Aphantasia: Theatre of the Mind vs. Terrain and Props

So I recently listened to a podcast which had Ed Catmull discussing Aphantasia and it got me thinking about the sort of people I see on my Saturdays at my FLGS (Over 6,500 sq Feet of Gaming Space in Pasadena, CA). They have a 6 tables of Flames of War going, there are a couple other war games going on. It’s also Adventures League day and there are tables where the DM has a computer controlled screen as the board. Then there other tables with just people sitting around using Theatre of the Mind to do their gaming. Finally my group is there, we play The Fantasy Trip, DCC, and MCC. My fellow gamers will generally use theatre of the mind. TFT will require a hex board, but thats a lot for even us.

So now to my question: I a seriously wondering how many of the folks who are playing Flames of War, Warmachine, 40K, or who are using that very large screen TV laid out on the table have minds that could be classified as Aphantasic.

A simple test for Aphantasia could be, What do you see in your mind when you read the following: "The corridor is of plain stone, roughly worked, and it is dark and full of cobwebs. The roof is twenty feet overhead is obscured by these hanging strands. Daylight reveals that there is a pair of oaken doors at the end of the passageway. " How vivid are the colors of the oaken door? How rough are the stones in your head? Can you see any of these images in your head on a scale of 1 (nothing) all the way to 5 being (as if I was standing in the hallway)

So here is a poll. Please choose the answer that best fits your preferences for playing games. I know there are people who love miniatures because of the process of building, painting, and all of that. That is not what I’m looking for here. I’m looking for play preferences, not hobby preferences.

  • I can visualize and I prefer theatre of the mind
  • I can visualize and I have no preference for miniatures, props, or video maps in my gaming
  • I can visualize and I prefer miniatures, props, or video maps
  • I can’t visualize and I prefer theatre of the mind
  • I can’t visualize and I have no preference for miniatures, props, or video maps in my gaming
  • I can’t visualize and I prefer miniatures, props, or video maps

0 voters

I HATE the term “totm” (I can’t even bring myself to type it) - it feels pretentious to me, and seems to have popped up out of nowhere in the past 5 years. (YMMV)

Of course you don’t always need to use minis, props & terrain - it’s situational. MOST of the time I simply describe the region the players are in - but when a large combat breaks out I break out the mins and or terrain.
For bog standard D&D combat, without minis of some sort to give relevant locations, the groups I have played with always seem to have difficulties in adjudicating the use of abilities, spells, movement or who gets attacked. Sure the combat in theory flows quicker - but in practice players have constant questions and confusions over who is where and what is happening.

Back in the day the groups when we didn’t use minis for combat it due to a lack of minis, not because it was the preference.

Visualizing the location through description is always better than any terrain for me, but keeping track of a flowing combat situation involving more than two or three participants suffers.

I also am saddened a bit by the wording of this particular - why does it have to be one or the other - why can it be, as Sean says “It depends”.


I think theater of the mind is GREAT exercise for people that enjoy our hobby. I also think it is something that you can exercise over time. However, I think using minis, maps and terrain does add to some combats and can be very inspiring to using strategy and tactics. I do not think one is better than the other and I think it really depends on the moment.

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When I am playing online I proffer “theater of the mind” with some pics if needed. in person I like anything. I do not mind props if it does not get into the way.

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My group now loves the use of flip mats and minis. We use to do theater of the mind in almost every aspect except for larger battles then we would use a roll out grid, even though I owned several flip mats. One session I built an encounter for a flip mat and the group loved it. Now due to group preference we use lots of props. I still like theater of the mind and enjoy playing that way, so either or for me, playing or running the game.

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This is a false dichotomy. I don’t fit in any of the foils offered as they are asymmetric.

[not] M [and/or/not] N,L,P is logically invalid for any nouns for the variables M,N,O,P

That’s before we get around to how MUCH of EACH of M, N, O, P we’re talking about, and the multi-dimensional measures of that MUCHNESS.

(I have a long paper in my head about how this class of polarizing-thinking leads to useless, and sometimes harmful oversimplification. If I could only get a few days to write it…)


Definitely a theater of the mind guy here, but I will say like I like good use of sketches and such to show rough positioning if it’s needed – using a white board or graph paper, ideally. Visuals are great, I just don’t want to count squares and move minis.

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I don’t have a preference. I enjoy both theatre of the mind (a pretentious term I agree, but it’s easily understood so I forgive it’s use) and games involving minis.

However, there are many ways to use minis and scenery, I don’t consider ‘gaming with miniatures’ and ‘gaming without’ to be two sides of the same coin. There’s a world of difference between a game with a few tokens or minis where scale and distance aren’t even measured, and a big ‘set piece’ game with terrain or dungeon tiles where every 5’ square is counted.


I saw Aphantasia. I like the part with the demon coming out of the mountain. The hippos dancing with alligators was funny too.



:elephant: :hippopotamus: :volcano: :bat: :unicorn: :grapes: :horse:


Theater of the mind leads to enough misunderstanding and retcons that I really prefer some type of representation. Plus minis are so cool. Reality check, though: I hardly ever use my 3D terrain, definitely not enough to make it a valuable purchase.


Roger - I find I get the most out of terrain with a planned ‘set piece’ adventure. It does take quite some effort though.