Gridless Miniature Combat for D&D 4e

There is some awesome terrain out there for miniature wargaming.  Of course, it costs an arm and a leg, but it looks amazing.  You can even make your own using foamcore and model railroading supplies for fairly cheap but a lot of time investment.  Say you also play Warhammer, BattleTech, or something like that and want to re-use your awesome, expensive terrain in your D&D game?  Sucks to be you!  Or does it…  The rules for combat in 4e are based around 1″ = 5′.  That’s the key thing you need to keep in mind.  The actual investment you need?  Pipe cleaners, yarn/string, and a tailor’s tape measure.  That’s it.

First thing you have to do to remove the grid from D&D is realize that it’s going to change a few things in the game.  Thanks to the far less complicated but less realistic “diagonals are the same as anything else” rules in 4e, range is going to be reduced.  Areas of effect are going to be reduced.  Zones are going to be reduced.  Why?  Because a circle isn’t a square.  On the plus side for you old school gamers, cones are back!  Let’s go into detail.

For determining range and movement, you now count inches instead of squares.  Use your tape measure and something that’s Ranged 10 is now 10″.  You can make things easier on yourself by cutting a piece of string in the number of squares your character can move (4″ for heavy armored dwarves, 5″ for light armor dwarves or heavily armored anyone else, 6″ for light armored anyone else and heavy armored elves, and 7″ for elves).  You want to move from where you are, you put one end of the string on the edge of your mini base, lay the string out, then move the mini to the other end.  This also works for things like getting around corners and avoiding obstacles.

Zones and bursts are now spheres (not circles, more on that in a moment) based on diameter, with just a little fiddling.  Take the burst number, double it, and add 1.  That is the diameter of the sphere.  Burst 1: 3″ diameter.  Burst 2: 5″ Diameter.  Burst 3: 7″ diameter.  This can be made easier by using pre-measured pipe cleaners and dropping them on the board.

Blasts become cones once again.  Whatever the blast size is, it’s now a cone with a 90 degree angle that ends on the originating character’s base.  Okay, that sounds a bit complicated, so let’s break it down once again using pipe cleaners.  I’m going to talk about a Dragonborn’s breath weapon because it’s the most common close blast most players will come across (and it’s the only one I remember off the top of my head).  That attack is a Close Blast: 3.  In order to convert this, you take two 3″ sections of pipe cleaner and connect them at a 90 degree angle (like two sides of a square).  Take a third piece and make a curve, connecting that to each of the open ends on the angle you made.  Voila.  You now have a cone.  Place the point of the pipe cleaners against the base of the originating mini and that’s it.

All measurements should be made from the edge of the mini’s base.  Make sure your players know this in advance so they use circular bases rather than square ones for their minis.  If any portion of a mini is included in a blast, burst, or zone; that creature is considered “in” the blast, burst, or zone.

All ranged burst/blast/zone measurements are to the center of the effect.  Don’t nitpick this too much though or you’ll be getting out microscopes when your Rules Lawyer complains about being in the dragon’s breath attack.

Here’s where things get fun.  These rules work in 3D too.  Fall off a cliff, measure it.  1d10 falling damage for every 2″ high the cliff is (round down).  You’re shooting at something flying, 1″ = 5′.  Area of effect gets a little hazier, but just remember that a cone is a cone and a circle is a sphere.  Whatever it is, turn it sideways.  Sure, the vertical ranges will be off a little (as the typical idea of a Fireball, for example, is a hemisphere), but if it bothers you more than a diagonal being the same length as a side on a square, make a second batch of pipe cleaners in half sizes for vertical measurement.

I haven’t put these rules into full effect anywhere and probably won’t.  I did use a smaller version when I had a fight with the PCs climbing the side of a cliffs and it worked okay then.  Most of this is just stuff that’s been on my mind for a few months, wondering how hard it would be.  I’m not an expert at writing rules by any stretch and I’d like to think that someone else could fix this up into something very usable.  Hell, someone may have done it already.  But I think it would add an extra dimension of reality to the game if you tried getting rid of those little lines on everything.

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Published in: on March 7, 2011 at 7:45 AM  Leave a Comment  
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