Hex Grid or Square?

Dungeons & Dragons nowadays is often played with some sort of grid, whether it’s a quick sketch on graph paper or a complete tabletop with miniatures. The game assumes a square grid, but there are other options with varying popularity.

You can print out graph and hex paper at Incompetech’s graph paper website.

Square Grid
Square is by the most popular grid layout, and is assumed in both third and fourth edition D&D rules. A point of contention between fans of these editions is diagonal movement - 3e charges two squares of movement for every second diagonal you move, whereas 4e takes the simpler and less realistic option of diagonal movement.

Square grids make it easy to draw rectangular rooms. It’s also a lot easier to draw your own grid on something like a whiteboard. Because it’s standard, most game books and products are made for square grid, and for this reason it’s my preference.

Hex Grid
The main advantage of the hexagonal grid is in diagonal movement - there isn’t any. Straight lines are extended as a shortest path, of which you can have multiple due to the nature of a hex grid. Area effects are also easily adjudicated.

Third edition’s Unearthed Arcana gives rules for using a hex grid, which demonstrate how easily area effects are handled. For a 20ft radius, one “origin” hex and any hex within four hexes of this is affected. For a cone, it’s the same but constrained to two sides of the hex. Facing is more complex.

In fourth edition, hexes have no official support but can work reasonably well. Bursts affect less squares overall as they go from cubes to something more spherical, but six sides instead of eight mean fewer attackers can swarm you. A two-man flank is just as easy to perform. This might be an option if you’re unhappy with 4e’s simpler diagonal movement.

No Grid
A method favoured by tactical wargames, this is the hardest to adjudicate. It requires the DM to measure the distances between units, decide whether or not opponents are “adjacent” or “in range”, and measure movement using measuring tapes or string. Flanking is likewise difficult to measure. This is the most flexible, but also the hardest to adjudicate.


Comments (15)

PatrickWR (October 28th, 2008)

I definitely prefer hexes. Diagonal movement is just so illogical using a square grid map! My group ends up on the battle mat about once every three adventures, so it’s not much of a concern for us in any case.

Mad Brew (October 28th, 2008)

Also being a wargamer myself, I have toyed with the idea of using the “No Grid” method. The consequence of course would be slowing the game down while everyone measures distances.

I almost bought a hex battlemat at GenCon last year, but it looked like the size would be incompatible with the minis. I don’t see myself printing a bunch of hex maps out, otherwise I’d use hexes. Besides, it brings back memories of those hex transparencie in the old D&D boxed sets.

The Blow Leprechaun (October 28th, 2008)

I enjoy the complexity of having no grid sometimes, especially if you have to decide to fire before you get to measure, allowing for the real possibility of firing at something that is simply out of your range.

But really, I don’t often play games where that much realism is appropriate, so I go for simplicity, and that’s squares.

DM Louie-Louie (October 28th, 2008)

I too prefer the square grid and like you, Jonathan, I use it because of the game support and it being the standard in the industry. I do use the Hex grid from time to time but that is only when my group is in space or water. I think I do that because I use to play Starfleet battles and I tend to recall that game whenever my group goes into those environments. (Starfleet battles never did water environment but since it is like space, its easy to make that transition.)

Asmor (October 28th, 2008)

I prefer hexes, but tend to use squares just because it’s the path of least resistance. Ultimately, it doesn’t make a huge difference from a gameplay standpoint, and I’ve got a bunch of maps and tiles that are in 1 inch squares, but the only thing I’ve got in hexes is the other side of my flip-mat.

Darkfire (October 29th, 2008)

@PatrickWR
Actually, it’s perfectly logical. Apply Pythagoras’ theorem:
1 square diagonally is sqrt(5*5 + 5*5) = 7.07…ft
2 squares diagonally is sqrt(10*10 + 10*10) = 14.14…ft

Rounding both to the nearest 5ft interval gives you 5ft and 15ft respectively, hence the quick and dirty 5ft for odd diagonals, 10ft for evens. It’s fine for short distances.

Airk (October 29th, 2008)

I don’t understand the point of hexes. Sure, there are no ‘diagonals’ but there are some directions in which you are incapable of travelling in a straight line, so it amounts to the same thing. Look at any hex map. You can move “straight” by going, essentially, north, south, northeast, northwest, southeast or southwest, but in order to move east or west you are hitting the equivalent of a diagonal where you need to move twice because you keep deviating from your path. And at least using squares, you have right angles and therefore, straight lines in rooms not designed by races of giant sentient bees or something.

Zaratustra (October 30th, 2008)

Who wants to move east or west anyway

I like the ‘tilted square’ thing, like this:

[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]
[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]
[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]
[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]
[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]
[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]
[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]

Did that work?

Zaratustra (October 31st, 2008)

No, it didn’t. Imagine every second row being slid half a tile to the side.

Darkfire (November 1st, 2008)

@Zaratustra:
Like so:
_|_|_|_|
|_|_|_|_
_|_|_|_|
|_|_|_|_

Each square is adjacent to 6 other squares and you can only move in an exactly straight line along one axis. This is mechanically equivalent to hexes.

Hereward (November 17th, 2008)

I use squares as it fits in better with dungeon construction.Squares are far from ideal but its a pretty minor issue unless you are playing with inexperienced players who are going to constantly argue with the DM(our group is fortunate in having over 110 years of RPG experience between 5 of us, I have been playing since 1977 when I was 12, the least experienced in the group has been playing since 1994).I use hex grids for outdoor mapping (the standard convention, squares for dungeon maps, hexes for widerness mapping) but still use the square grid battleboard for the fights.(We always use figures for battles).
I really like “Darkfires” idea of the offset squares for use on a battleboard and may construct one in the very near future.So thank you for that Darkfire.
(I was lucky to be involved with D & D at such a young age and completely by luck.I live in rural Scotland so hardly very modern or cosmipolitan.A friends mother had been shopping in London and had bought him D & D for his birthday (from Games Workshop who held the UK licencse and had only one shop, 1 Dalling Road ,Hammersmith)in the mistaken belief that it was a trilogy of “Swords and sorcery” novels, talk about serendipity).

redem (February 15th, 2009)

I exclusively use hexes for large-scale outdoor maps where we’re tracking travel in days not in encounters. Especially if the travel is flight, skirting forests or mountains, or following a river, the hex grid tends to permit more reasonable movement.

When we need to “zoom in” for an encounter we use a square grid.

Breed (January 19th, 2010)

So this site is awesome. I am going to be using the grid for some Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, thanks for posting this link or I may never have found this.

Zach (January 31st, 2010)

I use a mixture of both hex and square. I use hex for outside, bigger environments like the world map, but for dungeons I use the squares, as it is easier to do rooms and such with them.

Brian (November 5th, 2011)

For a square grid, you could use 1.5 as the diagonal distance. This is a reasonable approximation to the actual distance, 1.414, but is still easy to calculate with in your head.

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