One of the hot things in RPGs that everybody seems to be buzzing about recently is the “theater of the mind” playstyle. Edge of the Empire uses this to great effect, and is often lauded for its non-reliance on any gaming aids, tokens, or anything at all beyond pencil and paper.
Like anything else, the fashion pendulum swings back and forth through the ages. There have been plenty of RPGs, some of them incredibly popular, that have had theater of the mind as their default. Why then have we changed? If theater of the mind is so goddamn great, why are we seeing it as some new hotness in 2012?
Like anything else, it has its flaws. If our goal is to have the most fun game possible, we must never blindly accept anything 100%, nor must we ever reject anything 100%. Ideas are not dark and light, like the Force, but rather a mixture of … (wait for it) Triumph & Despair.
What I’m trying to say is, try adding some more doodads, minis, tokens, cards, and various gaming aids to your Edge of the Empire game. Start with small doses in your sessions here and there. See what works, see what doesn’t, and use the things that help.
Here is a very simple visual aid that I have used in my games for combat scenes, and it work for me. I call it a Range Band Sheet. I print this on a few 11×17 sheets and have them lying around the table for anyone’s use. It’s a very generalized map of sorts, not really tracking exactly how far all combatants are, buts serving more as a reminder system as to who is at what range, and what kind of dice are used at that range. Edge of the Empire is really good with the simplicity of the rules, and I find players will very quickly stop relying on the Galaxy Master and start throwing their own dice and narrating their effects only after a round or two of combat with this sheet. I also kept everything in grey scales so as to be black & white printer friendly.
During your next game, put this bad boy down and supply a few tokens to represent your expected combatants. I think you’ll find it goes a long way to relieving the burden of keeping track of who is at what range, and what Difficulty the attacks are; allowing the Galaxy Master and fringer crew to devote more processing power into getting into the narrative and getting creative.
Just because we don’t need to use visual aids, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.