Mining for Mechanics: Minis, maps and theatre of the mind

I regularly see minis and maps vs theatre of the mind as a debate on Twitter and Facebook, and every GM has opinions and experiences related to it. Reading different takes on it has definitely helped me as a GM and has given me ideas I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and made me want to try out both approaches in order to become more flexible.

Now, after a fluffy introduction I’m going to come down firmly on the sides of miniatures, no doubt to some gasps from the purists out there, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this sparks some debate. I will of course explain why, and I intend to focus on a reason I don’t usually see covered in the debates that I read.

A significant reason I prefer minis, maps, terrain and expensive shiny things like them is that this is a hobby, something that I do for pleasure. I enjoy playing tabletop RPGs and the socialisation and the imagination and everything that comes with it. A good RPG table is wonderful place to be, the people you meet and the experiences you have can be unforgettable and and can often only be had in that environment. This is true if you have skillfully painted Dark Sword minis, a billion dollars of Dwarven Forge, a shelf of books and fancy dice on a custom-made felt covered gaming table. It is also true if you’re sat at a rickety table with some scrap paper, a stubby pencil and a single d20 to pass around.

Thing is, I like buying miniatures in and of itself.
I like having polystyrene hills I sweated over in and of itself.
I like buying maps with beautiful artwork in and of itself.
I like being seduced by some particularly glittery dice in and of itself.

If you like all of these things, why not purchase them, enjoy them and use them in your game? Why not let them add to your enjoyment? I think whether theatre of the mind is better mechanically or not is almost irrelevant, what really matters is that you and your group enjoy the game as you play it. The value that I get out of the accessories and things that I buy for my hobby is excellent, and long-lasting.

Equally, if you can’t or don’t want to afford these things, don’t buy them. Remember “a rich interior world is a joy to own”. Play with your group using only the spoken and written word and know that it’s fine to do so if it suits you. Sometimes, even if you do use minis, it can a fun and challenging experience to try.

Incensed by my thoughts on this? Want to rip my internet head off or tear me a proverbial new one? Want to share shiny pictures of the dice you just bought or the minis you spent a whole weekend painting? Hit the comments up, or better still, come join me on Twitter.

Image Credit: by Dagny Mol


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

April 10, 2017 at 5:10 pm

I’m a decades long player, but have never run a game. My usual DM, a friend from high school, 28 years ago, tends towards the theatre of the mind , although we have used maps often enough. Last session, we were entering a battle, and since I have to worry about attacks of opportunity while healing or casting, and we have a sneak attacking rogue, I made the decision to draw out the room, place the baddie, and our minis, so the battle is visual for me. The DM can keep these things in his head, likely, and had no plans to map it out. But he said nothing to discourage what I did. That’s a key point. DMs and players should both be comfortable in the world that they share in creating, so whatever floats your boat.

Matt Sandersreply
April 11, 2017 at 12:24 am
– In reply to: Jason

This makes a lot of sense, giving the players the power to decide when to use minis or not.

I’ve actually got a follow-up for this planned, where I talk about making maps interesting and some things you can do if you decide to embrace them.

April 12, 2017 at 3:02 am

You are a god among men.

The Trenchcoat Dwarfreply
April 12, 2017 at 3:10 am
– In reply to: Dillon

A god among dwarves?

The Trenchcoat Dwarfreply
April 12, 2017 at 3:43 am
– In reply to: Dillon

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