How Can I Switch To Gridless Combat?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0939

Today I’m looking for your tips and advice and experiences.

My next campaign I’m toying with theatre of the mind combat. No minis or battlemat or grid.

This would let me set up and tear down games in my guest location fast.

It would also let fights be less like a wargame and more narrative and imaginative.

It will be a D&D 5E campaign, though. And true to its roots, 5E has gridded fights embedded into its philosophy and combat rules.

Sly Flourish has a great post on theatre of the mind combats. However, his post still talks about using minis and maps for positioning and whatnot. And his post introduces new rules to account for areas of effect, making me think the game is just not well suited for gridless grinds.

My technical quandaries involve opportunity attacks, areas of effect, and movement.

For example, in gridless I might create three simple ranges. Close, Near, and Far. Move close for melee. Stay near for thrown ranged attacks and missile attacks. Go Far for just missile attacks and long-range spells. Leaving Close range opens you up to free hacks by your foes.

Pretty slick in theory. But how many foes are you Close to at any give time? How many foes are in that Near or Far fireball zone? And why does a 5 foot movement penalty matter for encumbrance or race matter now?

And then there are feats and spells and character abilities that could rely on precise measurements. I’m not sure yet what those might be or how they are affected.

Keep in my I’m GMing D&D 5E. So switching to another game system not predicated on gridded combats is not an option.

What things do you think I can do to make fights fair to players, ensure game integrity, and make 5E work well without minis and battlemats?