Close Enough For Government Work

One of the things that always kind of slowed things down (IMHO) while playing Pathfinder/3.X or later games is the all the detail with the tactical movement.
Yes, I know it explains everything out in exacting detail about who is affected by what and who can get attacked and so on. But too many times it just turns an encounter more like a wargaming session than an RPG session. Players exactly plotting out movement and spell effect areas just they can catch one more orc in the fireball. I’ll admit that wargaming can be fun but it’s a different kind of fun than an RPG. That’s why I like the “Close Enough” model for movement and so forth.
Just let the mini’s be a rough reminder where everyone is. Just eyeball the distance. Roll the dice and get on with it. Just like so much OSR, you just wing it and let the GM say what is going on. Of course, I know somebody will say, “But my GM isn’t fair and those rules make sure it’s fair.” Blah. Blah. Here’s the honest truth. No matter what the rules say, a jerk GM can still find a way to kill your character. That’s it.
Yeah, I know a short little rant but hey it’s a busy week.

5 thoughts on “Close Enough For Government Work”

  1. There are advantages to tactical combat other than theoretically keeping a GM honest. By putting all the pieces on the table, you can offload a lot of the work of describing the scene, keeping things consistent, and adjudicating things like cover and range to the actual physical representations.

    Also, highly tactical rules strongly enable rewarding relatively minor differences in character builds. For example, you might have a race that moves “unnaturally fast”. With a d20-style build, you can give that race a speed of 40, and the tactical rules give you a tangible, consistent reflection of that bonus. With a more free-form system, the GM needs to remember (or be reminded of) your enhanced speed, and find ways to reflect it in the ebb and flow of the action. And the GM needs to work to keep those rewards within the same range, such that the character does feel faster than his companions, but not grossly so.

    Properly handled, tactical combat can be just as rich with description and roleplay as more free-form play. Just because there is a grid and miniatures doesn’t mean you have to skip funny voices, dramatic declarations, and desperate gambles.

  2. All valid points. What I was shooting for here was striking a happy medium between completely free-form/theatre of the mind type play and the sometimes tedius “I cast the fireball exactly 21 feet in front of the fighter” type play. To each his own. The key is to have fun doing it.

  3. I am a wargamer and an RPGer. To scratch the tactical itch I wargame, to scratch the creative itch, I RP.

    When AD&D 3 came out (and later Pathfinder), I thought the systems really well thought out and cool. Combining skills, feats, and classes in various ways could indeed give great clarity to one’s character. But it also puts characters in a box. Suddenly it became necessary to know that this ability counters that ability, this give a bonus in Situation A and not Situation B, etc. So instead of adventure one gets bookkeeping. Pathfinder adventures – especially adventure path adventures, are fantastic. I just wish I didn’t need a computer program to properly figure out my character’s bonuses…

    Now I think the best RPG systems are those that have the least concrete rules, and rely instead on broad concepts. In fact, to the right of this blog entry I see an advertisement for Castles and Crusades, which is a pretty darn simple system that doesn’t get in the way of creating good stories. The sparseness of rules however, does require a DM who can think on his feet and fill in any blanks on the fly.

    DMs of RPGs are not there to be rules lawyers, they’re there to set the stage, spin a tale, and give life to the actors that are not sitting at the table. When I DM I do like to have a full map with a 1″ grid and miniatures and all that because it enhances the scene, I just don’t worry terribly about things like the shape of a fireball blast because doing so detracts from the illusion created (besides, why shouldn’t a half way decent wizard be able to tweak the shape of his spell on the fly? Because some rule says he can only create a sphere? Poppycock. If he can manipulate the fabric of the universe he can shape it how he will). If you require a rulebook to keep your DM in line find yourself a new one. Heck, your DM should be figuring out ways to bend the rules for you to make a better story.

    Of course, whatever is fun to you is the right way. This is supposed to be entertainment, after all and what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for everybody.

  4. I don’t use exact measurements when running Pathfinder, precisely because of the reasons you mention. You can go more freeform and it works out fine. However, I doubt you could adapt D&D 4E that way. I like some of the design concepts in 4E, but the whole combat system really is all about the grid.

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