Swinging a sword
at an orc is all well and good, but if your friend needs help, you have to be
able to reach him. Moving to (or fleeing from) a foe, or seeking a position
that gives tactical advantage, is part and parcel of fighting. In fact, an
emphasis on footwork, distancing, and movement is one of the key parts of
combat training in many styles.
I’d love to
generalize to “most” or even “all,” but I’ve not trained in most or all styles.
The ones I’ve studied and trained in emphasized footwork and movement, and I’ve
not see that contradicted in my readings of other arts.
In the games,
movement is important because (in the simplest of terms) it’s how one gets from
fight to fight. Of course, there’s more to the game than fighting. Well,
mostly. But getting into, and out of position can matter a great deal.
In any case, we’ll
be looking at several facets of movement in the five selected games. Speed and
acceleration drive the ability to position oneself on the battlefield (or
battle map, as the case may be). The impact, if any, of posture on movement
and action determine whether that’s important at all. Finally, we’ll look at
several types of special movement, such as jumping, sprinting, and of course,
the ever-popular chandelier-swinging.
and hiking won’t be treated here; while important, they’re more key to
large-scale strategic movement than the kinds of personal engagement that
Violent Resolution treats. But while hiking isn’t treated, moving around
under the influence of materialism – that is, while carrying mounds of equipment
and loot – are examined to see if, and how, the games treat movement when
loaded. With stuff.
The Name is
Bolt. Usain Bolt.
Just to level-set
things at the high end of human ability, let’s take a look not at Barry Allen,
but the real fastest man alive, Usain Bolt.
Mr Bolt can cover
10m in about 1.9 seconds, and has a reaction time before his initial sprint of
about 1/6 of a second. From a standing start, then, with no encumbrance, but
with the knowledge that beatin’ feet is imminent, Bolt accelerates at
about 2/3 of a gravity, about 6.6m/s^2. In one second, including reaction time,
he’ll cover about 2.3m. His maximum velocity during his 100m race will be just
over 27mph, or 13.5 yards/second. If we consider a six-second round common to
RPGs, including his acceleration period, Usain can cover up to about 60 yards,
or 180 feet, based on the split times in some of his more well-documented
efforts. If we allowed maximum velocity for the entire trip (a terrible
assumption given a standing start) he’d cover 240′.
That sets an upper
limit on really fast humans, or if not an upper limit (given that high-level
RPG “cinematic normal” characters can push this sort of world record), at least
set the boundaries by which things start to raise eyebrows. On the slow end,
anything less than about 20′ in a six-second round is getting quite pokey –
that’s a treadmill set to about 2mph, an easy walking pace.
sprint speeds is all well and good, but one of the kickers there is that such
comparisons are usually made without the assumption that someone’s going to try
to behead you at the end of your run, and that is all that
matters is how far you run during that turn – that is, it assumes that you’ll
still be running all-out at turn’s end.
For an RPG, this
is a poor starting assumption. Characters often move around the map (if one is
in use at all) like chess pieces, in discrete units. A D&D
fighter might move 60′ in one round, sit still for two more, then a 30′
move, no move, and then first a 60′ dash followed by a 30′ action. Any of the
movement contemplated in the prior example could have multiple melee attacks
and defenses in any segment that does not include a “dash” action.
This means that if
we use Usain’s notional acceleration (and again, it’s not constant – check out his velocity
vs. time graph
, reproduced to the right), ignoring
reaction time, and
him to a standing stop at the end of a six-second round, he’ll cover less
ground than an all-out sprint. If you trust my math and allow a few simplifying
assumptions (0 reaction time, accelerate at 6.6m/s^2 to max velocity equal to
2x acceleration, then maintain for two seconds, then decelerate at same rate to
a stop) this will cover about 170-175′, or about 28.8 feet per second.
Finally, the round
length is critical here! If you allow a 10 second round on the same profile,
60% of the trip is at full velocity, and you’ll cover 350′ in ten seconds – 35′
per second. If you have to start and stop in the same second, even
with Usain’s mighty limbs, you’ll cover less than two yards and
never get even close to maximum velocity.
Dungeons and Dragons
Getting around in
D&D5 is done by taking either a move as part of another action, such as
trying to beat the tar out of someone with an axe, or a Dash, which comprises
will have a base speed of 30′, which is the distance that can be covered in a
six-second round. This speed is described as the creature’s walking pace, and
that’s accurate – the average velocity here is about 3.5mph, which is a nice
steady treadmill walking pace. A dash, then, is twice that speed, 20 yards per
six seconds, or just shy of 7mph – elves can go a bit faster, at 8mph – roughly
1/3 of Usain’s top sprinting speed.
So no issues with
“too fast,” though perhaps one with too slow at the upper end. If a normal
human can walk 30′ and dash 60′, then Usain can sprint at 6x the walking pace
(!), or 3x the dash pace. It would be a small thing to allow an all-out sprint
at 4x the base rate, at some cost. Maybe you can’t do it if you’re carrying a
shield or wearing more than light armor.
The game calls out
crawling, which is moving when prone. The rules are worded oddly, but that’s
because of how they interact with terrain modifiers – they’re additive, not
multiplicative. Crawling adds an extra foot to the cost of moving a foot – in
practice, on good terrain, you crawl at half your walking or dashing pace.
“Difficult” terrain has the same modifier (adds a foot to the effective
distance per foot travelled), so 10′ of crawling (adds +10′) through difficult
terrain (adds another 10′) eats up the normal 30′ movement allowance. Other
postures such as kneeling or crouching are below the resolution of the game –
usually such a thing would be to take advantage of partial or total cover, and
that provides its own bonus and rules.
You can do a
standing long jump up to half your Strength score (so STR 10 is 5′), and with
at least a 10′ runup you can broad jump double that distance – equal to your
STR. Jumping over obstacles, you can do a running jump equal to 3′ plus your
STR modifier – so 3′ for a STR 10 individual, and 8′ for STR 20. You can
standing jump half that: 18″ for STR 10, and 48″ for STR 20 – and that 48″
vertical is actually a pretty good approximation of what people like Olympians
Karch Kiraly and Eric Sato could do. Both of those guys were in the 40″ neighborhood,
and the world record is something like 55″.
You can swim or
climb roughly as fast as you can crawl.
banister-sliding and chandelier-swinging? Roll Dexterity (Acrobatics), I
suppose! More seriously, such rolls should be allowed, as even someone like
myself could do, with maybe a 15′ runup, a dive roll over a standing tumbling
mat (5′ tall) without touching it. That might, for example, add your DEX
modifier to the existing STR modifier – so that technique (DEX) reinforces
rules are deliberately simple – in fact, they’re deliberately set at a weight
(15x your STR until you hit your limit) that won’t be troublesome, and there’s
no impact to load if you’re under this limit. A variant rule on the same page
reduces move by 10′ if you’re in excess of 5xSTR in pounds, and 20′ if you’re
in excess of 10xSTR (also, you have disadvantage to a whole passel of stuff –
attacks, physical saving throws, and physical attribute checks, which includes
all skill use).
The movement rate
in Savage Worlds is called “Pace,” and its given in units of physical inches
per second – but it’s inches on the tabletop. Savage Worlds is explicitly meant
to be played with miniatures, and so movement is measured with inches on a game
table or battlemat, and weapon ranges are given the same way.
That being said, a
scale is given: two yards to the inch. So to be equivalent with the D&D
measurement in feet, for comparison, distance moved is basically 6′ multiplied
by your Pace. The round/turn length is equivalent to D&D as well, at six
seconds each. So let’s see how movement compares.
Much like D&D,
there isn’t much inherent variability in the Pace for player characters: humans
start with a Pace of 6″, or 36′ per turn. If they run, they add another 1d6″ –
an interesting choice. On the average, then, a running character will move
about 57′ – pretty close to the D&D speed for a human using a Dash action –
but it could be as low as 42′ and as high as 72′. This makes foot races somewhat
interesting, and can actually mean that a chase between two characters of equal
ability has tension to it.
Running and moving
while crouching is given mechanical weight – half speed for
doing either while crouching, in exchange for -1 to hit such a foe with a
ranged attack. Crawling is done at a rate of 12′ (2″ on the tabletop), or 1/3
the normal Pace. In addition to either modifier, moving across Difficult Ground
is done at half speed. There is an Edge that can grant another +2 to the basic
Pace, increasing base movement to 48′ per round, and max speed to 84′. That’s
faster than most D&D characters, but still not out of bounds.
are fixed – a horizontal jump of 6′ standing, 12′ with a running start, and up
to another 6′ for either one with a successful Strength roll. Swimming isn’t
explicitly treated in the rules.
an erratum in my Deluxe rules hardcover, which lists Encumbrance on p. 17 in
the index; at least in my book it’s p. 49.
Each 5lbs. times
the die type for your Strength score gives a load limit, which should really be
thought of as a load increment, and passing each increment gives a -1 penalty
to Agility and Strength tests and totals. So there is a gradual decrease in ability
as you carry more weight – but it does not impact Pace. You may not normally
accept more than a -3 penalty, which means that your true load limit is
roughly 20 lbs multiplied by your die type (for a d6 Strength, your first
30 lbs. are no penalty, and you’ll hit -4, and therefore your limit, at
In GURPS your move
is equal to the truncated value of your Basic Speed (if your Basic Speed is
5.75, your unencumbered Move is 5). This gives your movement allowance in yards
when taking a Move or Move and Attack maneuver. It is, therefore, basically
equal to a character’s maximum combat speed in yards per second. Typical
unencumbered heroes will have Move from 5-8 (often 5-6), and therefore will be
able to move 15-18 feet per second.
This equates nominally, in the six-second
rounds common to the previous two games, to about 90-110′ per D&D/Savage
Worlds combat round. This is much, much faster (by almost 50%) than either game
. . . and yet because so many actions can happen during the six full turns that
is the GURPS equivalent
, from a players’ perspective it can seem like forever to reach a
fallen friend being menaced by a bloodthirsty adversary.
As noted in the
introduction, almost anything that happens on a one-second timescale is going
to be limited to about 2 yards of movement – basically 4′ of travel at 0.5g
acceleration (Bolt’s is 0.66g), and 8′ at 1g – in other words, from a yard to
two yards. One would have to accelerate at about 1.12g in order to eke three
yards out of the movement . . . which is actually a higher acceleration than
the Indy Car used to look at if a human
could outrun one
at sufficiently short distances.
That being said,
the maximum velocities allowed in the game are really only 20% higher than the
basic movement rate, which means that in order to hit Bolt’s real-world speed
of about 13.5 yards per second, his “Basic Move” needs to be higher than
11 (!). Further, to move that quickly, the character takes a flat -4 to attack,
and no matter what other penalties are assigned, the maximum skill may not
exceed 9 (meaning you’re hitting just shy of 40% of the time in the very best
case). These maximum speeds require more than one second of movement – your can
hit your Move on your first turn, and subsequent turns thereafter you may claim
a Sprint bonus of 20% of your (encumbered) Move.
Mostly, in combat
characters will be taking a Step (1 yard) with an Attack maneuver, two Steps
with Committed Attack, or up to half your Move (mostly two steps, maybe 3 for
some) with an All-Out Attack that relinquishes all active defenses. From
that perspective, the movement rates for actual combat motion are fairly
accurate. It’s just when Move and Attack or Move are selected one turn, and
then the following turn no motion is elected, that things start to get weird.
movement while in a deep crouch (2/3 normal), as well as kneeling and crawling
(1/3 normal, similar to Savage Worlds), as well as movement while lying down (1
yard/sec). Characters swim at 1/5 their Basic Move. Posture is also paired with
penalties when attacking and defending, as well as a penalty to hit you if
you’re the target of a ranged attack.
provides for special movement like jumping and sprinting was covered above, the
point-buy system that is used for character building contains enormous
flexibility to modify movement to more or less anything the player and GM can
agree on. Horses, for example (or Centaurs), will often take a level of
Enhanced Move, which basically treats the Move as an acceleration and gives you
more than one multiple for speed. So with Move 6, you can hit max normal speed
of 6 yards per second in your first turn. With Move 6, Enhanced Move 1, your
top speed is doubled to 12 yards per second, but it will take you two seconds
of acceleration to get there.
More mundane is
the direct altering of Basic Move, at a fairly low price of 5 points per
additional yard per second – and given what encumbrance does to Move, this can
The more you
carry, the slower you go, and the more seriously your Dodge score is impacted.
Your strength determines a “Basic Lift” score, and at certain multiples of
Basic Lift (1, 2, 3, 6, 10) you start to feel the impact on your Move and
Dodge. Joe Average, with ST 10, has a 20-lb basic lift – so not much gear,
really – and will take a -1 to Dodge and a 20% reduction in move if carrying
between 20 and 40 lbs. Lift is quadratic in ST, though, so at
ST 14, you basically double these amounts.
The penalty to
Move at high load-to-ST ratio can get nasty, especially when chasing down
fallen comrades. If the character is burdened with heavy armor, a shield, and a
heavy weapon, loads can hit 60-80 lbs. pretty quickly in fantasy games, and
looking at the potential gear list for US troops as deployed during Operation
Enduring Freedom shows combat loads in that same range, with
“emergency approach” loads of 110-150 lbs. depending on the specialty. Even a
ST 12 guy with a 30-lb. Basic Lift is in Medium encumbrance (0.6xMove, -2 to
Dodge) with the combat load there, and well into Heavy with the all-in loadout
(0.4 x Basic Move, and -3 to Dodge). Even the normally fleet of foot (Move 6)
is dropped to Move 2-3 at those levels, making movement only slightly (if at
all) more swift than using the Steps allowed during a Committed Attack. The
extra yard per second of move can offset this, if purchased, making it a pretty
liberating point spend.
The other three
games are overtly tactical. They might not be physically played on a map in
some cases, but the assumption tends to be real-world distances: inches on a
battlemat, feet or yards from a foe. At worst, one might wave the hands a bit
and declare “range bands” as Night’s Black Agents does with firearms
. Still, given that you’ve established that folks are about 300′ away
from each other, you know that it will take – depending on the game system –
20-30 seconds to purposefully cross that distance.
|From the Fate Core SRD
Fate, being even
more abstract, does not have fixed units of speed or distance. Instead, it
divides the combat into “zones,” which are of a resolution large enough to
contain many fighters but small enough to meaningfully divide a large combat
space into segments.
Sound fuzzy? It
is, since it’s entirely situational, but that becomes very clear when a GM
sketches out the zones of interest on a piece of paper or VTT, or even simply
describes them for the players’ edification.
Crossing zones is
not a matter of hexes or feet of movement. It’s usually a matter of Overcoming
an Obstacle – a test against either a GM-set difficulty number or, if opposed,
the foe’s appropriate skill. This includes special movement as well – jumping
is almost a classic Overcome action.
As with most
things in Fate, such things as posture will be handled by temporary Aspects
that can be invoked to represent the difficulty in crossing a zone. It
would not be out of the question for the GM to define one or more Terrain or
Environmental Aspects that would “actively” oppose movement by characters
within that zone, or treating the environment as a character, which can spend a
limited quantity of Fate Points, or accrue free invocations if the terrain
“succeeds with style” in opposing player movement.
As with everything
in Fate Core, if it’s not an Aspect, Extra, or Stunt, it’s fluff. That’s not a
slam, it’s a restatement of the Fate Fractal – you can treat anything in
the game as if it were a character. If it’s important, a character might take
the Aspect “Loaded like a Pack Mule,” which would be invoked against any
Overcome actions that involved physical stunting. On the other hand, the player
of that character might be able to invoke that same Aspect to procure a needed
piece of gear at just the right moment: “Oh, I just happened to have a spare
set of surveying tools with me; after all, one doesn’t carry this much gear
without a certain amount of preparedness and forethought!”
It would be
simple, and somewhat accurate, to merely state that NBA does
not treat movement. And to a certain extent, this is true. There are no zones
discussed, as with Fate, and certainly there are no movement allowances in
yards per anything.
But that would
also be misleading, because the focus of the game is on the action thriller
genre, and from that perspective, Jack Bauer can cross LA in rush hour traffic
in as little or as much time as the plot requires. If two combatants need to be
in the same scene, they are. If they’re not and want to be, they can invoke the
rules (and that usually involves spending points from a relevant pool) to Jump
In. Movement is implied and implicit, and if you spent the points, you managed
to get where you needed to be.
it is a thriller, and the game provides a useful mechanic
for chases. The GM establishes a Lead, and the chaser and
quarry spend points and make die rolls until the lead drops to 0, in which case
the quarry is caught – or at least caught up with – or it increases to 10, and
the pursuit is lost. This rule could also be invoked as a barrier to Jumping
In, where instead of Lead each group of fighters have a Separation, and moving
from fight to fight (or, in Fate terms, zone to zone) requires expenditure of
an appropriate total number of points or successful die rolls.
Posture is a
description, encumbrance does not feature in thrillers much. The only nod given
to special movement would be an Athletics test. Certainly difficulty numbers
might be increased for certain tests by 1 or so if the GM decided it was
dramatically appropriate because the PC was particularly burdened with gear
(specified or unspecified), but that would be an in-play determination, not
something where wordcount has been spent to draw out rules or even guidelines.
The Size of the
The size of the
fight is not the size of the tabletop or the mapboard. It’s how far the players
can cover to either engage a new enemy or come to the aid of a friend –
especially if combat happens, more often than not, at arm’s length. GURPS
movement rates in absolute time are faster, even for average characters, than
those in both Savage Worlds and D&D. But where a D&D character might
spend six seconds to move 60′, while each of his friends and allies act once, a
GURPS character with Move 5 will require four seconds to cover that distance .
. . and therefore each friend and ally will act four times. Subjectively, then,
the players may well feel that GURPS movement is slow relative to other games,
because they’re denied agency (which is shorthand in this case for ‘usefully
beating the snot out of things”) for a longer time.
In my own
experience, I found this true – movement from one local skirmish to another
seemed agonizingly slow, and at least my groups have suffered from the “rush in
where angels fear to tread” syndrome – high movement rates and widely dispersed
vectors with no thought to formations or mutually supporting tactics. Given how
GURPS can punish such action, I’m surprised we didn’t have to generate new
characters more frequently.
This can be
mitigated by ranged fire to some extent, and guns and even bows can provide a
withering deterrent for such distance-closing action. Whereas a foe can rush up
to a D&D character and be in his face pretty rapidly, the GURPS character
can not only loose arrows or shoot bullets two to four times minimum, they may
also be able to retreat while doing so, buying them more time to shoot while
still out of range. So that can cut both ways.
The more abstract
method used by Fate (and to a lesser extent, Night’s Black Agents, if only
implicitly) of dividing combat into Zones pairs well with the lack of specific
time per round.
It requires an adept GM, but with the right focus, closing a
long distance between a fighter that prefers melee and his ranged-combat
assailant can be represented by either an appropriate number of zones of
separation, a high difficulty to cross between zones (representing all of time,
distance, and terrain), or both.
Always in motion
is the future, and your character won’t have one if the right movement
strategies aren’t used to defeat your foes. Whether it’s grouping together for
mutual defensive and offensive support (especially key for many-on-one fights
common to fantasy RPGs), getting into, or staying out of trouble, how the game
rules treat movement will dictate how you do it, and whether you bother to try.
A game where movement is too difficult creates a fairly static situation. Once
you defeat your local foes, you’re effectively frozen in place and, for the
time being, your game is over. A game where too much movement is allowed with
no opportunities to respond can create similar issues, where local superiority
cannot be effectively leveraged because more foes can suddenly “teleport” in
with no recourse. D&D does try to deal with this with various rules
for Attacks of
, but there are still situations where movement can occur and
the players are left thinking “but surely I could have done something.”
movement is used for critical tactical purposes in D&D,
GURPS, and Savage Worlds. It is used mostly for narrative purposes in Fate and
Night’s Black Agents. Given the intended play styles of each game, this is not
surprising. Unless you failed your perception check. Alas.