Grid Paper or Spoken?

Which do you prefer? For the Caves of Chaos, I have been using spoken word as it means that I can have areas not revealed to the player and it means I can improvise on the spot, making up hallways, secret rooms, and areas that were not given but needed to be fit into my story. I had created a town, and gave the player a pet (wolf, as used in Bestiary), and we began killing kobolds. I think pencil, paper, and no strong accents, seem to work best for me. I just describe what is around them, and the hallways, number of doors,...etc...etc...etc...

ALSO I like how everything seems to be simplified into the six stats, it makes it easier for calculations, and easier to wrap my head around the rules. 
It is nice to do both depending on the encounter.  For more tactical encounters with lots of foes use grid...for more quick skirmishes and outside combats I like to use ToTM.

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"


Rhenny's Blog:



 I think you're asking if we prefer to lay the dungeon map down and have the PCs explore it, or if we prefer to describe what they find. Is that correct?

I have never laid down a dungeon map for PCs to explore. As far as I'm concerned, the big, blue Caves of Chaos map is for the DM only. In the orginal B2 Keep on the Borderlands, Gary Gygax made clear that the PCs are expected to map the caves as they travel through them.

He also stressed that the printed adventure was just a starting point; that the setting belongs to the DM, that you should personalize it "and suit it to what you and your players
will find most enjoyable." (TSR 9034 p. 2)

So it sounds like you're following Gygax's notion of what the Caves of Chaos was designed for Smile

"As the good archmage often admonishes me, I ought not let my mind wander. It's too small to go off by itself"

Danilo Thann

I did both Tableau Vivant (Grid) and Theater of the Mind (No Grid) and i like both depending on whats the encounter about and the time allocated for it. I prefer ToTM for quick skirmishes  with less terrain focus and i prefer TV for bigger set piece or encounters where it involves terrain interaction.
After playing "theatre of the mind" for the first time last night, my young, teenage players, who've known only 4E, commented that the fact that they had to describe their characters' movements, rather than just move a mini, made them feel more immersed. They said it felt "more like telling an exciting story, and less like playing a board game".  Being an old timer who started playing with the original Basic Set, it was heartwarming hear.


"As the good archmage often admonishes me, I ought not let my mind wander. It's too small to go off by itself"

Danilo Thann

I am running Caves of Chaos on  The software is a bit buggy, but I really like the ability to easily hide parts of the map that the characters can't see.  It is kind of the best of both worlds, making combat easier (movement wise) and distance calculations a snap.

Having decent maps is one of my favorite things about 4e.  I remember 3.5 campaigns where we did everything in the theater of the mind, and it had some perks, like needing less table space, but it was frusrating playing as a mage and wondering about distances.
Spoken, but I've got a sheet of grid paper thati can draw out the complex of the dungeon as it comes for the players, gives them an idea of dimention and places they missed (trying to encourage my pc's to draw and make their own notes), but when It doesn't seam like they need it I preferr as much theater of the mind as possible.
My players are really starting to enjoy no maps & minis, although I still have a soft spot for them.

When it comes to exploring, I think letting the players draw the map as I explain it to them gives them a tactile feel to their real-time exploring, and it's more like they're actually plumbing the depths of the cave or dungeon. I think big fights could still use grid paper, though. Personally, I'd rather spend more time making aged world maps for them. They eat it up! 
I played my first game of Blingdenstone without a map, and the players requested that I draw one during the game because they could not keep track of where they or the monsters were.  I think I'm going to keep pushing them to not use a map except in games where there are many monsters - I can see how they got confused because they had a running battle going on with some zombies, stirges, and skeletons that moved through several small buildings.

Any advice on how to be more succesful at TotM in the future?
my group has done more with the TotM over the grid work. for epic battles i would go with grid but if I was going with a truly magnificent battle then i may go TotM just so the players can let their imaginations soar. I woud use ToTM for example if the players are fighting a Beholder on the arms of a giant ancient statue of Pelor above the crumbling ruins of the grand cathedral. Definately TotM cause I would hate to have to draw that damn room.

for advice on running theatre of the mind. Close enough is good enough.

That advice is pretty useful in all fo the game, after all it is supposed to be fun and the rules can't get in the way. I also like the idea that a failed roll doesn't have to be a failure just that it caused a complication greater than what you were trying to accomplish. This way the story moves forward and possibly tou get a couple more layers to the encounter. 
I ran strictly TotM for many years.  When 4E required the shift over to gridded encounters, I grudgingly attempted it, but found it so off-putting that I eventually had to shift back to the narrated version, heavily modifying 4E's rules in order to do so.

HOWEVER - my youngest son (9) first learned D&D under 4e's grid design.  When I shifted back to spoken description, he declared that he really missed 'seeing' where his character was on a map.  I've compromised by sometimes doing certain set-piece battles, particularly those with key terrain features, on a mat.

Lesson: it largely depends what style introduced you to the game.
We've been using ToM and have tried maybe 3 grid combats. Frankly the grid combats have been okay, but I feel like we didn't need to use it.

However, in almost every ToM combat we've used a sketch of some sort. Since distance is an important part of every character's powers/skills, constantly rehashing how far away something is from you, and keeping track isn't so fun. On a basic sketch of the area, it much simpler to have everyone just remember where they are from the previous round. Simple symbols for trees, statues, buildings etc are enough to suffice at about a 1:4 proportion on a 1" grid.

I was just thinking today about how I would like to use our battlemaps just a bit more to be more clear. I've decided I'll try making a 1" box equal 30' since that is the standard distance a creature can travel in a round, and using this for outdoor settings. Indoor would probably be 1" = 10' or 20' just as a summary of the area.
Spoken 99% of the time. Using a grid takes up so much time and space I don't generally feel like dealing with it.

In a dungeon or similar environment and in mass battles, I'm more likely to use a grid, because location becomes much more important, I think.

I found my 'battlemat' in the hobby section. Apparently people who design clothing use a 1 inch square grid. It was much cheaper than 'official' battlemats, but was essentially the same thing. I bought two of them for when the characters are searching large areas like town ruins and such.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
Sign In to post comments