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No Maps, No Grids, No Tokens Combat

No Maps, No Grids, No Tokens Combat


Iím currently running a Pathfinder game with no maps, no grids, and no tokens for the players during combat. The two rules, off the top of my head, most affected by this change are Attacks of Opportunity (AoO) and Flanking. For the former, I plan to use the Pathfinder Beginnerís Box way of handling AoOóthey just wonít exist, and any action provoking them is illegal.*

However, the problem of Flanking is a bit harder to solve on my own. I read online someone uses a quick and dirty rule where you canít flank an enemy targeting you, but you can flank an enemy who is attacking another target. How well would this work? And is there any other way of handling flanking in narrative combat?

Also, if Iíve not thought of something else important, Iíd appreciate any other helpful suggestions.

*Unless a Feat tells you it does not provoke an AoO, or unless I decide itís cinematically right.

I find maps very helpful in Play by Post games.

That said I believe it is possible to play without them. I did for several years with in person games. Though I do think asking and getting clarification is quicker and easier in person. I'll offer a few thoughts.

I can understand trying to set some things in black and white, but I have some concerns about your first two rules. And would suggest more of guestimating, which I'll flesh out a little.

1. Attacks of Opp. You would ban quite a few things by banning anything that provokes an attack of opp. Off the top of my head - casting a spell while an enemy is adjacent. Related - moving away from an adjacent enemy without using a 5 foot step or withdraw action. Perhaps to get far enough away the enemy could not just take a 5 ft step and full attack you. And so you could move and cast a spell, compared to withdraw action. As well as moving away from one enemy just to go attack a more important or more urgent enemy. Drinking a potion. Etc.

I would suggest to just guestimate attacks of opp. You could pre-emptively describe if there is room enough to move around an enemy without provoking an attack of opp. Players could ask ahead of moving. And once characters are engaged, a map is less needed as far as attacks of opp go.

2. Flanking can be generally described. I think you don't need the 'not if they are attacking you.' I think the point is, even if they are facing you, them being aware of and distracted by two being being on opposite sides of them is enough. I think you can describe this in general. And you can ballpark whether you think the character has enough movement to get as far as they would need to go. "I move to attack them directly opposite of X".

You as GM can describe things and have characters describe things in relative, general terms. "I'm near/far from ally X. North-east of him." It's probably important to keep direction in play. North, South, East, West. From the beginning or as soon as possible in a scene or encounter, try to have an "anchor" that can be referenced. For example "... directly in the center of the room is an emblem of the goddess ___...." that can be used to establish relative location of characters.

Try to be explicit and consistent with things. As in establish a party marching order and how far apart "arm's length" (5ft space between) or more the heroes will be if they are able to. Try to have some terms that mean specific in game things. Like "arm's length" can mean with a 5ft space in-between. "A long jump away" could mean 10 ft. 'Just at a near target away' could be right at 30 ft. Etc.

No maps will make some things more confusing for a while in some 'scenes' and require some more imagination. And perhaps some allowing characters to take some actions back or 're-do' or - 're-think' an action that they then come to better understand the consequences of based on relative locations. But with patience and persistence, I'm sure it can be done and enjoyed. Good luck and happy gaming.

AoO can be tricky when playing "theater-of-the-mind" style. A lot of people remove attacks of opportunity completely. I've done this, and with no great disappointment. But sometimes I'll incorporate them, but they're a bit more limited. I usually use my best judgment as to when they occur (though never when disengaging from an enemy). If it's obvious that a player (or monster) intends to get by another person without being able to move past their range, then an AoO can occur.

It's really all about your own calls on the matter, as long as they're consistent and fair.

As far as not using tokens or minis, even back in the heyday of the oldschool games, many of us used minis or other substitutes, usually for keeping track of marching order and approximate positions. None of the games I played before 3e did we ever use actual distance scale for the minis themselves. They just showed a relative position and made the battlefield look really freakin awesome on the table... damn I miss all my old minis

Narrative Combat vs. Tactical Combat

Dear Will Caleb,

Thank you for taking the time to reply to me. I appreciate your suggestions, but I want to move away from the “5 ft., 10 ft., 20 ft., 30 ft.” Tactical Combat type of gaming. The practical reason behind this is my playgroup is using Mumble for the game, and only using Myth–Weavers to host the sheets with a forum for extraneous stuff between sessions. It would be very tiresome to post maps to the game’s forum and update them as the game progresses in real–time on Mumble.

To make matters even more complicated, one of my players has trouble with virtual gaming table software (such as MapTools, OpenRPG, and GameTable), so this is why I find myself in the “No Maps, No Grids, No Tokens Combat” situation. And I’ve looked around online a bit for some helpful information on running a more Narrative Combat style of game. What I’ve found so far is it’s more fluid to describe movement in terms of how many Move Actions it would take the character, rather than relying on a measurement dependant on a map with a grid.
  • “arm’s length” = 0 Move Actions
  • “a long jump away” = 1 Move Actions
  • “just at a near target away[?]” = 2 Move Actions

I totally agree with your centrepiece/anchor/landmark suggestion. I’ll be more visually descriptive with this kind of gaming to accommodate the players. On that same note, I'll be more lenient with letting them take back some Actions if it’s clear there was a misunderstanding. However, I’m afraid if I’m too lenient the players will abuse this and cheat by conveniently always putting themselves just out of reach of the next AoO. Which is why I believe the way the Pathfinder Beginner’s Box handles AoO is very ideal for Narrative Combat.

As for the Flanking problem, I’ll consider what you’ve got to say in more detail and get back to you on it.
Dear mercutio361,

I’m an evil DM and will simply note who says they’ll enter the deathtra…I mean, room, first.

Cool, thanks. Understandable.
I like the how many move actions away thought. Perhaps 'several shuffling steps away for Smash' (the party tank weighed down with armor and stuff). Versus 'several quick strides away for Flash' (the nimble party monk with a much longer move action available). The first indicating 20 feet. While the second 30 feet or more. But conceptualized by move action distance rather than five foot squares.

Bump for Solution!

Iíve decided to show the sections of the map on Myth-Weavers one-by-one, as the players go deeper into the dungeon. However, Iíll still be playing without visual markers for the players, i.e. no tokens to show the players or monsters.

The two rules, off the top of my head, most affected by this change are Attacks of Opportunity (AoO) and Flanking.
Player: Okay, I move to flank him.

GM: Sorry, there's no flanking because there's no grid.

Player: Can't I just move to flank him anyway? My character can see what's going on.

GM: Oh yeah. But you can't see what's ahead of you.

Player: Fair enough.

GM: Okay, when you move to flank, an enemy jumps out of the shadows ahead of you.

Player: You said I couldn't see ahead of me.

GM: Yeah, that's why the enemy ambushes you.

Player: Oh, I was gonna make a joke about how I couldn't see the enemy ambushing me, but... okay. How much damage do I take?

GM: It wasn't a very funny joke. You die!


That'd work, wouldn't it? Just make it impossible to flank when the group is close together, unless there happens to be lots of enemies.

Also, how would you work AoEs? That's one of the main benefits of a grid.

My suggestion: Roll the number of enemies affected and group enemies - if some enemies aren't part of the same group as other enemies, assume that they are attacking from a different direction than the AoE attack. If players are engaging enemies, then there's a chance they will be effected and have to save.

Ie. 2 goblins and 1 zombie are part of group A, while 2 other goblins are part of group B and attacking from the hallway on the other side. Part of group C is a dragon, in hiding.

Even without maps, you'd still need to keep a lot of notes about whatever lies ahead. If you have a dungeon, you still need to write notes about each room and each object within it and then write up a description of each room for the players.

Take or leave it, that's all I got.

It's possible to run without a map - all the stages of planning are the same (except for making the map). The map just makes it feel more tactical, I guess.

Try to be explicit and consistent with things. As in establish a party marching order and how far apart "arm's length" (5ft space between) or more the heroes will be if they are able to. Try to have some terms that mean specific in game things. Like "arm's length" can mean with a 5ft space in-between. "A long jump away" could mean 10 ft. 'Just at a near target away' could be right at 30 ft. Etc.
Probably easier to say '30ft.'. If the players say something like 'I observe the passage way'. If it's too long, then say 'you have no way of judging'. Players will eventually get the hang of the GM's style, and when the GM says things like 'you can't tell', then they say 'huh, it must be really far away', etc.

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