Okay, so let’s start with an oldie, but a goodie. Grids! Now, this issue only came up in my gaming circle a year or so ago, when Dungeons and Dragons 4e started to roll out. Before, even when we’d played 3.5 or another system that generally recommended using a grid, we’d just ignored it. I’d even been given a set of pregen maps in my D&D 3.5 Starter Kit, but mostly just thought that they’d get in the way of the game. The most we ever really used was abstract maps so people could get an idea of the lay of the land, never anything with regimented distances involved.
Then of course, 4e! You can’t play that game without grids, maps and figures, never mind all of the other stuff they try and press on you, like Power Cards and Map Kits, etc… So, when we first played it, we begrudgingly brought out the grid and dry-wipe markers, following the Keep on the Shadowfell adventure for level 1 characters. I wasn’t really sure what to think about it at first; it was very different to any other game I’d tried before (I cut my teeth on Exalted 1st Edition at the ripe young age of 13, try and imagine that!), and to be entirely honest, I was never a big fan of Dungeons and Dragons at the time, although that’s all changed in recent years. In any case, I was all set up to hate 4e, and, contrary to all logic, I loved it.
Yes, yes, I can hear your outraged gasps now, but from my point of view 4e is a very different beast to pretty much any other roleplaying game (except perhaps Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3e, which can go take a long run off of a short pier…). It’s more of a boardgame and a casual but enjoyable activity than a true roleplaying game, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less fun. In my opinion, 3.5 was always a compromise between roleplaying and mechanics, with overly crunchy rules often just getting in the way of doing what you wanted to do, and 4e took a sensible step by just taking it all the way over to the crunch side. Sure, if you want to do some deep roleplaying, maybe you should look elsewhere, but then again, there’s plenty of room for that outside of the grids and initiative rolling.
Okay, now I’m getting off topic. The real reason this has come to a head for me recently is that I’m currently playing in a D&D 3.5 game, harkening back to spells-per-day with nostalgia a plenty. We’re high adventuring our asses off trying to save the gods, or somesuch roleplaying staple, but an issue that often comes up is that of grids. Whenever we break out into combat in any but the most simple arenas, I often feel the experience would be greatly enhanced by a grid/layout of some kind. Sure, it doesn’t let you build up as much of an image in your head as perhaps you’d like, but on the other hand, at least no-one is going to go running off in the opposite direction to the enemy because “Oooooh! I thought he was over by the jaguar obelisk!”. My friends (and DM) vehemently disagree with me, but I’m just wondering what anyone else thinks?
Do you avoid grids at all costs in the hopes of a true imaginarium, or do you sacrifice some of the freedom of the mind in exchange for a little more ease of use in your games?