Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Justifying Exploration Movement

I seem to spend a lot of my idle cycles (too many maybe?) thinking about D&D, and one topic I keep coming back to with some regularity is movement rates. I started this post with the goal of doing something about the atrociously slow pace of D&D character in those dark and deadly dungeons we all love. Of course it turned into something a bit more involved: A historical survey (at least for the versions of D&D I care about) of the player-facing differences regarding movement. I focused on movement in the dungeon, and I ignored whatever differences there are between player characters and monsters. (My friend Delta has written a wonderful post about wilderness movement in AD&D/OD&D that you'll want to check out as well.) So without further ado:

  • OD&D gives movement rates primarily in inches which makes sense considering its wargaming roots. In the section on encumbrance (volume 1, page 15) we find that player characters move 12", 9", or 6" depending on how much they carry. Somewhat confusingly the same page also gives an example of a fully armored character moving at 6"/turn. Why is that confusing? In the section on underworld exploration (volume 3, page 8) we first learn that 1" equals 10' in a dungeon. But then we find that there are actually two moves in one turn of approximately 10 minutes. The fully armored character from the previous example is therefore given a rate of 120'/turn, not 60'/turn. The rules note further that movement is doubled for flight/pursuit so the same character can "run" 240'/turn. By the same rationale an unarmored character should be able to explore 240'/turn and "run" 480'/turn.
  • Holmes Basic gives movement rates primarily in feet which makes sense because it's more accessible and we're dealing only with dungeons anyway. On page 9 of the rules we find the same 120'/turn for the fully armored character and the same 240'/turn for an unarmored character. The good doctor characterizes this as a "cautious walk" and agrees with OD&D that it's the appropriate movement rate for "exploring/mapping." However, he then introduces "normal movement" as well, at twice that speed. This notion is never explicitly explained, but it's presumably there to cover movement through areas that have already been explored/mapped. The obvious "problem" here is that OD&D uses this "normal movement" speed for "flight/pursuit" which implies "running" and not just a regular walk. Holmes then introduces an explicit "running" movement rate at three times the exploration rate. So a fully armored character can now "move cautiously" at 120'/turn, "move normally" at 240'/turn, or "run" at 360'/turn.
  • AD&D gives movement rates in inches again, presumably because Gygax just cannot stop himself. Page 101 of the Player's Handbook lists out the basic 12", 9", 6", and 3" movement rates for various levels of encumbrance. On page 102 we find the same 1" = 10' dungeon scale as in OD&D, however gone are the two moves per 10-minute turn. So now our fully armored character can only move 60'/turn while exploring/mapping a dungeon! But of course it doesn't stop there: What Holmes called "normal movement" now seems to happen at five times the "exploration/mapping" rate so 300'/turn for our fully armored character whereas "flight" or "running" happens at ten times that rate, so 600'/turn.
  • B/X D&D gives movement rates in feet again, doh. On page B20 of the Basic Rulebook we find that characters move at 120'/turn, 90'/turn, 60'/turn, or 30'/turn depending on encumbrance. The fully armored character now moves at the AD&D rate of 60'/turn. On page B19 we are told that this "assumes that the players [sic] are mapping carefully, searching, and trying to be quiet" so this is once again the "exploring/mapping" speed. There are no concrete guidelines for "moving normally" through already explored territory. Running speed is given as the same number of feet per round. Turns out that B/X keeps the 10-second rounds Holmes introduced, however those are now given an explicit relation to the 10-minute turn: there are 60 rounds per turn. So the running speed for a fully armored character would be 60*60'/turn = 3600'/turn! (Page B24 comes to the rescue by stating that running speed can only be maintained for 30 rounds before requiring a rest of 3 turns, but that doesn't change the fact that B/X characters run a lot faster than characters in any other version of D&D considered here.)

I think I can leave it at that, neither BECMI nor the Rules Cyclopedia do anything different from B/X regarding basic movement. (Well, the encumbrance tables are slightly different, but hey.) We should probably conclude with a table summarizing all of the above? I want to keep things simple, so I'll use an unencumbered character for this:

Exploring 240'240'120'120'
Walking -480'600'-
Running 480'720'1200'7200'

This level of variation is moderately scary. Not that it matters in practice: You always just play one system after all. But it's still a little bizarre that closely related versions of D&D come down that far apart on this simple question. So what's the basis in "reality" if there is such a thing?

The average human walking speed seems to be around 3 miles/hour. There are 5,280 feet in a mile, so that's 15,840 feet/hour. There are 60 minutes in an hour, so that's 2,640 feet/turn. Wow, even those versions of D&D that have a notion of "moving normally" are really far off from that.

Jogging seems to happen at about 6 miles/hour, maybe a little less. If we assume that D&D characters are not highly-trained sprinters, only joggers, that still leaves us with a "running speed" of 5,280 feet/turn and only one out of four versions of D&D is even in the right ballpark.

Or look at it the other way: Those 120'/turn (from AD&D or B/X) for an unencumbered character exploring/mapping translate to 720'/hour or 12'/minute or 2'/round (in B/X terms). Two feet in ten seconds? Two feet is less than a single step for an adult!

I can already hear half the OSR shouting "It's a game, just play it!" in my direction. Sorry, not good enough, things are simply too far off to sweep under the rug. So let me propose a strawman that I'll shoot down again in a few paragraphs.

Start with that average walking speed of 2,640 feet/turn. Round off to get a nicer number, let's say 2,400 feet/turn. Set that as the movement rate for an unencumbered player character walking normally, for example down one of the few paved city streets in your favorite fantasy metropolis.

Now let's "weigh them down" with encumbrance. In the versions of D&D that deal with encumbrance at all, movement rate goes down by about one-fourth per encumbrance category. Alright, so we'll get 2,400 feet/turn, 1,800 feet/turn, 1,200 feet/turn, and 600 feet/turn. For running we'll double those (but we'll assume a pretty short duration for runs just like B/X does). For exploring on the other hand we'll divide by two for each complication we can think of. Let's see, there's mapping (its own reward), searching (presumably for treasure), being quiet (presumably to avoid random encounters), being cautious (presumably to avoid traps), and that's about it. So we'll divide by 16!

That leaves us with 150 feet/turn, 112.5 feet/turn, 75 feet/turn, and 37.5 feet/turn for four levels of encumbrance. Pretty close to the (slightly slower) 120 feet/turn, 90 feet/turn, 60 feet/turn, and 30 feet/turn in the existing rules! In fact, it's close enough to simply round off again and use the existing movement rates. (Maybe it would be slightly better to use 150 feet/turn, 120 feet/turn, 90 feet/turn, and 60 feet/turn instead? See below for reasons not to.) However, let's remember how we got here: We took a realistic version of "normal walking speed" and divided by 16. That's a huge decrease and probably overestimates things quite a bit. But to keep things simple, let's forget about the 16 and just say that from the usual movement rates we get back to "normal walking" if we multiply by 10: So 1,200 feet/turn, 900 feet/turn, 600 feet/turn, and 300 feet/turn. Seems reasonable enough, what's not to like?

I shall tell you what's not to like. Suddenly armored parties move 60 squares per turn in my dungeons instead of 6 or 12 squares. Among other things that destroys a lot of the fun that can be had when parties desperately try to escape from a dungeon after an encounter that left them almost dead. I either have to make all my dungeons a lot bigger, or I have to turn up the frequency of wandering monster checks. It requires that I rework lots and lots of stuff, especially monsters who (presumably) are familiar with the dungeon and move at "normal walking" speed instead of "exploration speed" now. Overall, I'd much rather find a fix that let's me keep things as they are numerically, but that offers a better deal to the players nevertheless.

So here is my actual proposal (remember the above was a strawman): If the ridiculously slow movement is in fact because the party is ridiculously cautious, careful, quiet, etc. then the reward should be that they have a chance (only a chance!) to notice interesting things without having to explicitly ask for them:

  • When they approach a trap, they automatically have the usual 1 in 6 chance to spot it.
  • When they pass a secret door, they automatically have the usual 1 in 6 chance to spot it.
  • Before they open a door, they automatically have the usual 1 in 6 chance to hear some interesting noise.

And so on, and so forth. Yes, in a very roundabout way I am arguing for "passive perception" as I believe 5th edition calls it. Seems like a very fair deal to me: If the explanation for why the player characters crawl like snails is their meticulous dungeon delving expertise, why the heck would players have to poke the DM about those things?

Of course this might not feel like D&D to you anymore, but it still feels like D&D to me. And since it's just a chance, I really don't think I am giving too much away. In fact, I am probably adding a 1 in 6 chance for magic-users to spot magic as well as a 1 in 6 chance for clerics to spot evil. And you know? I'd much rather make a few more rolls for them than have my players miss fun things in my dungeons just because they never asked.

Update 2015/11/11: Turns out I got my initial math wrong, sorry. Thanks to Todd Haynes for spotting it! I fixed the numbers and things are less extreme now in the strawman proposal. (Sadly I had to cut my Traveller/Star Frontiers quip as well.) I stand by my actual proposal in any case: A reduction by a factor of 16 should have more benefits for the players than what is given by the rules as written.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Other Missing B/X Spell

Most B/X fans know that there's no spell description for Detect Invisible in either of the 1981 rulebooks. While this makes for a great pun (maybe it even was intentional on Tom Moldvay's part?) the "completionist" in me had to import the spell description from Frank Mentzer's 1983 basic set to be satisfied. (Turns out that I could have imported the spell description from the original 1977 Eric Holmes basic set as well, but I only realized that recently.)

Well, today I noticed that there's another spell "missing" from B/X. It's a tad bit more debateable I guess, but here we go anyway. If you turn to page X49, you'll find the Staff of Power which (among other things) can be used to cast Cone Of Cold. And sure enough, there's no spell with that name in B/X. From the way the spell is characterized in the magic item description it seems to fit right in with Fire Ball and Lightning Bolt, the other two attack spells a Staff of Power can create: A d6 of damage for each level of the caster.

Of course that's not a complete spell description, but luckily we find the Wand of Cold further down on page X49 which states that the cone is 60' long and 30' wide at the far end. Now we're almost done with reconstructing the spell, but we should still double-check the details with other sources. So let's look at OD&D and AD&D. We're in for a surprise because OD&D doesn't have Cone Of Cold either! It does have both the Staff of Power and the Wand of Cold but not the spell, just like B/X. AD&D of course has the spell, but it's a tad bit different than what you'd expect from the B/X items:

  • The AD&D spell is level 5 and not level 3 as would fit with Fire Ball and Lightning Bolt. That's presumably justified by Cone of Cold having fewer complications regarding area of effect or rebounding?
  • The AD&D spell description doesn't give the exact dimensions of the cone, however it does explicitly state that the cone starts from the caster's hands (so the range is 0).
  • The AD&D spell does d4+1 damage per level of the caster which guarantees a higher minimum damage but falls short of the possible maximum damage a d6 would provide.

So we'll have to "pick up the pieces" a bit. Personally I find level 5 to be too high, after all that's the same level as Cloudkill which potentially insta-kills creatures of less than 5 hit dice. So let's say it's level 4 instead. Also let's adopt the clear dimensions given for the Wand of Cold and let's make it d6 per level as implied by both B/X magic items. We arrive at the following:

Cone of Cold
Range: 0
Duration: instantaneous

This spell creates a cone 60' long and 30' wide at the far end that originates from the magic-user's hands. It does 1-6 (1d6) points of cold damage per level of the caster to all creatures within the cone. A saving throw versus spells will reduce damage by half if successful.

Sounds like a decent B/X spell to me? Also by adding a cold attack spell to the list we can get a little more mileage out of the cleric's Resist Cold, a neat side-effect.

I am sure there will be those who'd argue that the spell is not in fact "missing" at all, it's just that in the B/X world cold attacks only come from White Dragons or magic items. I don't know, I think there should be a spell because wizards have to create those magic items based on something, right?

And if you feel like adding this spell is a bad idea without taking something else away, may I suggest removing Growth of Plants from the magic-user's spell list and giving it to the cleric instead? Seems sensible anyway...