Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in combat? Why? Why not?

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EccentricOwl EccentricOwl's picture
Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in combat? Why? Why not?

This has been brought up before. I'm not an idiot, despite apparent incompetence.

http://www.eclipsephase.com/using-map-and-grid-gaming for example.

I still think that it's a legitimate idea. I hear a LOT more people than I expected saying that they resort to theatre-of-the-mind style abstractions.

When I look at EP, I see a hardcore neckbeardy fascinating awesome game that greatly values precision in distance, all but necessitating some sort of map - it could be hexes, or it could just be a whiteboard and markers (which is, to my knowledge, how a lot of people play Shadowrun.)

I'm planning on bursting out my hex battlemap and making some cardstock minis https://www.dropbox.com/s/ftd4aeug9l8nkjl/figure%20flats%20-%20soldiers%20and%20mass%20effet%20sceintists.docx (Thank you, concept art sites) but I'm really, really interested in hearing the consensus on using the aforementioned.

To those players who don't use a real map - doesn't that get DIFFICULT? The only RPG I've played totally map-less was "Apocalypse World" and even then we had a really rough sketch of most of the areas.

Xagroth Xagroth's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

It depends. Not using a battlemap has several advantages against using it:

First, the GM gets more important: the descriptions, the sketches, etc... are everything the players will get, and they will imagine a big scenario.
So the GM gets more trust and power. He can cheat better so the game keeps being interesting. He can cut the combat short or make it last more, depending of where does he place the characters.

Second, people stays into the game. Every time a battle map gets placed with some minis over it and a whiteboard pen starts to being used, the game turns from whatever into a miniatures game, and everything but the rules banishes. To me, this breaks inmersion a lot.

Third, the difference between somebody who knows the rules and somebody who doesn's grow to galatic proportions: munchkins thrive with battlemaps, while people who want to have a good time just disconnect because they know they can do nothing, or that they are not necessary.

Fourth, direct combat/damage rules, and lateral thinking goes through the window. In a classic D&D game, if the mage is going to cast his only spell (because they are at lv1), and the other players had their spotlight (sneak attack, critical hit, etc...), letting him put to sleep four enemies is not a bad choice the GM can rule easily. With the battlemap, the spell might only catch one enemy (and with the salvation throws to resist the spell, it might be that 2 enemies stay awake, while in the battlemap the mage might feel useless because the only enemy he could attack resisted the spell).

Of course, it is useful for certain moments, and it can useful for a lot of stuff, but turning the game into an excuse for a miniatures playing is, in my opinion, what drives more and more people to computer RPGs: the computer is a better arbiter than any human, and it can play around with the numbers so quickly and behind the screens that you can fight more in an hour of computer game than in a week of P&P games doing the same.

Decivre Decivre's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

As a longtime Battletech player, I know how you feel. A map really lays out the battlefield in a concise way for people to look at the scenario from a tactical standpoint, and that's damn handy. Especially since the setting utilizes tacnets… when I do get around to using maps, I often tell the players to imagine that this is what their tacnet is showing them.

And for planetary scenarios, I would use them. When you are doing a mission on Mars or Titan, or even a reclamation mission on Earth, I say that battlemaps are often an excellent way to represent the field of play. I'd recommend going on a scale of 5 meters per hex... it's a bit big, but characters can move 20 meters per hex a full turn anyways. So it's no biggie.

That said, many scenarios in Eclipse Phase will involve microgravity environments. And when dealing with microgravity, a battlemap is more hellish than castration with rusty eating utensils. Microgravity rooms are often designed with furnishings on every wall in order to be maximally efficient, which means that all six sides of a cubical room will have obstacles to potentially track (for cover or other purposes). Not to mention the open air in the middle of the room, which is just as traversable as any of the sides. I tried to run a microgravity battle on a map during one of my first sessions, and threw it away during the third turn… an hour and a half into the fight.

So battlemaps are a mixed bag in Eclipse Phase.

Transhumans will one day be the Luddites of the posthuman age.

Help me get my gaming fix, if you want.

nezumi.hebereke nezumi.hebereke's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

I tend to use battlemaps for, well, battles, especially when running with a large group or players new to the setting. A picture is worth a thousand words, and all that. I don't generally use it for anything else, and honestly, when running with one or two players, no map just runs faster, as long as you're not getting too hung up on the nitty gritty.

TadanoriOyama TadanoriOyama's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

I never use battle maps in Eclipse Phase due to the way I structure my adventures. If the entire party is involved in a firefight then it's generally going to be an extremely quick affair. When it's one or two members of the party things are simple enough that a map isn't required. Due to the exotic locals that game takes place in most often I don't ever find a map to be a good reflection of the situation.

It's possible a scenario could warrant the use of a mat; I just generally design away from such events.


Tyrnis Tyrnis's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

It really comes down to the preferences of you and the rest of your group. There's certainly nothing wrong with using one. I typically haven't, but then, I also typically play online. My RL group commonly uses one for the Pathfinder and M&M games that we play, so if I ever got them to play EP, we'd likely end up using one at least occasionally.

Azathoth Azathoth's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

I've been using maps from day one in my campaign. I guess it's because I come from a strategy game background, so I enjoy the tactical detail that you get when everything is clearly sitting in front if you. I also spent a good bit of time playing D&D 3.5 and 4, and in those games the map is built into a lot of rules.

That being said, I don't find it as important as I thought I would. For one, games like EP (and SR) have a lot more going on than combat. Our first live session we were all shocked that we played 4 hours with no combat. Our second session only resulted in one combat, and that ended in a truce. :P
Second, combat in EP seems very short (not counting figuring out the rules, all the dice rolling, and the speed mechanics). Most of the combat we have seen in my game resolves quickly with just a few shots deciding the outcome. There's not the kind of attrition you see in D&D where you have to wear down the tanks and mop up a ton of minions.

So if you can't decide, try both! If it's a quick shoot out or boxing match, you probably don't have to bother taking all the extra time to set up. But if it's an important battle with several combatants in a complex arena, you may want the map.

OpsCon OpsCon's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

Decivre wrote:

That said, many scenarios in Eclipse Phase will involve microgravity environments. And when dealing with microgravity, a battlemap is more hellish than castration with rusty eating utensils.

Almost spit coffee in my keyboard on that one...

KT
Alex 'Iceshade' Andrade


Xagroth Xagroth's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

Decivre, you will certainly hate me... but I bet it is possible to came with a solution to that using a similar system to Ad Astra's Assault Tactical Vector and Saganami Island Simulator (I still have to understand the workings of the second one, mainly because of the Wedge factor: you need to know if the hit will get into a shielded side, unshielded aft or fore, or invulnerable top or bottom! XD).
In those games, essentially, height hexes are represented with plastic, stackable cubes, and vertical inclination with two cut plastic boxes with 60º and 45º possibilities. And for depth, you place a black plastic on top :p

King Shere King Shere's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

“His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking.”
-Capt. Spock (Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan)

In the above quote, Spock was referring to a deficit in Khan’s tactics. Khan was thinking like the 20th Century human he was, not taking into account the third dimension when maneuvering.
-Quincy

Even if its neat hexagon maps, A 2dimensional positioning system/map will cause such deficit tactics.

For those that want to put in the effort for a 3dimensional battle/situation overview- One solution is to use a 3D computer graphics software for example Gmax or Blender, and use that to "paint" where the pieces are. Regardless, its a lot of extra preparation work for the GM (or his aids).



"To find fault is easy; to do better may be difficult."
Plutarch

Geonis Geonis's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

I tend to follow the ruling, if it helps the fun, it is good, if it doesn't, it is bad.

I found, at least with the group I GM a lot with in another system, maps provoke people to think more logically, while Theater-of-mind increases creativity. I enjoy the creativity side more.

It is mainly a right brain vs left brain style of thinking it provokes.

EccentricOwl EccentricOwl's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

I think I agree with that - and I agree with damn near all the opinions here on this thread! It's fun to use them sometimes... and if my players want them ( and I feel like my playgroup WILL BE more inclined to want them for certain set-piece battles, like a big assault on a Martian stronghold or something).

So I guess the 'why' of why people would want either way is very legitmate reasoning. My question:

For the people who always forgo maps and use abstractions... HOW do you get away with it? I avoid maps and use abstractions in games like Call of Cthulhu, Diaspora, A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying and whatnot... but with Eclipse Phase, doesn't it get confusing? People will be constantly trying to use things and activating nanoswarms and all that jazz with all these complex movement rates...

Decivre Decivre's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

Xagroth wrote:
Decivre, you will certainly hate me... but I bet it is possible to came with a solution to that using a similar system to Ad Astra's Assault Tactical Vector and Saganami Island Simulator (I still have to understand the workings of the second one, mainly because of the Wedge factor: you need to know if the hit will get into a shielded side, unshielded aft or fore, or invulnerable top or bottom! XD).
In those games, essentially, height hexes are represented with plastic, stackable cubes, and vertical inclination with two cut plastic boxes with 60º and 45º possibilities. And for depth, you place a black plastic on top :p

Space combat still works quite different. I play plenty of air and space combat wargames (like Aerospace), and it still isn't the same. Space is relatively empty. A microgravity habitat is not. Here, let me paint a scenario.

Firefight breaks out. Combatant A leaps upward to a table on side 6, using it for cover. Combatant B, still standing on side 1 (think the sides of a die if you want to know frame of reference) traverses cover. The entire time, you have to figure out whether objects on side 6 still grant cover when fired on from a specific spot on side 1, and vice versa. So that already presents a crapload of factors to draw in (angle of attack based around cover, which is an even more complex version of traditional elevation vs cover calculations).

Then comes the melee combat. Combatant A and Combatant B jump at each other and initiate a fist fight. All's fine and good until a hit actually occurs. Combatant A kicks Combatant B? Time to figure out drift… it happens in microgravity. This problem also carries over to the use of grenades, which no longer follow the gravity-based arcs they do in a standard combat scenario. They travel more like the projectile in pong, fairly straight and with the potential to be very bouncy.

Not to mention that debris could potentially float (which might need to be tracked, at least in the context of where it is present), the potential for people to be used as cover (relatively easy when on a flat map, not an issue with space combat, considering distances; total nightmare in the 3d space of a confined room), and other factors I'm probably not even thinking of. It took us nearly a half-hour to figure out cover configurations on what was suppose to be a simple barfight in a microgravity hab, and each turn took us another half-hour. I'm used to 10-minute turns in Battletech, but Battletech is still a fairly organized game. This was just a messy hell.

EccentricOwl wrote:
For the people who always forgo maps and use abstractions... HOW do you get away with it? I avoid maps and use abstractions in games like Call of Cthulhu, Diaspora, A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying and whatnot... but with Eclipse Phase, doesn't it get confusing? People will be constantly trying to use things and activating nanoswarms and all that jazz with all these complex movement rates...

Just keep track of bare essentials. Track groups that move in unison together. Rather than tracking specific locations of people, track relative distances from one another and the context of cover. Don't get too specific; let people imagine the scenario in their own heads. Just tell them how things look in relation to their current position: "Two soldiers on the opposite side of the room with a minigun, one feeding ammunition. Shattered chunks of furniture float between you and them, obscuring your view a bit, but not enough to make it hard to hit them. Getting to your buddy is a straight shot, but will pass you through their suppression." This sort of description tells them what they are facing and how it looks from their position.

Plus, it gives you and the players a chance to dynamically set out the scenario, whereas the tactical map prevents this to a degree. Gives more opportunity for the Rule of Cool to happen, which is always fun.

GM: "You crack the door to the room, see two guards patrolling through. What now?"
Player: "Is there some obstructive furniture in the room, between us and the guards?"
GM: "Yes. A solid table is there, and you can hide behind it if you sit behind one of its large legs."
Player: "Then I slip in and take cover behind it, hopefully staying stealthy."

That exchange could not have happened had I set the scene completely from the get-go, without said table or with the table in a different location. It gives everyone a chance to help paint the scenario. That might not be what some GMs like to do, but I'm kinda fond of it.

Transhumans will one day be the Luddites of the posthuman age.

Help me get my gaming fix, if you want.

Xagroth Xagroth's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

One thing that I love about not using battlemaps is that the players tend to help fleshing out the enviroment, and I have noticed that GM's who use battlemaps everytime they can tend to avoid improvisation as much as they can. For example, in a D&D game some time ago, I asked for a chandelabra to drop on the enemy, and the GM said that since it was not in the map, it was not there.
On the other hand, in the quickstart rules of EP, during the fight in the cargo bay of the weapons dealer, the player with a shredder kept firing against the only access the invading mercs had, catching half of them with a single attack. Wit a battle map, they would have "spawned" already inside of the cargo bay, usually...

Also, in EP it is easy to have the players very far away, yet providing cover to each other (tacnet + sniper rifle...), so you will need several battle maps, one to keep track of the "strategical level" and other for the actual fights, in which some players will play a miniatures game while some others will simply make one or two rolls per turn to see if they damage an enemy and avoid being spotted.

EccentricOwl EccentricOwl's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

I'm seeing more and more the appeal of not using maps. You all make convincing arguments. My only worry now is my players, who often resort to "Wait, where am I?" questions.

Xagroth Xagroth's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

EccentricOwl wrote:
I'm seeing more and more the appeal of not using maps. You all make convincing arguments. My only worry now is my players, who often resort to "Wait, where am I?" questions.

Sketches should suffice, and you need to project trust, so they will won't be worried about you suddenly telling them that they are in an impossible situation because they did not move. You need to give them the basics they need to keep in their mind ("you find some cover to protect yourself between attacks" and that kind of stuff) and let them do some rolls aside from pure combat ones, like Knowledge: Tactics, Profession: security guard, etc... to find some advantage in the terrain and/or find some weaknesses in the enemy's positions (or just add it as a 10% bonus of the appropiate skill to their pure combat tests).

Geonis Geonis's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

Just treat it similar to teaching a new gaming system, it is a new system for handling battles in the end.

Ease them into it, and they will probably have a lot of questions.

kowalzcky kowalzcky's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

Even if I have a wargamin background, I just use rought drawings of the place the fight is taking place for roleplaying games; then I descrive in detail the place with more but not too much detail, "here are some crates made of soft material, here rocks....." if the players want more specefic detail I just tell them "are those crates hard enought to work as cover for bullets? yes...or no they are only think wood crates" or if one player just miss a perception roll sometimes I even lie them(if they fail by far)

I usually try to be consistent, and the drawing helps with that, but entering in too much detail will not leave too much room for improvisation and flexibility when needed, not only for the player but for the GM too, and some of the best scenes in my gaming story were improvisations by the players, or sometimes you may need to save the players form themselves, specially when everything goes down the toilet because all players had a really unlucky day, not fair for them and not fair for the GM.

I believe that keeping the combat a little bit of chaotic helps, a close combat must be chaotic giving you that feeling, a really detailed battlemap its more for strategy games like battletech where you are something like a general overseeing the operations, not the individual soldier fighting in the mud.

EccentricOwl EccentricOwl's picture
Re: Battlemaps - Do you use them for Eclipse Phase in ...

Okay, I've run two combats that really got intense.

The first was an adaptation of the "Ashen Stars" RPG adventure "Terra Nova." Bless you, Robin D. Laws, for your amazing product. I don't know why but I love everything you write.

The second was a planetary combat in Elysium between the party and the Triads with a Shadowrun style extraction mission.

The first had no maps and went super-quick. (I know, combat is fast.) Mentally I couldn't keep track of more than a few NPCs even with notes so they just sort of... died off.

The second was longer and IMO more interesting, but it lost some of that classic hectic feel. The players were a little less freeform which I missed but I was able to challenge them much more. (Dude, the automatic railgun is sick. :P )