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How Realistic is Running in D&D 4e?

posted Wednesday, February 20th 2013 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth EditionGame Design

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about D&D 4e’s tactical nature. I stumbled across an article called 1d10 design mistakes in DnD 4e – Tactical movement, which complains that the rules for running in D&D 4th edition are completely unrealistic.

I touched on this topic in an article last year, Does Anybody Walk or Run Any More?, but that article mainly covered archery, so it’s worth going over again. (For a follow-up that examines archery more accurately, see also You Want To Shoot How Far?)

In D&D 4e, running increases your base speed by 2, at the cost of some penalties to combat. If all you do in the round is run, you can double move, allowing a speed 6 humanoid to move 16 squares in one round. That’s 80 feet over six seconds, or a mere 9 miles per hour. Even a horse with speed 10 can only gallop 24 squares, or 13.6 mph.

How do these figures stand up to a real-world comparison? Actually, pretty well. The Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test requires recruits to be able to run 3 miles within a maximum of 28 minutes, an average of 6.5 mph. An unarmoured human in D&D can run 3 miles in 19 minutes 48 seconds, enough to score 89% on the Marines physical fitness test.

What’s missing from D&D 4e is a faster sprint speed for short-term movement. D&D 3e allowed a character to run up to 4x his base speed as a full round action, and maintain that speed “for a minute or two”. That’s about 13.6 mph for an unarmoured human, a little less than the 15mph average required to run a four minute mile.

Alf’s article raises a good point, though. Why are running characters easier to hit, not harder? In D&D 4e, you grand Combat Advantage to opponents when running, giving them +2 to hit you in melee or ranged. This runs contrary to what you’d expect about a moving target being harder to hit.


  1. Schlake

    February 20th, 2013

    I was excited about the title of this article! Finally, a does of reality for 4e! But alas, you danced around the giant white elephant.

    Movement in 4e is simply broken. Let’s imagine for a moment that 4e allowed you to run at 4x speed, and keep your statistic of 13.6 miles per hour. So a 4e character can now run North at 13.6 miles per hour. Or East. Or West. Or even South. All at 13.6 miles per hour.

    But what if he wants to run in a different direction than one of those four? What if he wants to be different, and run Northeast instead of just North or just East? Why, he’s suddenly going NINETEEN miles per hour! So much for that four minute mile at fifteen miles per hour. And it works for more than just Northeast. It works for Southeast too. And Northwest and Southwest.

    It’s really kind of absurd to talk about realism in a system where geometry is non-Euclidean if you aren’t talking about the problem of the geometry itself.

  2. Philo Pharynx

    February 20th, 2013

    All games make a balance between realism, usability and game balance. 4e often makes choices for game balance over realism. It’s part of the philosophy behind the design of the game.

    Why does your defense drop when you run? 1) Because you are normally assumed to be dodging and weaving. Running all out doesn’t allow this.
    2) Because of game balance. They wanted to give an option to move faster but they wanted to impose costs to balance it out. You are not always attacking nor always being attacked, so they put a cost on both attack and defense.

  3. CMal

    February 26th, 2013

    There is absolutely no question why running makes you more vulnerable. Running is a standard series of motions. If you want to run, you run. But you cannot run and block, run and parry, or run and pretty much anything. Your head needs to be forward, your body leaning, and your arms and legs pumping.

    Would this person be more difficult to train with a weapon? Not at all. Have you ever tried to hit someone running with a melee weapon? It’s remarkably easy, to the point of invoking “candy from a baby” comparisons. Back, front, side, it doesn’t matter. They are dedicating their energy and coordination to movement, not the best way to avoid or take a hit.

    Any advantage to be gained from an increase in movement speed is generally only applicable for ranged, aimed weapons. Hitting someone running with a bow would be more difficult…but if you practiced with a bow every day to the point of proficiency, a medium sized humanoid increasing its movement by a few miles per hour isn’t going to generate any difficulty. And when the arrow comes, they won’t be maximizing their abilities to avoid or deflect it.

  4. AirborneGully

    April 18th, 2013

    I’m military
    I do Medieval reenactments
    I’ve played D&D for a long time (think red box)

    CMal and Philo have very good points accurate and experienced.

    I wanted to point out that the Marine in the example is running with less than 2 lbs added weight from cloths and shoes. Your character is likely carrying 45++ lbs. as an infantry man I can tell you running for 6 seconds at a near 10 mph pace is Olympic in its achievement, when carrying weight. If anything the game is unrealistic in the reverse of what people want in this instance; but their heroes so give it to them.

    Turning and running. So have you ever tried to run 10 MPH and with in six seconds stop pivot and resume 10 MPH. if you say yes then you would no exactly how invalidated the argument of changing direction becomes. At tactical level (I.E. with in a battle space consisting of the area between your force and an opposing force.) changing direction at full tilt is imperceptible. You can turn only so much and keep pace, in the confined space you are dealing with at the scale of the tactical map you would not really change direction at a significant amount. Before you start quoting sports think of it they are one sprinting short distances and 2 going in a straight line. The long distance runs are not at full pace and even then they present a gradual curve.

    Oh and the system of tactical D&D is Euclidean. its a grid for crying out loud

  5. Malcron

    October 17th, 2013

    I use Maptools when I play and have movement set to ONE_TWO_ONE on campaign properties. Which means diagonal movement and distances are more costly.

    So I can move 2 squares in any NSEW direct costing 2 but if I move NE two squares its 3.

    But then there is still the issue of square bursts. *shrug* You can only account for so much.

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