Does Anybody Walk or Run Any More?

I’ve spotted an odd difference between D&D third and fourth edition, in how they handle moving and shooting over long ranges.

In my last D&D 4e session, the players made the ill-advised choice to split the party. Half went into the woods to look for the creature who was menacing the village, while the other half stayed in the village to look for clues.

When the scouting party finally encountered the creature, it was 500 yards away from the village. Combat began with two of the player characters 300 squares away from the creature.

This sort of long range is where 3e and 4e play very differently.

In third edition, you can run 4x your speed. If your base speed is 30 feet or 6 squares, you can run 120 feet or 24 squares in a round.

In fourth edition, running only increases your speed by +2. With a run-double-move, an unencumbered human’s top speed is only 16 squares, or two thirds of what it was in third edition.

Ranged weapons are similarly shortened from their third edition counterparts.

In 3e, a light crossbow has a range of 75 feet or 15 squares without penalty, with a -2 penalty for each full 80 feet or 16 squares. The maximum range is ten such increments, so you can technically hit a target at 800 feet or 160 squares if you’re lucky or talented.

In 4e, the crossbow has a similar range of 15 squares without penalty and a further 15 squares at a -2 penalty. However, you can’t shoot any further than two range increments, so your maximum range with a crossbow is 30 squares or 150 feet.

This short range of D&D4e is no problem inside dungeons, but a bother at long-range battlefield stuff.

It’s also lacking in realism and historical accuracy. A person can easily run 120 feet in six seconds, or a quarter-mile in a minute. Not only could the English longbow shoot further than D&D4e’s 200ft (40 square) limit, but King Henry VIII ordered that archery practice ranges be at least 220 yards or 660 feet (132 D&D squares).

My question of the day: Why do you suppose the D&D designers shortened ranges this way? Does it enhance the game, or hinder it?


Comments (8)

J (February 15th, 2012)

A longbow can skewer a knight to his horse at over 200 yards. 200 yards is a long ways to travel to get within sword range. They nerfed it for “game balance”.

mikey (February 15th, 2012)

"120 feet in six seconds, or a quarter-mile in a minute" is also known as running a four-minute mile. A four-minute mile is far from something a person can "easily" do, especially considering the number of classes in D&D where distance running is not exactly a side effect of your training.

For comparison, the modern world record for the mile is about 3min 43sec, under optimal running conditions (over a flat surface in a clear area, carrying almost no weight, mostly running straight).

At 3e speed, you’re running a mile in 4min 24sec.

At 4e speed, you’re running just under a 6 minute mile, which is a lot more reasonable when trying to create an average running speed that includes big muscular fighters and willowy old mages, both of whom would probably be lucky to run an 8 minute mile if their lives depended on it. And don’t forget that your D&D character is probably carrying quite a bit of extra weight, between clothing and gear.

So IMO 4e actually beats 3e on realism with the run speed.

Jonathan Drain (February 15th, 2012)

Excellent point, Mikey. A six minute mile is actually more realistic.

For a real-world comparison, the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test expects recruits to run three miles in 18-28 minutes, or six to nine minutes per mile.

In D&D terms, that between 55 and 88 feet per round for 180-280 rounds. The upper bound is close to 4e’s unarmoured run speed of 80 feet (16 squares).

However, 3e does pay attention to realism here too. It has two run speeds, 3x and 4x. The 3x speed is 90 feet per second, close to the real-world measure. The 4x speed can only be used for a minute or two (10-20 combat rounds).

JR (February 15th, 2012)

Henry’s archers were members of a group firing en masse. There was no way that each of them was going to hit an individual named target at those 600-yard ranges.

If my PCs brought fifty longbows and 1000 arrows with them in a steamer trunk, and outfitted the village NPCs with the ability to loose 50 arrows at a time, then I would allow them to command a section of NPCs as a single attack. I would not bother with measuring the range - I’d simply rule that the PCs, after leading the NPCs in some archery practice, could gauge the range fairly accurately, and could direct the NPCs to hold until the target was near. The attack would target all creatures within about burst 5 of the aimpoint, so any PCs harrassing the target would want to take affirmative steps to avoid damage.

For aimed/accurate shots, I’d use the PHB ranges.

watcher (February 15th, 2012)

I would say the ranges are not accurate because combat is usually within a certain amount of squares if involving everybody in the party and not just the archer, that is why the designers did it. They started to shorten blasts and bursts which were massive at high levels when 4e first came out but the designers realized the combat zone had not changed. If you are not playing a tactical game with miniatures than the ranges can be more historical true.

Rob (February 15th, 2012)

i’ve done a fair bit of archery and i can say that it’s far less realistic to be able to shoot into melee with no danger of hitting allies, not to mention the fact that hitting a moving target at close range, in the heat of combat is harder than hitting a mostly stationary formation of soldiers at 200 yards, which is probably what henry’s archers practiced for.

Vandell (February 16th, 2012)

Because setting up a tiled encounter involving those ranges wouldn be absurd.

Chrispy (March 23rd, 2012)

I doubt the reason is balance so much as manageability with table maps and mini’s being used. 132 squares is 11 feet using 1 inch squares, quite a bit more table than most of us play on.

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