Here's the deal. A lot of people on this board are talking now about how "theater of the mind" style play is awesome and is the lost ideal we've all been looking for ... the thing that is missing from 4e. Well, it IS awesome. But here's what I say about gridless play in D&D Next.
1. ToTM never left D&D. Some people just forgot about it for some reason when they looked at those cool battle mats. This was never the fault of any edition of D&D since every edition always encouraged and facilitated this style of play. Maybe if we all just used blank, white grids with no pictures it would stimulate the imagination somewhat. Or maybe those cool battle mats with altars, pillars, pools of acid, rubble ... maybe THOSE stimulate the imagination somewhat.
2. ToTM and a battle grid are not mutually exclusive. And in my opinion, they should be mutually INCLUSIVE. IOW, I prefer D&D to be played with both of these elements and I think it works best with both. If you throw out one of the other I would not be very happy.
3. What if I happen to like battle grids and HATE not having one? What if I just want to bash monsters in a gamist, mechanical play style and I don't particularly care for ToTM visualization or heavy roleplay and improvisation or big doses of DM fiat? THAT'S A VALID PLAYSTYLE TOO. Does that put me in the minority? If so, does that mean my favored playstyle shouldn't be supported? Will D&D Next support my playstyle in a way that's JUST AS GOOD as 4e's grid-based combat? If not, why would I take a step backwards?
Conclusion: D&D Next needs to support both gridless and grid-style play. I believe we WILL see a grid based module in future revisions of the game; it's just a matter of what they will be like. Will it be just like 4e? More like 3e? Something we haven't thought of yet?
What say you?
P.S.: For a neat implementation of gridless combat, check out the latest edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (I helped playtest that).
OD&D, 1E and 2E challenged the player. 3E challenged the character, not the player. Now 4E takes it a step further by challenging a GROUP OF PLAYERS to work together as a TEAM. That's why I love 4E.
"Your ability to summon a horde of celestial superbeings at will is making my ... BMX skills look a bit redundant."
"People treat their lack of imagination as if it's the measure of what's silly. Which is silly." - Noon
"Challenge" is overrated. "Immersion" is usually just a more pretentious way of saying "having fun playing D&D."
"Falling down is how you grow. Staying down is how you die. It's not what happens to you, it's what you do after it happens.”