Blasted 5' Square

There's no game this week. If you're running a long term campaign, I've found it's good to take every fifth or sixth week off, to help increase the longevity.

It's given me some time to maybe create some more wandering monster tables. I'm particularly interested in compiling a list of monsters that could conceivable found in a chamber sealed for thousands of years, that isn't an undead, golem, or elemental. I actually am making some headway with that, so perhaps another post later.

What I'd like to talk about today is the issue and difficulty of dealing with tabletop distances. Gygax said it best when in June of 1978 he wrote, "The differences between the indoor ground scale, 1” = 10 feet, and the outdoor measure of distance, 1" = 10 yards causes considerable confusion and misunderstanding amongst DMs and players alike."

When playing an old school game with miniatures (which are on the 28mm to 6' scale primary) it's difficult to know how exactly you should handle the different distances on the table. We don't always use the miniatures for combats: but we have a lot of them, I paint them, it's fun to play with toys, so they get used a lot. Everyone likes a little representative or image of their ambassadorial place within the game world.

Unlike more modern editions, there is no 'a person using a weapon takes up a 1"x1" square, 1" being representative of 5'.' There's the 1" is 10 yards outside, 1" is 10 feet indoors, and 1" is 6' of figure height, and each weapon takes up a variable amount of space, depending on the weapon.

The major issue (which we have, actually) is that when 1" is equivalent to 5' then "a stout English longbow would have a range of about 105"!" Character movement is given a between 1" and 15" a round, where those inches are assumed to be 10' squares, meaning if we use a 5' scale, people are actually moving between 2" and 30" a round (that's nearly three feet for those of you keeping track at home).

Now when it's not 1 million degrees we have access to a larger table (6x8' perhaps? it's large) but encounters still start between 10' and 100' away. Meaning that it nearly always takes 1 round for the players to clear the area between the party and the target. There just isn't enough distance to make 'time to close' a factor in most encounters (which is not entirely without sense.)

How did this situation arise? Gygax tells us, "All of the fantastic people and monsters were discussed in terms of CHAINMAIL. Spell ranges and areas of effect were scaled to CHAINMAIL. Saving throws were devised to match the combat abilities of creatures, which were in turn meshed with the troop types normally included in CHAINMAIL. As D&D grew from CHAINMAIL, it too used the same scale assumptions as its basis. Changes had to be made, however, in order to meet the 1:1 figure ratio and the underground setting. Movement was adjusted to a period ten times longer than a CHAINMAIL turn of 1 minute, as exploring and mapping in an underground dungeon is slow work. Combat, however, stayed at the CHAINMAIL norm and was renamed a melee round or simply round. As the object of the game was to provide a continuing campaign where players created and developed game personae, the chance for death (of either character or monster) was reduced from that in CHAINMAIL, so that players could withdraw their characters from unfavorable combat situations. Missile ranges were reduced by one third (from scale yards to scale feet because of the confined area of play and the conditions prevailing, viz. low ceilings, darkness, narrow passages, etc.) The range and area of effect of each magic spell was adjusted accordingly, for the 1:1 ratio had to be considered, as did the conditions of the area of activity and the ranges of normal missile weapons. (Remember that D&D was developed as a game, and allowances for balance between character roles and character versus monster confrontations were made.) "

So it seems the crux of our problem stems from the growth of Dungeons & Dragons out of a tabletop wargame. Why the changes were made is information given above, but little information on how to address this issues follows.

"It would have been a small matter to explain to everyone that the outdoor scale must be used for range only, never for area of effect, unless a figure ratio of 1:20, or 1:10, is used, and constructions (siege equipment,buildings, castles, etc.) are scaled to figures rather than to ground scale! If ground scale is changed, movement distances must be adjusted. If time scales are changed, both movement and missile fire/spell casting must be altered. Furthermore, if 30 mm or 25 mm figures and scale buildings and terrain are not used, then the area of effect must be adjusted proportionately. I ask your collective pardon for this neglect, and I trust that the foregoing will now make the matter clear. "

So what is the advice here? Outdoor scale is only used for range and distance, never for the determination of area of affect, unless the figure ratio is altered to actually match the ground scale. This is fairly clear to me - if a spell has an area of effect of 20', it doesn't suddenly turn into yards outdoors. The range increases however because there is no ceiling, and the lighting is better.

If you change the ground scale, you must 'adjust the movement distances'. Sadly, from where I'm sitting in 2010, I cannot be sure if he meant adjust the movement distances so that the same amount of ground is covered, or reduce the movement allowance so that the same amount of table distance is covered. (i.e. if a figure has a movement of 12" where 1" = 10' and you change the scale so that 1" = 5', does that figure now move 24" (the same distance) or still 12"?)

If time scales are changed is fairly self explanatory.  You can't move the same distance in less time.

If scale miniatures are not used, the AOE must be adjusted proportionately.  I am not entirely sure what he is saying here. I guess my issue is that I'm not sure what AOE is being adjusted in proportion to.

He basically advises not changing one thing without making adjustments to maintain scale. Right now in my game, even though we're using 1" = 5' and treating all the values in the books as absolute ones, (i.e. grease affects a 10'x10' area, movement is 120' a round) and converting them to this scale; it appears Gygax here is counseling the exact opposite. (Grease should only affect 1 square, not 4, and movement should only be 12", not 24"). Perhaps. He is quite skilled at explaining something in such a way that if you don't have knowledge of the basic assumptions he's using, it can leave you quite lost. I have to wonder if 'I trust the foregoing will now make the matter more clear' is just an awesome way of screwing with us.

I have no question of how to handle this in my own game (Make a ruling and stick to it), but I am curious about the original intent.

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