Going Semi-Mapless

Last Saturday, for the Olympus group, I ran another one-shot from our Supers campaign. I did a bit of an experiment I had been meaning to try for a while now.

Tactical combat—in pretty much any system, not just GURPS—tends to drag, for obvious reasons. We have experimented a few times with eliminating the tactical-map and going entirely theatre-of-the-mind. Sometimes it works. It does spare everyone some of the brain-cycles we use to process the tactical situation according to the grid, and reduces some weird meta-behaviors resulting from minding the rules. I’ve found that it helps—or maybe requires—some kind of graphic to establish the geography, to keep everyone on the same page about what’s where. But we’ve also done that, and in at least one instance, the confusion over who can see what, who can reach whom, etc., left a little to be desired. “Was he over there, or over there?” “How far is that?”

My experiment was to go “semi-mapless.” The players had no map, just an image reference of the combat area (in this case, first the alley, and second, the stairwell). But I, as GM, did have a tactical map, fully gridded and all that. I was tracking positions and moves based on the players’ descriptions, but I tracked facing, distance, etc., as usual, using my map grid. They had all the benefit of “mapless tactical combat” while I was able to keep everything (mostly) organized behind-the-scenes.

Afterward, I call it a success. There were a couple of places where I could have communicated the situation better—I think I need to remind the player-on-deck of the geography when their turn comes up. I felt free to fudge the details here and there, for simplicity, so it wasn’t too tedious, on my end. I definitely expect I’ll use it again in the future.

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