Dungeons & Dragons Online

A Case for Theatre of the Mind and planning to not have a plan

Content of the article: "A Case for Theatre of the Mind and planning to not have a plan"

So I'm a fairly new dm just sharing some experience from being both a player and a DM. When I was young my brother and I came across some old 2e and material and we were instantly hooked. We read through the pages and made characters and we let our imagination run wild. It felt like we could instantly visualize these characters and the foes they fought as if they were straight out of a LOTR or dragon lance book.

Fast forward some years and we come across a starter set for DND 3e. This has figurines and battle maps and character art (that's not just basically a pencil drawing of a few characters and monsters) and we are instantly hooks. With all these new materials we didn't have to rely on describing in detail the surroundings or monster we were fighting, we could just look at the map, art, and figurines and go "oh so that's what that looks like".

Fast forward some more years and some more homebrew campaigns and adventures with varying levels of battle maps and figurines and I start working on my own campaign. I build up a little homebrew world and develop a world map and I find and make battle maps (using roll20 since me and my friends are at uni). After a year and many fond memories, the campaign ended in a glorious tpk at the hands of the bbeg. During this year-long campaign, I could not help but feel like there was something missing and it wasn't until we began our campaign 2 that I realized what it was.

Thoughout that year I felt like I needed to put the specific details into battle and world maps and use the full suite from roll 20. So I spent weeks on a battle map that would last the part for maybe an hour and months on planning out each and every possible encounter the party might run up against just to have most of this work go unused. This is why when we started session one for our second campaign and school work had gotten in the way of me doing all this planning I felt like I had let everyone down when I started resorting to improvising the shit out of it and relying heavily on there of the mind instead of giving players concrete battle maps. Nothing seemed too bad after the first session of this and we continued on to session 2, where more surprised tests got in the way of all my planning.

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After this session, I confessed to my players that I hadn't done all the planning that I had done in our last session, and humbly apologized. To my surprise, the unanimous opinion was that the focus on theatre of the mind and imagination made the first two sessions better than anything I had planned in our past campaign and they wanted me to continue exactly as I was doing. This was a shock to me, I had been conditioned to believe that the more maps and art and figurines to show to your players the better the DM you were.


The moral of the story is don't be afraid to lean on imagination and theatre of the mind. There is so much more you can do when you are not confined to a battle map with strict movements and placements that can make the world feel more real. Note: this is not to say never make a battle map, but rather there is a time and a place for battle maps and a time and a place for theatre of the mind. Allot of starting off DM's especially on these online platforms that feel like they need to have set battle maps made for each encounter, but you would be surprised at how well the old gygaxian methods hold up even in online platforms.

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