, I agree with others that old-school D&D doesn't really suffer from eschewing minis. E.g., in AD&D1e, combat movement other than the initial charge into melee (and the "free attack when you run away") is both irrelevant and nigh-undocumented. I'm guessing Red Box and RC is pretty similar.

    You might want to sketch out the scene to aid in placing spells, though.
  • I played Champions, and yes, it had things set up for a battlegrid, but movement was cheap there too. Every battle was fought rooftop-to-rooftop in the games I was in.

    Maybe it has to do with power level. Our supers were the type that could duke it out with a tank and win.
  • Posted By: BalbinusPosted By: VaxalonIn that case your DnD GM is giving you too much story before pulling out the battlemat. The story should be just enough to string the action together. "The Baron wants to build an outpost tower on Ghostlight Hill. He wants you to go there and figure out why the locals think it's haunted, and straighten things out so that construction can start." The PC's go there, poke around, find a dungeon, and start exploring. Story done, action starts.
    Not sure I really follow that, why is D&D different to any other rpg in this regard? We're playing it at the moment because it was a good ruleset for more tactical play which is part of the idea of the current game, but we don't roleplay any differently really playing this than we did when playing OtE.

    I'm not sure there's anything in the game requires you to approach the balance of action and rp (assuming those are separate things, which I don't really think they are) that differently to any other game.

    D&D is different from a lot of other games (like OtE) in that the tactical rules for action-oriented scenes are much more detailed than they are for social-oriented scenes.
  • Posted By: VaxalonI played Champions, and yes, it had things set up for a battlegrid, but movement was cheap there too. Every battle was fought rooftop-to-rooftop in the games I was in.

    Maybe it has to do with power level. Our supers were the type that could duke it out with a tank and win.
    I'm in a regular HERO group, and our main supers campaign is at about 450pts right now, and we haven't had much issue with the 'mat. Noncombat movement is the only way any of the PCs would be able to cover the whole 'mat in one Phase. And with the Range Penalty, shooting at bigger ranges is pretty problematic w/o PSLs.

    With M&M, you buy movement in mph, iirc. It's really easy to build a PC that can cover even a MegaMat in one move action.

    But, we digress. :)
  • Can I ask a quick question?

    I rarely run into folks that haven't played without minis, and they only seem to fall into two categories:

    1) Primarily old-timey miniatures gamers, for whom D&D is essentially just another skirmish minis game with perhaps a bit more characterization and who use minis ( or markers) for everything anyway.

    2) Newer gamers who started with D&D v. 3.x.

    I was wondering whicj of those categories you fell into Chris P, or if you'd describe yourself as in some other category.
  • Posted By: LarryWhy are we talking about "feats"? The original poster said he was thinking about OD&D.
    But he prefaced it with discussing the apparent need for minis in 3.5 and asked about general experiences playing without miniatures in D&D.

    My group has played several adventures in D&D3.0 and while we didn't use minis, for some of our battles we did use tokens on a paper map. That's roughly the equivalent of minis. These fights where we used maps were ones in which the terrain played a particularly tactical role. For example, one involved a rope bridge and opponents on either side of a chasm.
  • edited February 2007
    Posted By: komradebob1) Primarily old-timey miniatures gamers, for whom D&D is essentially just another skirmish minis game with perhaps a bit more characterization and who use minis ( or markers) for everything anyway.

    2) Newer gamers who started with D&D v. 3.x.

    I was wondering which of those categories you fell into Chris P, or if you'd describe yourself as in some other category.
    I consider myself a "born again" gamer. I played OD&D in my youth, but we didn't understand half of what we were doing. We owned and painted minis (I still have them), but I don't recall how we actually used them. I rediscovered D&D when 3.5E came out. Then I discovered indie/story games.

    I haven't played OD&D lately, so I was curious how AP might work in a D&D game (of any edition) without minis. I've read people bragging about playing D&D without minis, but the 3.5E rules are so tactical/boardgamey. So I'm trying to wrap my head around OD&D, which is crunchy/fiddly yet not boardgamey. <:)

    (sorry for the late response. I've been moving.)
  • Sorry Chris, it's just that you tickled my funny bone a bit because your question came hot on the heels of some thinking I've been doing for a while about making games specifically with minis in mind.

    Anyway, when I was younger, we also had minis around, though not very many of them, so we ended up ditching the idea of minis early on. First we used minis+rough sketch ->rough sketch with X's ->Verbal description only. Lots of the pre- 3.x stuff didn't fully take advantage of the use of minis anyway. If you get a chance, take a look at some old modules like Keep on the Borderlands. Even though it uses maps, there really isn't a whole lot that really encourages minis use in itself.

    Tactically, there are only a few things that might encourage minis use ( primarily spell effects and Hide in Shadows/Backstab combos), but not a lot really, and not much that really requires the use. We got away with a few really basic Standard Operating Procedures. A quick sketch of marching order, for example, with standard distances thrown in.

    A weird circumstance usually meant a quick re-sketch. For combat, descriptives were usually enough, and usually amounted to stuff like " Fred and Bill hold the flank, while Joe jumps into the ones on the right and Melfthe Elf snipes at stragglers". [Dice fest follows until the other guys die and we loot the corpses].
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