4E without miniatures?

So one of my players had hurt their foot and I was considering moving our game to their apartment for that session. The big problem was the place was a little small with no real room to plop down a whiteboard for minis (a typical apartment for most single people in Korea). Fortunately we didn’t have to change venues so I could host our regular game, but the situation got me thinking about playing 4E without miniatures.

As I’ve stated before I’m a big big fan of miniatures for playing D&D. I also think the way 4E is presented, going without a gridded map and minis would be a challenge. So if I were to run a game without miniatures and, more importantly, without a mapgrid how would I do it?

I would break down and still use some manner of tokens for play. It really helps visualize the action of who is where and whacking on what. Even if it were coins spread out on a coffee table, I think it would be difficult not having as least some kind of positional marker.

I would end up saying ‘yes’ a lot to players wanting to do cool things. If they wanted to charge across the room, yeah I’d likely let it slide and ignore any quibbles of actual distances. If they wanted to hurl out blast attacks and turn swathes of undead, yeah I’d likely just say yes a lot.

Sometimes though I’d want to throw a wrench in to see if a player could get into a flanking position, or if running by a monster might mean they get close enough for an attack of opportunity. I’d consider area attacks likely would hit 2 baddies with no problem, but I might roll a d8 for that third one. So a small chance that the monster is just out of reach, or the fireball didn’t quite get all 7 minions, all of those type of situations likely would require a roll of the die. Anything but a 1, and the player gets his desired result.

I’d use a 1d8 for typical resolution of player actions (with a bad result on a 1). I’d shift to a 1d4 or a 1d12, depending on how difficult the task, or actions of the player. Say a player needs to run by a monster in melee with another character, and wants to avoid an attack of opportunity. I’d normally pull out a d8, but the player says he is making a beeline to cross the room as quickly as possible, I might pull out a d4 to determine if he gets close enough for an attack (since he really isn’t worrying about getting swung at). However, if the player says he is trying to skirt around the fight as much as possible, I’d use a d12 (or just say he avoided the fight completely).

Using dice is a great way to randomly determine if someone springs a trap too. I’d use a 1D12 as a base (say a typical 8 x 8 room with 5 squares being trapped), and shift to other dice depending on the group’s actions (rushing through a hall rather than walking carefully). This is something I’ll likely start using in my regular game, even with using minis.

Typically my players map out a dungeon on paper, and switch to a map board once we get to a room that has an encounter. It sort of telegraphs the entire trap scenario when I suddenly need to have them place their figures out on the table. Using the die method, I can check each player to determine if they hit a trap first, then move the group to a grid board to resolve a trap encounter.

Why not a D6 and D10? I totally could use that. In fact a d20 is a good way if you need to resolve something at 5% to 10% increments (+/- 1 or 2). However, I like the simple idea of quickly shifting to different dice. It’s easy. More importantly when I roll in front of my players, I don’t have to twist around why this d20 rolled failed, while another d20 didn’t because of these ‘hidden’ modifiers and arbitrary DCs. They would know what happens when I roll a 1 on a d4, or with a d12.

I also like using a D4, D8, and D12 as the progression bumps up well with groups. Additive probability can be an issue with large groups. So that 1 in four chance of stepping on a trap trigger becomes almost a certainty in a party of 5. The same group would have an approximately 63% chance with D8, and 42% chance with D12. It scales pretty nicely.

I think 4E could totally be done without a gridded map. Less so without some kind of tokens (but I’d say the same with previous editions). I think quickly using a die roll would be a simple resolution to questions about ranges and distances. If you’ve been doing 4E without maps or minis, what tricks have you been using?


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