- Jun 2005 -
19235 Posts

Of Maps and Grids

Gridded. The gridded approach uses either a battlemat or dungeon tiles, or some other scales representation that divides the encounter area into equal clearly defines units.  These grids can be (and in D&D usually are) squares.  But they can also be hexes.  For three-D aquatic, aerial, or planar battles, people might set up elaborate methods of converting squares into cubes.  Characters and props are usually represented with minis or tokens, although pretty much anything else that is the right approximate scale size, from bottle caps (do those even exist anymore) to work out dice, to potato chips.  Some people use candies to represent enemies (particularly minions) and reward the player whose character kills that enemy with the right to eat the candy representing that enemy. 

Sketched.  With the sketched approach, the DM may lay down a piece of paper or battlemat and just generally draw the parameters of the encounter area, scribbling off where all the enemies and props are.  Characters may also be represented as squiggles, or perhaps as minis or tokens.  Movement is only vaguely describes and the sketch is used mostly to track general spatial relationships.  It is not relied upon for precision.  Rather, the verbal description is more important, and the physical representation of the skecth is merely a visual aid to supplement the description.

Descriptive. The descriptive approach uses no props, except perhaps an illustration of a specific feature, and no maps, or map-like instruments.  Maybe the DM has his own map, which he hides behind a screen.  Maybe he's just winging it or describing it from memory.  This approach relies entirely on the visual imaginiation of the players and the spatial memory and narrative talents of the DM. 

For people who are interested in exploring less gridded styles of play, might I suggest SARN-FU, a system I developed for transforming 4e from a modeled or gridded approach to a sketched or descriptive approach.

See more at Unearthed Arcana!

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