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Does using minatures curtail creative thinking in combat?


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#1 Godryk

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 08:29 AM

I've just been listening to Session 7 of ShadowFell Keep. Really enjoying it but while listening to the combat it got me thinking.

Prior to listening to session 7, I was listening to Sunless Citadel. At one point, the party used a door to cover themselves going down a hallway while they were being attacked. Creative thinking but it made me wonder if using miniatures has made combat become more tactical with more emphasis on the combat and not on "outside the box" thinking. I think the rules allow this kind of thinking with the skills but I was wondering from those who have played 4e whether they agree with this or will the "creative combat" - for lack of a better term - naturally start to develop once everyone is used to the rules?

I haven't played 4e before and have not played with the miniatures before so not sure if this is a valid question or not.

Keep up the great work. Love listening to the sessions.
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#2 BigJackBrass

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 09:06 AM

When I'm running a fight there are times when players might ask "Is there a tapestry nearby?" or something along those lines; and if there's no reason for there not to be then I'll usually say yes, or perhaps no but there's something similar. The environment is potentially a very important part of combat and if players want to be creative with it then that's great.

I have seen some GMs who use very detailed maps and counters, showing everything in the area. If it's not there then it doesn't exist. The majority of GMs probably don't do this, and mostly I've seen people chalk a rough depiction of the area and note down any major items and obstacles, but leave the other stuff to verbal description. The more detailed the map the more potentially restrictive, I'm inclined to think. Even a simple map reduces the chance for fudging things, though: That fighter might be just out of reach of the goblin, but the player describes a terrific bit of action and the GM ignores the matter of a few feet in order to make the play more dramatic and let the fighter take his attack. On the other hand maps are useful for very involved combats, helping to alleviate the old problems of not realising your character is within range of an enemy, or attacking the same target your colleague has just felled, when you thought you were taking on an entirely different one.

Personally I've tried using maps and not using them; in general I don't bother, preferring to put down a few counters if things are especially complicated but this is more to show a general relationship between figures than an exact placement. There does seem to be a tendency with the latest D&D rules to fall into the same series of rather "boardgamey" moves, but that may be something that lessens with familiarity, as you mention.
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#3 Dungnmaster001

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 10:55 AM

I've just been listening to Session 7 of ShadowFell Keep. Really enjoying it but while listening to the combat it got me thinking.

Prior to listening to session 7, I was listening to Sunless Citadel. At one point, the party used a door to cover themselves going down a hallway while they were being attacked. Creative thinking but it made me wonder if using miniatures has made combat become more tactical with more emphasis on the combat and not on "outside the box" thinking. I think the rules allow this kind of thinking with the skills but I was wondering from those who have played 4e whether they agree with this or will the "creative combat" - for lack of a better term - naturally start to develop once everyone is used to the rules?

I haven't played 4e before and have not played with the miniatures before so not sure if this is a valid question or not.

Keep up the great work. Love listening to the sessions.


I don't think so, though I can see where it might for new players or people who haven't tried thinking outside the box in combats before. Once you've done it enough it's hard not to think creatively in combat.

The miniatures enhance the tactical aspect but I haven't noticed a lack of more traditional creativity in games I've observed or played.
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#4 Hal

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 11:23 AM

I think it is a fair observation. When you break the world down into 5' squares and have turn by turn movement it really does sterilise the situation somewhat.

I am always open to ideas in combat from the players (as you can perhaps tell if you have listened to any of the Rolemaster sessions). I am happy to allow players to do crazy stuff in combat - they just have to ask :)

I do think the grid is more the blame than the minis though. Minis just help with positioning (or at least they should). Lets see if the players can take up the challenge of creative combat. I think they are doing pretty well so far :D

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#5 centauri

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 11:24 AM

I use maps and minis. I don't have a really big baseline for NOT using maps and minis, but I don't think using them quells creativity. Even with maps and minis, I've had players describe very acrobatic or flashy moves in combat, or make good use of map elements. I don't know if I'd have more without the map, but I suspect I'd have to spend more time adjudicating things. For instance, I trust my players, but if I tell one of them that an enemy is going to bull rush him out a window, the standard reaction most people will have is to exclaim that they're not standing right next to the window, that they're not stupid. With the map, it's pretty self-evident, though I still try to give fair warning and I still have to adjudicate a few things because I'm a crap cartographer and people needn't be punished for misunderstanding my scrawls.

When I think maps and minis are a problem is when they're used outside of combat. I can understand that DMs might want to know where everyone is situation in case he wants to spring a trap or an ambush, or in case a thief asks to pocket something out of sight from the others, but it just rubs me the wrong way to have to move my character around a map when I'm searching an area, or talking to NPCs.
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#6 HisDivineShadow

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 12:01 PM

Of course, D&D has ALWAYS used 5' squares - nothing new there. I've been playing D&D with minis and a battle grid since 1978...

What having proper rules does is allow the players themselves to understand what they can do during a battle, and make decisions appropriately - it empowers the players. They can see if they can reach an opponent, or where to move to flank an opponent, or where there is some environmental feature they can use to their advantage.

Otherwise, the DM gets to decide pretty much every detail of what the players can do - and while that may be fun for the DM, it's certainly not as much fun for the players! "Yeah, I'll let you do that", and "No, you can't do that" is too much like control-freakery for my DMing tastes.

Of course, it's up to the DM to allow the use of the environment - for example, tables that provide cover, a rug that could be pulled to knock over someone standing on it, a precariously balanced statue that can be tipped over onto an opponent, and so on. But it's best to design-in some of those features. Otherwise, the DM has a habit of making things up on the spur of the moment, and it's usually pretty obvious to the players when that happens.

All this is allowed by the rules. But the use of a grid allows movement to and positioning be regulated in a very intuitive and apparent fashion so that, as I said, the players know what they are doing and don't rely on the DM for every little detail.
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#7 Balgin

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 12:18 PM

Of course, D&D has ALWAYS used 5' squares - nothing new there. I've been playing D&D with minis and a battle grid since 1978...


Erm, not exactly mate. It always used 10' squares in 1st and 2nd edition. The 5' squares were a 3rd ed thing.

For instance, I trust my players, but if I tell one of them that an enemy is going to bull rush him out a window, the standard reaction most people will have is to exclaim that they're not standing right next to the window, that they're not stupid.


Really? Most players I know would ask what their chances are of stepping aside and tripping/shoving/pushing or in anither way, sending the enemy out through the window on his wild charge (and drop into the depths beyond).

I don't know anyoen who'd say "I'm not that stupid" because standing by a window isn't stupid unless you know someone's going to try to push you through it in advance. Now if the entirte party has been pre warned that this monster likes to hurl people through windows (and observes all the smashed windows in this old cathedral) then fine. But otherwise the guy's just being silly.

Now I know a few people who might say "but I might not be by a window" and maybe a few might insist that they're not.

However, the best argument for using maps and miniatures (or at least a few chess pieces or dice or markers of some kind) was ahorrible encounter that occurred a few years back.

A minotaur emerged from a tunnel and stood with his back to it, blocking it. A player moved to one side and attacked. A second player (who had previously stated that she despised using miniatures in combat) then stated that she wished to move behind the minotaur's back so she could flank it and backstab it. Everyone explained that she could just move to the opposite side and be flanking it but she insisted that she wanted to get behind it. Everyone then explained that this would involve trying to mvoe through the minotaur and tried to disuade her but she insisted on trying to move through the big angry monster with predictable results.

She got very angry and stormed off.

A few months later she was using maps and miniatures to handle battles and it was all her idea and she'd never thought otherwise.

Yes she is one of those people who shamelessly steal ideas and try to take the credit for it (and actualy con themselves into believing it too).
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#8 HisDivineShadow

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 12:27 PM

Of course, D&D has ALWAYS used 5' squares - nothing new there. I've been playing D&D with minis and a battle grid since 1978...


Erm, not exactly mate. It always used 10' squares in 1st and 2nd edition. The 5' squares were a 3rd ed thing.


Sorry! But the point I was making stands. D&D has ALWAYS used a battle grid. In fact, in 1st ed, all distances were measured in inches, like tabletop wargames used to be.

(I have to say though - the 1st edition used the modified Chainmail rules, but I'm pretty sure that 2nd edition used 5' = 1". I still have some of my battle grids from 2nd edition, and they DEFINITELY have 1" squares, which were representing 5'. Not only that, but I still have loads of my 2nd edition miniatures - and they are the SAME SIZE as the 3rd and 4th edition miniatures! For these reasons, I'm pretty sure you're wrong about 2nd edition using 1" = 10'...)
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#9 centauri

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 09:11 PM

For instance, I trust my players, but if I tell one of them that an enemy is going to bull rush him out a window, the standard reaction most people will have is to exclaim that they're not standing right next to the window, that they're not stupid.


Really?

Pretty much. I haven't gone without miniatures for a while so maybe times have changed, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that sort of response.

Most players I know would ask what their chances are of stepping aside and tripping/shoving/pushing or in anither way, sending the enemy out through the window on his wild charge (and drop into the depths beyond).

I hear that kind of thing, too, but that has more to do with what the rules allow, than where a miniature is located.
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#10 MelkiorWhiteblade

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 10:42 PM

I think it depends on the players, but I know my regular players will use any ambiguity to their advantage.

In a recent game, I said my character was approaching a potentially hazardous area. Another player stated that she was following me. When the poison was released, she was upset that she was caught in it's radius.

There was more to the situation, but I think it boils down to a tolerance for ambiguity, and trusting the DM to a degree. If it's more of a story telling game or group, then it's easier to go with what works for the story, than having to use minis or a more 'rigid' structure.
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#11 Sinister-Ornament

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Posted 10 August 2008 - 01:47 AM

I think miniatures (or even simple tokens) can be handy – the way I’ve used them, is to show general where everyone is for example a rough sketch of a house is on the table the GM can place miniatures like markers so he doesn’t have to remember where every individual PC is.

Having exactly divided into squares would probably lead to the RPG slowing down during combat, rules lawyer types getting out tape measures etc.

I’d recommend using the stands for cardboard heroes and blank card so you can write in pencil a PCs name (e.g. Feylin) or a monster (Indescribable tentacled horror) alright this doesn’t have the advantage of looking as good as proper 25mm miniatures but it has the advantage of being easier to transport.

I remember to red d20 being used as token to represent two Xorn (who demanded all our coins with menace) my AD&D party was attacking, and after the GM’s description of them it was easy to look at the d20s and imagine them standing there, blocking the cavern there presence dividing the party into two groups (the solution was too pole vault over them - with hilarious consequences).
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#12 eformo

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Posted 10 August 2008 - 09:43 AM

One thing that I despise about minis in combat is the engineering-esque things that it leads to.

As an example, the fighter is engaging a minotaur in combat, face to face, one on one. Throughout the rest of the room, a large battle is swirling around and arrows are flying, goblins are trying to outflank them and get behind the fighter. The mage casts a fireball, centered on that square there so that the fighter does not get caught in the blast, but the minotaur does.

I prefer more ambiguity in combat. The question "How many of them can I get?" is never really asked with minis and battlemat. You look at the map and figure out where to place it to get the ones you want. But in the more free-form game, the question is asked and the player gets a more realistic answer that goes something like this:

"Well, you can probably get 2-3 of the goblins. Maybe 4. Or, you can spend the next minute moving about the battlefield with a tape measure and recording all the distances, computing the distances from putative blast centers to the 3rd decimal point and then get 5, but only after 10 rounds and opportunity attacks from every enemy on the field. Oh yes, and while you're measuring, some of them move."

I know that the lengthier response doesn't lead to great power gaming, but it allows for a little more realism in the game. Not all characters should have access to satelite imagery of the battlefield from overhead with distances so that they can calculate the outer extent of their fireball to the nearest foot. Besides, a massive explosion of flame that does terrible damage to one thing, should not go unfelt even 5 feet away...

Nevertheless, we still use minis. And from time to time, I grit my teeth, but at others, it's great.
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#13 HisDivineShadow

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Posted 10 August 2008 - 06:00 PM

This is what I was talking about when I said the use of miniatures and a decent ruleset empowers the players.

THEY get to decide what they can do, not the DM! And while doing so, they most certainly do NOT need to get out a tape measure and record things to several decimal places. That characterization is nonsensical!

If you want to know what's caught in the blast, it takes only seconds to count out, say, a 3 by 3 square. This is MUCH better for the players than the DM telling them what they can hit.

I can only assume you haven't been playing the 4th ed rules correctly...
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#14 Balgin

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Posted 10 August 2008 - 06:21 PM

The mage casts a fireball, centered on that square there so that the fighter does not get caught in the blast, but the minotaur does.


Just a quick response to this: I detest the AD&D fireball (which is basicaly a grenade). Yopu chuck this small thing that explodes into a big ball of flames.

I prefer the Advanced Heroquest type of fireball which leaves your hand, becomes abig ball of fire and then flies off to the end of it's range burning everything in the way.

I do not prefer this because it burns things or it does more damage. It's just that to me a spherical explosion isn't a ball whereas a ball of flame that moves is.

Not all characters should have access to satelite imagery of the battlefield from overhead with distances so that they can calculate the outer extent of their fireball to the nearest foot.


You know there's a reason for all those perception, concentration and "controlling/knwoign stuff about magic" skills. You GM is free to demand skill checks at any time and for any seemingly valid reason :P.
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#15 Telemergion

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Posted 10 August 2008 - 09:57 PM

Frankly I've had freeform experiences that were quite restraining and grid experiences that became quite crazy and filled with random occurances. I don't think having a battlegrid and minis drastically affects what you can or can't do. I think it mostly boils down to the DM and the players as well as the given day.
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#16 eformo

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 09:12 AM

If you want to know what's caught in the blast, it takes only seconds to count out, say, a 3 by 3 square. This is MUCH better for the players than the DM telling them what they can hit.

I can only assume you haven't been playing the 4th ed rules correctly...


I think I'm misinterpreted here. It's not the player I think needs to break out a tape measure - it's the character. If you've ever been in a chaotic scenario like a fight, you'll recognize just how difficult it is to calculate a point that is precisely 30ft (not 29, because then the fireball would get the fighter too) from a given point.

Imagine the scenario where two soldiers are fighting in hand to hand combat. Is it even remotely feasible for a 3rd soldier to come along and toss a grenade far enough to the side so that 1 soldier will be totally unscatched by the blast? No. So how is the party wizard going to calculate that for purposes for placing the fireball? Unless they are fighting in a room with a grid on the floor, their characters can't just count out a 3x3 square.

I don't question the ability of players to do this in a time effective manner, but I despise the approach to combat that makes this possible for the players.

And we're playing 4e rules exactly as written. I'm merely expressing my disdain for them. Just because I don't like the rules system well doesn't preclude my enjoying a game with friends that happens to involve said rules.

A final note about GM's and players. The Players get to decide what they are TRYING to do. The GM decides what actually happens (often with dice playing an important role). It's how all the players work together, both the player who is Game Mastering and the players who are PCing. You may disagree, but this is the view I take and I choose not to GM in groups where this philosophy isn't shared. I'll play a character in other groups, but won't GM.
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#17 Dungnmaster001

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 09:59 AM

I think I'm misinterpreted here. It's not the player I think needs to break out a tape measure - it's the character. If you've ever been in a chaotic scenario like a fight, you'll recognize just how difficult it is to calculate a point that is precisely 30ft (not 29, because then the fireball would get the fighter too) from a given point.

Imagine the scenario where two soldiers are fighting in hand to hand combat. Is it even remotely feasible for a 3rd soldier to come along and toss a grenade far enough to the side so that 1 soldier will be totally unscatched by the blast? No. So how is the party wizard going to calculate that for purposes for placing the fireball? Unless they are fighting in a room with a grid on the floor, their characters can't just count out a 3x3 square.

I don't question the ability of players to do this in a time effective manner, but I despise the approach to combat that makes this possible for the players.


I can see where you're coming from but for me this falls under the category of "suspending disbelief for the sake of the game" there is a point where being realistic bogs the game down in pointless details. Having the grid and minis makes the players choices easier and the game runs more smoothly in most cases.


A final note about GM's and players. The Players get to decide what they are TRYING to do. The GM decides what actually happens (often with dice playing an important role). It's how all the players work together, both the player who is Game Mastering and the players who are PCing. You may disagree, but this is the view I take and I choose not to GM in groups where this philosophy isn't shared. I'll play a character in other groups, but won't GM.


Absolutely no disagreement here. I think that's the way it should be.
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#18 MelkiorWhiteblade

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 10:16 AM

It does seem a little ludicrous, but it reminds me the first time Balazar in WLD cast fireball. There was debate about how, having never cast fireball, he would be able to place it accurately.

I think it was determined that he just 'knew'. I think that falls under suspension of disbelief. Balgin had a good suggestion though. In D&D 3.x, A DM could require a spellcraft roll to accurately place something like a fireball.

The miniatures can really help make sure everyone is one the same page too. DMs who game with their significant others have found that arbitrary systems may lead to accusations of favoritism. (Actually, that happens anyway, but not as often...) :wink:

Kind of back to the original question (Does using miniatures curtail creative thinking in combat?), I think it depends on the system more. Palladium Fantasy RPG didn't have much of a grid system. But you could use miniatures to show where things are. D&D does harken back to war gaming more, so it seems that the grid and miniatures are important. But, the rules tend to allow some ambiguity, though not as much as Palladium. Heroquest, though more of a board game than an 'true' RPG, uses miniatures, but the ruleset limits creativity.

It really depends on the group and how they play. In the end, I don't think it's the miniatures that impact it as much as the players themselves.
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#19 centauri

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 11:40 AM

This thread has gone on for almost two whole pages. Time for a derailment!

First of all, fireballs are not grenades and thinking of them as huge explosions unnecessarily stresses the simulation and everyone's suspension of disbelief. Don't get me wrong, huge explosions are cool (not to say, "da bomb") but that image inevitably leads to people asking problematic questions, such as how can someone's reflexes protect them, or why didn't all the windows blow out, or why does someone on the edge take the same damage as some one at the center, or how can it be placed with tactical precision?

Second of all, calling for Spellcraft/Arcana/Intelligence checks to avoid one's allies unnecessarily penalizes the user of the fireball, by placing additional rules on their use, essentially requiring a extra, random, and ad hoc "to hit" roll to the rules. If it's agreed to beforehand by all the players, that's different, but I've been in games where the DM disliked the effectiveness of fireball and called for a check midgame. That's dirty pool.

Third of all, there are in-game arguments one can make as to why area effects can be dropped with 5' of precision. Spellcasters tend to be intelligent, for one thing (I'll get back to you on Charisma- or Constitution-based caster). For another, maybe the spell figures it out for itself where to go in accordance with the caster's wishes.

Finally, it's magic. When you see something that doesn't make sense, a wizard did it.

As one who has had many an encounter ruined by fireballs and sleep spells, I can understand the desire to make them riskier. The key method for doing this is, and should be, getting the enemy in amongst friendlies or vice versa. I've thought for a while that a good tactic for an invading army would be to intersperse innocent captives or slaves with the troops. Fireball that, Elminster.

To tie this into the the actual post. I think minis and a grid help with the fair adjudication of area effects as written. Either you can hit just the enemy or you must risk hitting a friend. There's no "I think you'll hit some of your friends, too" vs. "But I'm placing it to avoid my friends!" It's right there.
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#20 Dungnmaster001

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 11:46 AM

I've thought for a while that a good tactic for an invading army would be to intersperse innocent captives or slaves with the troops. Fireball that, Elminster.


Agree with everything you said...except one minor detail that makes this a bad example ... Elminster's an archmage. They get to (in 3.5 and I think 4th too, have to check that) make safe spots in their aoe spells so he actually could place a fireball in said army without harming the innocents :) I know what you were saying though, I just couldn't help but point that out :) (I'm a fan of Elminster so it caught my attention)

Edit: besides; the day elminster needs to use something so simple as a fireball is the day .. umm well I can't think of a good way to end that sentence so we'll just say it's unlikely.
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