Thinking out side the board

As I was reading through my old Players Hand Book, and the new Heroes of the Fallen Lands the other night I began to think about the rules. What percentage of these books would no longer be needed if your group no longer used a board or minis? How would powers play out? Would the combat be any faster? Would my players be any more or less interested in playing if I stopped using a map all together? I kind of like the idea of playing with no board, just chillen on the couch and playing a bit of theater of the mind style D&D. But before I do I want to think about how no map might affect my game.

The rules: There is a large portion of the core books, e.g. Players hand books and rules compendium, dedicated to the rules of combat. If flanking, grabbing, and position were all something the group had to imagine and agree upon would these sections of the book no longer be needed? At first I thought yes but looking into it there would still need to be rules on flanking, there would still need to be some way to determine who is hit by multi-target spells and attacks. There would still need to be some kind of rule set to replace most of the actions that once took place on the board. So no they might look different but the rules them selves would still be present. I as a DM would have to rewrite a few rules or just make some fast rulings on the fly if I want to adapt my 4e game.

The powers: To play with out a map or representation of PC position relative to their enemies most of the powers in 4th edition would have to be revised. Push and pull powers would become very nebulous leaving the DM to moderate and rule on the fly. Were a player to try to push an enemy over a cliff with a power it would be up to the DM to decided if the enemy is close enough to the edge or if there was just too much distance for the player to make it. As I mentioned before multiple target spells and attacks would also need some heavy moderation by the DM. Each round would have to begin with players asking how many monster or which monsters could be hit by an attack. Any powers that deal damage to adjacent targets would fall in this category. This would increase the amount of book keeping for both the players and the DM. Each would have to try to remember which monsters were adjacent and which were all the way across the room. If I am going to play with no map or minis I might have to alter quite a few rules and powers.

Combat Speed: If I were to do away with multiple target powers and push pull effects I could get away with a simple form of hit miss combat which might make the game run much faster and smoother. At the same time it might also break the game down into a very simple “I hit it with my axe” grind fest. While combat might be faster it might also carry much less flavor. If I were to include the above mentioned attacks and powers I don’t think combat would speed up all that much. As I mentioned earlier most powers and effects would require arbitration and lots of set up information for the players. I could also see a few arguments breaking out over positioning and location.

Player interest: I really couldn’t tell you that my players would be any more or less interested. I could see some of my players really getting into a game in which they had to imagine all of the action. I could see them being a lot more creative about what might be in their active space. Often players don’t think about what might be in their surroundings unless I draw it on the map. With no map I could see the players filling the room I described with all kinds of fun props and tools. On the other hand giving them a board on which to focus allows them to think ahead about their tactics. The board allows them to spend some time before their turn processing the information in front of them and allows the to try to make the best with what they have got. When they have to ask the DM at the start of their turn about positioning and range they might take longer for their turn and harm the flow of fun at the table.

Now I’m just theorizing on all of this. I have yet to play a board-less game at my table. The thought just struck me today and I think I’m going to have to try it out. But being a scientist (at least one in training) I thought I would throw out a hypothesis and then put it to the test. Could the board and minis be key to communicating the game? Do they take stress out of constant description or do they cause the game to drag? Am I wrong about everything? Have you tried 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons with out a board? Leave a comment and let me know how it went for you.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.

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About Thadeousc

Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.
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