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D&D 4th Edition is heavily map-based in combat, right down to dungeon tiles and insert maps and the like. But what happens if a creature moves off the map, either willingly or through forced movement?

I've seen some DMs add to the map when something moves out, some DMs rule that nothing can leave the map (invisible wall), and some DMs rule that exiting the map is the equivalent of running away and removes the creature from combat.

Are there any actual rules that define what happens with interactions with the edge of the map?

Slight update: I'm especially interested in what should happen with forced movement and the edge of maps when there is no in-game barrier (eg: a dungeon wall) when the ruling for maps is "invisible wall" or "off map = run away." I'd appreciate it if answers could address this particular issue in addition to the more general question.

(ie: if walking off the map = running away, if you push a monster off the edge of the map, does it "run away?")

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I've tried to answer your update. But essentially you are asking "what should the official ruling be if the DM has this house rule?" and the only true answer is "don't know, ask your DM" –  Neil Slater Feb 4 at 9:26
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Am I the only one who finds this question so absurd? I mean, it's still a roleplaying game, not a board game, verisimilitude and internal consistency need to be maintained. There is absolutely no reason your character should run away if he steps 5 feet off the space where he is expected, and absolutely no reason to have invisible walls pop up around a battlefield, unless we are, of course, roleplaying in a weird anime setting where this actually happens. I find "extend the battlemat" as an answer so painfully obvious that I have yet to understand how an answer may be different. –  kravaros Feb 4 at 18:57
    
@kravaros: It's similar to other "on rails" vs "do anything you like" question, which is a common issue in RPGs, and although many would prefer anything goes in an RPG, if you are working with purchased content it can be a struggle to step beyond it. From that angle, pre-purchased battle maps that you cannot leave are no different to single path through the pre-purchased adventure that the group agree to "play it because that's the game on offer". –  Neil Slater Feb 4 at 22:39
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@NeilSlater The way I understand it, if you cannot leave the map, there has to be some sort of in game explanation for that, no? Otherwise, it reeks of immersion disruption, metagaming, and all the other bad things we have around in our RPGs. I the prebought map has a wall drawn around it, sure. If the DM says there is a real wall, sure. But if it's a open plain, and yet you cannot leave the map, that seems just so wrong to me. However, I understand your point: It is basically easier for both the DM and the players to work with anything they are given than to actively participate, right? –  kravaros Feb 4 at 23:04
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@kravaros It's no more absurd than spontaneously learning a new ability after killing your hundredth orc. Or "you cannot be removed from the story if you don't pull." Or anything dealing with hit points, health levels, etc. Almost everyone here draws the line between "game" and "simulation of realistic encounters" somewhere. Almost everyone draws it somewhere different. Getting upset that someone might be RPGing wrong is silly. –  AceCalhoon Feb 5 at 15:17

6 Answers 6

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Nothing special happens by RAW

There are no official rules describing being on or off a map in 4E. Squares, and what might be in them, are defined as game elements, but maps are not.

Technically, DMs that allow movement off map that looks like it should work (e.g. continuing along a forest path) are playing by RAW. If you can move to a location, and it would be a different square on the grid that happens to be off the map, then there is no game rule that says you cannot. There is no game rule that says that you cannot be placed there by forced movement. Nor is there any game rule that says this has any consequence beyond the distances, effect on Line-of-Sight and Line-of-Effect etc that any other location for a character has.

There are reasons to keep game on the map

However, that's not the same as saying the DM has to stop and draw more map - the map is a tool to get the job done, it shows where everything is, and makes it easy to apply the rest of the rules. It may be awkward to extend the map in practice, depending on DM, available space, time and materials.

Combat in 4E is often a set piece with a balanced encounter and prepared battle map. So it helps a little if that is how it plays out because it suits the players and NPCs to engage in the area that you have prepared.

Solutions that avoid invisible walls or running away

I usually have some incentive for PCs to stay on the map, but vary things to stop it seeming arbitrary. Here are a few things I have done:

1) Outside the map is populated by hostile creatures doing other stuff (maybe in the context of a larger battle). Optional: Minions drift onto the map each round, as a reminder that "there's a lot of them out there". Stepping off the map will put you in melee with 1 or 2 minions, adjudicated without using the battle board (I found this discourages ranged characters drifting away to keep distance, something I had a problem with a highly melee-averse ranged striker in the group)

2) There is lots of cover/concealment between on and off map, so stepping off the map may allow you to move around to another location (perhaps an Athletics roll or power required to move around), but attacks are not really possible between the on and off areas.

3) Nothing special happens off the map, but movement and attacks are adjudicated without using more battleboard (DM decides range, cover, adjacency as he or she sees fit). The NPCs have some reason to stay centrally, and enough range or cover, or special rulings so that PCs don't simply win by using ranged attacks from outside the edge of the board. This applies simply enough to many dungeon encounters.

4) The area outside the battle map is hazardous terrain - often the same type features in spots on the battle map. This doesn't have to be anything clever or fancy. A battle on top of a tall building, where none of the combatants has long-running flight, would work quite nicely.

5) The whole point of the encounter is for the PCs to cross the map, and the NPCs are trying to prevent that.

6) I have on a few occasions prepared an "infinitely scrollable" wilderness battle board (using tiles that repeat every 20 squares or so). So the PCs can have a running battle whilst the general terrain remains similar. It's not possible to "leave the map" as such, but I only need to prepare a 20x20 area (obviously this needs to have simple repeating features)

Invisible walls and running away are house rules

Ruling that "you run away if you leave the map" is not RAW in 4E, but may be a reasonable compromise. Yes the PC might gain some distance or cover advantage which could make sense in the game world given what is on the board, but it is not always worth the disruption/delay to the game to support that.

Combat in 4E has lots of abstract elements - the battle board does not even have real-world geometry to start with, and there are many meta-powers that work by controlling the board directly, despite that not making great sense logically. "Step-off-the-map = run away" is a house-rule-of-convenience completely in line with those kind of game elements.

Ways to handle forced movement off the map when there's a house rule

The OP asks specifically what should happen when forced movement pushes a creature off the map when a DM has made a house-rule of "invisible wall" or "run away". In this case the DM will need to improvise. For instance, if I were DM, I might simply place the creature at the edge of the map and require it spent the difference in points of movement to get back to that square before it could take any other action.

However if an enemy creature was forced off the map by use of a Fear-based power, I might rule "run away". I would inevitably rule differently for PCs and monsters because the game consequences would be different. A good rule of thumb for a DM improvising when there is no obvious RAW is to favour the PCs (but not so much that it becomes abusable - review any decisions afterwards). So "monsters run away, PCs must spend movement to return to the board" seems reasonable.

Ultimately you want to avoid silly arguments about the house rule, which is probably just in place because there is no squared paper or space on the table and the DM doesn't want the additional effort of tracking stuff not on the map.

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Typically in any roleplaying game whatsoever, if the action moves off the map (a Out Of Character construct to help players visualize the area), you add more to the map, either re-drawing it to show the new area or getting out a bunch more graph paper.

Unless of course there is a terrain feature in the way (like a wall, or a ravine), in which case you still need to be ready for when the wizard teleports across or the barbarian climbs up.

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In the end, the grid is just a tool to assist in representation and should not limit the actions of the participants. Limits like this are common in video games or software map aids, but that's just due to the nature of the medium.

Some spells and ranged attacks can reach much farther than even the largest maps can accommodate. I've been in games where 'off-map' combatants were handled with a bit of guesswork, instead of trying to accurately represent everything down to the grid.

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Hi, I did an edit to rearrange this, so that the basic answer comes first and the commentary is removed. (The comparison to our clueless ancestors probably will draw ire and argument.) If you think it's improved it, great! If no, do feel free to revert the edit using the edit history. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 2 at 3:15

There aren't any rules for handling characters leaving the already-defined grid.

It's quite reasonable for a DM to wish to keep combat on the defined grid. 4e is a game of tactical grid-based combat, and things like positioning and taking advantage of terrain features are of utmost importance. Gridless D&D 4e doesn't work very well - unless you do a major overhaul.

If you can have characters participating in the combat and yet not on the grid, that's a massive problem. Placing an invisible wall down, or saying that leaving the grid means ceasing to participate in combat, are both reasonable solutions to this problem.

There are DMs who may be comfortable expanding the grid with new terrain, or moving the combatants to new improvised maps if a chase ensues, but since that requires improvisation, not all DMs will be comfortable with doing that.

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I skimmed my DMG and have found no explicit rules for this so it depends on a GM ruling I guess, of course the ruling should take into account the PC's opinions.

Generally the grid is like a HUD GM needs to pause the game and extend the battlemap to cover the terrain which always existed there, so in my opinion the DM's who rule to add to the map are the most correct.

Although since that does consume time, and there are a lot of situations where creatures run away and the PC's won't/can't catch up so I can also agree with the ruling that creatures who are off the battle map are out of combat.

The other ruling that there is a invisible wall I can not see as being right, seems more like a (unfunny imho) joke a DM who thinks 4E is WoW would make, although it can be possible to game in a setting where the physics are literally game rules a la Erfworld although that would mean you were playing in a custom setting and this would have been explained at the very start (which obviously wasn't the case).

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No. A quick search on the online compendium suggests there are no hard and fast rules about leaving the grid.

Whether or not it's feasible, well... I'd say this depends heavily yon the locale of the encounter. If, say, you are in a dungeon, going off the map might mean you would be "in a wall" and therefore not possible. On the other hand, you could be in a large field or forest where leaving the grid only means you are in a different section of field/trees.

Personally, I make my own tiles based on DM Scotty and DM Gareth's videos on youtube. Here's a link to the start of DM Gareth's videos on modular dungeon tiles made out of cheap and easily accessible materials. This particular system has squares that you paint on the tiles to represent a stone tile floor, and you CAN make them roughly 1 inch by 1 inch, but it's not necessary.

Here's why I like this style of play, to measure movement you can just use a measuring stick! I have 3 different sticks a 6", a 5" and a 4". They are even color coded in alternating 1" blocks of color! These measurements cover the most common movement speeds, with the added bonus of not needing to rely on the grid. So if you end up off the map, you can use the sticks to measure things like character movement, Line of Sight and Line of Effect.

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