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I'm playing 5th edition D&D as the Dungeon Master for my son and his friends, and I have never played the game before. Is a map/grid required for all actions?

If, say, one of the players is inspecting the dead horses from the Starter Set adventure, do they have a certain number of spaces they can move? Or when in combat, can they only move a certain number of spaces?

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    \$\begingroup\$ BTW, thank you for bringing more players into the hobby! \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 18 '16 at 20:28
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The map/grid is optional item that the DM can use. It typically only used in combat situations, or in particular types of situations the DM deems that a map/grid is needed or could be of use. It allows for members of the party and in particular the DM to keep track of the creatures, and where they stand in respect to one another. As keeping things in your head can be a challenging task at times.

However in your example if a player wants to inspect horses, then you would just say they inspect it and have them roll an investigation check. No need to get tedious with movement. This allows for the game to be move forward and not get caught up in the numbers involved.

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    \$\begingroup\$ OK, that helps a lot! Thank you. I appreciate the clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – David Burnett Jul 18 '16 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ The grid is also a variant of the game and not required for combat at all \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Jul 18 '16 at 20:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would be improved if it made clear that grid-in-combat is also optional--there are plenty of tables that never/rarely use them, there are plenty that always use them. Best would to be discuss when they're more- and less-useful. As OP has indicated the whole table is new, some guidance on whether or not to choose map/grid would not be out of place. (I think.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 18 '16 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Updated it to include the fact that it is an optional item and can be used at the DM's discretion. \$\endgroup\$ – Francisco Jul 18 '16 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning that the grid map helps one keep track of tactical movements instead of relying on the mind's eye. Particularly useful for newer players. \$\endgroup\$ – BaseHobo Jul 18 '16 at 21:17
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Playing on a grid is an optional rule

Implicitly, 5e uses “Theater of the Mind” for combat: that is, tracking positions and distances only loosely and focusing on the narrative.

Playing on a grid is explicitly called out as a variant rule, with clarifications for Squares, Speed, Entering a Square, Corners and Ranges:

Variant: Playing on a Grid (PHB, p. 192)

If you play out a combat using a square grid and miniatures or other tokens, follow these rules.

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