The Battlemat

Posted: September 13, 2011 in RPG

Inspired by an article by Vanir on

I hear a sound when my players see a battlemat, the sound of disgust.

I kid you not a quote from a week ago: “Do we really have to use a battlemat?”  I currently run a Dragon Age game (which is a great system and if you haven’t tried it out, you should) but I have ran 4e and Star Wars Saga without a battlemat.  It is fairly easy to do.  Instead of looking down at a bunch of squares and plastic representations that pale in comparison to your imagination the player looks up at the GM the person, who is your guide to the world you are playing in, and ask can my fireball hit all 5 squares.  Part of it is person preference but I have noticed ever single time the battlemat comes out, it becomes a game of tatics.  When the battlemat is put away it becomes a game of roleplay a game of players being imaginative.   Battlemats take out the roleplay and the imagination of the game.  If I wanted to spend two hours bent over a table making tactical decisions on what my character does I would of played D & D minis.  Try it out for yourself.  Just run one combat as you normally do.  Then try one combat without the battlemat.  Yes the GM will have to work a little harder, but you will find the GM has more control over the game and the players will have more fun with it.

  1. bigbobbiek says:

    I have also seen the groan or look of disappointment with the battle map. But then, I have also seen where the combat starts without it, but then the players start getting extremely technical then lament the lack of map.

    I have come to a compromise, of sorts. Combats that take place in generic locations I suggest the group runs “on the fly” or sans map. If we’re in the woods and there’s a road, then we don’t need the “tacticality” of the map to say “I had in behind a tree” or “I stand in the middle of the road”. I will also suggest this for specific settings that aren’t too complicated in their description, or that are mutable in their layout. But if the group is in a highly specified area, that is complicated and has a lot going on, the map helps everyone remember everything that’s going on.

    I have also found that the map is very useful for large layouts, say an enemy’s base. This keeps the DM from having to repeatedly answer the same question and the players from getting mixed up on where specific features are in relation to each other. This helps them plan an assault or a course of action, but they can then role play those assaults.

    Finally, I think you can use the map and still encourage role play. Having an obvious and readily used reward system for creative thinking can help encourage players to role play despite the clean square lines of the map. Using the battle map is when one player attempted to kill the final boss by catching the villain in a bag of holding and throwing the bag into a portable hole (the result is both cease to exist along with anything in them). If your players let the boxes on the map define them, then that is more their issue that it is yours as the DM. I say do whatever works for you at the time, and encourage your players to not let them be defined by the map if it’s there. It’s like having a player fall into “Alignment Cliche’ “, where they feel every action has to be defined by their alignment (which is why I greatly enjoy systems that do away with alignment).

    Don’t let the map dictate to you. Force it to be nothing more than the aid it is.

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