Get Rid Of The Grid (What I Learned From The Strategic Miniatures Player)

From Dr. Nik

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0282

Get Rid Of The Grid (What I Learned From The Strategic Miniatures Player)

Sure, I started out with the boxed D&D game, but I really got into the original Battletech. We used to have battles that spanned the entire basement and took all night. I’ve never forgotten the strategy game background. I incorporate the lessons I’ve learned from the strategy game into my tabletop RPG sessions as much as possible.

Because of my Battletech background, I always was a fan of the hex grid. I find it superior to the square grid in terms of everything from surrounding an attacker to radius of effect. Taking this progression to the next level, I decided I would get rid of the grid in my RPG games and see what happened. I was happy to find that it truly frees up the combat and the result is more dynamic and more three dimensional.

I have found that, with no grid in place, characters are more prone to think about actions and coordinate to overcome challenges. I feel that the grid layout encourages more meta game thought and disengages the players from the action.

With a free form environment, players will surprise you with their creativity and use of all the space provided to them. A free format environment also can help tone down the powergaming of players who love to min/max every range and angle. Seasoned players may also find new challenges in coordinating their movement and tactics. Most importantly, getting rid of the grid allows you to develop and deploy all those great minis tips, from paper and magnetic counters to blocks and dollar store trips.

Be Prepared

When you get rid of the grid, you should have a few rulers or small tape measures available. Some miniatures games also have templates for area of effect (a disc of 20 ft. radius, 60 ft. cone, etc.). I use the standard scale of 1 inch = 5 feet and measure center of fig to center of fig. If you have not played a game in a free table environment, I would suggest you employ it in one of the following scenario types to give you some room to experiment. (Doing this also acts as a ritual component for casting a Greater Gamer Sphere of Atmos.

Suggested first time scenario suggestions:

  • Underwater
  • Obscuring Mist
  • Darkness
  • Fog
  • Shifted Time/Perception
  • Consecrated/Desecrated area
  • Magical nexus point

These types of conditions give the GM some wiggle room in exploring the free table tape-measure style.

Take A Tip From History

There are hundreds of amazing battles and wars to draw gridless RPG conflict scenarios from and to give depth to large scale confrontation and epic storytelling. For everything from high fantasy D&D to modern day Cthulhu, historical battles, conflicts, and situations make for great scenario building.

Next time you need a fantasy backdrop, use the American Civil War as a model for the dwarf/elf wars (why can’t we use human slaves?). If you need a good backdrop and story arc for the Firefly or Star Wars fan game you’re running, check out the tactics of the Japanese Navy and their missions and battles from World War II. For modern day or vintage horror, scour the odd or weird news feeds and then do some research and extrapolation on interesting leads.

Historical Strategic Miniatures scenario books for Napoleonic, ACW, Age of Sail, or even Roman times, can be great fodder and backdrops that add quality, realistic depth to any campaign with a war in it. Next time you are at the game store or a convention, check out some of the scenario books for the above historical periods.


I’ve seen strategy miniatures games with elaborate and detailed setups. Since the environment plays a very important factor in strategy, terrains are often detailed and involved. Some of the greatest RPG battles my players have encountered have been great because they were in a designed terrain.

The greatest benefit you can take from strategy gaming is quick and efficient terrain. Having 4-6 hills, 4-6 rocks, and 4-6 trees can provide a variety of wilderness encounters and can be stored easily in a copy paper box commonly available in any office or copy store. For urban or dungeon environments, I use Jenga-sized blocks for the walls and building outlines. Combining these allows you to create such environments as remote keeps, elven outposts, or strange temples to the olde gods.

Several tips in previous issues have discussed cheap and easy terrain. Here are two more quick and easy ways to do terrain:

  1. Craft felt from the fabric store. Buy several long rolls of felt from a large bolt. They are commonly 3-4 feet wide and can be as long as 1 bolt. I recommend two or three 9 foot lengths. You can use a basic green and a basic tan for wilderness, basic grey for urban environments, and dark grey and dark green to make great paths, roads, and heavier flora growth. Using cut sections of blue, one can make streams, ponds, and rivers.For felt accessories, I recommend cutting out random sized sections for things like paths and streams. With 20 sections of felt cut into curves and lines 1-3 inches wide and 8-12 inches long, one can make any trail structure by mixing and matching the pre-cut pieces. (Bonus: ask your players do it for bonus XP!)Full felt outfitted recommended purchase:
    • 2 9 ft. lengths of basic green craft felt (3 ft. wide)
    • 2 9 ft. lengths of tan or basic grey (desert/wasteland or urban/cave)
    • 1 3 ft. length of dark grey (roads, paths, rocks, etc.)
    • 1 3 ft. length of dark green (hills or deep forest)
    • 1 2 ft. length of blue (streams, creeks, rivers)
    • 1 1 ft. length of dark blue (deep waters, swamps)
    • 1 1 ft. length of brown (houses, structures, etc.)Borrow space from your local war gamer for a climax battle. Network with your fellow gamers and find out where the best terrain and scenery selection is. Arrange to play one of your sessions there for a climatic battle or challenge. This will set a greater atmosphere of anticipation and importance. You’ll find a variety of resources, such as walls, forests, and bunkers to use and setup to make environment a quality NPC in the game.
  2. Plastic Building Bricks (buy lots cheap) Although the scale is usually a little large, plastic building bricks (PBB) make an excellent supplement to your terrain. To do this inexpensively, find the garage sales with Mega Bloks, Legos, and other PBBs. You can also buy lots on Ebay. I was able to spend under $200 and get over 20 kilograms of various PBB types. After a wash and a drying in the summer sun, the bricks were good as new. I have had success also putting up signs in office buildings for people to get rid of old, unsorted, or sets of Lego. With these, I am able to build almost any environment, building, or scenario. By using smooth, top finishing pieces, one is able to harden and smooth the typical knobby appearance of PBB.

After getting rid of the grid, running a game in the open terrain will be an engaging and memorable battle that will have your players begging for more. Make sure you include other chances to develop the players’ characters and roleplay. Your game shouldn’t just be a single long combat on a miniatures table. You’d be better off playing a skirmish or individual level miniatures system if that’s your flavour.

Use the terrain for drama and tension, and to provide an impact for important conflicts. The temple infested with fiendish rats at 1st level? Don’t build it. The final encounter at the Temple of the Evil Cleric Lich after facing him in one incarnation or the other for the past 6 levels? Build it! Or, at least, build the major throne room for the final conflict.

Remember, next time you need background or want to come up with interesting encounters, check out historical miniatures war and scenario guidebooks. You will find a variety of backdrops, conflicts, and scenarios to inspire your war torn continent.

Some pictures you might find useful:

Enjoy and start thinking off the grid…

Wryneck’s Wheelhouse: MOBILE HOME OF DOOM

“Support the Troops” edition. This HackMaster-compatible adventure module is easily converted to other FRP systems. A 66-page PDF download, all proceeds go to a reputable charity. 9 new spells, 9 unique magic items, 4 new monsters, flavor text, and complete battlesheets and superb artwork by numerous well known artists make it well worth the $7 price. By Second Rat Games, with the blessing of Kenzer & Company.

Wryneck’s Wheelhouse, on RPGNow

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks

Common Wildlife As Adversary

From Riftalope

The world is full of life – hungry life. Dogs, cats, and even geese can make raids on your food box. I’ve seen bats grab at popcorn just because it was airborne. Fields have mice, beaches have crabs, hills have ants. Don’t be afraid to throw commonplace problems at your players.

Doing some camping in the real world has reminded me that you don’t need monsters and brigands to get a moment of travel adventure. Sometimes you just need a pregnant animal after bread. The sun had hardly set at our site when a raccoon charged up the side of the tent and took a few slices of cracked wheat bread from the low table. It was pink nippled and fat and still faster than the panic it caused. Some of us jumped away, a few of us yelled at it, and fire pokers were raised, but it was too late.

The bulbous bandit was out of camp and bounding back into the trees. Another opportunist had struck another camp. I could just imagine a druid defending “a woodland mother” and wanting to feed it more. I also know what a disaster chasing after an animal in camp can be. Now imagine that with swords raised!

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Wiki Up Your Campaign

From Jon Thompson

The tip about setting up a forum to manage game information inspired me to write in about the success I have had using a wiki for campaign information.

A wiki is basically a set of living documents that can be edited on the fly and linked each other. Wikis are easy to edit and do not require HTML or web design knowledge. Best of all, there are some free wiki sites available on the net. The one I use is It’s free, but it puts banner ads on the right side of your site. is great because it lets you restrict permission on who can edit your wiki, thus allowing only your players to edit it. If you have industrious players, this can be fabulous. They will update their own character pages, and tweak information you may have forgotten.

Of course, the GM can use the wiki extensively to describe people and places in detail. This helps the players remember the world, serves as a reference for you, and gives it a certain level of verisimilitude. We use our wiki for character information, important possessions, house rules, NPCs, places, and other information. It would also be easy to store a chronicle of the party’s exploits, though I have chosen to use a Blog for that purpose instead (though the wiki has a link to it).

We have been using our wiki for about three months now. We started using it near the end of our unfinished Chivalry & Sorcery campaign, and are now using it for our new Eberron campaign. As such, it is far from complete and comprehensive. But that’s fine, a wiki doesn’t have to be. It’s always evolving based on my input and the input of the players.

If you’d like to check it out and see what it looks like, just go to Hopefully it will inspire you on how to set up a similar wiki for your campaign. If you are wondering how the whole wiki thing works, you can sign up for your own space, which is free, and just mess around to see what happens.

The only disadvantage of a wiki is that you can’t store information that is for the GM’s eyes only. You can write- restrict any page, but there is no read restriction. In addition, I want to mention that there are other free wiki sites out there besides, but after looking at several, I judged it to be the best for my purposes. If you Google for “free wiki” I’m sure you will find plenty of other options.

I like, but I don’t want to sound like a pusher for it. The primary reasons I chose are (1) Ability to set write restriction, (2) The ads aren’t as intrusive as they are on some other sites, (3) Easy to use wiki markup language, (4) You can get an RSS feed of recent changes, (5) You can save the whole wiki to a set of text files for backup and archival purposes, (6) Simple URL (

Anyway, our group has had great success with a wiki, and if your group is web savvy, it might be just the thing.

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Manual of Fantastic Zoology Online

From Milan

I read the Manual of Fantastic Zoology by H.L. Borges in paperback. That release had approximately 100 monsters from legends and mythology. I just found a site in English, with full text for 120 monsters. I think it can help GMs, so here is the link:

Fantastic Zoology

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Ogre Ambush (D&D 3.5)

From Jason Lord

This works best for incautious PCs. Have ogres or other large, strong creatures holed up in a room of an intelligent boss monster/villain. The boss has armoured his ogres in plate armour, given them flails and shields, and dished out Potions of Bull’s Strength and Rings of Invisibility. Change the ogres’ feats to Improved Trip and Weapon Focus(Flail), and maybe give them character levels if appropriate. The ogres should be the last line of defence and a challenge for mid-level PCs.

If alerted before the PCs enter, the ogres drink their potions, becoming stronger and invisible. They stand near the walls of their large room and wait for the whole party to enter. The last PC entering the room is the queue to attack.

The ogres will use trip as their first attack and get bonuses for their increased strength and invisibility. Note they have 10? reach, as well. If the PCs are surprised and flat footed, they won’t get their attacks of opportunity.

Any PCs successfully tripped are then attacked by the ogres again as part of their Improved Trip feat. Remember, fallen PCs are now considered prone. Ogres will also get attacks of opportunity as PCs attempt to stand up, during which they can use the trip attack again. The ogres get a +4 bonus on trip attacks because they are large, and adding their impressive strength bonus to Improved Trip is a very dangerous feat for them to have as it gives them another +4 (with Bulls strength, that give them STR 25, for a total +15 on trip attempts!).


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Online Tabletop RPG Tools

From Ramses Ramirez

I have a few links for online tabletop RPGs for those players who wish to play with old buddies but haven’t been able to because they have moved halfway across the country. Online tabletop gaming is probably the closest thing to sitting around a table with a few friends and soda (or beer), a few bags of chips, and pizza.

These are all the online virtual tabletop RPGs that I am aware of.

The above programs have been designed from the ground up specifically for RPG gaming. They come with the ability to make battle grids for keeping track of encounters, virtual miniatures for PCs/NPCs, custom die rollers for different rulesets, and the ability to upload maps made in the mapping program of your choice.

I hope the above helps other GMs. I would also suggest perhaps having some articles in the future that specifically deal with this type of online gaming. It is still a relatively new concept, but online virtual tabletop RPGs have been quickly spreading in popularity over the past couple of years and I imagine it will only get more popular.

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Use OpenOffice To Organize Your Campaign

From Joseph Yerger

A versatile program that I have found to use is

This is an Office Suite program that has all the functionality of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and more without the cost. This program was initially written for use on the Linux Operating System, but is cross platform between Windows/Mac/Linux. It was designed to have an easy transition from MS Office to OpenOffice, so much of the functions are the same, without the cost, and it can read/write all MS formats. The next release will be adding a database function and the ability to read/write Wordperfect formats too.

OpenOffice has a good word processing portion, spreadsheets and tables are fully integrated, and a presentation program on par with Powerpoint. It also contains a decent drawing function. Once you’ve made what you want, you can even “publish” it to a secure PDF file. This is great if you like to make handouts for your players, keep track of your notes, track XP in a spreadsheet, project pictures and maps, or even publish your own adventures.

I have switched entirely away from using MS Office and solely use OpenOffice. I have even published my own ebook of a recent campaign which I ran having maps, text, random encounter charts, fully detailed NPC statistics, etc.