Minis or No Minis? Depends What Kinds of Memories You Want to Create

One of the great ongoing RPG debates is “Grid combat with minis” versus “Slightly abstract combat without minis.” It’s particularly interesting right now, with a new edition of D&D in development. There is, of course, no correct answer. But something odd occurred to me this weekend that will forever shade my views on the subject.

I have played and GMed a number of RPG campaigns for many systems and genres, with consistent play going back ten years or so. From both sides of the table, I’ve used minis and maps extensively, and gone with just rough notes on scratch paper plenty of times too. I was thinking back on my favorite moments from those games — climactic battles, crucial encounters, epic set pieces — and I realized something very interesting:

  • In games where we used minis and elaborate maps, I have very clear memories of those things. But those memories are of the minis. I can see the table, map, my friends sitting around drinking beers and sodas. Very vivid. Very clearly of the physical game itself.
  • In games where things were handled more abstractly, my memories are of the characters and the situations they were in. I see the game world, the monsters, the settings.

In other words, with minis, my memories were from outside the game, of the game itself. Without minis, my memories were within the game, of the fictional world we’d created together.

I’m not making any value judgments here. They’re different kinds of memories and experiences. I love reliving the crazy epic tabletop battles, like the one above that Ryk once assembled. But I also love dwelling in those fictional worlds a bit more thoroughly. Different games call for different approaches. Do you have a similar dichotomy of gaming memories? Maybe being conscious of this will let you make a more informed decision when it’s time to decide whether or not you want maps and minis on your gaming table.

2 Responses to Minis or No Minis? Depends What Kinds of Memories You Want to Create

  1. I have abstract combat with minis. Actually, everyone I play with rolls that way, thanks to the advent of plastic pre-paints. Heck, I use the World of Darkness system, but minis are still rad. It lets you see where everyone is in relation to everyone else! Plus, they are…cool looking? I use props, pictures, & having a sweet mini is another card up my sleeve.

  2. My tables always use minis because it prevents folks from arguing line of sight. Depending on the game we’ll play stricter of looser with grids and ranges, but I tried miniless once, and it became too much for the players to keep track of in their heads.

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