Monday, May 19, 2014

Grinding to a Halt: Battle Maps

With my recent uptick in presenting audio RPG enjoyment to the masses, I’ve also come across a few stumbling blocks pertaining to the hobby, necessitating occasional bouts of serious audio editing. This has occasionally been warranted by a player ordering a pizza on mic, and henceforth potentially giving out his credit card number to the internet or, more frequently, the constant segments of dead air accompanied by miniature play with battle maps.
Let me preface the rest of this post by saying that I heartily enjoy battle maps, both as a player and a GM, and in games which employ them I find that my immersion level absolutely increases due to the additional visual stimulus. However, this is not the case for listeners of actual plays, unless there happens to also be a camera present and recording. For listeners, even listeners who happened to be there, the visual aid is gone, replaced by players either actively voicing their enjoyment of the visual aids, or staring dumbly at them; neither adding to the roleplaying in general or to the voices in the recording for the actual play.
I find that the extra stimulus for the players ends up slowing their reaction times and creativity, because they are busy converting what is shown on a table in front of them into three dimensions, rather than working from a constant mental narrative. There is also the difficulty in some players making the full transition into three living, breathing, dimensions, and thus are stuck in what I am going to call the Chess Mentality, where pieces can only move in certain ways and act in certain ways.

This is, of course, partially to be expected in games where combat mechanics work through very structured rulesets, where x number of feet translates into y number of squares. However, this thought process tends to ignore the z axis entirely. Players assume the roles of their static, plastic (occasionally metal), posed figures, rather than using them as a stepping stone for their own roleplaying. Eventually this thought process became the norm, and we began designing games with that concept in mind, creating imaginative terms, powers, feats, and skills for jumping over an enemy or running up the side of a wall, rather than having a player ask a question like “What if I were to slide between the giant’s legs and try to end up on his back side?”
As stated above, don’t take this to mean that I dislike miniature combat or battle maps. They do offer wonderful visuals for players, good reference points for hand-drawn maps, dimensions, etc., but I’m curious to see what a combination one could manage with a part imagination part map game, where you draw maps, but to a smaller scale than the players’ miniatures, so that they can have an idea of how they are moving, and where they are going, but at the same time not just be moving pieces along a board game.
I hope to test out this theory sometime. Hopefully it’ll cut down on some of my audio trimming time.


  1. Ahhh, see, I was wondering when I saw your post on FB about editing for 4+ hours what you were doing. This makes sense now.

    I occurs to me I don't usually listen to APs that are battlemat-focused systems. It's definitely easier to run a CoC game as an AP than, say, D&D 4e, I'd think. There are those video APs on YouTube that use various virtual tabletops to display the battlemat action, but who has time to watch an AP?

    I don't want to go so far as to say APs and grids are incompatible, but...

    I ran one Deadlands session with a mat because it was going to be a big complicated combat and I wanted that physical reference point. I did wonder at the time how it would come across. Fortunately, Savage Worlds is "fast, furious, and fun," so the players kept up the chatter through the combat--there wasn't a lot of staring at character sheets or rules lookups to slow things down and lead to awkward pauses. So SW might be a good option.

    Speaking of SW, that's a game that you can use minis without a mat or grid. Just lay 'em out and measure with rulers, ala a minis wargame. That might be a good way to loosen up minis-based combats in general. In fact, some folks have already been talking about doing Pathfinder without a grid:

  2. I definitely see less downtime with the Iron Kingdoms RPG recording when it comes to combat, though that may have to do with the players' growing familiarity with the system, it seems most of the quiet time now is Susan needing to look up stats for opponents.

    I wonder if it's possible to engage someone as an adversary for that game. Well, possibly yes, but space-wise....probably not so much. We're gaming with potentially 5 players (plus susan) at the table AND Laura Skyping in from SoCal.

  3. I've been running 13th Age of late and while it encourages miniatures, movement and distance is abstract so I can do exactly what you describe in your penultimate paragraph and I produce maps to a smaller scale than the miniatures. The added bonus is that we can depict larger areas without swamping the table with a massive battle map.

    1. Thanks for reading! I definitely prefer the concept of creating my own, smaller scale maps, especially when I can spend time adding detail without worrying particularly about scaling to miniatures.

      It's good to hear that the idea works, as well.