The main reason I'm posting what the actual experiment was that I conducted during the Pathfinder one shot is that I was surprised that it seems to be a bit of a theme that I stumbled upon without realizing it.
One of the things that bugs me with Pathfinder is that it seems like exact positioning, counting squares, five foot steps and the like are some of the things that shift the game from being a game that revolves around using statistics to tell a story to making it a tactical game that has a story attached to it.
I'm not saying that this always happens, but it does enough that it can kind of yank me out of whatever the overall story of the adventure is suppose to be. I totally won't claim that my experiment is an original idea. The seed of this idea comes from basically two sources: The One Ring RPG and it's stances and the Savage Worlds "games without miniatures" rules from the Deluxe Edition.
The idea has been percolating in my brain for a while. I wanted a system that wasn't entirely free form. I think that works for games like Mutants and Masterminds, where you are pretty sure most characters can get near enough to the bad guys to start a ruckuss, but games that rely on at least some tactical decisions should have some kind of movement cost, skill checks, and mechanics involved.
Then I noticed recently that over at Tenkar's Tavern Erik posted an abstract tactical map from an OSR style game. The map was a little less detailed than I figured it should be, but it was enough to galvanize my thoughts on the matter. I drew up a fairly simple map that was a little more specific than the one posted, and started writing some rules to go along with it.
I'll try to do this quickly. Essentially, if you have a ranged weapon ready, and your range is better than any opponents, you get the first shot, on top of any surprise round. After that initial calculation, things move to an encounter zone that has a far, near, melee, and stealth section to it. Moving from one zone to another costs X amount of movement rate, and the map sets up relative to the first person to act.
I personally think it was a good way to keep track of everyone's relative positions, and if a given character needs to spend movement or if they can full attack. One player said he thought it was a confusing "in between" using a full battle map or just keeping track in our heads. I get what he is saying, but at the same time, I know there are times that keeping track "in your head" misses what people actually did the last time around.
I think the combat rounds went fairly smoothly, and one player actually did like it. On the other hand, most of the party seemed to just kind of not notice or care. Not sure it's worth pursuing, but for some reason, I like the concept.
Problems: Without having something like Savage Worlds "this template equals 1d4 opponents" rules, I had to make more judgement calls that I would have liked. Overall, I did figure that if the whole encounter zone was smaller than the area of a spell, everyone got hit, and if the spell took up as much or more space than it took to transition from one zone to another, it effected everything in that zone.
Even with that assumption, some spells just don't conform well to this standard. I don't want to have to do a lot of pushing and shoving or this rule equals X in this system work for this, so it's an issue. Also an issue? One of the pregens was an alchemist, so suddenly splash damage in melee could have become an issue. My gut says that everyone in the melee zone would be effected by the splash, but I'd have to think on it some more.
I also thing (rightly) that players don't want to read my stupid sub-system rules for the sake of my ego, which means I'm having to explain things as they happen, and I do a fairly lackluster job of explaining my long winded theoretically fun rules.
What Did I Like? I don't think anyone was especially yanked out of the game by the system, so even if they didn't think it added anything, the fact that I didn't kill any fun is a plus. Also, I do think my idea about hazards in zones worked, even if it worked against the PCs.
Part of my "system" was that if there is a hazard anywhere in a given zone, if you can move an opponent against their will in some significant direction, you can move them into the hazard. In the case of our adventurers, this was a wall covered with green slime.
I think in a hard battle map, people tend to just avoid environmental factors rather than interacting with them, but if it's just a feature of the area, it might get used more often. Who knows?
But I thought you were just going to drop this? Originally I wasn't going to even post about what amounted to an experiment that seemed to be a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing. However, the reason I revisited this topic is that I read the overall design ideas for the upcoming 13th Age Roleplaying Game (by Jonathan Tween and Rob Heinsoo).
Apparently that game is going to use a system similar to what I described above. Now, they had this written up and in their playtest a while ago, but the reason this is significant is that apparently these "movement matters, but tactical maps don't" approach is a concept that has some legs with modern RPGs.
For some reason that appeals to me. And for the record, I'm kind of interested in 13th Age now, since it sounds like a hybrid of 3rd and 4th edition sensibilities with the added variables of getting rid of tactical maps and adding in mechanics that start making combat move faster the longer combat lasts, so that it doesn't bog down eternally.