Home » Ancient Posts » Early Versions of D&D were NOT Tactical Combat Minis Games    
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Love your arrogance, but you missed a point in your own quoted material: There weren't miniatures readily available, yet the rules mentioned and gave guidelines for using miniatures in the game. How people did or did not use them has no bearing on how the game was written or designed

The Barbarian

Huh? I tend to remember using a lot of Ral Partha miniatures back in the Greyhawk days. Those miniatures were too small (20mm) for Warhammer and too big for other wargames that used 10mm and 15mm minis. There were some combat rules in the AD&D that really only clearly came into play if you were using miniatures. (They could come into play without but you might get some player/DM disagreement about who faced what.)


No, they didn't just disappear some used the chain mail rules and many choose not too.

UWS guy

So what did all those war gamers do? Just quit wargaming for exploration adventures? Even though dungeon and wilderness adventures kind of assumed the use of Chainmail I the wilderness sections?

Did all those wargamers just disappear?



Sounds amusing, but unsurprising. It is the same thing they say about D20/3e projected backwards onto AD&D, BD&D and ultimately to OD&D. In my experience, such claims mainly focus on the fact that the majority of the game rules of D&D are directly related to combat. This is usually contrasted with games that have complex task resolution for non combat events to demonstrate that “all D&D is good for is dungeon crawling and hack and slash.”

Mind, it is worth bearing in mind that some traditional gamers do consider AD&D 1e to be best played with miniatures and accurate spacial representation to be of high importance.

I think you rightly recognise the most important point, though, which is that pre D20 versions of D&D were not explicitly designed for miniatures, they merely accomodated them as a possibility. Indeed, that is what was attractive about RPGs to our group in the first place. The game takes place primarily in your imagination, it is not a function of miniatures and tabletop scenary (though we like those things) and not limited by the lack of them.


What’s interesting is even when presented with this evidence, there are players trying to prove the contrary by saying that it’s intuitive that a dice-based system like D&D had to come from a tactical combat simulator.

Again, spin is how you sell the game. Spin it right, and you pull in the crowd who have been clamoring to shut off the “imaginative” side of D&D because that’s too hard for most players.

Stick to miniature combat with exacting rules, they chant, because that makes it easier for me to niggle details that piss off the DM to no end. 4th Edition is the product of the dread rules lawyers at the height of their powertrip.


I have fond memories of playing Basic way back in the day and the idea of miniatures never entered our minds. When I started playing D&D again many years later (3.5), I felt it just wasn’t as much fun because of the clunky miniatures based combat. The battle scenes were a lot more tedious and a hell of a lot less cinematic.



I agree, originally D&D was “an adventure game about exploration.” However, to hear the people trying to claim 4E is just like OD&D, OD&D was a tactical combat wargame. It’s a hilarious claim, but the folks making these claims are convincing some people. Heck, one person making this argument thought Dungeon Geomorphs were a type of battlemat and tried to make the case that since these geomorph sets were really being pushed in some ads in the late 1970s, D&D had to have been designed to require minis and battlemats.


I have come across the self same claims over the years, and I don’t think it is newly associated with 4e. I think it’s about people trying to pigeon hole D&D as something in order to construct it; the purpose is to show why other games are different or better.

My response now is to say that D&D is an adventure game about exploration.

Secular Transhumanist

I was actually going to make a very similar post on my own blog, because I’ve encountered this self-same argument from folks in various places when I argue that the new 4E, with its emphasis on combat and miniatures, is a further departure from the original theme of the game. You saved me the trouble of doing so, and masterfully, and I will be pointing folks to this post in some conversations I’ve been having in various fora online.


Alexis Smolensk


There has been a considerable rewriting of history, and you’re absolutely right about it being BS. Chalk it up to one more effort from the phonies in the present using someone else’s conception to justify their marketed crap.


My friends and I got into D&D from a background in Choose-Your-Own-Adventures and Fighting Fantasy books. We say D&D as being something like that but with nearly unlimited choices, and a game world that reacted to our decisions.

I collected and painted minis, but we didn’t use them in our D&D games.


Alexis said: There is room for an amalgamation of tactics, even in the early game, for the DM who wants to play it that way.

I certainly would not argue that there isn’t nor that some groups probably used house rules with for more detailed tactical combat even back in the OD&D days.

However, the argument being made by a few vocal people who are upset that those who do not like the new fourth edition of D&D — because they say it plays like a tactical skirmish minis game — is that this very crunchy tactical subsystem (that requires minis and a battlemat to use the combat rules as written) is a return to D&D’s roots because OD&D, Holmes Basic, etc. were combat-centered games whose rules made it clear that they were designed to have those combats played out with miniatures. That’s just BS.

Alexis Smolensk

By and large I must agree with you. Yes, the game rules, very abstract. But I do remember that we scratched out positions and movements on a piece of paper, arrows to point where this character was moving to, or the relationships between combat foes, even though we had no miniatures to represent those things. As I remember, we hailed the appearance of miniatures because it made all those chicken scratches unnecessary.

You can’t help that at some level the combat HAS to have a certain degree of orientation involved…even if it is just to argue that the thief really IS behind someone and can backstab. Furthermore, I must point out that the AD&D DMG did have diagrams showing the difference between flank and rear attacks, and the sadly written flying combat rules gave a number of hexes a creature needed to travel before it could turn. So clearly there were some tactical elements that had become acquainted with the game by 1979.

That said, I have played a great many sessions with totally abstract combats (no paper used at all). For a long time, I would simply make circles and exes on paper behind the DM screen just to keep it straight myself, informing the players who they could or could not fight against.

There is room for an amalgamation of tactics, even in the early game, for the DM who wants to play it that way.


… and Gygax never used minis for D&D back in the day, that straight from the mouth of one of his players.