For big complex encounters with combat, do you use a map with minis or tokens or a sketch?

For big complex encounters with combat, do you use a map with minis or tokens or a sketch?

For big complex encounters with combat, do you use a map with minis or tokens or a sketch? Do you just describe it all?  One of the first scenes in my upcoming game will have 9 npcs and 4-6 players, horses, obstacles, etc. Is there anyway to do this without a map and minis really? Would it merely be an exercise in futility? I sort of feel like using minis and maps takes away some of the imagination aspect of things, but does make it easier to know where people are etc.

Any advice appreciated!

16 thoughts on “For big complex encounters with combat, do you use a map with minis or tokens or a sketch?”

  1. It all depends on how big and complex the battle may be. I have not personally encountered a battle that required minis and a map to figure out. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

    To me, I believe you have to look at return on time investment. Remember that you rarely need to know the exact positioning of each hero and enemy. Minis might help everyone understand the general location and number of combat participants. Beyond that, I’m not sure how useful it would be.

  2. As a GM, It was hard for me to make the leap back to ‘theatre of the mind’ and also confusing trying to keep track of where things are even while using a drawing on roll20.   

    I think you should try to do it without minis so that you can get into the whole ‘it’s cinema’ concept..  

    Just imagine what is happening and describe it.  If a player has a different vision than yours, but it makes sense, incorporate that into your fiction.  Especially if their vision is awesome.  

    The hard part you may have is if you have a player that is having trouble using their imagination.  They will want to know where everything is so they can make ‘meaningful’ decisions.  

    Try to steer the players to “this is make believe”

    good luck!

  3. I suppose I just want to avoid leaving players frustrated with “I don’t know what’s going on!” when there are 9 NPCs in a small area. Ray Case how do you deal with it when you have say, 8 – 15 people in combat in an area where they could conceivably get around one another etc without frustrating players? It also seems it would take an awful long time to describe the entire scene “There are 8 bandits, 2 of them are holding a woman, a third is holding a man, the other 5 are spread out in the courtyard laughing at the couple and looking pleased” Actually… that doesn’t sound so bad I guess? But once you have 5 players in there, things get crazy.

  4. I ran 7 PCs against 4 opponents in a really dynamic environment without trouble recently. The players quickly nicknamed the bad guys based on my descriptions and things went fine. I used scratch paper to set the scene but never had to refer back to it.

    I think it would be tougher if both groups had large numbers, though. One thing is certain, if players are engaged they ALWAYS know where their characters are!

  5. Mike Wice, I think it will be hard the first few times.  It is a skill everyone playing needs to learn.  I think it helps their immersion and feeds the game.  Everyone needs to contribute!

    If you have players that can’t get past this, DW may not be the game for them, maybe?  Handholding is probably good, especially if you have a player that really gets the idea that you are playing make believe rather than a tabletop D20 game and can help you. 

    Lastly, don’t let the game be constrained by physics!  

  6. Maps help everyone know where they are. Make them sketchy, so imagination is required.There will be mismatches and mistakes, but follow the guidelines, and be generous to the players.

    The trouble with minis is that you don’t have enough, and you don’t have the right ones. My players and their man-bear allies battled against 500+ twig-men and other animated collections of bone and wood and guts, and I’m sure my memories of the scene are better for having had no (necessarily inadequate) physical representation.

  7. Coming to the end of a campaign that has run a little over a year and we have never had the need to use a battle map. Of course, we got our start with AD&D 2nd edition and didn’t use miniatures back then either, so that probably helps. A clear mental picture (at least on the DM side) and constant questions and answers to form the scene clearly are helpful. 

  8. I think you all are crazy. How could handle such a large and complex battle, all in your mind, and have everybody on the same page? It seems like there would be some serious confusion amongst folks unless you tried to keep it super simple and basic.

    Would anyone here be willing to write up a nice example? Not the entire battle but maybe the first round of an encounter? I’d like to know how you folks are handling this. If it can be done well, I want to learn how. I just can’t see it O_o

  9. Mike Wice  I mean, like Steven Markley said; make believe is meant to be fun and heroic and scary. If you say to them: it will take you a minute to run the 200m up the hill to meet the orc army, then basically everyone will wait for you to tell them they made it there (passive.) Instead, if you say in response to their desire to engage the orc army immediately: Okay, you charge up the hill into the orc army – they are pushing at you from all sides, what do you do? Then they are actively participating.  

    I guess what I mean is don’t constrain them based on physics, constrain them by the fiction.  If they want to charge up the hill into the heart of the army, it happens.  Maybe you might say something instead of immediately responding with “yes” instead something like “their archer captain notices you moving and it appears that they may rain fire down upon you” they may decide to do something else.  

  10. I only use miniatures if I’m wargaming. A teeming horde of slavering goblins with wickedly edged blades blocks the passage, choking its width is, after all, just a teeming horde. At best I have circles drawn on notebook paper with HP besides them so I can put a hash mark through them as they fall. Keeping players on the same page… I really don’t worry about that so much as long as they’re all in the same book so to speak.

  11. You can use Beans, Rice and Corn… Where Beans stands for the NPCs, Rice stands for the horses, And Corn for the PCs. For the obstacles use picles. Now serious, man (sry about the jokes). I usualy draw them. And i’ve made  some miniatures for PCs and NPCs too, they’re pretty cool. Those are good alternatives. Take care.

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