Fluid 4e: Gridless Combat.

Fluid 4e: Gridless Combat.

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This is technically different from the normal “Off the Grid” series, but really?  Gridless Combat?  Are you going to get much further off the grid?  Hope you enjoy, and comments welcome.

Why Gridless?

There are many good reasons to ditch the grid. Perhaps you want to do a play-by-email game. Or maybe you’re at a convention and you forgot your gear. Or you’re just accustomed to other roleplaying systems (or older versions of D&D) and you want to run combat with narration and description instead of a battlemat.

Fluid 4e offers solid guidelines for running 4e combat without a grid, streamlining combat while keeping the combat structure and the feel of 4e powers intact.

Gridless. Not Mapless.

The grid serves a very precise function — it is used to eliminate bickering about character position on the battlefield.“I’m here!” “No, I’m there!” These arguments evaporated when 4e introduced the grid.

Without the grid, we are back to the imprecision of narrative combat, allowing the GM’s descriptions and the players’ imaginations to fill in the blanks. But asking players to picturing several party members’ and their enemies’ relative position is asking for brain overload. A map is essential, even if it’s just a simple diagram sketched on a napkin.


These rules assume an active and constantly-shifting battlefield. Characters are assumed to be constantly jockeying for positional superiority. Similar to the core 4e rules, what is most important for each combatant is where everyone exists in relation to him or her. Movement (as will be discussed at length later) is always assumed to be in straight lines, with the character moving as safely as he is able.

Lastly, this combat system recognizes that imprecision is inherent in all combat systems (gridless or not) and relies heavily on description from the GM and his group to provide proper context for the situations that arise.


Rounds and Initiative.

Rolling initiative and the sequence of turns and rounds remain unchanged. Players will start the combat as normal and proceed in initiative order as stated in the core rules.

The Move Save.

In fluid 4e, we assume that all characters attempt to move as safely as possible, avoiding opportunity attacks, traps, and hazards wherever they can. But when your character does get caught, you must make a move save. Just like a normal saving throw, a move save succeeds on a score of 10 or higher. No modifier to saving throws applies to move saves unless it explicitly states that it grants a bonus to move saves. Each move save is modified by the speed of the moving character minus the speed of an opposing character or a terrain modifier.

Move Save modifier = Moving character’s speed – Opponent character’s speed + move advantage + status modifier

Example:Paul, playing an elf, needs to get by a crowd of orcs to reach the shaman at the back of the room. Paul could move around the room’s perimeter, but that would take longer. He’d rather take a direct route past the loosely clustered orcs. The GM informs Paul that he has to move by three of the orcs, so in order to avoid opportunity attacks, Paul must make three Move Saves. His speed is 7 and each orc’s speed is 6, so he gets a +1 to each roll. Paul rolls a 10 (9+1), a 6 (5+1), and a 15 (14+1). He moves cleverly around two of the orcs, but stumbles too close to the last one, provoking an opportunity attack.

The most common reasons to make a Move Save are:

  • Resisting and Attempting Flanks
  • Avoiding Opportunity Attacks
  • Moving at full speed past difficult terrain

Optional Rule:Once per turn as a free action, the GM may allow you to substitute Athletics or Acrobatics in place of a Move save, representing some adroit maneuver that bypasses the obstacle. The DC of such a test is 12 + the level of the foe or terrain. This substitution must be stated before making the save.

Example:Ken’s ranger wants to somersault over a patch of rough ground so that he can move without penalty. The terrain modifier is 5, so he must make an athletics check at DC 17 to move at his normal speed.

Move Advantage

A cousin to combat advantage, move advantage means literally having the upper hand in footwork and positioning. You gain move advantage when your foe is caught in a bad position, temporarily turned away, set off balance, or any other situation that puts him at a disadvantage on the battlefield. Normally gained from power effects and forced movement, move advantage grants you bonuses to your move save.

Move advantage is always represented as a positive number. When applied to yourself or an ally, it represents a bonus when making move saves versus terrain or enemies. When gaining move advantage and applying it to an enemy, the target grants that bonus to when opposing your ally’s move saves. Move advantage is gained from a shift, pull, push, or slide, but never from a move. Move advantage lasts until the end of the next turn of the next target it is applied to.

Move Advantage and Forced Movement

When an effect causes a target to be pulled, pushed or slid, the originator of the effect has two choices. He can move the target the allowed movement, or force move advantage on the target. The number of squares of movement is the amount of move advantage placed on the target. Pushing a target 3 squares, for example, can force 3 points of move advantage on that target until the end of the target’s next turn. All allies of the creator of that effect will gain +3 on move saves versus the target until that time.

Example: A wizard uses thunderwave on a group of orcs. He can push them up to 4 squares each, but decides to force move advantage on them instead. One of his allies wants to attack an orc in the group but needs to get through the other orcs to get to him. The wizard’s ally makes move saves against all of the orcs with a +4 bonus on each save. The wizard’s allies will have that same move save bonus until the end of the orcs’ next turns.

Example: A rogue is engaged with a foe. He uses a power that allows him to shift 2 squares. Instead of taking the movement granted, he uses that for move advantage against his foe, making it easier to escape or flank his enemy. He harries his rivals with deft footwork and successful feints, applying that to any move save he makes against an enemy until the end of his next turn.

Example:A ranger uses a power that allows him to move his speed. Since this is a move, he may not use this power to gain move advantage.

Range and Distance

Instead of using the precise measurements of a grid, in Fluid 4e we need only a few keywords to establish approximate range and position. Range keywords are easy to translate from the core 4e rules and back again.

  • Melee/Engaged 0-1 squares
  • Short 2-4 squares
  • Medium 5-9 squares
  • Distant 10-14 squares
  • Far 15-19 squares
  • Extreme 20-25 squares

Whenever the standard rules reference a number of squares, it instead counts as being in a range keyword that contains the number specified.

Example:Paul uses a power that allows him to move 6 squares. This fits in the medium movement range, so the movement is a medium movement. Roger uses a power that allows him to shift 2. If he is adjacent to a foe (in melee range) then after the movement he is now close to the opponent.

Example:Roger throws a dagger with a range of 5/10. Any target who is in medium range counts as a normal shot, and a distant target counts as far range. Targets who are far or further cannot be hit with the dagger.


Core 4e movements need only a few modifications to work smoothly in a narrative system. Firstly, when moving you always want to specify your destination. Inform the GM where you are moving, and he will then arbitrate any factors involved in the move. Whenever you move, unless you state otherwise, it assumed you are always moving in a straight line to your target, making any subtle changes in direction necessary to arrive at your destination. A GM should always be forthcoming with players when asked the distance to some feature or target, so that they may make informed moves and choices of destination.

Walking and Running

Walking operates as normal. Most characters will move medium range when walking. A running character can move one range further than normal.

Example:A fighter runs across the battlefield to reach his foes. He covers a distant range when running.

Example:A character has been slowed. He can only move a short range when moving.


A shift works as normally. Shifting can be used to gain a minor positional advantage (+1), and can be used to disengage safely from an opponent you are engaged with. A shift can also be used to move from medium to short range, or from short range to melee.

Engaging and Disengaging

Whenever you are in melee range of another combatant, you are considered engaged. When engaged, you are adjacent to any combatant you are engaged with. Disengaging with a move action provokes attacks of opportunity, while moving with a shift to short range does not. A single small or medium size target can be engaged by no more than eight creatures. A large creature can be engaged by no more than 12, a huge creature 16, and a gargantuan creature 20.


The guard action allows you to position yourself strategically to defend allies on the battlefield. Once per turn as a move action, you may declare that you are guarding a target. Declare the target you are guarding, then move to within short or melee range of the target. Until the start of your next turn, any enemy attempting to engage the target must make a move save versus you or provoke an opportunity attack from you.


In an active battlefield, flanking position can be more difficult to attain, or to escape.

To flank an opponent, the target of the flank must already be engaged with one or more of your allies. Choose one ally that you will flank with. Then, use a move action (or use a power that creates movement) to engage the foe. Make a move save versus the target, with a +1 for each additional ally currently engaged with the target (including the first). If the move save is successful, you have flanked the target. The target provides combat advantage to you and your ally until it escapes the flank.

There are multiple ways to escape a flank:

clean escape can be made if using an ability that allows you to shift more than one square, or one of the opponents flanking you moves out of melee range, whether voluntarily or via forced movement.

safe escape is made when you shift one square. When attempting a safe escape, declare one of the targets flanking you. Make a move save versus that target, with a penalty to the save for every enemy engaged with you beyond the first. If the move save succeeds, you are no longer flanked. You are still engaged with the enemy you made a save against, but not with the other flanking enemy.

An unsafe escape is made when you use a move action to move away from the flank. You automatically escape the flank, but first provoke opportunity attacks from any target engaged with you.

Example:Tom, playing a dwarf, is currently engaged with an orc shaman. His ally Paul moves into melee range of the shaman and attempts to flank it. Paul has an elf, so he makes a move save with a +2 modifier (+1 for an engaged ally, +1 for speed 7 versus speed 6). He rolls a 15 (13+2), making the save. The shaman is now flanked and is in for a bad time! Each player now has combat advantage against him until he can escape. If Paul had failed the move save, he would still have been engaged with the shaman, but would not have achieved a flanking position against him.

Example:The orc shaman in the previous example wishes to escape. On his turn, he panics, hastily using a power that would push Paul’s elf one square, giving him some breathing room to get away. Unfortunately the shaman misses. If he had hit, Paul would have been knocked back to short range and would no longer be flanking the shaman with Tom.

Example:The shaman’s panic continues. This time he uses a move action to shift, attempting a safe escape. Tom’s dwarf is the least mobile of the two, so the shaman makes a move save versus Tom. The cornered shaman makes a move save with a +1 modifier (his speed of 6 minus Tom’s speed of 5). He rolls 11 (10+1). He made it! He takes advantage of the blundering dwarf’s misstep and moves to the side. He is now engaged with Tom and at a short distance from Paul.

Example:The shaman has found himself flanked again. Throwing caution to the wind, he runs! He provokes two opportunity attacks, one from Paul and the other from Tom. He barely survives the strikes, but has managed to free himself to begin his rout in earnest.

Bursts and Blasts

Powers with areas of effect have their effects modified in the narrative system as well. For bursts, you pick a point of origin as dictated by the range of the burst, and then use the burst/blast table below to determine which targets are hit. For blasts, you must choose to which side you are aiming the blast at. All enemies within the specified direction and range on the burst/blast table are effected by the power.

Burst/Blast Table

  • Burst 1 — all targets in melee range
  • Blast,Burst 2-4 — all targets in short range
  • Blast,Burst 5-9 — all target in medium range
  • Blast,Burst 10+ –all targets in distant range

Example:Roger, playing a wizard, wishes to hit some minions with an area of effect spell. The spell is burst three, so once he decides where to place it he can hit all targets within a short range of the point of origin.

Point of Origin

When players pick specific enemies or allies as the point of origin, area of effect works similarly to the core rules. When they get more picky with placement, the rules can bog down a bit. It is suggested that a GM use his best judgment in such cases, and to err on the side of generosity whenever possible.

Allies in Burst/Blast and Containment

Sometimes an ally will be in the area of effect of a power. In these cases, you may, as the originator of the effect, choose to contain the area so that the ally has a chance to move out of the way and avoid being targeted.

To contain a blast or burst, select the ally who is farthest from the point of origin from the blast or burst. If there are multiple allies at the same range, choose one. You may not select an ally that is in melee range of the point of origin for the blast or burst. That ally may make a move save versus a terrain difficulty of 5. If the ally succeeds on the move save, they are no longer a target of the effect. If the move save fails, the ally is targeted normally.

Example: Roger’s wizard really wants to fry a group of orcs withscorching burst. The orcs are circling his ally in melee range. Since the spell has a range of burst 1, he can hit all targets within melee range of the spell. If he places the point of origin at the edge of the group, he can hit some of the orcs –the GM rules that he could hit half of them in this manner. He can hit them all if he centers the effect on his ally, but he cannot contain the blast in this case. His ally is simply too close.

Example:Roger’s wizard places a burst effect on a different group of enemies. The effect is burst 5, so it will hit all creatures at a medium distance from the blast. Three allies are in the area of effect: Tom (who is a short distance from the point of origin), Paul (who is a medium distance from the point of origin), and Sue (also a medium distance from the point of origin). Roger doesn’t want to hurt all of his allies, so he decides to contain the blast. He must pick the furthest ally from the point of origin. Since he has two allies that fit that description, he gets to choose. He chooses Sue (hoping Paul will forgive him!) and she is allowed a move save. Her speed is 6, so she has a +1 modifier (speed 6 – terrain difficulty 5) to the save. She fails with a 5 (4+1), so she is still targeted as normal by the spell.

Difficult Terrain and Zones

Terrain is no less important on the active battlefield. Characters will still need to navigate the perils of the environment as they have on the battlemap. Effects from powers will also place zones of effect that must be dealt with. There are no squares in a narrative combat system, so instead the GM defines areas of terrain and where they are on the battlefield. Each area of terrain represents not just a square or isolated patch of terrain, but instead defines an area that has multiple obstacles and features within it. The difficulty in these areas will be defined in part by how densely the difficult terrain is packed together and partly on what kind of difficult terrain it is. Each area of terrain has a size and a difficulty.

The size of terrain determines how far a character must move to get through it. Difficulty determines how hard the terrain is to navigate. The default difficulty of difficult terrain is 5. Areas loosely packed or densely packed with obstacles can change that rating to as low as 3 and as high as 7, respectively.

Example:Old pillars and rubble are strewn through the center of the battlefield. The GM determines the size of the the terrain will be distant. Any character moving through that terrain from one end to another will need to move that total distance to traverse it.

Moving through difficult terrain

When moving through difficult terrain, make a move save. If you succeed the move save, you move your speed as normal. If you fail your move save, you move one range keyword slower than you normally would. So if you make a distant move, you instead make a medium move. If you were to move a medium distance, you would instead move a short distance.

Enjoy The Chaos!

When abstaining from the use of a grid, there are many situations that become imprecise. The key here is to embrace that imprecision and embellish with narration and description. Liberated from the grids, players will want to try any manner of different tactics and maneuvers. Using skill checks for acrobatics and athletics, you should be able to adjudicate such maneuvers easily. It is not the aim of these rules to provide rules for every scenario that could arise. Instead, the rules offer a framework for quickly translating the core rules to a more open and narrative format. Enjoy the chaos! Gridless combats move quickly and can be very exciting. At the very least it can be a great break from the usual combat formula.

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A Jack of All Trades ,or if you prefer, an extreme example of multi-classing, Gamefiend, a.k.a Quinn Murphy has been discussing, playing and designing games straight out of the womb. He is the owner and Editor-in-Chief of this site in addition to being an aspiring game designer. As you would assume, he is a huge fan of 4e. By day he is a technologist. Follow gamefiend on Twitter