Many would argue that modern day table-top roleplaying games have their roots in miniature games and war games. These people are correct, but it’s quite obvious that the genre has deviated substantially since then, with a heavier emphasis on the roleplaying aspect with every rotation of games that are published. Even D&D has changed over the course of its five editions. One thing left over from the miniature gaming days that I still see consistently popping up is the use of a battle grid. I’ve heard them called by many names, but I’ll be using battle grid, as that is what my group took to calling it, when I first started playing.
I started the roleplaying game hobby in D&D 3.5, and have played plenty of systems since then. Some of these games all but required the use of a battle grid, like D&D. It’s very difficult to play without the grid, as many of the rules specify things like line of sight, cover, and specific distance. Other games, like Mutants and Masterminds for example, are made infinitely harder by using the grid. This is because the system wasn’t meant to be played that way. If you don’t believe me, try running a combat encounter between two speedsters on a 50×50 grid. Wouldn’t you believe that’s exactly what my group did the first time we played… We had a player in our group who was unwilling to play any game that didn’t make use of the battle grid, because he felt it would be impossible to keep track of tactics any other way. When one person in the party can move thousands of miles per round, then the battle grid is just in the way.
Many games don’t specify in the rules, and aren’t made more difficult with or without it. One example of this would be (You guessed it) Legend of the Five Rings. While the game doesn’t say anything about a grid, it would be quite easy to house rule its use into the game with the standard “1 square inch = 5 feet” that many are used to from D&D. When you’re dealing with this, it’s just a matter of preference. Now I know you might be thinking “You’re making this more complicated than it needs to be”, but I assure you, there are players out there who are very opinionated about this. Like I mentioned before, I had a player for a while that would NOT play unless there was a battle grid involved, because he wanted to be able to see every tactical advantage possible (Although, ironically, he never used any of them). Similarly, I now have a player that won’t play if there IS a battle grid involved. He thinks it takes up too much time, and makes the game more about tactical combat as opposed to roleplaying (Irony again, he happens to be a terrible roleplayer). The point is, there are people who have a very strong opinion one way or the other, so strong that some of them refuse to play any other way. Now, it’s worth mentioning that these players simply aren’t invited when we play a game that doesn’t fit their preferred combat style, so it’s not an issue of keeping players.
Ultimately, I prefer to not have it, if it is in fact not necessary to gameplay. Even combats that don’t have obstacles, such as an open field, I don’t use a grid for in systems that call for it, because I just genuinely don’t enjoy using them, especially as a GM. Now, if there’s eight enemies on the ground, seven on a balcony to the east, four on a balcony to the west, and three guys hiding behind the bar counter, then I’ll probably whip out the grid, because that’s just a pain. So do you prefer using a battle grid, or just using your imagination? Tell me in the comments!