On Movement

There have been exhaustive posts about movement rate over the history of the hobby.

This is a classic example of bad/wrong/fun debates in our hobby.

Not only is this a simple thing to house-rule; it works very well as written in every edition that uses it and works just as well if house ruled.

The argument often occurs with someone stating that 'movement rates are too slow'. That it isn't 'realistic enough'. That it is so unrealistic that it destroys verisimilitude and they can't play if torches are going to be used up that fast.

This results in discussions that endlessly go back and forth trying to prove what's real. These are generally unproductive to engage in.

Here are some things that are often overlooked.

Movement is a game construct. You can move 3, 6, 9 or 12 10' x 10' "squares" a "turn". The differences in these rates of exploration means that the costs (in torches, ground covered, time spent) are significant. The fact that the choice of how encumbered you are has significant consequences makes the choice an interesting one. Choosing to change the exploration rates makes this choice meaningless, meaning there are fewer costs to being weighed down with armor or treasure.

Eliminating interesting choices certainly changes the focus of the game, especially since many of the choices involved are important ones for low level characters. There are much fewer costs to wearing heavy armor and torches and other equipment become much less encumbering if movement is sped up.

Now the real world movement rates are very slow. Several people by themselves have done 'tests' where they map their environment or attempt to cautiously move around in these environments. In every case they say, 'I am able to walk so much faster then the listed rate'. They then reach the conclusion that the listed rate is wrong. In every single case none of the following is considered.

The environment is cramped and pitch black. The ground is uneven in the best case. The light is torchlight. Mapping is done with either parchment and charcoal or an ink pen. There are no hash marks or clear markers to indicate distance, it must be measured. Groups range in size from 4 to 12. Many are uneducated hirelings. Many are wearing metal armor and carrying heavy gear. Movement must be coordinated and silent. The rate is an abstraction, looking around corners, stopping to listen (and having to get everyone silent first) and quiet hurried discussion about what to do make up for the time spent moving slightly faster down an open corridor.

When you look at real world examples of these things the movement rate is much more realistic. Getting people in line and moving orderly is time consuming. Exploration of caves tends to take much longer (with modern equipment) then people assume, and we know they aren't trapped, filled with demons and monsters, and actively inimical to your survival.

Play how you want, but know the rules and the reasons for them before you break them.


  1. Thank you for writing this post. Now I don't have to.

  2. I think I, and most of the others who have written on this, do know the rules and the reasons for them. If the rules work for you, that's fine, but I resent the implication that people who criticize the rules as written don't understand them or don't understand the reasons for them.

    I happen to think those rates are hilariously slow, and that penalizing normal walking speed for 40lbs of encumbrance is ridiculous. I think these things are verifiably unrealistic. You disagree. That's fine. As you point out, it works either way.

    I can see why, for gameplay or historical (or other) reasons, you want to stick with Gygax's old slow rates. As you point out, the game works, since everything else is scaled to that as well.

    But I resent the implication that people (like myself) who disagree with the rules as written don't understand the rules, the reasoning behind them, or the game. I've played a heck of a lot of D&D in my life, and I've spent a heck of a lot of time thinking about D&D in my life.

    I don't think Gygax had some magical connection to dungeon life that I don't - all of us in this hobby are relying on a combination of common sense, research, and thought experiments to make our rules and rulings. As far as that goes, I think this article exhibits exactly the kind of thinking you're criticizing - doing your own thought experiments (or taking Gygax's), and taking them as gospel.

    1. I wonder if you're replying to the post as written or replying because you feel as if pointing out rarely considered information is somehow a way to attack someone.

      "This results in discussions that endlessly go back and forth trying to prove what's real. These are generally unproductive to engage in."

      My point is that common sense, research, and thought experiments are a poor way of constructing game rules.

      What is important in a game is providing meaningful choices. So all that time people talk about the movement rates being unrealistic, in addition to being disproved by the real world experience of spelunkers, firefighters and military people in urban environments, is a waste.

      Because what is important is providing meaningful choices.

      So my question to you is, how do the changes you are likely to have made based on what you think is 'hilarious' and 'ridiculous' improved the meaningful choices in the game?

    2. First off, I don't think creating meaningful choices is, in and of itself, a good enough reason for a rule being the way it is. I think of the rules as a way to give us guidelines for simulation, and that from simulation comes interesting choice.

      I'm not interested in making game rules specifically to create interesting choice. So that right there is something we're not going to agree on, and that's just a difference in overall thought process about the game.

      But I do think that the stuff I talked about regarding movement have tangible benefits beyond realism or verisimilitude, which would include:

      - making time management for the party about things like: searching a room, looking for secret doors, investigating that weird pool, deciphering hieroglyphics...

      - making the consequences of increased load affect maximum running speed, rather than normal move speed makes the choice of how much stuff to carry out of the dungeon a matter of life and death for practical, graspable reasons. The question, "If I fill my pack with gold, will I still be able to outrun those trolls on level 2 if they spot me?" is, to my mind, a more interesting (and understandable) choice than, "If fill my pack, I'll be subject to twice as many wandering monster checks on my way out, and need twice as many torches."

      - eliminating the bookkeeping associated with tracking time spent moving. I keep a little thingy where I make a tick every turn, for the purposes of tracking torches, wandering monster checks, etc. and it's a relief not having to estimate movement times. The rates I think are more realistic also have the bookkeeping advantage of making travel time more or less irrelevant.

      - bringing real-world data into the game is easier. If I know a Cheetah runs 60mph, and a person runs 6 mph under a certain load, that's easier to plug in to the game than in a system where all movement has been adjusted by arbitrary factors.

      At the end of the day, though, we're just looking at this through a different lens.

      You're approaching this question from the perspective of game design, where the rules are justified by their creation of interesting choices.

      I'm approaching this question from first principles, where I try to figure out how things would work in reality, and then create gameable rules to describe them. I have, when thinking about this, considered all the points in your article, because they are all clearly relevant. I think I've taken them into account.

      Anyway, thank-you for your response, as it did really clarify your point for me. Coming at the question from different perspectives, as we do, we naturally come to different conclusions - it's not, as I thought before, so much a case of us doing our own research and thought experiments as a difference in design goal and philosophy.


  3. Old post, I know, but cannot not say that while I agree with the conclusion of the post, I find the principle (i.e. gaming rules are about interesting choices) poorly communicated; the majority of the post is about why the numbers *are* realistic and not about explaining or elaborating on said principle from a game design point of view.


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