How Realistic is Running in D&D 4e?

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.

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What Pokémon Does Right

Nintendo today announced the next installment in the Pokémon game series. Whether or not you’re a fan, Pokémon has a lot in common with Dungeons & Dragons.

It’s an RPG with a history of over fifteen years, now entering its sixth “edition”. RPG designers can learn a lot from the ways Pokémon has changed since its first version, and the ways it’s remained the same.

1. The core story remains unchanged.

Pokémon is always the tale of a boy from a small village who leaves home to collect, train and battle wild creatures in the hopes of winning the regional championship. Nintendo knows this is a successful story, but do they know why? Either way, they don’t change it. D&D, similarly, has always been about heroes who explore and loot dungeons for treasure.

2. Sacred cows are never slaughtered.

Pokémon games have a lot of features that don’t change. The starting Pokémon are always Grass, Fire and Water type. You always have a friend or rival that you battle along the way. You always fight eight gym leaders, battle through Victory Road, and take on the Elite Four. These things are iconic to Pokémon. Whether people like these because they’re good design, or because they just feel like Pokémon, Nintendo is clever enough not to change them in their main series games.

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Spare a Thought For the Poor Town Guards

Attending a gaming convention is a lot like being a town guard in a fantasy RPG or mediaeval settlement. You spend a lot of the day on your feet, possibly wearing a cumbersome outfit, and at the end of the day you go back to a cramped room with your comrades.

Let me tell you, spending three days at Anime Central dressed as a Whiterun town guard from the game Skyrim has given me a new appreciation for how careless we Dungeons & Dragons players are when we design characters’ outfits.

1. You can’t see crap out of a face-concealing visor
I opted to do without the Whiterun guard’s iconic face-concealing helmet, since it would limit visibility of the convention stalls and events. Just ask anyone who goes dressed as a Power Ranger.

But the real town guards also need good visibility more than protection. As one says, “I mainly deal with petty thievery and drunken brawls. It’s been too long since we’ve had a good bandit raid.”

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You Want To Shoot How Far?

Commenters on my last article raised some very good points on the historical accuracy of archery in Dungeons & Dragons, or perhaps lack of it. This gave me cause to do some research on the difficulty of long-range archery.

According to various estimates, the mediaeval English longbow had an effective range of 180-250 yards (540-750 feet or 108-150 D&D squares). However, at this range archers would fire into enemy formations rather than individual targets. Only at shorter ranges would an archer be expected to hit a man reliably.

The modern day sport of clout archery shows that this kind of shooting is entirely possible. Men shoot toward a flag on the ground 180 yards (540 feet) away, with one point for landing within 12 feet and more points for landing closer. This suggests that even with mediaeval wooden bows and little training, a man could indeed shoot into a formation of men at 180 yards.

In shorter-range target shooting, archers are expected to hit a 40cm target at 18 metres (60 feet) or a 122cm target at 90 metres (295 feet or 98 yards). Traditional hunters typically shoot deer with a bow at a range of 25 yards (75 feet) or less.

D&D 4e’s shortbow has a range of 15 (75 feet) without penalty, 30 (150 feet) at -2, very close to what modern hunters describe. One says, “All my animals taken are between 7 and 25 yards [21 to 75 feet]. I practice beyond that but I can really see the arrow dropping off after 25 yards so I stay under that.”

That range increases to 20/40 (100/200 feet) for the longbow and 25/50 (125/250 feet) for the superior greatbow. Here we have a small problem: how do you simulate the mediaeval longbow, which by some estimates could fire 250 yards (750 feet) with an accuracy of perhaps five feet?

The only real difference between 3e and 4e’s archery is that 3e lets you fire very long distances at reduced accuracy. A 200 yard (600 feet) shot like a mediaeval archer or clout archer incurs a -12 penalty, so a trained archer can hit an unarmoured man some of the time. Unfortunately, D&D 3e doesn’t simulate mass combat well, so the massed archer effect isn’t directly equatable.

Although D&D 3e technically lets you shoot a longbow at 1,000 feet, in practice it’s not feasible. You take an impossible -20 penalty to the shot, giving an unarmoured man an equivalent AC of 30.

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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?

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Pathfinder’s XP System

Recently I noticed that Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG system uses an alternative XP system from the D&D 3.5 system it’s based on. The observant will recognise a strong similarly to the “Level-Independent XP Awards” variant from Unearthed Arcana (page 213), described as “a way of easing the DM’s job of adventure design and the task of experience-point calculating at the end of a game session.”

The big difference with the Pathfinder/UA experience system is that instead of earning a different amount of XP from a creature depending on your party’s current level, you gain the same XP amount regardless of party level, but higher level monsters give much more XP, and you need more XP to level up. The overall effect is that the XP numbers get much higher (millions of XP to reach level 20), but players still level up at the same rate as normal.

The main benefit here is that DMs can combine monsters in encounters more easily and calculate XP rewards more easily. It’s now possible to calculate the XP total for an encounter in advance even if you don’t know what level the PCs will be. A similar system is employed by fourth edition D&D, although it’s unlikely Pathfinder copied 4E’s rule here: this system originally appeared in 2004’s Unearthed Arcana, four years before 4E.

Another change peculiar to Pathfinder RPG is the choice of three XP rates: slow, medium, and fast. Some groups prefer to level up frequently, while others prefer slower levelling.

Fast is closest to the Unearthed Arcana equivalent and therefore the standard 3.5 progress rate, requiring 1,300 XP or 13 average Pathfinder encounters to reach level 2, and 2,400,000 XP to reach level 20. Medium requires about 50% more XP than Fast, suggesting Pathfinder favours a more gradual levelling rate. Slow requires 50% more XP than Medium, and 2.25 times as much as Fast, with players levelling once every 30 encounters or so.

If you’d like to try Pathfinder RPG, even if only to mine for ideas or house rules for a 3.5 game, the 576 page full-colour PDF is a very reasonable $10 from The new XP rules appear on pages 30 and 398.

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How to Write for D&D Insider

Over at Chris Youngs has posted some quick D&D Insider writer’s guidelines (link requires a D&D Community account, a D&D Insider account, and the planets to align the right way). If you’re interested in writing for the online Dragon/Dungeon, read this article to find out what has a good chance of success. If you can’t access it, don’t worry, as I’ll cover it here.

What they want

In Dragon, they’re after more assassin material, especially Class Acts. Assassin isn’t getting much coverage in the main books, so D&D Insider is a good niche for assassin support. They’re also looking for psionics material to complement the battlemind, monk and psion classes from Player’s Handbook 3.

Dungeon wants Campaign Workbook articles, individual elements which are easy to drop into a campaign. Single villains, dungeon rooms and encounters are in demand, especially if they’re particularly cool. Dungeon also wants Chaos Scar adventures, which will probably give you the best wordcount of all the articles Youngs is requesting.

What they don’t want

D&D Insider doesn’t want any new races, classes, or builds. While new character options are useful and interesting, they’re mainly the territory of official books, not D&D Insider articles. Adventures featuring new monsters are also out, since there are already over 3,000 creatures in the D&D Compendium database.

They also don’t want anything that’s just a direct update from a previous edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Anything you write should be new and interesting.

Links: Freelancing 101

Critical Hits has a new article titled Freelancing 101, in which former D&D Insider editor Chris Sims gives first-hand advice on how to write freelance for D&D Insider or an RPG publisher, and what editors want to see.

Improvised Weapons and Terrain Powers

RPG blogger Chatty DM made an interesting Twitter post last week about solving the 4E end-of-combat grind that happens when everyone’s down to their at-will attacks. His idea is to increase the efficacy of improvised weapon attacks to the level of “page 42” damage rolls for terrain-based effects.

Interacting with the environment is something I encourage DMs to make use of. One of the big things in 4E designer Mike Mearls’ earlier works Book of Iron Might and Book of Iron Heroes was the use of attacks or skill checks to interact with the environment, such as swinging from a rope or pushing over a boulder. Even Mearls’ contribution to the Age of Worms adventure path, the third edition adventure Three Faces of Evil, features a precariously-balanced statue which can be pushed over to form a bridge.

Clever use of terrain has been extremely popular in video games that support it. You only have to look as far as Worms, considered by some the greatest Amiga game of all time. Your units in this game can use their environment to take cover, bounce grenades from walls, swing from “bat rope” style grappling hooks, drown opponents, dig trenches for safety, even make difficult shots using the wind to advantage. They can really affect the environment and the environment can really affect them, and that’s just the ticket for an engaging and dynamic game experience.

I spotted a similar rule set in 2009’s Dungeon Master’s Guide II, called Terrain Powers (page 62-63). This formalizes what I think DMs have been doing since the early editions of D&D, and that’s rules for attacking with the environment. There’s a rope bridge attack, for example, where you make an Athletics check to shake the bridge and knock people prone or off the bridge. Strictly speaking you don’t need these rules (and you should be able to rule terrain attacks on the fly as your players come up with clever ideas), but the examples given are an excellent benchmark for balance. This is especially important if you want to publish your own adventures including terrain powers.

Now I love the idea, but one thing about this bothers me. The powers scale with encounter level, so a terrain power that requires a moderate DC Athletics check at level 1 will still require a moderate DC Athletics check at level 25. Your problem is that this gets absolutely ridiculous with some terrain powers.

Take Table of Combustibles, a table you flip over with a difficult DC Athletics check to send fire and poison gas everywhere. At level 30, you’re still struggling to flip over the tables you encounter. What tables are these that require a DC 37 Athletics check to flip over? Giant adamantine tables studded with diamond? Is it bolted to the ground with expensive magic? I’d better get to keep the table as treasure.

Or Swinging Rope or Vine, which requires a moderate DC Athletics check and rewards you with some quick movement. A regular dungeon vine at level 1 asks no more than DC20, but the level 30 vines that Orcus keeps around take superhuman ability to grab hold of. Don’t high level black dragons keep any regular vines around? Are they greasing up all the vines in their lair as a defensive measure?

However, I do like Ruined Wall, which you can push over onto people. I imagine that by level 30, applying an Athletics check to any nearby wall will make it fall whether it was ruined or not to begin with.

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Rituals for Martial Classes

Last year I noticed that fighters have few out-of-combat abilities, and wanted to add more versatility to the class without using the powers system. It struck me that 4E already has a mechanic for non-combat powers: the rituals system, normally used for spellcasters’ out-of-combat spells. D&D blogger Wyatt recently had a similar idea, so I thought I’d share some more of my ideas on the topic.

A ritual as we know is a non-combat spell, characterized by long casting time, a level requirement, a cost to acquire, a cost per use, and usually a skill check, with higher results sometimes granting greater successes. We can apply that to the martial classes, creating what Wyatt calls an Endeavour. Broadly speaking, a ritual or endeavour lets a character perform actions not covered by normal skill use or combat powers. Wyatt recommends giving all characters one Endeavour for free at level 1.

Dragon #379 also introduced something called Martial Practices, very similar to a ritual but you typically pay the component cost in healing surges. Below are some new examples of whatever you want to call rituals for martial classes.

This ritual brings third edition’s Craft (weaponsmithing) back into play.
Level: 1
Component Cost: Special
Category: Creation
Market Price: 50gp training, 20gp tools
Time: Special
Key Skill: Endurance. Working hard for long hours at a hot forge requires good stamina.
Duration: Instantaneous

You turn raw materials into weapons, armour or other metal objects. You pay half the item’s purchase price in raw materials and must spend one day working per 25gp in the item’s price. Your skill check determines the item’s quality and production time.

9 or lower: Crude. Item takes 50% longer to produce and suffers a -1 penalty (to attack rolls for weapons, to AC for armour)
10-19: Sturdy.
20-34: Superior. Item is produced in 75% of the time and worth 50% more than usual.
35 or higher: Masterwork. Item is produced in 50% of the time, and is worth double.

An item can be crafted Hastily, in which case it takes only one day but the blacksmith must spend one healing surge for each day he saves. For each surge he doesn’t spend, the skill check suffers a -5 penalty. At the DM’s discretion, certain objects may be especially challenging to craft, and impose a penalty. Players should note that by rules as written, mundane gear isn’t worth anything to sell.

Grisly Trophy
Level: 5
Component Cost: 1 healing surge
Category: Abjuration
Market Price: 80gp
Time: One hour
Key Skill: Intimidate
Duration: One day

By choosing body parts and pieces of armour from fallen enemies, you construct a terrifying scarecrow-like monument to your own prowess. When an enemy sees the grisly trophy for the first time, make an Intimidate check vs Will as an immediate reaction. On success, the enemy is frightened and takes -2 to attack rolls until the end of the encounter. You gain +2 to the check if the trophy is made of the target’s allies, or +5 if the trophy is made of the target’s leader or boss.

You can’t move the grisly trophy or carry it into battle. It can be destroyed if it takes damage; an average trophy has AC 10, Fortitude 10, Reflex 10 and 25 hit points.

Legendary Blacksmithing
Your weapon and armour crafting talents surpass those of most mortal craftsmen.
Level: 15
Component Cost: Special
Category: Creation
Market price: 1,000gp training, 20gp tools
Time: Special
Key Skill: Arcana, Endurance or Religion
Duration: Instantaneous

As Blacksmithing, but the works you create are imbued with expert enhancements. You can imbue an item with the following properties:

Indestructible (any item): Item adds resist 10 to damage (item only, not wielder)
Blood Channel (weapon): Once per day, expend a healing surge to score a critical hit on a roll of 19
Featherlight (armour): Penalty to skill checks in armour is reduced by one
Fearsome (any item): Wearer gains a +1 bonus to Intimidate checks
Fop’s Blade (armour, weapon): Ability score required to wield or wear this reduced by two; owner can take the requisite proficiency feat
Serrated: (weapon): Deal +1 damage on a critical hit

The number of properties you can imbue depend on your skill check result:

14 or less: None, and item cannot be made magical (see below)
15 to 24: None
25-29: One enhancement
30-39: Two enhancements
40 or higher: Three enhancements

In addition, you can use residuum to craft a weapon or armour into a magic item, as per the Enchant Magic Item ritual.

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Wizard Needs Food Badly: Eating Monsters (3E)

This is a D&D third edition conversion of Monday’s article: Wizard Needs Food Badly: Eating Monsters (4E).

When a character eats the corpse of a monster, what side-effects await him? Will poison or magical effect make the attempt more trouble than it’s worth? Or, might he gain some strange and wonderful power?

Below are effects for several iconic monsters of D&D third edition. You are encouraged to invent your own.

As a general rule, monsters must be eaten promptly when slain to have any effect. Preserved corpses (frozen, pickled, etc) may provide nutrition, but lose their special efficacy when stored. A Medium creature provides enough vital body parts to feed two characters, plus one for every size class above Medium.

Orc or gnoll

According to the human barbarians tribes of the cold north, eating the liver of savage humanoids is a way to gain their courage. However, it’s not without risks.
Risk: Character risks acquiring blood parasites. Treat the parasites as a disease. (Savage bloodflukes: Ingested, DC15, incubation 1d3 days, damage 1d4 Int, 1d4 Wis, +1 inherent bonus to Str. If reduced below 3 Wis, victim must pick melee target at random each round, from all adjacent creatures, including allies, and must make attacks of opportunity against allies who would provoke one. If reduced to 0 Wis, target remains conscious but loses free will and enters a killing frenzy until slain.)
Effect: The next time the target scores a critical hit in earnest combat, he gains a number of temporary hit points equal to the target’s hit dice.


Dragon meat is tough to eat and difficult to prepare. Cooking red dragon meat is impossible without magical fire.
Risk: Dragon flesh is toxic. Character makes a Fortitude save equal to the dragon’s breath weapon DC; on failure, the character takes 1d6 damage per four hit dice the dragon has (minimum 1d6). This is a poison effect.
Effect: Gain energy resistance to the dragon’s breath weapon type, equivalent to half the dragon’s hit dice. The effect lasts until the character takes a full rest.

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