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Our group has recently started a campaign and we’ve decided to go gridless for the first time. It has been going really well but one issue that has popped up has been how we handle characters that are designed with maneuverability as a core feature set of their class. It seems that simply tracking players intent puts their class at a disadvantage.

How can I honor small differences in speed in a game where distance is not so precisely measured?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @AcmeCat I went ahead and made a couple of small edits to, I hope, more-precisely capture the core of the question. If I missed the mark at all feel free to edit the question again or simply revert mine. (By clicking "edited $TIME ago.") \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 22 '18 at 4:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I’ve seen significantly broader queries cf “how do I play Dnd without miniatures?”. I’m fine to make specific rulings ad hoc. Just looking for general ways to balance movement optimised characters in a game where specific distances have less importance, eg should character with slightly higher movementbe able to engage combatants at a distance with a slightly higher frequency than the rest of the characters, or is this generally too much of a hassle? Or is it simply that it doesn’t matter in totm and the onus is on the player to build character with this potential imbalance in mind? \$\endgroup\$ – AcmeCat Mar 22 '18 at 5:16
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Unique abilities need to be followed. In this situation, if everyone had the same movement speeds, etc., it would simply be straightforward. But, since you are in a situation that requires the extra effort to ensure that a player's movements need to be followed, to ensure they are not robbed of their special abilities, it simply means you need to spend that effort.

Going "grid-less" does not mean "map-less". When you describe your map to the party, there are several very important things to specify like distances and terrain; because they need this information in order to react to their environment. You can use a reference map - this does not need to be to scale, or particularly detailed, but it can help immensely for the players to understand their environment.

Tracking player "intent" is always going to be blurry. This is the same as declaring a "readied action" like 'I am going to cast an eldritch blast at the next thing that walks through that door'. What a player intends to do and what a player declares are two different things. In this situation, this is going to require both parties to communicate, in order to understand the layout, and the "intent" of the manoeuvre.

If you don't want to create a "disadvantage", keep everything further away. For example, if one player has a speed of 40ft, and the rest of the party has a speed of 30, make sure everything (at least starts) 40ft away. This means that the one player with the "extra manoeuvrability" can close the distance straight away, whereas the rest of the party needs to make extra effort (either by using their action to dash, or taking 2 turns) to close the distance.

But, is it really important? The most important thing to know is whether or not this really is an issue. Talk to the players and the GM and discuss whether or not this is important enough to always ensure this is kept track of 10ft of movement is one thing, ignoring difficult terrain is something much different.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Great tips @Ben I'm not sure that keeping everything out of range of the rest of the party keeps it balanced either, but certainly implementing this in a portion of the encounters this would help even things out. And as you note, communication seems to be key. Thanks kindly for your suggestions :) \$\endgroup\$ – AcmeCat Mar 22 '18 at 8:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course, this doesn't need to be the rule of thumb for all of your encounters. And there is always going to be a few situations where at least someone is at a disadvantage. But no, you don't need to enforce this type of thing for every encounter :) \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Mar 22 '18 at 8:13
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I play mostly with grids and maps; maneuverability and speed really shine using these tools, but there is a way to make those strengths work without grids. Here's how I've been ruling them.

  • Speed. Having high movement speed is rarely a core class feature. Even Monks and Barbarians which both have enhanced movement speeds gain these ribbon features alongside major class features like Extra Attack and Ki.
    That being said, to make it work grid-less, I keep track of how far (in feet) each combatant is relative to each other, especially with ranged attackers involved. If you don't want to get this detailed, it's fine to have the speedy monk not need to dash in order to reach the goblin with the shortbow once in a while. When adjudicating whether or not a combatant is within range of another after moving, I ask myself "How difficult do I want this encounter to be?". If you want it to be more difficult, lean on the decision that favors the NPCs.
    With melee combat, I simply take note of the difference in speed between the melee combatants, and the range of their weapons. If someone Disengages and runs away in a straight line, they will still be within reach of their enemy if their speed is less than or equal. If they have a touch more movement, the enemy needs to Dash.
  • Maneuverability. Classes with high mobility like the Rogue with their Cunning Action can be adjudicated like the above. The important thing to remember is whether or not a combatant can take an Opportunity Attack when one of them is maneuvering. That is, anyone who disengages can move freely along the battlefield, and if anyone is moved by a maneuvering feature like the Battlemaster's Maneuvering Attack or pushed back by a Thunderwave, they are forced out of melee reach, which means they can now move without provoking opportunity attacks, then depending on their relative distance, the enemy needs to Dash.
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