I’ve written before about running in RPGs, and in D&D in particular. The sprinting rule did make it into Dragon Heresy, so there is that.

But as I was pondering a Pyramid article for GURPS on the way into work this morning, I realized that I was ignoring a potentially easy solution to my problem. Not everyone perceives this as a problem, but I’ve been noodling on it for a while.

Kinematically Speaking

The issue is really that in GURPS, despite perceptions to the contrary[1], combatants are ridiculously mobile. Or, more specifically, the typical person can accelerate from a stop to some maximum speed, and then return to a standstill in one second, covering five yards in the process. They can also sprint five yards in one second, but then stay at that speed from there.

Note that these two things don’t necessarily imply the same thing! If you look at the kinematics equations[2],and assume that your final velocity is 5yds/sec, and you covered 5yds in the process, then the average acceleration is V^2/2d, or 5*5 / (2 * 5yds) = 2.5 yds/s^2.

If you assume constant acceleration that takes you five yards, then 5 = 1/2 A T^2, or since T = 1sec, A has to equal 10 yds/sec^2. The velocity at the end of that constant acceleration is not 5yds/sec, but 10.

It’s actually the second one that’s more problematic, since your Move is largely considered to be your acceleration if you use the Enhanced Move advantage. If you have Move 5 and Enhanced Move 2, your maximum speed is 20, but it takes you four seconds to get to that speed. Ergo, your Move is your acceleration. But if you could really accelerate that fast, your speed on the turn after you accelerate is much higher than your basic movement allowance provides.

The upshot: Regular GURPS folks accelerate to top speed really fast. Continue reading “A Sprinter’s Lament”

In my article from the Violent Resolution series dealing with movement, I noted that in D&D, the standard 30′ move (or even the 60′ dash) is, all things considered, quite slow. It represents six seconds of movement, so is either 5′ per second, or 10′.

That’s 3.4 and 6.8mph, respectively. Or a decent walk and a moderate, but not fast, jog. Usain Bolt, my go-to reference for insane speed, can run 400m in just over 45 seconds. That’s an average of 29 feet (one standard action) per second. So at the high end, in about 8 combat rounds, a PC can cover quite a bit of distance.

Note that’s roughly 10s for a 300′ dash, too – an average time for a 300′ run is on the order of 12 to 15 seconds, or 2-3 combat rounds. So 100-150′ per round (compared with Usain’s insane 180′ per round).

All in all, it should be possible to make four actions of this type per combat round, six if you’re really good.

I was wondering how to represent this, and then I hit my old standby: HP can represent being weary as well as being hit by an axe.

What if you could burn HP to take extra move actions past the two you get by dashing?


The Dash Likes


So, here’s the basic premise. If you want to move more than your allowed dash action, go ahead. Peak human speed is on the order of 25-30mph (again, Bolt hits nearly 28mph), which is about 40 feet per second, or 240 feet in a combat round.

That’s a maximum of 8 move actions. 

How about a horse? Tops out at about 60-65 fps (44mph), which basically means six moves at 60′.

Not sure what a cheetah’s base speed would be, but she maxes out at about 600′ in a combat round (about 70mph)

Here’s my concept, quickly. Want to make a movement action (call it a sprint) beyond your basic dash? Go ahead. Make a CON save, at a base DC 10, +3 for every extra move increment beyond the first. So 6 moves in one combat round is DC 19.

If you fail, you take damage. How much? Not sure. I’m thinking 1d4 or something. Enough to worry a mage, but not a fighter, and definitely not a barbarian. Critical fails on the CON save double damage to 2d4, and critical successes might even restore HP? Maybe you get the next interval of sprinting without rolling if you keep moving.

So not a lot, but then, running flat out for six second should not kill you. And you can recover with a short rest. That works well with the HP as exhaustion/using up your reserves concept.


Stats


% Success
Con Bonus
Sprint distance CON DC -1 0 1 2 3 4 5
90′ 10 50% 55% 60% 65% 70% 75% 80%
120′ 12 40% 45% 50% 55% 60% 65% 70%
150′ 14 30% 35% 40% 45% 50% 55% 60%
180′ 16 20% 25% 30% 35% 40% 45% 50%
210′ 18 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40%
240′ 20 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30%



The red lines are not accessible without a special Feat. The sprint distance is for a human with a base rate of 30′. A horse with 60′ base starts at a 180′ move, and tops at 360′ without a feat. 

An Easy Target


The premise of this one is that you’re doing nothing else but running, lest it become much too powerful an option, especially for higher level characters for whom 1d4 HP is less than chicken feed. You only get to use sprinting if you’ve used all of your actions on movement (so you’re dashing), so this precludes attacking.

Maybe we could work a cheesy attack in there as a bonus action or something. I dunno. I really think this should just be “Run, Forrest! Run!”

Attacks against anyone moving faster than their dash are advantaged. Sprinting past someone should definitely provoke an attack of opportunity (probably from friends, too. Kidding. Mostly.)

You also lose any DEX bonus to AC while sprinting. Running in a straight line full tilt is not conducive to a spry (dare I say it) savvy defense.

Parting Shot


The difference between the various CON scores just isn’t that much, and so even CON 20 isn’t going to be crazy abusable. In fact, it might be too harsh, since:

4 minute mile: 132′ per combat round (40 rounds)
2.5-hour marathon: 92 feet per combat round (1500 rounds)

I’m tempted to make the damage even lower, perhaps only a point? Or maybe even

Feat: Sprinter

You are experienced and trained in making the most of a combat sprint. You gain the following benefits:

  • You have resistance against the damage inflicted by failing a CON save while sprinting
  • Out of combat, when not on difficult terrain, you roll every two minutes at 3x your normal interval, every minute at 4x, 30s (five rounds) at 5x, and every 15s (three rounds) at 6x and faster.
  • You may sprint up to 8x your base rate instead of up to 6x.
So there you go. You can now burn HP to run really fast. Fleeing has a cost, and fleeing and then turning around to fight will leave you in a worse place than standing and fighting, especially if you’re low level (where 1d4 damage is a big deal). At high level, you can go for a while, fast, without burning too many resources. A fighter with 100 HP and CON 16 can run at 10mph (a 6min mile) and pass his CON check 60% of the time – he’ll take 1-4 damage once every 2.5 rounds (15s). So he can run for about 1-4 miles at that pace. If he has the Sprinter feat, he’ll go much farther than that. He’s rolling every minute instead of every round, and taking half damage, so 20-80 miles! Very heroic – he’s an ultramarathoner.
D&D isn’t a reality simulator and I’m not trying to make it one. But humans can move a lot faster than D&D allows for if they don’t have much else going on. A proper full-on system would account for encumbrance (add the armor AC bonus to the DC? Some fraction of carried weight? +1 to DC per STR lbs carried?) and other things.
But the concept of spending HP to move farther was too interesting for me to ignore.
And the Rockets’ red glare, the Bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our Flag was still there;
                                   — Francis Scott Key (1814 broadside printing)

Pretty much any time that foes gather together in convenient lumps, someone is going to try and find a way to paste them with whatever the genre equivalent of a cluster bomb strike is. It’s only natural, really – and well supported by some historical studies. Here’s one from the World War II Databook (Table 57, p. 257):

The percentage of battle wounds to british soldiers by weapon 1939-45 overall was:

  • Mortar, grenade, bomb, shell ………..75%
  • Bullet, AT mine………………………10%
  • mine & booby trap……………………10%
  • Blast and crush…………………………2%
  • Chemical………………………………2%
  • other……………………………………1%

While individual battles vary (at El Alamein, I saw a note that 75% of the wounds were bullet wounds), the overall trend seemed to support the conclusion that small arms fire, by and large, held foes in place so that artillery could turn them into casualties.

In some respects, this predisposes the conclusion, because on the one hand, plentiful and easy access to person-killing explosives is a thing of moderately recent history, over the last century or so (though obviously if the bombs are bursting in air, two centuries or more would be accurate as well).

The #1 genre in RPGs, though, is still epic fantasy. And epic fantasy has its own version of artillery, which is the battlefield wizard. Such characters fling pretty potent area effect spells about the landscape, either destroying foes, destroying or shifting the landscape itself, or perhaps both. More on that later.

The key bit for this segment of Violent Resolution is how well and easily do the sample games allow for one attack to impact multiple foes. And that’s what it’s really about, at the highest level – a directed attempt to inflict harm on one or more targets. Well, most of the time, since one of the original effective uses of explosives is to batter down a foe’s fortifications.


Fate Core

The rules for explosions in Fate can be a bit tough to find, but they’re tucked under “multiple targets” in the index, and found on p. 205 of Fate Core. As with everything, the rules are basically the same – you choose your action (Overcome an Obstacle, Create an Advantage, or Attack are the most likely here), specify which, if any, Aspects, Stunts, or Extras are being invoked, and roll.

The rules for area attacks are straightforward if broad (a descriptor which can accurately be applied to the entire system). Area attacks are adjudicated by rolling the dice as normal, and then applying the strength of the attacker’s result by distributing it to all foes that are in the area. If you happen to roll poorly, all the targets in the zone may get off scott free. If you roll very well, then you’ll likely have an intermediate to low effect on your foes, due to the requirement to split successes/margin among your targets.

As a concrete example, if you toss a grenade or sling a fireball at a group of four foes, and you have +3 in the skill and the nature of the weapon (by dint of Weapon Ratings, special defiition of an Aspect, or whatever) gives another +2, then when you attack you’ll tend to cluster around 5 shifts to divide between the four targets (basically 1 stress each, with 2 on one foe of your choice, but you could notionally put all 5 on one foe and ignore the other two). A great roll would give 9 shifts to distribute. The victims defend against the attack shifts allocated to them, not the total.

Naturally, this is modified two pages later, allowing for zone-wide attacks to be a common thing if the situation demands it.

Alternate Takes

With a nod to the Fate Fractal, one can also treat the explosive device itself as a character/aspect with its own attack skill (or weapon value) and stunts. This is the method suggested in a thread on how to handle grenades in the Fate Core Google+ community. The boom-generator is inserted into a zone, and on detonation, attacks everything in the zone, or maybe even the zone itself, with a particular skill.

Depending on the referee’s preferences, one could tag it with a Stunt that attacks with full skill on everyone in the zone individually. With the right balancing appropriate to the genre, this can be tuned to a particular effect. Massive, catastrophic damage to all in the zone (a disintegration grenade!) could be achieved by having the base attack be some ridiculously high value – 6, 8, or even 12 shifts would make short work of anyone not able to invoke the proper aspects for Cover, Armor, or Luck. A low-grade attack with only one or two skill would have a decent chance of not hurting anyone, and at best would tend to apply a few shifts of stress or consequences.

Aggressive Landscaping

The definition of everything as a character with its own aspects, stunts, etc. means that using explosives creatively does not suffer from math overload or endless page flipping. Want to blow down a wall? Decide on the attack strength of the explosive, the defensive strength of the wall, and roll it. Stress and consequences can be assigned as needed. A high-enough consequence might bring the entire building down, while a mild one might allow a free invocation of an aspect when attacking that section again. Stress instead of consequences might be cosmetic damage, such as scorched paint or blown-out windows.

The narrative bent of the game keeps the focus on what the result of the attack, advantage, or overcome action is, not how many LottaJoules of energy were in the grenade.

Arcane Explorations

There is really no difference inherent to a magical explosion as opposed to a mundane one. They’ll be treated the same way in all cases, subject to the usual variations based on Aspect, Stunt, and Extra. From that perspective, it’s handy and self-balancing. Proper choice of aspects will keep magic magical if desired.

A Sufficient Quantity of High Explosives

How does one differentiate between a hand grenade, a Javelin missile, and a small antimatter charge in Fate? Dramatically.

The mechanics support various sizes of explosions largely through the ability to either use Extras to define the strength of the attack, or to treat the exploding plot device as a character by itself.  While caution should be used in assigning these values and care must be taken to keep them balanced for the style of play desired, there’s no reason not to allow scaling up the boom to reflect in-game “reality.”

Night’s Black Agents

Explosives are called out as a great equalizer in the battle against the Vampires, since there’s simply only so much that a physical body can take. Explosives up to and including a suitcase nuke are treated in the game rules.

The mechanics are geared towards personal deployment, and grenades are tossed with a difficulty set by range, such as 2 for Point Blank – which is touching range. And you’re throwing a grenade. Might want to rethink that one. But they can be thrown up to Near range (30-40m). Rifle grenades and other proper toys can reach to Long range (100m). Since the Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher can fire up to about 1,500m, allowing shots at Extended Range with the proper skills and spends isn’t out of the question.

Once you deliver the boom to the target, the explosion is figured as damage dealt based on range from the victim to the source of the blast. There are three considerations – annihilation, damage, and debris. Annihilation is just that – instant death, no saving throw, no passing go, and no collecting $200. If you’re in the damage range, you automatically take a hit, and it’s a significant one – a die of damage plus three times the explosions Class (see below). In the Debris range, you get a die roll (Athletics) to avoid the effects, but if you fail, you take a die of damage plus the explosion’s Class.

A Sufficient Quantity of High Explosives

Explosions in NBA are rated by an explosion Class, a number from 1-6. Class 1 explosions include homemade small explosives like a pipe bomb or door-busting explosive foam. Typical frag grenades are Class 2, and Class 6 is a suitcase nuke. Large explosions are possible, but are in the realm of plot device. You don’t get an annihilation range until you hit Class 3, and even then that’s only Point Blank (the RPG goes off within touching distance).

There’s an interesting bit of specificity for Class 5 explosions, which have a Damage range of Long. The only range farther than that is Extended, which is fairly arbitrary. So the book lists 240m as the debris range here. Probably a needed amplification, though an unusual one given the broad strokes that the game usually paints with.

Cover and armor are treated as an increase in effective range. If you’re behind appropriate cover you’re treated as being one range band farther away. This would need to be adjudicated with some discretion, however. Being inside a battle tank when a hand grenade goes off will probably offer total protection. The odds of being inside such armor given the genre are probably fairly low, but being behind a fortified door, castle wall, or other thick protection is probably well within the normal expectations of the thriller.

Dungeons and Dragons

The salient feature of the Wizard in the CHAINMAIL wargame was the fireball spell, and that seems to have defined spellcasters – or at least “magic users” ever since in many ways. CHAINMAIL was a wargame, to which RPG elements were derived. While spellcasters of all stripes have come a long, long way in the last 40 years of gaming, in D&D they started as a stand-in for artillery, and to some extent, that is still how they are perceived, fairly or no.

While there are many, many ways in which D&D magic users are no longer simply mildly mobile cluster artillery, for the purposes of this article, we’ll treat them within this narrow window – how to lay down the hurt on a whole group of foes at once.

Combat Lullaby

Ironically, the first time this really seems to come into play in many games is not a fireball at all. It’s the Sleep spell, which is such a staple of D&D in my experience it turns into a go-to, must-have spell in nearly all games I’ve played in (that’s a personal observation, of course). This includes the OSR-flavored Swords and Wizardry.

It’s a first-level spell, which means as soon as the caster has access to the proper spell slot (maybe starting the game for many magic-users), she can threaten creatures from 5-40 HP in value, from weakest to strongest, within a 20′ radius of the targeted point. 5d8 HP is enough to, on the average, snooze out five 1 HD creatures in the middle of a fight. Almost uniformly these slumbering foes meet inglorious ends at the sharp end of the PCs weapons after the surviving stronger monsters are dealt with. The spell scales, too, at an extra 2d8 per level of spell slot. So a 7th level spell slot will roll 19d8, even threatening fairly powerful heroes if they’re caught alone – the spell has no saving throw.

It’s not spectacular and there’s no fiery glare, but area effect spells are available right out of the gate.

Crowd Pleaser

The iconic fireball, the only spell available to the CHAINMAIL wizard at first, it too impacts a 20′ radius sphere. At its weakest (a 3rd level spell slot) it does 8d6 damage (half damage if you throw yourself out of the blast with a Dexterity save) to all creatures within that sphere, and the sphere wraps around corners, meaning cover is no protection from this magical fire. If a very high level character throws one with a 9th level spell slot, it will do 14d6 damage.

Relatively speaking, a few fireballs will play havoc with a tightly packed formation – which like their fragmentation grenade or artillery inspiration, is the entire point. Given a 1st-level character in D&D5 will have on the order of 6-14 HP, even the entry-level version can pretty much vaporize a small cluster of such fodder. Against a more potent foe, it will still be a threat. A 5HD monster might have 25-40 HP, and the damage done by the spell is 8=48 HP, which can nearly incapacitate the middling level 5HD creature even if they successfully save.

Explosive or area effect spells in D&D can get darn nasty, such as the potent Meteor Swarm – what may well be the baddest thing to hit the dungeon since TILTOWAIT. A 9th level evocation spell, it strikes everything in a 40′ sphere with 20d6 fire damage and 20d6 bludgeoning damage. It’s going to take a very, very high level fighter to not get turned into paste by that one.

That being said, a 20th level fighter (1d10 HP per level, average 6 HP) with CON 18 (+4 HP per level) has a pretty good shot at tipping the scales at 200 HP, so 40d6 total will be a mighty blow at 70 or 140 HP average, but not necessarily an automatic fight-ender. Against a high-level spellcaster, with but 1d6 HP and CON 14 or CON 16 will eke out 6-7 per level, for 120-140 HP, which is a serious threat of one-shot incapacitation. This is a deservedly powerful spell.

Magical Claymore

D&D also features directional area effect spells, such as the Cone of Cold. Doing 8d8 out of the gate and 12d8 at max power, this spell reaches out 60′ and freezes things in its path, with a width of effect equal to it’s length (it’s an equilateral triangle). This makes it intermediate in effect extent and requires some stand-off . . . and no friendly characters blocking your attack line.

Savage Worlds

This is a tactical game meant to be played with miniatures and a map. As such, the rules for using explosive and area effect attacks are built around a blast template – a usually-circular cutout that shows the size of the affected area. To toss a grenade or cast a spell into an area, one makes a skill test using the appropriate ability (Shooting, Throwing, or an appropriate spell skill all come to mind) given the range being targeted. Success means you land the template where you want it to be. Failure means it deviates randomly, and with the right flavor of flub, you can indeed be caught in your own explosion, though the rules do prevent the thing landing behind you.

Damage is by weapon or spell, and affects everyone within the blast zone at full value. There is no effect if you’re out of the zone, and as always, impacted characters are up, down, or off the table. The two grenades listed in the Deluxe rulebook do about 3d6 damage to all targets in the blast radius, which means getting caught in the blast zone is as bad as getting hit by a .50 BMG (2d10) or 14.5mm machinegun (also 3d6). That is to say: very, very nasty.

Claymore of Doom

The actual claymore antipersonnel mine makes an appearance in the rules as well, and uses the formulation for canister shot. Basically, the mine reaches out for 24″ (about 50 yds) as if the blast template slides along its entire length, impacting everything it touches for 3d6 damage. Effectively, this turns both canister and the claymore mine into a cylindrical area of effect weapon. The damage here is about right given what a claymore actually is. The shape of the effect is a bit odd – a cone effect might be a better fit.

GURPS

As one would expect based on its treatment of firearms, GURPS has a fairly detailed treatment of explosions and area effect weapons. It also allows for a bit of variation in blast effects.

Collateral Damage

GURPS assumes that explosions have a point of origin (this isn’t unique) and that the damage is strongest at the center for a “normal” explosion. Every explosion has a damage value and that only applies to the actual target struck. For everyone else, damage is rolled normally, but divided by 3x the distance in yards from the target. That means if you’re hit directly by a 6d explosion (enough to take Joe Average from fully healthy to his first death check at -HP on an average roll) you’re liable for the entire 6d, but at only 2 yards distance, you’re rolling 6d/6 (about 1d), and by the time you hit 12 yards, you’re looking at 1 point of damage at the best case, ever.

Unsurprisingly, the rules note this: the maximum impact of an explosion goes out to twice the dice of damage, in yards. That’s another way of noting the same point – X dice of damage will have a maximum roll, ever, of 6X, and damage falls off as 3D (three times the distance in yards). So for only one point of damage, you’re looking at 6X/3D = 1, or D = 2X. The math is not shown, merely stated – “an explosion inflicts ‘collateral damage’ on everything within (2 x dice of damage) yards. But you can see where it came from easily.
The blast or concussion damage, then, isn’t a big deal unless the explosion is very large or you’re very close to it. The baddest hand grenade in GURPS High-Tech (the M67) does 9d damage, which means from the blast itself you’re safe outside of 18 yards – which of course means in reality it’s impacting a sphere 36 yards in diameter, which is rather larger than the blast zone of the Meteor Swarm spell, but the zone in which you’re even liable for about 1d damage is only two yards in diameter.

That being said, the game gives you the ability to calculate the blast effects of the CBU-55/B as well, a 500-lb fuel-air explosive bomb which detonates for 6dx65 damage – 390 dice, which means you need to be 780 yards away – over 0.4 miles – before you’re truly safe. And yes, this can scale up to nuclear weapons if desired: the “Little Boy” bomb released over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, hit with roughly the force of 12,500 tons of TNT, or 60,000 dice of damage, with a linked burning damage (due to the flash) of 6dx6,500 burn ex.

Flash, Ah-ah! and the Rain of Pain

As noted in the nuclear example above, there are many types of explosions and properties. Electromagnetic pulse, a thermal blast, shaped charges, and fragmentation damage can all be modeled accurately if desired.

This isn’t necessarily just fluff, either. A Hellfire missile (AGM-114) carries a warhead of “only” 20-lbs of explosives, which detonate with the force of about 23 lbs. of TNT. That’s about 60d worth of damage (call it 6dx10), which will do but 1d damage past 20 yards, and by itself won’t hardly scratch the paint on a modern tank glacis. But with the shaped charge rules, which divide armor by 10, penetration is more like 600d, enough to worry you if you’re behind less than 30″ of RHA steel, or 380mm of laminate armor.

The other critical piece is that modern antipersonnel weaponry doesn’t blow you apart as the primary method of destruction – it’s the fragments that get you. Each weapon that generates fragments damages out to 5x the dice of damage of the frag attack (the aforementioned M67 does 2d fragmentation, and is thus dangerous to 10 yds. The Mk 82 500-lb HE bomb does 14d fragmentation, and is thus dangerous to 70 yards). The fragmentation attack is an autofire weapons attack, throwing random fragments out with Skill-15. This is modified only by range, target size, and target posture, and it’s possible to get tagged in various places in one burst.

Nerf Magic

Direct damage spells using the standard GURPS Magic rules, which treat spells as learnable skills powered by fatigue points, are relatively weak compared to their high-fantasy ancestors. While supplements such as the ever-expanding Dungeon Fantasy line can up-gun this a bit, the fall-off of damage with distance means that even a 6d fireball (which in GURPS is basically a contact-only spell) turned into an explosive fireball will mostly be a point or so of damage past about two yards.

Not that GURPS mages can’t do nasty things to folks – it’s just that nasty is things like Create Fire and Fire Cloud – both relatively low-damage per second, but good for controlling movement on the battlefield, rather than laying waste to swarms of foes. Likewise Grease or Ice Slick don’t do damage but basically makes you roll vs DX-2 every time you look at something funny, or else fall down.

There are other magic systems that can be brought to bear if you want a more battlefield-style magic, as well as area-effect Innate Attacks and other things that go boom. But as written, and using the rules for explosions, it is both difficult and expensive to do something like Meteor Swarm in GURPS (though they don’t map well – a 3d attack is a borderline incapacitating one in GURPS against an average human; 6d is, on the average, lethal. You don’t need a 40d attack to smack down high point value humans in GURPS; 6-10d will usually do).

Human Artillery

Whether equipment is driving the boom factor or if it’s powered by magic, area effect and explosions are heady stuff. Some players make a rule of clustering into formation, with a definite marching order and a standard operating procedure of forming ranks against foes. As in life, this has advantages and disadvantages. In the tactically-focused games (GURPS, D&D, Savage Worlds) the benefits include denying attacks at the back rows (enabling archers and casters to do their thing in relative peace), allowing concentration of force and defenses, and where it matters, preventing being outflanked piecemeal.

On the down side, that many targets in once place is tailor-made to draw area-effect spells. I know of at least one player who would have a hard time not hitting his own party with a fireball given that many targets in proximity. It’s just too tempting to pass up.

More seriously, area effects make for a good tension and can provide some beneficial choices within a party. Cluster all together and risk being taken out all at once, or split into several separated groups, which can be attacked and overwhelmed bit by bit?

The narrative games each have relatively solid mechanics for explosives, but the GM will need to adjudicate who’s in range and who’s immune each time given the abstract nature of the systems involved. This is offset by the basis of the games being to make the characters look good. The various things that can be done with Fate (Create an Advantage and Attack) could easily be used in a straightforward manner to represent Rated G or Rated PG combat, where a grenade might toss you around or knock you out, but won’t leave you a bleeding wreck with the application of a suitable aspect.

Finish Him

This last weekend marked the Fourth of July. Since I’m an American, we celebrated by detonating vast quantities of explosives – this provided the inspiration for the title and timing of this piece. So with that, I’ll cherry-pick an RPG-suitable closing stanza from Key’s original poem. Poor hirelings; they always get the short end:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore

That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,

A home and a country, should leave us no more?

Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:

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.
Overland movement
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.
Stop Right
There!

Comparing maximum
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 force
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
two moves.
Most characters
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.
Posture

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.
Special
Movement


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.
As for
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
power (STR).
Weighty
Matters

The encumbrance
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).
Savage Worlds

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.
Posture

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.
Special
Movement

Jumping distances
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.
Encumbrance

Note: there’s
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
120 lbs.).
GURPS

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
time span
, 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.
Posture

GURPS covers
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.
Special
Movement

While GURPS
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
be important.
Encumbrance

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.
Fate Core

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
ranges
. 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.
Posture

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.
Encumbrance

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!”
Night’s Black
Agents

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.
In addition,
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.
Everything
Else

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
World

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.
Finish Him
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
Opportunity
, but there are still situations where movement can occur and
the players are left thinking “but surely I could have done something.”

Ultimately,
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.