I once pitched a new RPG to a friend. His first question was “Does the combat system require miniatures and a grid?” I’m paraphrasing a bit, but his essential point was that he enjoyed RPGs that emphasized stories and roleplaying while foregoing detailed tactical combat. If the RPG did have a highly detailed combat system, he was walking away.

This brings me to today’s hot button: Does the grid inhibit roleplay (or strong stories)?

While it’s easy to argue “no, of course not,” consider this. You’ve just been invited to play in a new RPG that you’ve never heard of before. You walk into the room and see a dining room table with a battlemat in the center with markers and miniatures sitting next to it. There are also a number of charts detailing initiative, special combat moves, and injuries. Your character sheet is hard to read at first, with a number of formulae and special abilities, many of which only work if certain conditions are met.

Now, consider the same scenario except you walk into a living room. Comfy chairs abound and dinner trays are set up for your character sheets and dice. Your character sheet looks simple: a few ability scores and a handful of skills, advantages, and disadvantages. The mechanics are simply explained, with maybe one chart for degrees of success.

How do your expectations differ in each case? Have those expectations ever been turned upside down?