Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Grids vs. Hexes

I don't know when 'official" D&D went from hexes to grids, I wasn't really a part of the transition. Grids have always been a part of the game I suppose, maybe because of the graph paper mapping thing, but when D&D evolved into more of a tactical combat game than a game of exploration and abstract combat one would think hexes would be the way to go.

Apparently some folks in charge didn't think that.

I do know that Avalon Hill's early war game Tactics II (1958) used a grid map. By the early 1960's they began using Hexes for the basis of their war game maps. Their game Outdoor Survival used a hex map and that map later was used by Dave Arneson for his early D&D RPG games. From there the hex map worked it's way into the RPG hobby ie. Judes Guild and various wilderness maps from TSR, Traveler, and pretty much every war-game etc . (though the B2 adventure Keep on the Borderlands had it's wilderness laid out in a grid).

Now when I was younger and saw the D&D game for the first time and saw sheets and maps based on hexes, it added to the mysterious allure of the game. Again, D&D (Holmes basic) was nothing I've ever seen before. Along with 'role-playing' and funny dice, there were minis and hex maps. Talk about opening doors to your imagination!

So why did a game, which evolved into more of a tactical combat game devolve back to a grid format?

Everything I've seen come out from WOTC 4th ed (even 3.5) is printed with a grid. Sounds backwards to me. If the 'constant distance of a hex map is desirable for games in which the measurement of movement is a factor' why use a square grid? By comparison, a square grid give you different distances from the center points of adjacent and diagonal squares. If I recall, somewhere in some version of D&D special rules were created for diagonal movement within a grid. Why write an extra rule and complicate an already complicated game system when you really don't have to. WOTC (and other games) just print their square 'grid' over their battle maps so why not just print hexes? Do players even still map those gaming sessions or do they just throw down a battle map?

I'll never understand that decision path so if somebody knows, please share it with me.

When I began making my gaming table, I had planned on going with a grid. But the more I thought of it, the more I felt that going with a grid was just counter-intuitive. So I went with a hex board...and I'm glad I did. I'll always prefer hexes of grids.

So hexes or grids? Which is your preference?


  1. 4th edition no longer has special rules for diagonal movement. A diagonal square is the same as an adjacent square. Some people are bothered by this. I'm not.

    I was raised on hexes, but at this point I like grid better. I dunno why, really. Just seems neater and simpler. I don't usually count squares when using a battle-mat though; I just measure the distance.

  2. AD&D 2e "Black Book" Player's Option: Combat and Tactics officially introduced the grid-combat system and gave us the "diagonal movement costs one and a half squares" rule. I grew up playing on a hex map, tried the grid, and currently bounce back and forth. I'd love to see heavy cardstock dungeon tiles printed with hex-grids, but haven't found any.

  3. The way I've played, in my limited experience, grids are used for smaller-scale things, like dungeons, and hexes are for larger-scale things, like wilderness.

    Hexes seem a lot easier to use with wilderness, for some reason. Maybe it's that no lines continue all the way across the map like they do with grids. That helps me, I think, distinguish between what's hex and what's map.

    Grids have always struck me as easier to use for mapping dungeons, but I just realized that that's because I've only done "square-cut" dungeons before, that have corridors and rooms that use, almost exclusively, 90-degree angles. If I weren't doing that, hexes might be the way to go, and they would probably make caverns much easier to map as well… hmm…

    In the first campaign I played in, a 3.5 campaign, we used grids for battle partly because another player wanted to have 9 adjacent spaces that we could attack an enemy from, instead of six.

  4. Actually, I'd say more math than a proper rule. The diagonal of a 1 inch square is square root of two inches long, which is "about" 1,5 inches. So two diagonal moves equal 3 inches.

    By the way, I much prefer hexes for wilderness map. I have a battlemat which has squares on one side, and hexes on the other, and we usually use the squares to track combats (I play in a Pathfinder game). We occasionally use hexes for combat, when we need some rest from going a little too square-ish ^^

  5. I prefer hexes but I'll admit to having had some difficulty using hexmaps for dungeons. Some adjuncts to The Fantasy Trip were the first time I saw a dungeon laid out in hexes, but I think I'd already gotten too used to mostly 90 degree, right angle dungeon drawing. (But I'd also play with 1 square = 10', so I think at that abstraction I would have ignored the diagonal move == move and a half if that was circulating at the time... I'm rambling. :)

    Hexes are better all around, but I still only use them conditionally.

  6. Back in the old days, we used a chalk board on our table top for our minis, drawing in walls, etc., with chalk (which made a horrible mess). The chalk board had 3 inch squares on it and 3" equalled 10 feet which made our ~25mm figures seem a bit small, but Gary Gygax reccomended 3 inch squares. Scale and movement was done much more approximately than in 3e (there were not so many hard rules as ro how many squares you could move in a round and what was a full round action vs. what was a partial action or whatever), and, as I recall, if you were within the general vicinity of a creature you could attack it with a hand weapon and if you could draw a straight line between yourself and an enemy without crossing a wall you could shoot an arrow at them... if that straight line passed by a friend, the DM would roll a dice to see if you hit your buddy by accident.
    There were a few cases in which we had an argument as to whether someone could run from point a to point b in one round, in which case we would take out a plastic ruler and measure and debate the topic... but that did not happen often.
    As I recall, the chalk board was used mostly for basic set-ups and 'march order.'
    Hexes appeared in many of the commercial products, but we seldom used them on our own maps... although the DM would count hexes to figure out how long it would take us to walk from Modron to Thunderhold, for example, and therefore how many wandering monsters we should encounter... I did have a game set on one of the Judge's Guild outdoor maps that included an incomplete player's copy that the players dilligently filled in with pencil scratches for a couple of sessions and then the player's map got lost (or maybe one of the players ditched it --- I don't think that aspect of wilderness adventure was too popular); many players preferred the "You travel three days down the road and reach the wizard's tower..." approach to wilderness exploration.

  7. Yes, back in the day I didn't use hexes at all, I couldn't afford any types of hex sheets. We made due with with the old: "You travel three days down the road and reach the wizard's tower..."

    These days I've been trying to run games more along the lines of how I always wanted to run the game or how I (thought I) saw the game run.

    I think it was mostly articles in mags + all the products (and some of the ads for the products too) that defined how I 'should' be playing. Of course that's not at all how I played back then.

    Interesting all around.

  8. As you say I recall the old days too. Back when Hexes were traditionally used for large maps (entire regions) where the grid was reserved for smaller scales stuff (anything from buildings to dungeons to towns). In that regard the grid and hex seemed to be better suited for their respective uses. I still use hex for large maps and grid for anything smaller when I'm doing my own campaigns, regardless of the system. As was mentioned with 3.0 onwards for D&D you needed to use the grid for game play due to so many rules that you needed to track in terms of player proximity to things, etc. Abstract combats became a thing of the past and the rise of grid gaming was complete (for D&D anyway) "Oh combat ... 10 minute pause as the grid is brought out and everyone drops out of RP mode into tactical board game mode." Don't get me wrong I've been engaging in 3.0 grid based gaming as most of us have for a long time now ... but I remember the days of pre-must use grid to be able to play ... gaming.
    My friends all know my standing rant of this isn't Dungeons and Dragons ... that died when 3.0 was introduced and the grid became a requirement for the game. Again don't get me wrong ... sure I have extensively played 3.0, 3.5, pathfinder and 4e. I've spent hundreds (probably thousands) on books, supplements, modules, minis ... to play in a grid world. Hell I'm a mini gamer, I play Warhammer, 40k, Warmachine, etc. I actually enjoy modeling and painting minis. But to me the core of a role playing game is players delving into what makes their character tick and finding a living breathing character there. The DM can use that to make the game better and better. The grid pulls everyone out of that immersive experience and brings them into something not very different from 40K or Warmachine, etc. but in a cooperative board game style of mini game. Its cool and fun ... but its a very watered down version of role playing in my opinion. I usually get shouted down as a grumpy old grognard when I say this in public though these days.

  9. err Hexes I meant...tried to make a short answer and now I had to comment twice for a one word reply.