I am now deep in the detail of the mechanics for The Aether Throne and am in the particular depths of combat.
I started off not wanting to use grid-based combat, inspired by the narrative theatre-of-the-mind style encounters in Powered by the Apocalypse games.
However, as my design has developed (and been influenced by the likes of Pathfinder 2’s combat mechanics, which I absolutely love), I’ve ended up with something that still doesn’t need a grid … but needs a chart.
Combats in the game are separated into range bands, which are necessary as there are so many ranged weapons and guns in the game (‘set arc pistols to shock…’).
Melee combat can only take place if participants are engaged with each other, something they can only do if they’re already in the same range band.
And with actions to move, engage and disengage, it quickly became apparent that some kind of visual representation of position and status was going to be needed, else the ‘theatre of the mind’ become too packed and confusing…
The current design features combat charts. Set by the GM or the scenario, they show the number of range bands, each of which may have a range modifier (‘cover’ and ‘treacherous’ in this example) which impacts gameplay.
Each band also has a number of ‘engagement zones’, which are used to track who’s fighting who, and are designed to answer the question ‘who am I engaged with and who’s engaged with me?’, which I predict would come up again and again without something like this to show it at a glance.
Yes, it requires players and opponents to have tokens or minis (or M&Ms) to represent players … but my hope is that it strikes some kind of balance between abstracting away from 5-foot squares and providing tactical options during combat.
Time, and an imminent full playtest, will tell…