Legends and Lore: Miniatures Madness

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Legends and Lore: Miniatures Madness
by Mike Mearls

A game that assumes the use of miniatures undergoes an important, though subtle, change in its design.

Talk about this Column here.

 
There should be a third option, a hard and fast rule to let the grid decided, but with a veto/override for the DM.  More often than not my players will just say I want to shoot from here to there, or attack X, I'll let them know if the target has cover or not.  They don't care as long as it makes sense.

Although if I'm playing with, or DMing for, power gamers, then I rather have all those rules on the grid.  As long as the players are willing to do figuring I'm willing to let them.  If they figure it a head of time.  Rule or no, it shouldn't slow things down.
I like that there is a printed hard and fast rule for it. But, like anything in the books there is nothing binding a dm or group to using it.
I like the tactical combat presented by using minis but I have to admit, we have never used the cover rules. The players have always just asked me "Does he have cover?" I'll look at the table and say yes or no. Granted we've been playing miniature war games for decades and eye-balling cover is almost instinctive now.
My two cents. Buy what you want with them.
As for that first picture with that creature....WTF is it?? I remember that thing from my childhood, and always thought it was the creepiest and ugliest thing I had ever seen.
It's the plastic alien toy that inspired the Rust Monster.

With "miniatures" in the title I'd hoped for a little more talk about miniatures, and less, a few paragraphs about ....cover. As a fan of the now defunct miniatures line, I really didn't need more salt for the wounds.

I always assumed the D&D motto was we give you some rules, and if you don't like them make up your own...
I definitely fall into the 'printed rules and minis/tokens' camp.  It makes the game much easier to work out, more reliable, less DM-dependent...  In general, a more inclusive, coherent and reliable experience.

Interesting column.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
i enjoyed this article, but they should show the results of the poll
With "miniatures" in the title I'd hoped for a little more talk about miniatures, and less, a few paragraphs about ....cover. As a fan of the now defunct miniatures line, I really didn't need more salt for the wounds.




I feel the same way. Raised my hopes unnecessarily. Is cover really that big a deal?

I definitely fall into the 'printed rules and minis/tokens' camp.  It makes the game much easier to work out, more reliable, less DM-dependent...  In general, a more inclusive, coherent and reliable experience.

I agree.  The folks I play with and myself generally like to plan ahead ("strategize", if you like recently invented words) when playing D&D, and DM description never has nor will have sufficient bandwidth to communicate all of the information needed for this to be seamless.  To me, nothing sucks the fun from a D&D game (as opposed to some other roleplaying forms) more than me making a cunning plan and getting it almost to fruition, only to find that my picture of the situation and the GM's conception of the situation are subtly but critically different.  Making the rules explicit, and opening up the bandwidth of communication about the (gameplay-relevant) aspects of the situation go a long way to make this not happen.
======= Balesir
I definitely fall into the 'printed rules and minis/tokens' camp.  It makes the game much easier to work out, more reliable, less DM-dependent...  In general, a more inclusive, coherent and reliable experience.

I agree.  The folks I play with and myself generally like to plan ahead ("strategize", if you like recently invented words) when playing D&D, and DM description never has nor will have sufficient bandwidth to communicate all of the information needed for this to be seamless.  To me, nothing sucks the fun from a D&D game (as opposed to some other roleplaying forms) more than me making a cunning plan and getting it almost to fruition, only to find that my picture of the situation and the GM's conception of the situation are subtly but critically different.  Making the rules explicit, and opening up the bandwidth of communication about the (gameplay-relevant) aspects of the situation go a long way to make this not happen.

Yeah, but at the same time when you try to define things too much you get into the situation where rule mechanics and story can clash, tie the hands of the DM (and players at times) too much and you start getting discussions about how to read a particular sentence. To be honest, I like both in a decent mix, which I think 4E is doing quite well ;)
Indeed - there's definitely room for rule zero in the event of disputes mid-game (DM's word goes, high roll is right, whatever) to avoid thos discussions taking over play.  And I have to say that 4e combat could be streamlined further - it takes a lot of time already, and that does tend to crowd out descriptive combat roleplaying.

But I think it's better than the alternative to a large extent.  I've made free-form RPGing work before, but it's always been text-based, with plenty of time to write a proper, considered post and to have side-discussions and OOC interaction.  I don't think that works as well in-person.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
There is a place for a "Rule 0", I agree, in actual gametime.  This is purely for expediency, to make sure that game time is spent playing, not arguing over rules.  I have an understanding in the game I DM that disputed cases I will rule on the spot and there will be no (extended) argument at the table.  Discussion after the game, on the other hand, is fine - and may cause a rule different to the table ruling to be formulated for future play.

There are several threads about challenge-focus,  story-focus and exploration-focus at present (mainly on ENworld, I think), but I think there is definitely room for styles of play that do this whole thing differently - which is why I was quite specific about playing D&D this way, not 'all RPGs'.  I do think, though, that trying to mix these focusses in one game tends to lead to muddle and confusion.  Encouraging players to plan and "strategize" except when there's a story point being made is a recipe for getting hacked off players, it seems to me.  If I run challenge-based (generally D&D 4E, these days), I let story be an emergent element, and I don't try to direct or "guide" it in any way.  If I were going to "aim for story", I would give the players a role in its creation and direction, for a start, and the secrecy required for challenge-based scenario play flies in the face of that.
======= Balesir
With things like cover I like to wing it.  If it looks like cover then it is cover.  No drawing lines for me.

 Any Edition


Good old Mike; the master of bait n switch. He tells you he going to talk about the missing minis line then makes some half assed comments about cover... And people always attack me for calling this hack a hack.




If by telling people about the missing minis you mean the whole point of his articles is to talk about how things worked in past editions and compare it to now.... than yeah he totally baited and switched.

"Hey guys I'm here to talk to you about history! My articles will deal with the past of DnD and how it effected the choices we made in 4e."

"Waaaah?! But what about the future? You... you... bait and switcher!"

I can totally see where you are coming from. 
"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move."-Douglas Adams
How is this article half assed.  Its discussing minis and their effect on the game, using cover as an example.  They have said several times that there will be no new mini line for the foreseeable future, but that they will still be making them for the adventure boxed games and possible special releases. 

Personally I liked the article, it may not give any new information, but it gives insight to design philosophies and some history.  And as this thread proves, everyone has their own opinions on how to work cover.  I tend to lean towards and mix of grid rules and DM approval.  Afterall, unless you have 3D terrain in play grid rules only give you half the information.  If there is an outcropping or something from the wall the creature is by it can change its cover.
How is this article half assed.

Don't worry about it. This was just an axe that wanted grinding, and finding no whetstone, was simply rubbed up against the nearest post.

Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.

Good old Mike; the master of bait n switch. He tells you he going to talk about the missing minis line then makes some half assed comments about cover... And people always attack me for calling this hack a hack.



Huh? Did I miss a meeting? Where does it say "missing" minis? The article is called:
Legends and Lore: Miniature Madness.
He is talking about the use of minis in older editions and in 3.x/4E.
Besides, there is nothing to say about a mising miniatures line: WotC has said several times that they have cancelled the miniatures "line" for good.
Where is the content of this post coming from?
How is this article half assed.

Don't worry about it. This was just an axe that wanted grinding, and finding no whetstone, was simply rubbed up against the nearest post.



Aaaah, thank you! Now I understand.
I'm 100% on the side of DM discretion.  Always have been, always will be.

Good old Mike; the master of bait n switch. He tells you he going to talk about the missing minis line then makes some half assed comments about cover... And people always attack me for calling this hack a hack.



Huh? Did I miss a meeting? Where does it say "missing" minis? The article is called:
Legends and Lore: Miniature Madness.
He is talking about the use of minis in older editions and in 3.x/4E.
Besides, there is nothing to say about a mising miniatures line: WotC has said several times that they have cancelled the miniatures "line" for good.
Where is the content of this post coming from?



Legends and Lore: Minatures Madness, this was followed up with a picture of a small plastic toy aside the opening paragraph.

The content of the article isn't bad, it's just that the name was misleading. It lead me to believe the article would be about the history of minis in D&D or would talk about the two opposing views on the use of miniatures in D&D. While it seemed to start out as both, it ended up being just a veiled articleon rules lawyering.

I find this article odd as it seems to ask whether people would prefer to return to the days of yore or delve into a world full of complexity.  I find this odd because we won't have a choice - we're going to dive headlong into that world of complexity because it is the direct of WotC, Hasbro and the world in general.

What is the frontier of D&D?  The VTT, online play, and increasing use of electronic tools.  In the rest of 4E, and certainly as 5E begins to take shape we are going to see more play take place on electronic game tables, be that online, on a TV in someone's living room, or on holograms projected from smartphones.  The electronic RPG - or E-RPG - is our future.

As we move to these electronic game spaces, we'll take advantage of the benefits these tolls provide.  Many of the D&D rules are 'simplified' versions of what would happen in reality because we can't do the math/make the measurements at the table quickly enough to keep the game moving - and easily enough to keep the game from feeling like homework.  When the game goes electronic, a lot of these calculations and measurements can be automated. 

Encumberance, lighting, the majority of skill check (monster knowledge, athletics, stealth, acrobatics, perception, insight, etc...) distance measurement, ranges, etc... will all be available without asking for them to be calculated.  As the computer is calculating them, we won't need to bother with simplifications like a battle grid (a computer can actually calculate direct distances as easily as distances using a grid), or limiting variable damage to numbers that can be generated quickly by dice (dice generate bell curves - would it be cool to have powers that dealt damage on inverse bell curves or other probability schemes).  Powers would not need to be standardized so that most powers fall into a small set of options for range, area of effect, shape of area of effect, etc... 

We're headed in that direction.  D&D may not end up being the vehicle that eventually takes us there, but in the future the majority of role playing games will be run on a computer and will have all of the complex math that we're seeing added to MMORPG appear in E-RPGs. 

So - do I prefer the days of yore where the DM told a story and the figures were just there as a tool or do I prefer a world where all the complexity is shoved in and a DM has nearly as much uncertainty with how the game world will react to the monsters and NPCs as the players do? If I prefer the former, I already have all the game rulebooks I need to run those games.  If I prefer the later - well, we'll be seeing more and more if it with each passing year.

D&D & Boardgames If I have everything I need to run great games for many years without repeating stuff, why do I need to buy anything right now?
Dear Mike:

I would simply like to disagree with you on pretty much every level with respect to this article.

First of all miniatures have always been an integral part of D&D from the very beginning. Having been playing since the game first appeared I can attest to the fact that while a GRID (or hexes) may not have been a universal feature of tactical combat in the old days miniatures and/or tokens certainly were. The rules of old D&D pretty clearly assume you have a way of measuring distances and a means of knowing exactly where all the characters are in relation to each other and any terrain. AD&D 1e effectively uses the same rules but adds a lot more spells and a few other situations where position is important. 2e continues this trend. Sure you could fudge things, but it was no more part of the rules as they were written and envisaged to work than it is to do that in 4e.

Secondly you make it out to be some kind of either/or binary situation whereas neither the use of miniatures nor the adjudication of combat modifiers for cover (or other things) has ever been that black and white. The 1e DMG for instance lists a set combat modifiers, likewise for all other editions of the rules as far as I know. In all cases, including the 4e PHB/DMG the DM is always explicitly given the green light to apply alternative or additional modifiers in situations where they are appropriate. Likewise the decision to forgo laying a fight out on the battle map and use miniatures has always implicitly existed. In my experience this is a frequently chosen option for situations where the tactical situation is fairly simple and pretty much cut-and-dried. 4e tends to eschew these kinds of encounters, but in principle the concept really hasn't changed.

Basically 4e (and 3.5 I would assume though I really haven't played it enough to have a good feel for it) are not really radically different from older editions. 4e IS more tactically complex and assigns many more specific mechanics based on board positions of combatants than AD&D did, but it would be more correct IMHO to consider the various editions more on a continuum and less as being distinctly different. There are certainly a substantial number of groups who play them all using roughly the same procedures with minor rules variation, maybe even a majority of groups.

Really, I can't answer your poll question because I simply see the question as being predicated on a lack of understanding of how the game has historically been played in most cases.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
Legends and Lore: Miniatures Madness
by Mike Mearls

A game that assumes the use of miniatures undergoes an important, though subtle, change in its design.

 



The progression toward the use of miniatures has not bettered the game. 

I used miniatures in 2nd Edition sometimes, In 3rd Edition sometimes, but always in 4th Edition.
The use of miniatures have definitely added tactical choices to combat but at the cost of time and game area.

The use of miniatures can pause the action.  Role playing scenarios can feel like there on "hold" while the miniatures are set up.  Everyone doesn't have the space to prepare set up miniature tables hidden from the player's view, to unveil during the climactic event. It pauses the action and can take away from the suspense.

Miniatures make each gaming session more of a time investment.  It makes it more difficult to DM.  The harder it is and the more time it takes to "be" a DM the fewer games there will be available to players.

Hard and Fast rules can make it easier for new DMs, who might not otherwise be comfortable making snap decisions.  Yet, as others have said there is a point where you can also be overwhelmed by rules, and I feel that happened in 3.5.  For a tactical miniature game, I feel hard and fast rules are better, but for a Role playing game I feel that DM description is better. 

In a way 4e feels like 2 games in 1.  A tactical miniatures game and a role playing game.  The battles feel more engaging with miniatures, and as a player I can feel instant gratification for smart play.  But as a DM it is a pain in the rear, to prepare.

4e is the most time consuming of all the editions for me to prepare.  3rd Edition took a little less time, and 2nd Edition was by far the easiest.

Good old Mike; the master of bait n switch. He tells you he going to talk about the missing minis line then makes some half assed comments about cover... And people always attack me for calling this hack a hack.




If by telling people about the missing minis you mean the whole point of his articles is to talk about how things worked in past editions and compare it to now.... than yeah he totally baited and switched.

"Hey guys I'm here to talk to you about history! My articles will deal with the past of DnD and how it effected the choices we made in 4e."

"Waaaah?! But what about the future? You... you... bait and switcher!"

I can totally see where you are coming from. 



Yep, its curious, that he would choose this topic when WotC has just recently pulled out of the miniature business, unless we count the boardgames, which will definitely not be as useful for D&D as the D&D Miniatures program (for full discloser, i like tokens and their portability/cost advantage over miniatures, but i know they dont have the same impact, which is why we play our chars with minis).

As for an historical perspective, the article at Icosahedrophilia i read recently is much more insightful.

Has WotC ever offered a battlemat (free or otherwise), anyway?

Good old Mike; the master of bait n switch. He tells you he going to talk about the missing minis line then makes some half assed comments about cover... And people always attack me for calling this hack a hack.



I have to admit that I too thought the article was going to be about the minis line, not how they affect game development and decisions. So, I was a bit disappointed. That said, I thought the article was interesting nonetheless.

I tend to lean towards and mix of grid rules and DM approval.  Afterall, unless you have 3D terrain in play grid rules only give you half the information.  If there is an outcropping or something from the wall the creature is by it can change its cover.


Exactly. This doesn' t have to be an either/or choice.  Using the grid as rule only works when you and your opponent are on a level field. (And even then, as you note, there could be an outcropping that has an impact on cover). Add any elevation and it becomes a matter of the DM ruling whether or not there is cover, and to what extent.

- Rico

Yep, its curious, that he would choose this topic when WotC has just recently pulled out of the miniature business, unless we count the boardgames, which will definitely not be as useful for D&D as the D&D Miniatures program (for full discloser, i like tokens and their portability/cost advantage over miniatures, but i know they dont have the same impact, which is why we play our chars with minis).

Has WotC ever offered a battlemat (free or otherwise), anyway?



I don't know what you mean with the boardgame minis- they are the same sculpts, and the same size. There is not as much variety, but the minis are still available.

As for the battlemat, yes. At the first world wide game day DMs who signed up received a pretty nice battlemet (that I still use). It was about 40x20 squares. 

Co-author on AoA 2-3 and 4-1.

First of all miniatures have always been an integral part of D&D from the very beginning. Having been playing since the game first appeared I can attest to the fact that while a GRID (or hexes) may not have been a universal feature of tactical combat in the old days miniatures and/or tokens certainly were. The rules of old D&D pretty clearly assume you have a way of measuring distances and a means of knowing exactly where all the characters are in relation to each other and any terrain.

Odd. I've been playing for 33 years, and until 3e, the only thing we regularly used our minis for was to show marching order, just as Mearls described.

Every now and then one Dm or another would throw a bunch of poker chips on the table (no grid) just so we could keep better track of how many enemies we were fighting if it was a large fight. But aside from that, minis were only to show off our PC imagery, not to run combat, or distance, or anything else tactical.

I am in no way claiming that everyone else operated exactly as I did, but from 1978 until 2000, not a single group I played in (seven cities in 3 states and maybe 3 dozen groups and perhaps 100 or so different players) used minis for anything resembling tactical play.

It was this integration of minis with combat that made 3e seem so incredibly different to me. And I love it!
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
Has WotC ever offered a battlemat (free or otherwise), anyway?

I have about twenty (okay, 18 -- I just counted them) gridded battlemats from WotC ranging in size from 8x12 to 20x40. Most came as inserts to my Dragon subscription, some from Game Days, and some from Conventions.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
Legends and Lore: Miniatures Madness
by Mike Mearls

A game that assumes the use of miniatures undergoes an important, though subtle, change in its design.

 



The progression toward the use of miniatures has not bettered the game. 



Given that the game evolved as a way to level up your hero units for more miniature skirmishes, and first edition used inches as its units of range, I'd say they've been pretty standard since the beginning.

I like them because I have mediocre spatial geometry skills at best. I'm the guy that gets lost in video game tutorials. It actually makes things slightly faster for me.

For cover we eyeball it, with any close call going to the character that last moved to either gain or negate cover. Did you move to get cover? Then you get it. Did you move to negate someone else's cover? Then you did.
I found it insightful to see how a designer can be forced to make a difficult choice. I play games like Legend of the Five Rings where flanking is just something that kind of happens. You ask the DM if you can flank, they usually say yes. There is no battlemap, there are no minis. The game is purely in that imaginative realm. It is strong for that.

4E is strong in its tactical representation and a series of rules that work extremely well together. You remove that guesswork and you set some more clear (sometimes inarguable... a heretical change from OD&D) expectations. That clarity and tactical angle is a ton of fun.

I had real trouble clicking. I chose the tactical route, but it hurt to do so. I'm sure the same thing happens as you design game systems and have to make these decisions, one after another, leading you down a particular path. At some point you must look back and realize there were entirely different end-points available.

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First of all miniatures have always been an integral part of D&D from the very beginning. Having been playing since the game first appeared I can attest to the fact that while a GRID (or hexes) may not have been a universal feature of tactical combat in the old days miniatures and/or tokens certainly were. The rules of old D&D pretty clearly assume you have a way of measuring distances and a means of knowing exactly where all the characters are in relation to each other and any terrain.

Odd. I've been playing for 33 years, and until 3e, the only thing we regularly used our minis for was to show marching order, just as Mearls described.

Every now and then one Dm or another would throw a bunch of poker chips on the table (no grid) just so we could keep better track of how many enemies we were fighting if it was a large fight. But aside from that, minis were only to show off our PC imagery, not to run combat, or distance, or anything else tactical.

I am in no way claiming that everyone else operated exactly as I did, but from 1978 until 2000, not a single group I played in (seven cities in 3 states and maybe 3 dozen groups and perhaps 100 or so different players) used minis for anything resembling tactical play.

It was this integration of minis with combat that made 3e seem so incredibly different to me. And I love it!



Yeah, and I'm certainly not disputing that there are people out there that didn't use minis much, or groups that didn't use them at all. OTOH in the late 70's I was playing in a large gaming club. There were all kinds of people playing mass battles with all sorts of rules. Martian Metals guys (Forest Brown mainly) were bringing stuff over by the cartload. We had tons of high quality terrain and huge tables, etc. Basically you were expected to supply a figure for your character and any conceivable monster was usually on hand. Most of the people I still game with have large figure collections and we have just always used them for any non-trivial combats. My issue with Mearl's article is that he is making it out like some kind of contrast that really hasn't ever existed. 1e's rules not only assume you have figures they discuss how to use them, shill TSR's approved lines of figures in many places, and describe everything clearly in concrete terms of direction and distance. If you 'wing it' in 1e you're ignoring a good chunk of the rules. Maybe less than in 4e but the idea that one edition is based on using figures and the other wasn't is ignoring a good chunk of the rules text of games like 1e or 2e (which has even more detailed tactical rules than 1e).
That is not dead which may eternal lie
Odd. I've been playing for 33 years, and until 3e, the only thing we regularly used our minis for was to show marching order, just as Mearls described.



Up until 3ed, we used minis for not only marching order, but in a large fight figures were useful to show in a general way where things were.  You didn't need to worry about cover and you didn't need to worry about attacks of opportunity and the like, so movement and battle was just approximated with the figures.


But aside from that, minis were only to show off our PC imagery, not to run combat, or distance, or anything else tactical.



Heh.  How's this for imagery.  My friend has lead figures that date back to the early 80's and he has this lead ogre figure.  It carries a raised club and a loin cloth in front.  For 15 years he used that figure whenever we fought ogres and sometimes for giants.  Then one day in the mid 90's it fell face forward and we were all staring down at it.  That's when our jaws dropped open as we all noticed that it was anatomically correct......and apparently well endowed.



anatomically correct......and apparently well endowed.

Hung like an ogre!


Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
anatomically correct......and apparently well endowed.

Hung like an ogre!





Yeah.  We were rolling over that, too.  Whoever made and sold that figure had a great sense of humor.
I thought it was a good article, though I agree the "this or that" question in the end is bit "biased" - most people probably play somewhere in the middle.

Just hope the answers don't lead to wrong conclusions - even if one of the options prevails over the other, that does not mean that there aren't enough players of the opposing playstyle, and more importantly, you can't unidimensionally gauge and classify the player base with one question (or several ;)).

The polls may help, but it's important to understand that the answer may not accurately describe the entire D&D fandom or even 4th edition players...

To sum it up, IMHO, a good article - but be careful with the dark alleys those answers may lead you Mearls ;).
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The more visual and structured the rules, the better.  That's just how I roll. I prefer minis/tokens and mats, at the very least, and appreciate the written word on cover, and other rules that minis and battlemats help to determine.  It's one (or more) less thing(s) for me, the DM to hassle with.
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quote author=56832398 post=519321747]Considering DnD is a game wouldn't all styles be gamist?[/quote]
In 2E, we only sometimes used a grid. In 3E, I only played PBP in these forums, so no grid. in 4E, I've played with and without the grid, and when the grid was taken away I found myself quite vexed because my abilities no longer actually mattered, because the game became about talking the DM into seeing it your way instead of playing to a concrete scenario. I firmly believe that they should publish official gridless rules, perhaps in a Dragon article, while making the limits of their ability to support those rules clear when they do so. However, I personally enjoy the grid significantly more for all but the most trivial encounters.
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Here's the thing.

I hate minis. I don't find them appealing. I don't enjoy pushing around little pieces of plastic on a grid. I don't like the extra investment in money, and I don't like the extra investment in time. They don't give me enough to help me.

That doesn't mean I want DM Fiat and Mother-May-I gameplay dominating my campaigns.

You can have hard and fast rules without needing miniatures

Imagine an abstract combat system where each battlefield has certain properties. Forex:

BATTLEFIELD: Ol' MacDonald's Farm
This combat takes place in the farmyard of a crotchety old man when the players discover goblins in the henhouse. It possesses the following features:
Chicken Panic!: The first attack roll that rolls a 1 actually breaks open the henhouse, causing chickens to run all over the battlefield. This provides all combatants with concealment until the end of the triggering creature's next turn.
Pigslop: The pigslop in the corner of the farmyard is slippery. Characters can enter it with a move action and a DC 14 Acrobatics check. Once they enter, any creature who wants to target them with a melee-range power must do the same. Failure on this check causes the failing creature to go prone in the pigslop. They must do the same to leave the pigslop. 
And On This Farm He Had A Cow: A creature can gain cover by using a move action to hide behind the cows. The first missed attack against the creature destroys the cow, and the creature looses cover. 

....etc.

At the beginning of combat, maybe you place a sheet of paper with a piece of art and those rules blurbs on it, so everyone at the table is well aware of the things you can do during combat already.

And, of course, the list is not exhaustive, so that clever players can use a (new and improved) Page 42 to ride horses, or flash red to lure the bull into a foe, or whatever else they can think of. That requires a little more fiat, but at least it's player fiat, not DM fiat. The DM just  has to "say yes" and think of a roll they have to make. 

The article presents something of a false dichotomy between MINIS and DM FIAT. That dichotomy doesn't exist.  You can have rules for dynamic combats without needing to rely on endlessly inventive and entertaining DMing skills, or on little pieces of plastic mined deep under the earth, processed in factories that dump chemicals into our water supplies, and sold to you as collectibles at profit-consumed retail outlets with a hefty markup. 

It just requires some solid abstract combat rules.

It's also true that combat is a huge slice of D&D, and the more expensive, complicated, and confusing it is -- the more moving bits it has -- the less likely you are to get any casual Scrabble player on board. Minis movement, OAs, threat zones, flanking, etc....these things all add to the barrier prohibiting Anybody From Playing. Abstract combat systems have the benefit of only having as many moving pieces as the group wants. They scale delightfully. A battlefield might only have one interesting thing you can do (you can flank! you can hide in tall grass!), or it might have 10, and a battlefield can be used as a guideline for minis mapping, too, telling you which special squares to put in.
I bought my first battlemat in 1984 or so, it must have been a CHessex, practically identical to the ones they sell now, though it was only one sided.  The back side became incredibly stained over the years. For a year or more before that, we had these clear plastic page sleeves with 1" grid paper in them.  Helping get accurate room dimensions were another benefit of the maps.  Minis and DnD are inseparable from before birth.

However, as dm I really dig describing the combat, and often eschew the minis altogether for certain battles.  Even in 4e.

Ok one final thought, I too felt schnuckered into thinking the article was something about D&D Minis.  Like they were bringing them back, but better than before !  boohoo
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I think the gap between 'minis/tokens/rules adjudication' and  'described combat/DM fiat' is a generational one, and partly one of other games one plays.  For example, board games and video games are my favorite types of games.  It seems that more visual gaming is the default for the current young generation, as is a reliance on rules as stated; video games have computers figuring out the rules for you, and a representation for them to see.  The open, narrative style of RPG tabletop gaming is anywhere from odd (on a good day) to anathema (on a bad day) to me; Yet I'm not sure that at 31 I am part of the "young" generation.  I am, however, primarily a video gamer.  I am sure that the computer adjudicating rules for me, as well as constant visual representation of the action within a game is what has partly driven my desire for game pieces and mats.  However, the other end of that is board games; they have boards and pieces and you move them around and know just what is happening.  All in all, I think each person's preference for either minis, tokens, mats or boards as well as specific rules for specific instances vs. common sense rules as given by a DM is a matter of games experience, as well as age.
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quote author=56832398 post=519321747]Considering DnD is a game wouldn't all styles be gamist?[/quote]
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