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Many times, while I know the hard rules of Shadowrun, I fail to put together a good combat that can be clearly described to the players. When initiative is rolled, we calculate our phases and then movement (base movement divided by the number of phases in the turn). But while I like the Mind's Theater aspect of combat in Shadowrun, I get too many requests to pull out a battle map, which becomes cumbersome to draw out with the scale that I need.

I'm wondering if anyone here has had similar problems and if there are good ways of dealing with tactical combat and movement in Shadowrun. Is a battlemat good, or is it better to you imagination?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Lose the battlemap entirely . Use a whiteboard & be more generalized with things like distances & size once the grid is gone. If you're fighting in a huge warehouse district with streets around most buildings. You don't need to illustrate every single building/street.

Don't try for tactical, go for things like "pretty far down the street a car makes a sudden screeching turn pulls down one one of the side streets". The non-exact nature allows the mental theater you mentioned to color in some of the details as the combat evolves. If something happens like a building getting blown up to make some difficult terrain, you have difficult terrain anyplace that seems reasonable instead of "these three squares". Let one of your players manage the whiteboard so you can be free to focus on describing things.

With the grid out the window, a whiteboard in its place, & a player manning the dry erase markers/eraser, the mental theater can spring to life & with the exact dimensions lost to general terms the players stop thinking of movement like chess in favor of describing what they want to do to really add some fire to that theater. If I'm facing off against a rocket launcher with a range of X feet while in my tshirt with a stick, I'm not going to stand at X+1 feet & neither should your players going fuzzy with distance will make it so they stop trying and go with things that play out better in the mind for what they mean from the player's perspective than what they can see from their external godlike view of the situation as a player.

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Fleshing this answer out with more details/examples of use would make this a viable answer- especially in regards to the statement to be more generalized. – SnakeDr68 Feb 2 '12 at 23:37
+1 for great answer, especially the fluid nature of the tactical situation. – SnakeDr68 Feb 3 '12 at 4:04

For small, enclosed spaces, a 1yd or 2yd square battle mat is ideal, and gives a scale that's close enough that you can use minis from other games. I use miniatures from half a dozen different games; off the top of my head, WH40K is the only one that I can name.

If the battle area is large, or you don't want to go through the hassle of making a square-grid version, use a printed-out map on a piece of paper, or draw a small diagram, with a rough marking of scale. As the GM, it falls to you to guestimate distances (e.g. for shooting range modifiers), make rulings about line-of-sight, and so on. Pencil-on-a-napkin maps or whiteboard drawings are ideal, because you can mark them up with the positions of various characters, damage to buildings and terrain, etc.

I would also recommend making index cards for initiative, and quick battle stats of NPCs. For the NPCs, you can do the math in advance and just look up the number of dice they have to roll on the card.

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I found that for my group, a combat grid was the best way to go. No matter how descriptive I tried to be during combat, due to the need for exacting accuracy required in terms of who can see what from where, we always fell back to a combat grid to keep everyone on the same page. For the grid, I used a scale of 1 inch square = 2 yards which seemed to work out for most of the combats that I ran (lots of small arms and close quarter fighting).

As for movement, at the start of combat we determined how many passes the highest character had (usually 3 given the group contained a adept) and gave everyone that many passes, but for the extra passes beyond what they would normally get, they could only use those passes for movement. This way, the movement was spread equally while avoiding watering down the fast reflexes.

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