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14:24, 19th June 2024 (GMT+0)


Posted by The NarratorFor group archive E
The Narrator
GM, 128 posts
Thu 15 Feb 2024
at 21:20
  • msg #1


What is a Zone?

In this system, rather a map being comprised of 1-inch squares representing 5ft² of space in the game world, a map is comprised of a number of distinct “zones” that represent different areas of a fight. These zones can either be laid out over a detailed battle map or—as is my personal preference—can become an “Index Card BattleMap” where individual zones are detailed on index cards, using some means (drawing lines between them, using pieces of string, etc) to show connections that allow players to move from one zone to another. As an example, if your party is ambushed while traveling through a forest via a personal carriage, you might have zones for “Carriage”, “Road”, “Forest - Left”, and “Forest - Right” that make up the map with players able to move from to and from any Zone from the Road.

Depending on the interests of your group, you can vary the amount of detail you go into—for example, do you distinguish between areas ahead of and behind the carriage?—but the idea and mechanics remain the same. Because this system is not as precise as grid mechanics, expect to periodically need to discuss among your group when edge cases come up; remember, the idea is to make things fast and fun, rather than worrying over minor details. Generally, rulings should be biased in favor of the players who are expending resources!

Additionally, sometimes players might do things that suggest the creation or modification of zones—that's great! Lean into that, when they do unexpected things, and changing the battlefield to create an advantage is both a reasonable tactic and very fun to do!

How big is a Zone?

Zones don't have a fixed physical size, and even within a single combat, the size of a zone may vary. More important than size is that a Zone represents a distinct area of importance to the combat scene. The size and number of zones will vary from group to group, and situation to situation; more open areas are likely to have larger and fewer zones, while cramped spaces where movement and sight lines are more limited will have more small zones. On the surface this can create some minor narrative oddity with ranged attack distances, but I personally feel that in practice it's seldom overly distracting.


Sometimes, an Obstacle sits between two zones, preventing a user from moving to an adjacent zone with Stride. Trivial Obstacles can be bypassed as part of a Stride (such as an unlocked Door) and Basic obstacles require an action of some kind (unlocking a door with a key, breaking through a wooden barrier with brute force), but Complex Obstacles may require more time or effort and may have some consequence for failure. You shouldn't usually have Obstacles between every zone, but including one every now and then can spice things up!


A 15ft-wide chasm blocks passage between the zone the players are in, and the zone the Goblin Archers are currently firing at them from. This is a Complex Obstacle; players wishing to cross it will need to make a relevant test (perhaps making a Leap 1) to pass it, and failure means plummeting into the raging waters below… perhaps to wash up in some unknown and likely unfriendly location.


The party has been pushed down a corridor by a fast-approaching hoard of zombies in the dungeon they've been exploring. The zombies are blocking the way they came, and there is a locked door blocking the way to the next zone. The door is a Complex Obstacle, and will require somebody to spot and disarm the trap as well as unlock the door. Failure potentially means triggering the trap—not to mention the approaching hoard!

Zone Effects Usually, zones won't just be empty zones where nothing interesting is happening—if they are, you're probably making too many unnecessary zones. Instead, they'll often have various Zone Effects applied that provide new challenges to overcome, such as Difficult Terrain Zones or Cover Zones! Don't feel restricted to the ones I list here—improvise, and use Zone Effects to create interesting tactical considerations for your group!


A Difficult Terrain zone has terrain that makes movement difficult. When moving into or out of a zone of Difficult Terrain with the Stride 1 action, you don't get free movement within the new zone and will have to take another Move action to do so.


Hazardous Terrain zones cause some form of harm on characters who enter it, or begin their turn in it depending on the type of terrain. This might take the form of damage, Conditions, exposure to Afflictions, etc. Some Hazardous Terrain zones may allow skill checks to avoid the damage; for example, an Acrobatics check as characters jump from one floating rock to another moving through a Zone filled with lava.


Narrow Surfaces, Uneven Ground, and Incline Zones work the same as their equivalent terrain types (p.476) in the Core Rulebook. Some of these may also be considered Hazardous Terrain Zones!


Cover Zones provide some form of natural cover for those who are in the zone, or in zones beyond it. Cover zones align with “Types of Cover” (p.477) to determine what kind of cover they provide, and automatically provide that cover against anybody within the zone against ranged attacks coming from outside the zone, or ranged attacks passing through the zone. The most common type of Cover Zone is dense foliage, but in a realm of magic the only limit is your imagination! Cover zones are usually also Perception zones, if they make seeing through them difficult.


Perception zones make perceiving into or through zone more difficult. The most common type of Perception zone is is one that affects visibility; for example, a zone filled with soft vegetation that makes it difficult to see enemies inside or on the other side of it. Some particularly strange Perception Zones might even limit you to Imprecise or Vague Senses through them! Feel free to have fun with these!


Lighting zones are similar to Perception zones, except they only apply to the zone itself. For example, a long hallway might consist of three zones; two Lighting zones considered Dimly Lit by torches, with an unlit zone of Darkness between them. Spotting a target in the Darkness zone may be difficult, but it will not prevent spotting somebody in the Dimly Lit zone on the far side of it.
The Narrator
GM, 129 posts
Thu 15 Feb 2024
at 21:25
  • msg #2


New & Adjusted Mechanics

Range Under this system, rather than “range” being specified in ft., range is broken into five abstract categories. Reach means you're close enough to engage in melee combat, pull a lever, pick up an item from a map, etc. In the grid-based system, this would be an adjacent square. Near refers to anything currently in the same zone as you, but not in Reach distance. For example, a lever on the opposite side of a small room would be considered Near. Medium distance refers to anything in an adjacent/connected zone. For example, the hallway outside the door of our current room would be at a Medium distance. Far distance refers to anything two zones away. For example, another room at the end of the hallway. Extreme distance refers to anything three or more zones away.

Note: Reach range might be different for some characters. For example, suppose Lisette is playing a Fighter wielding a glaive (which has the Reach trait), and is facing a Goblin with a dogslicer. On her turn, Lisette uses a Stride action to engage the Goblin so she can attack it. Because of Lisette's reach, the Goblin is considered in Reach of her and she can attack it—the Goblin, on the other hand, still considers Lisette to be at a Near distance, however, and will need to use a Move action in order to make an attack against her (and might incur an Attack of Opportunity for doing so).

Converting Ranges

Manually providing new ranges for every item, action, and ability in the game would be… impractical, to put it lightly. Instead, I recommend these as a baseline for converting Pathfinder's range values into the range categories listed above. This system isn't perfect, so some discussion among your group may be necessary in certain situations.

• Anything 10ft or lower becomes a Reach distance. This is appropriate for most melee attacks, anything requiring a Touch, etc.
• Anything up to 30 ft becomes Near.
• Anything up to 60 ft becomes Medium.
• Anything up to 90 ft becomes Far.
• Anything beyond 90 ft becomes Extreme.

The basic idea is, every 30ft increment steps into a new range category. Generally, distance for these should be capped at 3 zones when dealing with Extreme range, but I encourage you to experiment and find what's right for your group. I do not recommend translating a character's Speed stat in this way, but if it's something that works better for your group then hey, go for it.


AoEs are perhaps the most finicky aspect of running Pathfinder modified for a Zone-based system. Bursts and Emanations work fairly well with Converted Ranges (for example, a 10ft Emanation would affect everybody in Reach of the user, while a 10ft Burst would affect a primary target and everybody in Reach of it). Cones and Lines, unfortunately, aren't always quite so clear. Depending on the size of the Cone, you can relatively easily treat it similarly to a Burst; for example, a 15ft cone might hit a target in the current Zone and everybody within Reach of them, while a 60ft Cone could hit everybody within an adjacent Zone. Ultimately, as when playing with Theater of the Mind combat you'll have to let the fiction guide you, and come to a consensus as a group. Generally hitting at least two targets with a Line is a fair baseline, but it's usually best to rule in favor of the players—after all, they're the ones expending precious spell slots! Better yet, get creative and use actions as a group to narrate how you're setting up enemies (whether pushing them with Forced Movement or simply tricking them to get into a position favorable for the caster) for a more effective Line attack!


Without specific positions and grids, Flanking becomes a bit more nebulous in play. This is a situation that does not have a single good answer; use your best judgment. Obviously, two creatures attempting to flank a target will need to have the target in Reach, but everything else about it comes down to narrative framing and what's the most fun.
The Narrator
GM, 130 posts
Thu 15 Feb 2024
at 21:27
  • msg #3


Modified Actions

The following Actions represent adjustments to Pathfinder's Basic Actions & Attack of Opportunity to suit a Zone-based system.

Basic Actions

CRAWL (1 Action)
Requirements p: You are prone and your Speed is at least 10 feet.

You can move somewhere within Reach, and continue to stay prone.

Note: Crawl isn't an especially useful action even on a 5ft grid. In a Zone-based system it's even more awkward. Still, if you were previously standing next to a table in the Tavern Floor zone (so, within Reach of it), you could Crawl to move under it.

LEAP (1 Action)

Leap doesn't actually need modification to work in a Zone-based system, but you may need to discuss whether the horizontal Leap distance will let you get where you want (for example, Leaping from one table to the next in a bar fight is pretty reasonable).

Leap will usually remain within the current zone, but occasionally it might lead to an interesting way to traverse into another zone—perhaps even one not normally considered adjacent, if nobody anticipated scaling the wall and leaping over it!

STEP  (1 Action)

You careful move somewhere within Reach. This may take you out of an opponent's Reach. Unlike most types of movement, Stepping doesn't trigger reactions, such as Attacks of Opportunity, that can be triggered by move actions or upon leaving or entering another character's Reach.

You can't Step while in a zone of Difficult Terrain, and you can't Step using a Speed other than your land Speed.

Note: Step is another awkward one. Its key purpose on the grid is getting out of threatened squares, which you can do here as well; but as with the grid, on its own it may not be enough to get away from enemies with a longer Reach due to weapons or their Size. Keep Step's purpose in mind when discussing whether something works.


Move to a point within your current Zone (for example, getting in Reach of a target in your current zone for a melee attack, or moving to reinforce the door to a dungeon room), or move to an adjacent Zone.

If your speed is higher than 20 and you are not affected by a Difficult Terrain effect in either the new zone or the zone you moved from, you may move to a point within this new Zone (for example, getting in Reach of a target in the new zone for a melee attack).


These are pretty much the same as Stride in terms of Zones, but you should also consider how far you're moving vertically—it may matter both for creatures on land being able to reach you, and if you Fall, for example. This is an area where precise rules can't really be specified, because Zones don't necessarily have a fixed size; reasoning about travel in the third dimension should be a group discussion if a situation feels uncertain.


Trigger A creature within Reach uses a manipulate action or a move action, makes a ranged attack, leaves Reach during a move action it's using, or attempts to reach a target or position you are Blocking.

Note: The effect of Attack of Opportunity remains unchanged, only the Trigger changes.

New Actions

The Zone system does introduce a very notable pain point over a grid system: area control. With Stride allowing characters to theoretically move to any point within a zone, how does the Fighter control and block off a path to their party? Part of this is handled by narrative framing (despite the rules, Stride is not a teleport; even if it is in the same Zone, good luck getting to the lever at the end of the hallway if there's a horde of Zombies standing between you and it), but there are certain situations where having explicit Actions available can help keep everybody on the same page.


Trigger: You successfully use a Move action and are now in a reasonable position to block others from reaching a destination.

After making a successful Move action, you may declare that you are Blocking a creature, an object, an area, etc. You are considered to be Blocking the target until you move, are forced to move, or the narrative otherwise prevents you from blocking the target.


Trigger: A creature attempts to use a Move action to reach a target or position your are Blocking.

The target must make a skill check against a DC relevant to how you are blocking in order to get past you; failing this check means that the creature ends its Movement in your Reach.

Note: Block should be considered a Basic Action, available to everybody. Rather than taking a Block reaction, if you can make an Attack of Opportunity  you may choose to use that reaction instead; but you're not guaranteed to interrupt their movement with it. I intentionally make Blocking leave the skill roll up to the creature who's attempting to move in the first place, because it is an action available to everyone. You're free to have the players make a skill roll to stop them instead—nothing is set in stone here, this design is mostly just my personal preference. Explicit Blocking is not always required; use your best judgment as to whether or not something is just naturally blocked; for example, an ogre or a horde of zombies standing in a tight hallway might just implicitly block passage; the players will either have to take it down the hard way, or get creative in order to move past it.
This message was last edited by the GM at 21:30, Thu 15 Feb.
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