Theater of the Mind Combat

My group and I had a chance to try out the playtest on Sunday. Overall, I think everyone had a great time and we're planning to play again next week.

My biggest issue was trying to get use to playing the game without the use of miniatures. As a DM, it was very easy for me to keep track of combat in 4e and 3.5 since I had the mini's to keep me on track. For the playtest, I wanted to try out D&DNext using "theater of the mind (TOTM)" to see what it would feel like in the new system. I feel like TOTM added more roleplaying, but also made it easy for me to lose track of what was going on. Whenever the next iteration of the rules come out, I would definitely like to see a section that gives the DM tips to help keep track of combat when playing in TOTM.
I didn't have too much trouble in our test, but we didn't have any very complicated fights. What I remember doing in AD&D, though, is using minis and markers, but not in a rigourous way. You'd just plop them down on the table to represent more or less where your character was, in relation to the other characters. At most, you'd sketch out the terrain on a piece of paper so you could see where you were in relation to that too. But there wasn't any grid, and you wouldn't count square or anything. The DM would just estimate distances. I remember that working fine at the time.

Definitely agree it's worth a discussion in the rulebooks, whatever they want to say about it.
There's a couple of things you can do to help yourself out here. First you can place the positions of the monsters on your game map, that way you know where they are in relation to the room they are in and with the players as the encounter starts.

You can use your miniatures as reference for those harder fights where there's a lot going on.

The thing to remember is the space they take up and how far they can move. As DM you know where things are you put them there. the players need to know too so good descriptions are vital. Once you get into the process it gets way easier because you're not worried about chess moves. simple combat doesn't include things that require precise knowledge of every thing in the room, special conditions or complex actions. Most of your fights are going to be a few rounds long with the bodies piling up at the player's feet.
I tried Theatre of the Mind and it just didn't work. At the very least, we had to draw out a draft dungeon map and mark our locations.

Theatre of the Mind (at least for my group) leads to to much mis-interpretation between the players and DM.

However, taking out the tactical rules (such as attacks of oppurtunity) was refreshing, it sure made combat flow better, and it forced players to think creatively to get that 'advantage'.
Theatre of the Mind requires clear description and communication. If you feel that your skills in this area aren't sufficient for a specific encounter (solo encounters are quite simple, large encounters are, of course, more complex), then relying on external aids is no vice. However, when the external aid possesses more authority over the scenario than the DM's description - that's when you're playing a different game.
I agree to a point. I did have one situation where we should have used the map. In section C the four way intersection became a chaotic combat to manage. Orcs from three directions and the players all moving around in a "4X4 square" area utilizing the entrance hall to the cave to assist in movement and fall back when needed. I should have used a mat. This type of game does lend itself to using small map areas, at leat B2. OUt of 7 combats that was the only one that dragged slightly due to my currently running 4e and reliance on mats. I have not run a true narative combat in a while.
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
I really don't know what I think about this. I love minis and floor plans, and that whole side of things...but I also miss the old days when you just made it up. I think in practice I'll keep the minis for the big set-pieces.

One of the things that minis discourage is the short little 5-minute combat, because frankly it's too much hassle to get all the minis out for that. That's where TotM will excel again. Hurrah! 
I really don't know what I think about this. I love minis and floor plans, and that whole side of things...but I also miss the old days when you just made it up. I think in practice I'll keep the minis for the big set-pieces.

One of the things that minis discourage is the short little 5-minute combat, because frankly it's too much hassle to get all the minis out for that. That's where TotM will excel again. Hurrah! 



Agreed, all other combats that we had ran less than 3 minutes. Had I thought more about the 4-way situation I would have noted it in the module but, as usual the players went somewhere, plan wise, that I did not expect. 
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
I do pretty well with description even when things are going kablooie all around. However, when things do get complicated beyond my ability to remain clear and consistent with the descriptions, I don't always use grids, but when I do, I use graph paper and a pencil. A quick sketch of the room with area quickly drawn for debris, etc., and designations for monsters (such as o1, o2, o3 for three orcs) and the same for the PCs (ex for Exara, rk for Rocko, etc). After that it starts to look a little like John Madden sat at my table as I take notes. I only use those things to answer questions that I can't make up so readily or that are tactically critical.

PLAYER: How many kobolds can I catch in Burning Hands?
ME: 5.

-or-

PLAYER: Which way and how sharp does that ramp curve down to the pit, and where is the owlbear in relation to the base?
ME: *sketch sketch sketch* There, and there. And there's some debris right about here, and that dead dire wolf fell right here.

It works for my group.
My players unanimously refused to play without a grid and minis when I suggested it.  They felt it was too hard to visualize the relative positions of the monsters and characters, to keep track of which ones were injured and by how much, which was enganged with whom, and so on.

We all play a lot of tactical board games, so we're probably too set in our ways here.  I remember playing TotM in high school, second edition, but that seems so long ago....

"Edison didn't succeed the first time he invented Benjamin Franklin, either." Albert the Alligator, Walt Kelly's Pogo Sunday Book  
The Core Coliseum: test out your 4e builds and fight to the death.

While I love the tactical aspect of 3rd & 4th editions, they've always seemed inferior to gridless combat in terms of role-playing realism. When sighted people are in the midst of combat - actively fighting an opponent - they're not going to be able to progress tactically, unless there's someone holding back to observe enemy positions and call out maneuvers. Since D&D5 doesn't have a party caller role - a position I haven't seen since original D&D - if there isn't someone explicitly holding back to observe, the DM should be giving players snapshots of what's happening around them only at those moments when they are able to look around and process what they're seeing. This clearly goes against the tracking of all actors on a map approach. Happily, it means that as the DM you can focus on what each opponent is doing as a series of one-on-one engagements, except for opponents hanging back with reserved actions. Even when ganging up on one opponent, the monsters can be played (at DM discretion) as individual opponents. There probably is no careful consideration of how best to wait for the perfect strike when you're actually engaged in melee; each participant is leaping, feinting, twisting, hacking, kicking, punching, parrying, blocking. Similarly, PCs need to call out for healing ("Medic!"); unless they're not engaged in the combat itself (and somehow not taking cover from ranged attacks), the healers are not going to see who's in particular need. Periodically the battle can ebb so that all sides can regroup, and the DM can then re-paint the picture of the battlefield: what's now on fire, how many opponents have fallen, where is everybody, what reinforcements have arrived. They can take a moment to call out revised tactics, and then the battle is rejoined.
I'm an heroic adventurer.

I don't need "tactics" - I need balls and I need companions - and a weapon never hurts, but isn't necessary... because I can improvise.

TOTM is the only way I roleplay and why I left 4th Edition behind.

Doesn't mean I don't use "some" visual aids - but they're fast and loose - like a goblin den mother.

My players unanimously refused to play without a grid and minis when I suggested it.  They felt it was too hard to visualize the relative positions of the monsters and characters, to keep track of which ones were injured and by how much, which was enganged with whom, and so on.

We all play a lot of tactical board games, so we're probably too set in our ways here.  I remember playing TotM in high school, second edition, but that seems so long ago....



Though that is not a bad thing. I was thinking about this on the way to my FLGS, dropping off some terrain I built. 

Having some basic dungeons tiles for this type of adventure could have been useful. Just lay them down with poster tack and there you go, instant map. Not good for every situation, I hate to harp on myself but would have worked for that DAM 4-way.
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
I'm an heroic adventurer.

I don't need "tactics" - I need balls and I need companions - and a weapon never hurts, but isn't necessary... because I can improvise.

TOTM is the only way I roleplay and why I left 4th Edition behind.

Doesn't mean I don't use "some" visual aids - but they're fast and loose - like a goblin den mother.



Thanks, anything else to contribute, like how you keep 12 combatants positions straight in your head and how fast those combats go.
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
Thanks for the advice so far everyone. 

Like MindWandererB I played TOTM back in second edition during high school, but I never DM'd in 2nd edition, didn't start DM'ing 'till 3.5 and by then we were using mini's almost exclusively. I like the idea of keeping a map behind the screen to mark positioning, although I can see that getting messy quickly. Honestly, I got to the point in 4e where I didn't need paper to keep track of combat, I would just use 4e combat manager or a spreadsheet to keep track, I find that a little more difficult to do in 5e. 

When I ran it last time I just sort of kept an idea of how many moves away a monster was. A monster was usually within one move or two moves of the PC's most of the time and I used that to determine distance and position. The group ended up getting stuck in the goblin hall in area D just before room 18 when they were swarmed by goblins on both sides but since it's only a 10' wide hallway it was easy enough to run. I was just worried about what to do if the combat got more complicated.
 
The thing I like best about TOTM is it makes it easier to keep the role-playing going. There is definitely a switch that happens between non-combat encounters and combat encounters that destroys the verisimilitude when using a grid. Particularly when you don't have mini's that match precisely with what the PC's are fighting (which happens a lot in my group, we're not really mini's collectors).
My players have been using ToTM since 2E.  We continued to use it with 3E too.  As stated it requires vivid descriptions of locales and a knack for keeping track of each monster's action as it relates to the players.  For us, it allows a ton of role-playing and innovated combat styles to emerge as each player puts his or her on spin on their sword swings.

Using this kind of system forced me as a DM, to step up my game so that I could translate what was in my mind to the other folks sitting around the table.  But it also takes trust and faith of the players in their DM.  

Example;  If a fighter wants to bull rush an ogre, I make them roll contested STR checks, with the ogre having Advantage for being so much larger in size.  The first time the fighter pushed the monsterous creature back 10 ft (as per my adjudication), the second time he tried to push and pin him against a tree that was 20 feet away.  Based on his roll and his STR I adjudicated that he could do it--the ogre was a bit off balance and the conditions were right for that kind of maneuver.  My players trusted my description and didn't throw specific rules at me concerning how many feet they can push someone in combat.     
For this playtest, I DMd using TOTM, and I have to say it was so refreshing.  It took me back 30 years to when I played D&D as a teen.  Being forced to see it in the mind, made the images burn into my memory.  I think the same was true for the players this time around.  Because we didn't look at the map, we had not reason to count squares.  The players just told me what they wanted to do and most of the time I said...ok (and we made appropriate die rolls or not depending on situation).  Then we narrated the results.  

I do agree though, that players and DMs have to have a real trust in each other to make TOTM work well.

Another benefit to TOTM is that there is no set up time.   As DM, I don't have to prepare the map, get the miniatures (or draw and import using VTT).  That was also refreshing...like a load lifted from my back.

 To help me keep track of the foes, I just use scrap paper to label and write hit points down.  That's enough for me.

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Personally, I like the TOTM idea, but I did encounter an interesting issue. Of my 4 players, 3 were more than happy to play without a grid, a couple in particular where excited to loose the grid, being players that started with the earliest editions. One however only really has experience with 4e and was very thrown by the idea of not having a grid. The player felt that she was disrupting the game because we would have to stop and deal with where things where and what was going on. Thus the problem being:where is the happy medium?

As DM, I didn't have a problem with keeping track of things, but that one player had a really hard time because she felt she had to constantly ask questions about where things were, how far they could move, etc. in order to follow along.  After the game, the player did agree that at least having a basic sketch would have helped, grid or not, so I think that will have to be a consession for next time at least. 

I also felt like the lack of rules for any form of AoO was a problem. It seemed as if a PC could just move past the weak guy next to them in order to take out the bigger threat without concequence. Even if its not based on the "creature in the adjacent square" idea, i think there needs to be something. While I prefer ToTM, because it makes things so much faster and easier, the grid does help with movement, range, and a lot of other things.
I'm DMing since the debut of 4e on a regular basis and I'm using ToTM a lot. My players are fond of it and I am too, since it seems to enhance the quality and the speed of a lot of little encounters. Still, my players will always make sure that the BBEG encounter will be on a mat whatsoever.

I'm telling you this because a lot of people would consider it very hard to ToTM a 4ed encounter, with all the conditions and squares and reactions and whatnot. But it is not if you focus your mind, as the DM, toward fun and character accomplishment than toward a strict application of all the rules. I always thought of the rules like some guidelines for the ToTM, some common knowledge that we share which help us to agree on what is possible and what is not. The way the players behave in regard to ToTM is the major part that will determine its success.

I also have to admit that my players are very much the why behind this achievment: they are fantastic.

What strikes me during these years was the fact that the players will feel like playing a very different game when using or not the mat. They would agree without any verbal enonciation to the consensus that the fun must supersede the rules, if those rules breaks the fantasy, in a ToTM. But they won't tolerate any rule bending in a mat fight.
Over the years, I have come to compare this plasticity of the players' minds with water. When you pour water into a vase, the water will fill the vase. But when you pour water onto the soil, it would just go its own way. Neither the vase nor the soil is better, they are just two kind of very different containers.

My metaphore is a poor one, but my point is that you can't control totally by the rules a ToTM playing. You have to be the better man. You have to make calls that will break the rules, even just so lightly that your realistic depiction does not find itself crushed by a rule.

As for the main question of the OP, here are some advices I can tell:

- Use monsters by groups when dealing with large numbers, don't try to treat them independantly for the sake of it. Your players don't have to know that it was kobold fighter n°42 who hits and not kobold fighter n°13. Roll the dice the same way, using groups, then make the descriptions accordingly to the results.

- Use simple mechanics that the players can easily understand. Monsters aren't born to draw sword and hit, they have access to complex tactics too. Using tactics for your groups of monsters will be simpler for you to handle: just say group 1 is the melee that focus on the weakest adventurers, group 2 is the melee that will protect the commander, group 3 is the artillery. Using this simple trick should easy your DMing and enhance the player's immersion by confronting them to something realistical and lettling them make smart choices for the characters.

- Don't keep track of every hit point for the sake of it. Keep them roughly. The players won't notice. When dealing with groups, you can even drop the monsters one by one considering the total HP of the group (if it is consistent with the players' actions) rather than keeping tracks of them for each monster. The same idea goes with the conditions. The only very important NPC to care about keeping track should be the main menace.

- Use and abuse of your behind the wall roll of dice. You really don't have to throw all that dice and make all that calculations. I will always roll some dice, barely looking at the results since I'm confident with my probabilities (and take ten more than often) but I will just let the player believe I did the rolling since I'm very lazy. It was very true with 4ed since the calculations were horribles, this is less of a problem with the smaller numbers of D&D next.

- There are other tips but I'm tired now so I will go to sleep.




Great advice... and remember, for those of you who need a visual aid, I will echo what others have noted.

A piece of paper or even a battlemat with a rough sketch of the action is perfectly acceptable mid-point between the two play styles. If you do use those aids, just remember to keep it fast and loose and don't let your players focus on the number of squares away things are. Pencil on graph paper probably works best since the players won't focus on scale the way they would on a battle mat with mins.

Back in the 80's and early 90's, even when we were playing TotM (we were too poor for metal minis), we'd almost always sketch the encounter on paper with X's and O's like a football play. When we eventually had more minis and battlemats, we'd still play 2e with approximations, asking lots of "Can I make it to here in one round?" kinds of questions even when we had the PCs and monsters on the grid. The grid was really to help us draw correctly with the magic markers rather than used for exact measurements. 

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This turned into a pretty dam good thread. 

I raise a toast to you my fewllows, for now I must take leave .
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
Personally, I like the TOTM idea, but I did encounter an interesting issue. Of my 4 players, 3 were more than happy to play without a grid, a couple in particular where excited to loose the grid, being players that started with the earliest editions. One however only really has experience with 4e and was very thrown by the idea of not having a grid. The player felt that she was disrupting the game because we would have to stop and deal with where things where and what was going on. Thus the problem being:where is the happy medium?

As DM, I didn't have a problem with keeping track of things, but that one player had a really hard time because she felt she had to constantly ask questions about where things were, how far they could move, etc. in order to follow along.  After the game, the player did agree that at least having a basic sketch would have helped, grid or not, so I think that will have to be a consession for next time at least. 

I also felt like the lack of rules for any form of AoO was a problem. It seemed as if a PC could just move past the weak guy next to them in order to take out the bigger threat without concequence. Even if its not based on the "creature in the adjacent square" idea, i think there needs to be something. While I prefer ToTM, because it makes things so much faster and easier, the grid does help with movement, range, and a lot of other things.



Paradoxally, it demand more work to play a ToTM game than a grid one, but not more work for the DM. Why? Because the players have to participate in the narration for the ToTM to work smoothly. They are no more in the position of the user of the adventure's work, they have to give a little of their own imagination to support the adventure.

This is why some players viscerally hated grid combat and 4e in general, because they felt something was taken from them. They felt they needed to play in the limits of another one's imagination, who is not even at the table. Some other players like my groups' found the 4ed's rules refreshing and usefull, but never have been committed to be stricty bonded by them; Eventually, they will just play the same way they did before, with ToTM when a grid is not really fun. We would also enjoy the "Descent-like" system once in a while.

In a ToTM game, the DM have to describe the combat zone with a little more care than with a grid map, pointing out obvious features within the room. He has to repeat the features, using the monsters actions or RP, in order to get them right in the players' minds. When there is a danger that is not a work from the monsters, it is ok to make one bad guy suffer it just to tell the players the risks.

It is sure that a rough sketch would always be helpfull, but I would advice you to make it the simplest possible. Leave some gap to be filled by players' imagination. More than often, you will see that they will add some features in your combat you wouldn't have thought of. In my personal experience, it seems ToTM play is more open to this kind of narration process than the grid.

For the players, and there will always be some, who have a hard time projecting the fight in their mind, there is something you can do as a DM or as a fellow player. You can encourage them to imagine. You don't have to play the Mother-may-I game, which is not fun. Just encourage them to tell you what they want to do in more simpler terms than distance between creatures or mouvement speed. The speed rules are just guidelines, not a hard fact to be strictly followed. If one's character is a dwarf (speed 5) and the monsters are goblins (speed 8) you just have to tell that they are roughtly twice as quick as a dwarf. In every way, you have to make their decisions matter for them to immerse themself into the battle.

edit: I will add another advice that just popped in my mind. When you are confronted to a player who can't seem to understand what's going on or can't seem to choose what to do, here is what I do: I tell that player what is immediatly happening in his character's vicinity (at immediate distance of his speed). It helps greatly the player to consider the options available and to pin-point himself in the battle.

Considering the lack of OAs and the general mouvement rules in this playtest, I must admit that it feels weird for players since they are so long used to these mechanics. But each of my players and myself agreed that OAs are not the way to go anymore. Then, the rules seemed easy enough to us to improvise some taunting (contest again creature intelligence) and some mouvement impeders for trespassers (using the ready an action rule). After that, it was obvious for everyone that D&D doesn't need anymore an OA system nor some more complicated tanking mechanic.

@HeRaw, you provide some good suggestions, but I still think a big problem for "theater of the mind" is consistency. It doesn't really matter how much imagination the players have if they all have different ideas of what the combat situation is - and without an immediate, objective reminder (in the form of a quick sketch or gridded battle map with miniatures), it's really easy to make mistakes or get confused.

Not to mention, just because one uses a grid to track position doesn't mean that all the imagination is sucked out of the game - pencil lines and simple tokens on graph paper leave plenty of room for imagination.
You are very true. I never stated otherwise. From the rough sketch to the pure grid play, like it is possible with 4ed. Imagination is the only limitless ressource a human got.

I just tried to give some personal thought and advice for the OP who ask for them.

On the consistency matter, well there is no explanation to a feeling. My players and I don't feel the game inconsistent when not using references. If I were to DM for another group, I would use all the pencil and paper it is needed to make sure that inconsistency feeling won't be a problem.
You are very true. I never stated otherwise. From the rough sketch to the pure grid play, like it is possible with 4ed. Imagination is the only limitless ressource a human got.

I just tried to give some personal thought and advice for the OP who ask for them.

On the consistency matter, well there is no explanation to a feeling. My players and I don't feel the game inconsistent when not using references. If I were to DM for another group, I would use all the pencil and paper it is needed to make sure that inconsistency feeling won't be a problem.


Here's a thought: how do you think your playstyle affects encounter design?

I'm thinking that perhaps a natural yet not-often-talked-about side effect of Theater of the Mind is that encounters end up being designed in ways that are very easy to visualize, so that problems are less likely to come up. For instance, maybe the focus of the encounter ends up being more about the qualities of the environment and combatants, rather than their locations. Similarly, I bet that 4E grid-based encounters end up focusing more on spatial relationships between all the ranged powers, auras, etc.
Then again, you are right.

I found that it is so much work for the DM to make a compelling encounter in 4ed that little by little I tend to design only a few per adventures. My players and I won't accomodate for some basic fighting using all the time needed for a grid encounter. In our playing style, an encounter has to have certain qualities to be put on a grid:

1- to serve some meaningfull story plot
2- to be in an iconic or at least fantastic location
3- to have plenty of room for meaningfull and various tactical choices

It is the last point which is the more subtle to pull off and I continously research and find some new ways to deal with that. Here is the main tricks I use:

1- Size does matter, make it big.
2- It does not have to be only one room. It will be more intense if you pull out an entire network of rooms. Traps are very fun this way.
3- It does not have to be only one encounter worth of creatures. It have to be daunting then characters should feel some stress and be confronted to meaningfull choices. But play smart with your groups' ideas and reward them.
4- It has to have some social interactions and some physical world interactions. I'm playing a lot of video games and I'm happily plundering from level design to ensure that my encounters ask for a little bit of thinking.
5- It has to have some element of surprise and turnaround.

Now, for that's for the grid. For the ToTM you can guess this is not that easy to pull off the same kind of encounters with lots of rooms without having the players or yourself feel lost. Even the time tracking could be an issue. That's exactly why we use grid for these, it feels more immersive and less inconsistent. While one could also say this is because of my lacking DM skills to make this work alltogether.

I personally take a lot of fun at challenging myself in narration and story telling. That's why I'm more of a DM than a player. Even when pushing minis, I make sounds like a kid and tell jokes and story related material. It is an evidence that designing encounters for a grid play and for a ToTM play are really different in my mind, while I also could say that this difference between the two is just a mind trick - a way of telling things. Like you said, I feel that I have more to think about spacial relationships in a grid play that in ToTM, but it is a fraud. A misconception that what enhance ToTM is about not caring for the little details, when they are in fact as importants as in a grid play.
You are very true. I never stated otherwise. From the rough sketch to the pure grid play, like it is possible with 4ed. Imagination is the only limitless ressource a human got.

I just tried to give some personal thought and advice for the OP who ask for them.

On the consistency matter, well there is no explanation to a feeling. My players and I don't feel the game inconsistent when not using references. If I were to DM for another group, I would use all the pencil and paper it is needed to make sure that inconsistency feeling won't be a problem.


Here's a thought: how do you think your playstyle affects encounter design?

I'm thinking that perhaps a natural yet not-often-talked-about side effect of Theater of the Mind is that encounters end up being designed in ways that are very easy to visualize, so that problems are less likely to come up. For instance, maybe the focus of the encounter ends up being more about the qualities of the environment and combatants, rather than their locations. Similarly, I bet that 4E grid-based encounters end up focusing more on spatial relationships between all the ranged powers, auras, etc.



Play style has a lot to do with it I think. As far as "easy to visualize" goes, that depends on how complex the environment is. 

Try the folowing tests

Describe a woodland path/road......and the positions of a bandit ambush
Describe a standard dungeon hallway...and where the intersection, doors, torches are at
Describe a woodland road/path with a wagon train......and where everyone is at in it
Describe a a four way intersection of a city.....and what shops are where as well as the thiefs target in the street
Describe the room of a noble.....and what kind types of furniature are in it

The more complex an environment is the more discription you need, too a point. Giving too much can lead to exposition and players hanging on every detail as if it may be important. You are correct that the hardest part of TotM is spacial relation.

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
I plus the comment above!

It is remarkable that one could think he has to tell everything, every details, when playing in ToTM. But in a grid play, unless you talk about a certain feature drawn on the map nobody is really sure what it is either. The difference is that in one case they know for sure there is something there, while in the other they can just imagine something.

Let an exemple clear this. If I say in ToTM that the character enter the room of a noble girl, with the main element of the room being the large baldachin bed. I don't have to precisely tell that there is drawers and dressings, the player should understand that by himself or then ask. In a grid play, the bed and the drawers will be (or not) drawn, but until we talk about them the very nature of themselves don't really exist. I hope I'm not confusing, but if I forgot to draw a coffee table that don't mean there isn't one.

 What could make the difference in this exemple would be, as you said, the spacial relation. In grid play it is immediatly obvious at which distance is the bed from the character. In ToTM it would not matter even if there's a zombie girl in the bed, the player will tell what his character does, you will rule what's happening, end.
Outdoor combat can be tricky. Especially when the PC wants to close in on a target from a ranged attack. Having range catagories can help. If each catagory has a base distance. Close, short, medium, long and extreame ranges can tell you how long it takes to close on a target. It can also be used to give spatial relation between the party artiliary and those who are in melee. 

The "Fear the Boot" pod cast has a new episode (266) in which they discuss an article about a player in a group who was born blind. Have a listen and think about how you would deal with this as a DM. This, I think would be the pinicle challenge for a TotM DM. 
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
Useful links for above comment:

www.feartheboot.com/ftb/index.php/archiv...

dungeonsmaster.com/2012/03/blind/

I'm not associated with the Fear The Boot podcast, but they're awesome. Give a listen. The article is invaluable too. I was glad to find another cool D&D blog out there.

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Check out the Owlbear blog! http://ragingowlbear.blogspot.com/

I did play once with a friend who is born deaf (I know how to sign) and it was very challenging but doable, I would just focus on the other senses like smell and vision. It leads to some very funny moments for everyone.

I don't know if I could manage the same way with a born blind though.
Thanks for the podcast link, I'll definitely check it out.
I am not sure what kind of resources you have, or how much room you have, but I have been running the TotM since I began playing in second edition and I have never had any problems.  I keep a white board and easel right next to my GM chair and whenever we get into large encounters I sketch out the general area on the board if it is necessary.  
Useful links for above comment:

www.feartheboot.com/ftb/index.php/archiv...

dungeonsmaster.com/2012/03/blind/

I'm not associated with the Fear The Boot podcast, but they're awesome. Give a listen. The article is invaluable too. I was glad to find another cool D&D blog out there.



Thanks for posting the links, I was on my way out the door to work when posting.

I wanted to got to Fearthecon, they run it here in Saint Louis.
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
Visualization is not a talent everyone developes. 

There should be room for both - the last edition left no room for my style - so I welcome 5th Edition's inclusive move.
I'm an heroic adventurer.

I don't need "tactics" - I need balls and I need companions - and a weapon never hurts, but isn't necessary... because I can improvise.

TOTM is the only way I roleplay and why I left 4th Edition behind.

Doesn't mean I don't use "some" visual aids - but they're fast and loose - like a goblin den mother.


FYI, you can use TotM in 4e. 

Our group did a 14 hour 4e adventure (a one off epic adventure) a few weeks back, in a car - totally TotM.  My PCs all started D&D with 4e and had never played this way before, but I started DMing back in 1e so I thought I could help them along.  They had very few problems playing without grid or minis,  I, however, had a hard time of keeping track of everything!
The thing I like best about TOTM is it makes it easier to keep the role-playing going. There is definitely a switch that happens between non-combat encounters and combat encounters that destroys the verisimilitude when using a grid. Particularly when you don't have mini's that match precisely with what the PC's are fighting (which happens a lot in my group, we're not really mini's collectors).



Do you stop using the grid and minis when you roleplay?  I think you will find that if you use the grid and minis during roleplay there is less of switch between the two.  To be honest, my PCs often do a lot of roleplay during combat, so maybe it just comes naturally for my group.
I don't think visualization is necessarily the problem I think for some people its communicating that visualization so that everybody is on the same page that is the problem. That being said, i've always played with a whiteboard, though I don't use it for every encounter, ( I started playing with AD&D ) mostly because a picture is worth a thousand words and it helps settle the spacial relation problems that arise on occasion. I also found that without the white board you spend five minutes on everybodies turn explaining where everything is again! 
Honestly I have no issues with whether they have movement in feet or squares ( as long as they don't do something stupid like put it in inches or meters like some games I've played... I'll be happy )
I think AD&D's Combat and Tactics book was a great example of how a game can easily be made to do both. 

But I would continue using a whiteboard whether the rules are made to cater to a board or not. 
Yeah, the mini's are pretty much ignored once combat is over. When we play there is a clear distinction between combat and regular roleplaying. To be honest, I'm not sure there is a way to avoid it once I call out, "roll for initiative". But, playing 5e last weekend without the mini's, there was definitely more roleplaying during combat than we usually had in our 4e combat sessions.
Yeah, the mini's are pretty much ignored once combat is over. When we play there is a clear distinction between combat and regular roleplaying. To be honest, I'm not sure there is a way to avoid it once I call out, "roll for initiative". But, playing 5e last weekend without the mini's, there was definitely more roleplaying during combat than we usually had in our 4e combat sessions.



Alot of people I have been talking with say the same thing. There is a switch that goes off in your brain that changes the mode you are operating in. It is that break in imersion that many palyers have issue with. Either way, I think, TotM is a skill that every DM should develop. It can help for both modes of play. 
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
The level of engagement needed for ToTM is something Iäd somewhat forgotten. It also tends to weed out some types of players, I've found (this not being a good thing). The more 'casual' players don't tend to pay attention to where things are, so that when it is their turn they need to be reinformed on what's occuring. This tends to get the other players annoyed, and pulls the people out of the mindset as well as breaking flow of combat. Then again, these types seemed to do just as poorly with the battlemats, as they would forget which minis were which characters, etc etc.

I'm fairly sure that there is no perfect way to do combats, but I think that having versatility is key, and I'm incredibly glad for the return of TotM. And while I appreciate that it is possible to do 4th with TotM, the precision of everything (powers, distances) certainly slanted things to grid combat. Describing distances in terms of squares alone meant that every power card required conversion, and while certainly not a big deal, I found that players would simply describe a power as shoving the enemy back 2 squares, rather than 10 feet.  A group of experienced, 'good' roleplayers perhaps would not all have this problem, but not all groups are equitable.
'That's just, like, your opinion, man.'