A mini-less system: What are the advantages and drawbacks?

You used to be able to play without them. Without homebrew, it's pretty much impossible not to use them with 4e.

What did minis bring to the game, and what did they take away?

Do you want them in 5e?
They took away confusion and uncertainty.
They added tactical combat and aided the group in ensuring that everybody was imagining the same thing.
Yes, I want them in 5e, because I've used them since 1e.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I use minis in every TTRPG I play.  I've tried every system I've ever played without them, but I always come running back to them, simply because I hate the disconnect in the shared fiction that seems to always resutl when I don't have them.
Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
Knights of W.T.F.- Silver Spur Winner
4enclave, a place where 4e fans can talk 4e in peace.
What did minis bring to the game

  • Tactical combat

  • A common frame of reference

  • More profit for the gaming company producing the game we all enjoy and love.

  • Defined rules for combat maneuvers

and what did [minis] take away?

  • Descriptive combats that concentrate more on style and flavour then tactics and rules.

  • Encouragement to do outside the box maneuvers.

  • The ability for creatures to occupy the same square (3 foot door with 3 characters pushing against it to try to keep it closed against the zombie hoarde on the other side)

  • Imagination. It's hard to imagine you're fighting a giant floating ball of eyes when the only mini that the DM has even close to it is a rat swarm.

  • A requirement to choose your words carefully DM: "You see a large rat" Player 1: Is this large for a rat? or is this a rat that would occupy 10 feet by 10 feet?"

  • Horses that are sized appropriately damn it!

  • Storage space

Do you want them in 5e?

I don't know. As such, I want support for both systems.
Do you want them in 5e?

I don't know. As such, I want support for both systems.

This, more than anything else I've read today should be what D&DN is about.
Agreed. If there can be support for gridful and gridless, it'll be even better for all. And that's the point, right?

Man, how are they going to do this?
I don't use emoticons, and I'm also pretty pleasant. So if I say something that's rude or insulting, it's probably a joke.
We always used miniatures and a battlemat right back to the old old days when 'battlemat' meant a hand ruled 1" grid laid under a piece of plexi or just sheets of 8.5x11" 1" ruled paper taped together and drawn on with a magic marker or we'd use pens and pencils to show where walls were and some dice would be the altar or the chest or whatever.

Mainly what I want to see is a core set of rules that takes account of the needs of a good solid tactical combat system that will work. It certainly doesn't have to be the only alternative, but the old AD&D vintage rules had serious issues that made tactical combat not really work even if you HAD a map/grid and minis. Movement rates were WAY too fast for instance, and the way turn sequence/initiative worked was not conducive to any kind of definite idea of who moved where and who got their first, etc. That stuff needs to be considered right from the start. It also isn't really important from a less concrete combat system POV, you just need to know who is faster or slower and have some notion of time and distance for that, which the definite tactical system's numbers can feed you.

Not using miniatures at all has the drawbacks already mentioned by others. Things tend to get 'fuzzy'. That's OK for dramatic effect, if the DM is going for drama then fuzzy lets you fudge and the player can always pull off his cool move because nobody is really sure he can't most of the time. If OTOH you want more of an intense fight feel and to emphasize complicated combat environments then you probably want a map and some good rules for where everyone is and where they end up when they do this that or the other.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
Agreed. If there can be support for gridful and gridless, it'll be even better for all. And that's the point, right?

Man, how are they going to do this?

Since the game is based on tactical rules fomr its origin we have been doing that since its inception. Looking at my OD&D Basic rules there is a section for movement 120' per turn. Then drops to 30' per turn based on encumbrance. All of the spells had ranges which most us are already familiar with. Everything was given in feet. This translated to 1square = X when grides went on the table.

One of the ways that taking the grid off the table can work is to change the range and movement rules. Travler does exactly that. Distance is given in degrees of proximity close, short, medium, long and extreme. Using this system means it takes actions/time to get within a certian range.

It is funny, I am listening to some old pod casts from "The Tome show".  The gencon special ADV. Design Seminar. The reason its funny is the developers are talking about all the stuff they do not even use, right now is the topic of skills.
MY DM COMMITMENT To insure that those who participate in any game that I adjudicate are having fun, staying engaged, maintaining focus, contributing to the story and becoming legendary. "The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules." Gary Gygax Thanks for that Gary, so now stop playing RAW games. Member of the Progressive Front of Grognardia Suicide Squad
Man, how are they going to do this?

Start with basic rules that give you movement and distance in terms of feet rather than squares. Introduce basic rules for threatening reach and attacks of opportunity.

Build upon those rules by introducing squares and optional subsystems. If a spell is described as a "30-foot burst" have different ways of interpreting this:

  • Gridless interpretation: It's exactly what it says. A 30-foot burst. DM decides whose in the radius and informs the players before they cast the spell.

  • 3.5e interpretation: It has a 30-foot diameter with templates used to approximate a circular shape when using a grid system.

  • 4e interpretation: There are 5-feet in a square, so 30-foot burst is a square with a size of 6 squares by 6 squares.

If a PC wants to reach an object that is 60 feet away from them at a 45 degree angle, there would be different ways of interpreting this:

  • Gridless interpretation: The DM interprets how many full rounds it takes the player to get to the object. Giudelines are offered that suggest it should take roughly 1 to 2 turns.

  • 3.5e interpretation: Every second diagonal square incurs an extra square of movement. Takes 2 rounds at double moves.

  • 4e interpretation: Diagonals incur no movement penalty. The player can get there as in 1 round at a double move.

We need a very basic system that gets built upon with optional modules so that all play-styles can be incorporated.

I think minis are part of D&D, as D&D started as a wargame. you need them to ensure everyone understands what is possible and what isnt within the encounter, without minis DMs spend a LOT of time going over again and again where everyone is standing etc if they dont draw it out on a peice of paper "this X is you, this Y is the ogre" etc. Minis allowed players to personalize their characters, and the gameboard IE battlemat or whatever you used. Minis are and will continue to be cool.
"The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules." Gygax
Minis are nice, I like them, but I never had the jink to start a collection and no one else in my gaming group did either. They do help in combat but the should not be necessary and can hinder the imagination in play, especially in a game with only 1-2 players.
Ehh depends on the system.  Personally, I prefer mini-less systems.  I house rule the heck out of 4e anyways to run it without minis so its not a huge deal to me.  If they make it minis only, i'll houserule it again.
I'm a bit of a puzzle because I love maps but am pretty much indifferent to minis.  I've occasionally used them for some fancy combats, but for the most part, I can visualize and describe things to my players well enough.

I don't want a system that requires them.  If I wanted that, I would be playing Warhammer.

The insane dependence on minis is precisely the reason I've never liked Warhammer despite a cool world with beautiful art.
There's a bit too much misinformation about OD&D's miniature wargaming connections. If you go the 3 LBB method, or really all the way up until the release of 1E DMG, you're probably doing without minis for anything other than relative positioning. The Theater of the Mind style of play (without minis, but with accurate indictaion of who is standing where) can be great fun and it all depends on the tastes of the DM & his/her players.

I'm going to sit on the fence here, I prefer playing without them due to enormous time drag of setup and analysis by paralysis playstyle that it encourages. On the other hand, my kids and nephews delight in throwing together their LEGO minifigs and running them at the bad guys when we play Whitebox. We need a system that is modular and can accommodate both styles of play. 
You used to be able to play without them. Without homebrew, it's pretty much impossible not to use them with 4e.

in my experiance miniatures where a must froom 3.x and later.

when going from 2nd to 3rd we tried without minatures for a while.
but discusions about rather or not sombody was flanking, or if you got a attack of opertunity for the movement you made took up more time then quickly setting up some minatures
No rules for minis means I give up D&D. I enjoy them to much.
Yes, I want them in 5e, because I've used them since 1e.

"Using a battle map [or miniatures] does not mean counting squares or getting out a ruler to measure distances, it is a method of communicating the environment to the players, and only as limiting as you want it to be."
Quote from A Conspiracy of Cartographers. (external link)

Personally I love the 4E combat rules. They allow for a lot more mobility and action in a combat. I also couldn't imagine going to a miniature-less combat system, though I just use colored tokens to represent monsters so I don't have to worry about how many of what minis I have. The battle map is a visual representation of en epic battle that is going on in the imagination of the players.
My thoughts on what works and what doesn't in D&D and how D&D Next may benefit are detailed on my blog, Vorpal Thoughts.
There's a reason professional chess players don't play blindfold chess.
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition
There's a reason professional chess players don't play blindfold chess.

That's the same reason why chess isn't considered a roleplaying game.

Not at all.  Chess isn't considered a roleplaying game becuase there are no characters to play the roles of.  (Yes, each type of piece has it's own mechanical 'role', but that's a different meaning of the term.)

So long as a system provides discrete, numerical statisitics for things such as range and area of effect, I'll stick with playing on a map.  Doing otherwise can quickly become an unmanageable nightmare as different players build different 'mental images' of the area, and start doing things that make perfect sense based on the information they've absorbed and assembled, but lead to entirely unpredicted outcomes because it doesn't match the DM's vision of the area.

"Two armies face each other across the bottom of the ancient caldera.  Nearby, you see the wreckage of some ancient vessel."

Quick, how far apart are the armies?  Where is the vessel in realtion to each of the armies.  Where are *you* in relation to all of the above.  How long will it take you to reach your destination.  Will you have to cross between the armies to reach the vessel?

A simple map solves *many* of these questions.  Having that map be at least roughly to scale solves the rest.  Having a known scale allows you to determine a path which provides protection while still allowing you to observe the armies, or at least not blindly wander between the two armies and get yourself killed.

Without discrete, numeric values for ranges/sizes, things get a bit easier to run, but *everyone* has to abandon the idea of knowing how far apart everything is, or players will be frustrated because they're trying to drop a fireball on things that the DM has (mentally) on opposite sides of his 'map'.  D&D has never done this well, even when it didn't specifically mention miniatures or a grid, you still had to deal with spells which had explicit, hard-coded, ranges, area effects, and the like which meant your fireball could be easily wasted if your 'map' and the DM's 'map' didn't match up.

Mouse Guard is an example of a system which does this nicely.  There are 4 range groups (normal, spear, thrown, and ranged).  Depending on your particular weapon you may get advantages against a shorter (or longer) ranged weapon in certain circumstances, but you don't need to know that you're 50' from the enemy who is 15' from his compatriot.  You just need to know that while you're maneuvering to put your opponants at a disadvantage, the guy with the spear is charging in to attack you.  (It's an amazingly elegent system IMHO.)
Rather that repeat myself over and over I will just link to my blog post on this topic. (external link)

Basically it's about how maps improve gameplay, even if you don't want to use a tactics based system, and how D&D can support both styles of play.
My thoughts on what works and what doesn't in D&D and how D&D Next may benefit are detailed on my blog, Vorpal Thoughts.
I've been playing since Basic and ever since 1E, we've always had to at least get out a piece of paper to draw out the scenario. All 3E and 4E was make it standard over all games plus take advantage of the medium. I've never understood the complaint of, "Wizards is trying to make me buy miniatures." Use a penny or a dried up piece of gum, for Thor's sake. But it they made a mini-less, plan on making a diagram in the middle of the table with little pieces to mark where everyone is anyways.
I fully support the use of a grid map (though I would prefer Hex) for combat.

In past editions I've had too many times when, basically, I had to pester the DM for details because no ones mental image of the battle matched up.

"Ok, I want to attack the guy next to the other dude"
"He's not next to the other dude, he's by the wall"
"But I thought you said he was by the other dude, so I can't hit them both with my spell?"
"No he's just a little bit too far away for that"
"...Ok then I cast this other spell then I guess" ~frustrated

The primary benefit for me of a grid system is there is never a question of where someone is, or if they are in range, etc. Everyone sees the same thing.

Yes, I agree not having the mini sucks. I hope they continue the Monster Vault trend of cardboard tokens. These are a great way of getting you "minis" without having minis. I might buy more prepub adventures if they came with a die cut sheet of tokens or papercraft minis.

The disadvantages? Yeah, you can get caught up in the tactical aspect of play and forget to be narrative.

That is not the fault of the grid though, it is the fault of players forgetting to be more active in their role as storyteller.
I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
There's a reason professional chess players don't play blindfold chess.

That's the same reason why chess isn't considered a roleplaying game.

I'm pretty sure that chess does count as a normal game, though, and without rules D&D would just be plain old "roleplaying", not an RPG. A grid with pieces makes it extremely easy to FOLLOW those rules.
I was going to write a spiel here about the pros and cons of a grid and minis, but really it's six and half a dozen. For each increase in the level of physical spectacle you get a reduction in flexibility. For each increase tactical options you get a decrease in speed. For each increase in speed you get an increase in playing "mother may I?" with the DM. I play mostly on map tool so a grid is what I'm used to - it's just a hotkey away at any time, and I couldn't imagine running a game without it since it's a lot more flexible than a grid on a real table, and you'll never knock your miniatures over with a bad dice roll, but really it doesn't matter. With a little bit of logical deduction you can figure out what the advantages and drawbacks of no grid are and they compare favorably with the advantages and drawbacks of using one.
Oh, by the way: professional chess players do often play blindfolded chess. In fact, they are quite good at it. As I understand it they most often play games such as these as a spectacle to impress friends, relatives, and curious onlookers.
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