A friend told me that he would like to try playing a gridless game next - still on tabletop, but without the gridlines. Is there any difference in the game except for movement? There are some things I don't know how to go about like line of sight, flanking, and traps and invisible enemies. Any help?

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    \$\begingroup\$ 4e is an RPG which is especially hard to play gridless because a lot of power effects are of questionable utility without a grid. Groups have done it though. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 25 '13 at 3:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you trying to play without map or miniatures, or only without grids? Google shows up people that go for a narrative combat, but if you only want to remove the constraint of the grids, things can't be so difficult. Use a ruler for movement, line of sight and ranges (translate squares to centimeters) and a pair of compasses for area effects. Use miniature facing for flanking. I don't know which more problems can be in d&d4, but I don't think it could be so hard. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Apr 25 '13 at 7:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Savage Worlds RPG works gridless you use tape measures and rules and area effect templates instead. Works well IMO. \$\endgroup\$ – David Allan Finch Apr 25 '13 at 8:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah I'm trying to play without the actually grids, still maps and miniatures just without all the lines. \$\endgroup\$ – John Apr 25 '13 at 19:01

If you absolutely must play 4e gridless

First, mapping squares to feet is quite possible. Once you do that, you can absolutely play it as a proper wargame. Break out some cloth rulers and enjoy a "natural terrain." This could actually be a fascinating look at a more "realistic" D&D. Be prepared for the relative power of quite a few abilities to change. Be sure to rule about how to calculate the radius of area effects in the squares-to-feet game.

I would strongly recommend to play with essentials only. Measuring will consume non-trivial amounts of time, and you'll want to use a simpler set of powers to compensate.

I would also recommend bending wires to default areas. They are quite standardized zones of 3x3 to 11x11. Having a metal template you can plop down (and having transparent overlays you can leave on the map) will make things much much much faster.

You also need to rule about flanking and the number of people who can be adjacent to someone. I would recommend making a "melee" circle sufficient to fit 8 minies around someone, and paint the circle with different colours of nail polish to show flanking matches.

  • \$\begingroup\$ He wants to play without grid, not without board. He isn't talking about playing in their heads, he simply wants to move in the board with free movement. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Apr 26 '13 at 13:18

It sounds like the friend in question is suggesting a system which is designed to be run without a grid, which definitely does not describe D&D 4e. Plenty of games have no use whatsoever for a grid, and plenty that do can be made to work without one even if they’d usually use one, but 4e is going to make it very difficult for you. As @SevenSidedDie mentions, though, some groups have managed to do it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This does not even attempt to answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 26 '13 at 21:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk It did as the question was originally posed, which was more of a "what is my friend talking about?" And there were no answers at the time so it felt like saying what we were all thinking. Anyway at this point I feel awkward heavily editing a highly-upvoted answer, even if it no longer answers the question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 26 '13 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Gotcha, fair enough. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 26 '13 at 22:25

DM Scotty had good videos about gridless D&D play. You may want to check it out:

  • Episode 1
  • Episode 2
  • (... Other episodes I cannot post because of limitation. Look it up on his channel)

Videos are really informative and done by guy that actually play gridless all the time. If you search his channel you also find session recording played gridless. HTH.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Would you mind summarizing some information from your links so that this becomes an answer instead of a reference-check? We do like references here but we also want the site to be able to stand alone - checking links should be optional to users for both questions and answers. \$\endgroup\$ – LitheOhm Apr 26 '13 at 7:45

In our group we play gridless without any problems. It does require buy-in from the party, and rules-lawyery people might run afoul of this variant.

It works best if the DM is a little bit generous in favour of the party when estimating distances, so a PC might be able to move/reach 2.5 feet further (if that's what's needed to get into cover, hit their charge, land the fireball), and an NPC might be able to move/reach 2.5 feet less.

We've found the following easy-to-come-by implements can be helpful when estimating distances:

  • A ballpoint pen or a whiteboard marker is approximately 6 inches long, or 30 feet in-game. This corresponds to point blank range, medium size speed, etc. You can use it to eyeball smaller distances, or put it front-to-back on your playing surface several times to measure a larger distance.
  • Miniature bases are usually 1 inch in diameter or 5 feet in-game, so they can also be used to measure shorter distances.

We have been doing this in our 4e campaigns, and it's not a problem. My experience started with a grid but shortly moved to whiteboards, and occasionally the DM (me) prepares a map in advance with a program like Photoshop(painting) or Inkscape(drawing).

In practice, rules and number values do not need to be refactored. For context, this is the consensus of a gaming group consisting entirely of hardcore Computer Science students: obsessed with numbers, algorithms and game mechanics. In fact, the mathematics of the game become more consistent. Unlike the original grid system, diagonals will not make distance vs. time path dependent.

What changes? Instead of measuring by 1 square you've got 1 unit distance. To remain consistent with the grid mechanics, close blast powers have a 180-degree arc. That's it!

For measuring distances, you can set a token or miniature to be 1 unit in diameter (bonus if their base is round), or if you have no such tokens just draw a letter or symbol and estimate from there. In the interest of keeping up the game's pace, if your ruler's most prominent markings do not match the width of your mini's/tokens, don't use it.


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