Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Trouble with Movement Rates

I am not sure why I suddenly had an urge to figure out how various editions of D&D handled movement rates for various creatures, but here's the result of my very brief study. I chose to focus on creatures that seem "familiar enough" to allow an "informed guess" of sorts, in other words I chose creatures I cared about for one reason or another. Here we go:


At first everything looks great, a wonderful consistency seems to rule across the entire 1970s and early 1980s. Then, however, the mischief becomes more obvious. Halflings used to be just a fast as elves in Chainmail, but their feet move a lot slower in AD&D and B/X; curiously neither OD&D or Holmes bother with Halflings, one would hope that maybe the "regular" movement (of 12" or 120') for player characters might be called for?

Kobolds are apparently under the influence of a Haste spell for Holmes, everybody else agreed that they are too short to move fast? Orcs, on the other hand, are given Formula-1 treatment only by B/X. Skeletons and Treants get the Haste spell by Gary Gygax himself in AD&D. The slow Trolls in Chainmail might be forgivable because there the category is actually "Trolls, Ogres" for whatever reason. Finally my favorite pet-peeve: Zombies, described as particularly slow in all editions that have them, suddenly run circles around everybody else in Holmes and B/X.

Looking at this, I find it difficult to determine who was smoking what when they put the monsters for their game together. Slowing down Halflings to somewhere between Elves and Dwarves? Maybe. Speeding up Skeletons and Zombies? What? Am I the only person in the world for whom "Zombie" always meant "Romero Zombie" while Ghoul was closer to "28 Days Later Zombie"? Maybe the size of a Treant (long legs) justifies giving them the same movement rate that Giants (almost) consistently get? But what about Tolkien's take on Ents and their rather slow habits?

I didn't spend the time to check what more recent retro-clones do with these movement rates. Well, I briefly checked on Delving Deeper and found that Simon has a much more rational set of movement rates. But I do wonder how many have copied "Zombie 120'/turn" without thinking twice about it...

Anyone else want to share their pet-peeves about movement rates?

Update 2014/11/23: Alright, I couldn't contain my curiousity so I checked a few retro clones regarding these monsters. Here's what I found:


Fascinating, isn't it? Delving Deeper's slightly faster Dwarves I can get behind, but that might be because I play a dwarf in my weekly game and I hate that without my boots of flying almost every monster can run away from my axe. Swords & Wizardry once again forgets Halflings in the monster section (just like Holmes), but at least everybody else seems to agree on their movement rate. But aside from Kobolds and Trolls, the remaining monsters are all over the place again, nobody can agree. And Labyrinth Lord is officially the least "thoughtful" clone because Dan copied both the fast movement and the slow description, just like predicted...


  1. The accelerated Zombie rate first appears in the Holmes Manuscript for unknown reasons, perhaps just a transcription error, as he also has their HD at 1/2. TSR corrected the HD in the published book but not the movement. It's hard to say whether TSR intentionally left the movement at 120 or just overlooked it, but these numbers were then used in B/X. I agree that the numbers in the Monster Manual make more sense.

  2. This just proves that Delving Deeper is awesome :D

  3. My thoughts on this were a bit too involved for a comment so I thought I'd post it to my blog as you brought up an interesting enough topic to make a post about. You can read my reply here: ... thanks for a thought provoking post!