'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Corrupt Cliffs

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Showing posts with label Zones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zones. Show all posts

Monday, August 29, 2022

Conan 2d20 : On The Grid

Conan 2d20 on the Grid


Without a doubt I have spent a good amount of time discussing zones and ways to get them to work easily within the context of a miniatures based game of Conan 2d20. It is no secret I am a fan of the zone idea, liking how it places the game somewhere between theatre of the mind and the tactical battlemap. The closest I have come to this alternate set of rules was back in August, 2018 with this idea around rulers for zone combat. Rulers can work well, and lots of people are proponents of them, still they do add another bit to have to deal with and locate when a move occurs.

There can be times during a battle where the zone idea can be a little confusing, players may not know exactly where they are in relation to the enemy and might feel like things are on the unfair side. If the GM handles things less than diplomatically it can make the table less fun to play at. I had this occur recently at my table, and so I was keen to find ways to fix it. Since I had been playing a lot of 5e, the grid jumped out as a possibility. At present the following rules have been tested once in game play and they worked well enough. We have not yet tested area effect, but we discussed it after the game, and my players thought it might be on the large side, so that might be something to keep in mind.

Conan on the Grid: The Rules, v0.5

The abstract nature of zones fits a nice niche between theatre of the mind and the tactical grid-based combat of many games. Despite this, the grid aspect of many games is enjoyable and can make combat more tactical for some people. I have played both types of games and find that they both have their place. One of the benefits of grids over zones is knowing exactly where your character is. Having a miniature on a zone-based map can, at times, lead to confusion. Conan as written is a zone-based game. Within a turn, a player may make a standard action, a minor action, and many free actions. All three of these have a movement type associated with them, but a player can only use one of the movement types in a given turn.


Using a base of 30’, stolen from 5e, all players in Conan will move this base level. The adjust action, in my mind, exists to allow characters to interact with items in the same zone due to the positional abstraction inherent in zones. With this system removing positional abstraction, it also removes the adjust move action. A minor action is a move represented by a move at 30’ (or the character’s base movement) (Move) A standard action is a move represented by a move up to 60’ (or 2x the character’s base movement), this increases the difficulty of all skill tests this round by 1 (this does not affect the defend reaction) (Sprint)

Splitting Movement

A minor action allows you to move up to your base movement, usually 30’. If you move part of that distance and then complete a standard action, you can continue to use the remainder of your movement, however, all movement rules still apply. Ie if you move into combat, leaving combat will trigger a retaliate action, unless withdraw action is used, as a free action.

Optional Fast Movement

Every 2 points of focus in Move (for NPCs) or Acrobatics (for PCs) grant an additional 5’ of movement. A character with an acrobatics of 4 could move up to 40’ as an adjust action, 40’ as a regular move, and 40’ to 80’ as a sprint action.

Difficult Terrain

Difficult terrain will count as double movement for each square it occupies, ie a 5’ square of difficult terrain costs 10’ of movement to move through it. Players can make athletics/acrobatics checks to avoid this penalty.


Ranges will also be based on the same concepts of a basic move being 30’
  • Close range, ie within a zone, is closer than 30’
  • Medium Range ie the next zone over is 30’-60’
  • Long Range, ie 2 zones, is 60’-90’
  • Extreme Range, ie more than 2 zones, is 90’+
Shooting outside of your effective range class increases the difficulty by 1 for each class. Ie A close range shooting to medium range is +1 difficulty and +2 difficulty to long range.

Ranges for Mobs/Squads

When determining the range for mobs measure the range from the middle of the mob. If the mob is straddling two range bands, choose the further range.

The Diagonal

The easiest way to handle diagonals is to simply allow them as a 5’ move.

Melee Combat

In order to engage in melee, combat miniatures must be in adjacent squares, this can be adjacent orthogonally or diagonally, this is known as base-to-base contact.


This is a standard move action, a character can move up to their base move when using this as their standard action. If the side withdrawing outnumbers their opponents this can be completed as a free action.

Protect Reaction

To use the protect reaction, the character using it must be adjacent to who they are attempting to defend.

Retaliate Reaction

This is triggered when a PC or NPC moves out of base-to-base contact without using a withdraw action.

Mobs and Squads

As members of the mob/squad are eliminated the back ranks will move to fill the front ranks. The mob or squad cannot leave base-to-base contact with their attacker as a result of the loss of members. Each member of the squad occupies 5’.


In order for a mob to interpose themselves, they must be in base-to-base contact with the target of the original attack.

Flanking (optional)

If two or more opponents are attacking with at least 5’ between them, they can each re-roll one of their melee dice for free, the second roll stands.

Areas of Effect

Weapons that normally affect an entire zone now affect a 30’x30’ square. Complications on the roll cause it to drift in a random direction (1d8) 1d6*5’

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Why I think Zones Are Better Than Grids.

Over the last weekend, I again had the opportunity to play a game that used the more traditional grid-based system. It struck me that although it added the ability to more clearly move figures around and know "exactly" where each person was, it came at the cost of time.

Each time a character moved we needed to count the squares and try and determine the exact location we wanted to be. When casting spells with an area of effect, we needed to make sure the area was going to be what we wanted and count out carefully.

All of this additional time added up, and from where I was sitting slowed combat considerably. Combat should be an exciting time in the game, full of fun rolls and descriptions. We should not be seeking to slow it down. If I had any lingering doubts about zones before, they are pretty solidly gone now.

Instead of a battlemap composed of grids, zones break the map up into areas, let's see how that works in practice.

Basic Battlemap
Battlemap with Zones

Above we have two examples of the same map (From 2 minutetable top) described spatially. One with a grid where players can place a miniature on the map and move them in 5' increments. The other has the same map described with zones, where player miniatures are simply placed within a zone.

It is important to note that I have drawn the zones on largely for illustrative purposes, you could use a basic clean map and denote the zones through narration, small markers or just a small keymap. The zones don't need to be exactly delineated. We just need to know that a character is in the "Deep Stream" or on the "Rocky Incline"

Can you do much of what I am going to talk about with grids? Yes, you could, but I think zones are a simpler and more elegant way to accomplish it.

The first thing I think zones do are speed up movement in combat. You don't need to see if an opponent is 5 or 6 squares away. If you are both in the same zone you can engage them in combat, they are close enough to do so freely. Are they one zone over? Do you have a minor action available? You can also move to engage them easily. If a PC is at the bottom of the cliff and an opponent in the stream on the top of the cliff, you can fight. You don't need to count spaces. This in and of itself is a pretty big plus in my books.

What about terrain though? Surely the moving from the base of the cliff to the top of the cliff should impart some slow down. This brings us to another excellent thing about zones. They can each be made a little differently. Moving across the cliff zone might require an Athletics/Acrobatics test to move at full speed. It might even cause damage on a failed roll simulating fall damage. Essentially when a player is on that zone they are actively climbing up the cliff.

Some examples for the above battlemap written for Conan 2d20.
  • Rocky Incline - Steep incline - D2 Athletics/Acrobatics Hindrance. Incline plus loose rocks make the going difficult.
  • Skull - Cave entrance - 2cd Cover from missile weapons.
  • Steep Path - D1 - Athletics/Acrobatics Hindrance.
  • Path - Open ground, no penalty.
  • Cliff - D3 Athletics/Acrobatics Hazard for take 2cd damage on failure.
  • Stream - Flowing stream - current is stronger than it looks - D2 for all physical tests while in the zone.
  • Deep Stream - Flowing & Deep - D2 for all physical tests and D2 Athletics/Acrobatics Hindrance.
  • Path - Open ground, no penalty.

Now we have created a battlemap that has a lot of interesting things going on. Players may wish to try and fight on the open ground of the paths, but if they need to gain entrance to the skull cave, they are going to have to fight over some hindrances or hazards to get there. As I mentioned you could, of course, do similar with a standard grid battlemap. Not only do I feel the zoned approach is easier, I feel it lends itself to wanting those details more.

Finally, they are hugely abstract, they can represent whatever size you need, a large open field might represent a larger area on the table than the trees next to it. They might be player scale, or they might be army scale. Following on the abstract nature, you don't need your zone to specifically represent an actual 1:1 scale on the table, using a set of cards like RUNEHAMMER's ICRPG Graphic Index Cards or pictures of printed areas laid on the table you can quickly lay down easily identifiable and interesting zones for your players to interact with. If you need a set-up like the above you could grab a set of 8 index cards and write the name and details of each zone and just lay them out on the table.

And because of this abstract nature and ease of creating zones with a small card, you could lay out a complex area in a very small space, eliminating the need to carry around a large battlemap, you will just need something to represent players and enemies which fit inside the cards. Examples might be small chits or 15mm figures.

Lastly and this one may be a bit of a shock, I think think the abstraction of the exact position of a character within a zone is more realistic. Unless you subscribe to the idea that 1 roll of the die is the equivalent of one blow of the sword, keeping a character in a 5'x5' square is wholly unrealistic to me. The idea that combat is moving across and around the area is much more realistic to me. "The fight between the warrior and the bear rages in front of the skull cavern, the roar of the bear pushing the warrior back as he circles to find an opening on the massive beast" is descriptive of a battle occurring in a zone where the two combatants gain and lose ground and circle for the best place to strike from.

The downside is that players are a little more generic, in D&D you might have someone that can move 4 squares and another that can move 6 squares. With a zone-based system, each player is essentially moving the same distance. For me, though this negative is a very small one and is strongly outweighed by the positives. Similarly, other aspects of the game strongly tied to a location are lost such as an area of effect or flanking.

To sum up why I think Zones are superior to grids: They can save time in combat, they lend themselves to a more descriptive and interactive environment, their abstract nature allows more freedom of scale and I think it is a more realistic interpretation of the world.

Zones meet a nice middle point between the strict theatre of the mind and players measuring exactly where their miniatures move. They can speed up combat by eliminating exactly where everyone is. They can create rich and vibrant environments that are more interesting to play in. They can be scaled to fit the table size you have with minimal fuss. Creating their physical representation can be as simple as words on a card up to a full 3d layout.

If you haven't tried zones before in your games, I encourage you to give them a shot. If your system doesn't specifically include them a rough guideline is to allow players to engage and move within a zone freely, a normal move allows movement between zones and a sprint allows movement across 2 zones. You will need to give some consideration to how you handle area effects and flanking. Maybe you won't like them, or maybe your players won't and you'll go back to the grid. But just maybe you'll enjoy this new system free of range rulers and measuring.

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Zones Revisited for Miniatures. Conan 2d20 RPG

One of the things I have struggled with is zones, especially when outdoors. Playing an action scene with miniatures and having zones that are not clearly defined can be difficult. D&D and others get around this by using grids, one square typically equals five feet. If you character has a move of 30'/turn, they move 6 squares. Nice and easy. Some players of these systems have moved away from grids and gone gridless. In systems like this if 1 inch equals 5 feet. A character with a 30'/turn moves 6". Still simple. This is generally how wargames work.

Of note is an independent skirmish wargame called "A Song of Blades and Heros", which is an awesome game that I highly recommend. In this game characters are moved via a move stick. No measuring apart from the stick. You do lose a little granularity, but what you lose there you make up in speed. It's a cool system.

I am sure some of you are wondering what I am on about. This is CONAN 2d20! It doesn't use a grid! It uses abstract zones! Zones based around scenery, zones based around where the action is happening!

Yes. This is all 100% true and if you can easily define zones you can create areas that are larger and some that are smaller, allowing you to control speed of the characters moving across the environment. ie a large zone represents an area a character can move fast and a small zone represents an area a character needs to move slowly across.

If you have time and can create defined zones in your outdoor scenes that your players can clearly identify, this is the way that more closely resembles how the rules are written and I suggest that it might be the best way to go. Best, but not fastest.

Using some of the above ideas from gridless D&D games as well as SoBH, I want to suggest the use of a stick. This stick is the size you want your average zone to be, + 1/2 that length again. In the case of a 4.5" stick we mark it at 1.5" from the end, and label it "Close", label the remainder as "Medium".

Indoors it might be small, say 4.5" long, and outdoors it might be double that size representing faster movement in larger, more open areas. As you can gather this stick represents the length of a zone. At the start of a players turn we assume his or hers character is sitting in the middle of their "zone".
  • Adjust - Free action - Miniature may move within any point listed as "Close" on the stick. Representing moving within the zone.
  • Move - Minor action - Miniature may move within any point on the stick. This represents moving to any place within "Medium" Range.
  • Sprint - Standard - Miniature may move to any point on the stick + the medium range portion of the stick, representing moving to "Long Range".

Basically we are picking a length for what we want the "MOVE" action to be. In D&D that might be a 6" stick representing the move of 30'. Once we have that we are allowing half that distance in the free action "Adjust", that full length for "Move" and two of those lengths for "Spring". Compared to the zone map we had before we can see how this might look and how well it translates.

This is a simple method that will allow your more tactically minded players to have a better grip on how far they can move in a round of play. It does have it's downsides, the biggest of them is you can't simply make a zone larger or smaller because the terrain is easier or more difficult to move across.

If you play Conan 2d20 with miniatures I would love to hear your thoughts on using a measuring system vs a zone system. Drop me a comment below and let me know. If you don't play Conan 2d20 but do play gridless I'd also love to hear what you think of it. Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!