My latest podcast addiction is La Cellule, it's a gathering of french RPG authors and theoricians and it's a weekly delight. They have a various formats for their podcast episodes and one of them is the "one shot", where a game is tested over a day and debriefed the following day. A few years back they tried Dungeons & Dragons in its fourth edition and they actually had a great time.
They enjoyed the fights, the grids and the tokens. That puzzled me because that is a fun I always knew and the first time I saw people playing on TV, they had a battlemat and miniatures.
Replaying the podcast in my head, I realize that the grid was emphasized. The tactical aspect of the game was seducing the players. They were not playing with miniatures but with tokens. The dungeon master, John Grümph, was travelling light.
That reminded me of Hankerin Ferinale, explaining in one of his recent videos his game master "pouch", a few dice, a few tokens and nothing else. That's what he's using to play his latest OSE campaign.
I bounced then to the UDT (Ultimate Dungeon Terrain not Underwater Demolition Team), miniatures, scatter materials, like an Elizabethan stage, with the actors and a few props.
And I was back to the Theater of the Mind.
What percentage of the game is spent in the Theater? Does the Theater vanish when the combat starts and the battlemat gets the spotlight?
I am trying to play with "lo-fi" miniatures and a battlemat. Characters and creatures are represented by "underwhelming" plastic figures. Initially I wanted to have chess-inspired stylized figure but my programmer iteration habit kicked in and I ended up modelling bodies, parameterizing miniatures.
Session preparation is time consuming, I don't want to go crazy and have to paint miniatures, I want to prepare content not form. A red stick man could pass for any human sized antagonist. If players come up with their own mini, carefully selected and painted, then it will be a victory, but I don't owe them minis, I owe them fun at the table.
This hobby may be costly as we chase those fantasies, buying books and fantasizing about running their games, buying minis and painting them while fantasizing about games they'll be used in. The books stay on their shelves and the miniatures are not used as the adventurers bypass the encounter.
The books are still inspiration fuel and painting the mini was a good moment of focus.
I am oscillating between excesses, fortunately the Theater of the Mind stands firmly between the (ten feet) poles.