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.