Laidback DM – Theater vs. Grid

As a DM I like to run combat different ways. Sometimes it’s with miniatures and pawns on a 1-inch square grid. Sometimes it’s all in the imagination, what we like to call ‘Theater of the Mind’ (TOTM).

Here’s the pros and cons for both:

Grid/Battle Mat


* Precise – allows players and DM to see the combat area, make specific measurements, areas of effect, move figures realistically.
* Tactile and visual – allows players and DMs to envision the scene with the aid of physical pieces, similar to a board game, but also adds to the drama and assists those players who prefer visual aids.

Laidback DM - gameplay


* Gridlock – sometimes combat becomes very static with limited tactical movement e.g. player attacks monster, stays where they are to avoid opportunity attacks.
* Less use of imagination – RPGs are games of the imagination, built on description, acting and improvisation. Sometimes grids can take away from that, making the game more like a tactical board game.
* Physical aids – the DM and players need to supply miniatures, pawns, mats and/or terrain. These can be a pain to transport when you’re already bringing books, dice, paper, screens, tablets, etc. It can also make the DM reliant on or set up an expectation that physical aids are needed for their session.



* Quick combat – this depends on how descriptive you are with your combats, but generally speaking it’s faster because you’re not reliant on exact distance and counting squares for movement.
* Story-focussed – it’s easier to make the combat flow as a story, incorporating elements on the fly, than using a grid.
* No need for tokens/miniatures/maps/terrain – all happens in the head, potentially saves you a lot of money.


* Pressure – lots of pressure on the DM to remember everything that’s happening and describe the environment adequately so the players can picture the scene. Everyone visualises things differently and may be hard for players to get a consistent understanding of the scene.
* Lack of visualisation – some players prefer visualisation and rules lawyers may question DM decisions more because of the lack of specificity of the environment e.g. spell areas of effect, etc.

So which one is it for you? Grids or TOTM? Or both?

Game on!

Steve 😊

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Published by stevestillstanding

I’m a writer who loves tabletop role playing games, poetry and (you guessed it) writing. Occasionally I have something to say...

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