Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Holmes on Distance

I'm always finding sections of the various D&D rulebooks that I don't ever remember reading before. Perhaps that's simply a testament to my advancing age (or poor reading skills -- take your pick), I don't know. Regardless, I recently came across this small aside in the J. Eric Holmes-edited D&D Basic Set where the good doctor says:
Since DUNGEONS & DRAGONS was originally written for wargamers who are used to miniature figures, distances are often given in inches. Inches can be converted to feet by multiplying b ten: 1 inch = 10 feet, 2 inches = 20 feet, etc. This scales movement appropriately for maneuvering the figures on the top of a gaming table.
It's an interesting aside for several reasons, the foremost being that I like how Holmes makes an effort explain the origin of using inches for movement and scale in D&D. As a kid, I was initially quite baffled by this presentation in the Monster Manual and (later) the Players Handbook. I'm not sure that AD&D ever explains it; instead it simply assumes that readers will know the convention. I'm pretty sure I learned it from one of the older guys I knew, perhaps even my friend Mike's teenage brother.

The second reason why the aside is interesting is that the Holmes rulebook doesn't use inches in its text by and large. Both spells and monster movement rates are given in feet, in contrast to OD&D and AD&D, which retain the inches convention. Personally, I don't have any problem with using inches, since it's now second nature to me to translate between inches and feet when reading old school D&D books, but I nevertheless thought it notable that, even back in 1977, Holmes thought it worth explaining the usage and where it came from.

10 comments:

  1. I'm discovering a few new things as well! Pg. 17 of Vol 3: Underwold & Wilderness (OD&D) talks about wandering monsters. Rolling a 5 indicates a mid-day envcounter! Maybe something referenced in Outdoor Survival?

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  2. Indeed, the only place I know of in Holmes that uses inches is for the giants' stone-throwing ability (the bit explicitly copied from Chainmail catapult rules).

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  3. I own three copies of the Blue Book and that section includes reference to inches in only one of them. I presume it was edited out in later printings.

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  4. I remember being intrigued by this reference, since the rest of the rules were very vague as how to play the game using miniatures. I imagined all of the dungeons would be drawn out on a table top at 1" = 10 feet.

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  5. I'm not seeing this change between the 1st printing and the last printing (3rd edition). Both have the sentence "The miss is in inches..." and "Anything within 2 inches".

    I did a quick text search and the only other reference is in the Chimera entry, which refers to the "5 inch range" of the breath weapon. I'm guessing Holmes meant to edit out all references to inches but a few slipped by.

    Thanks for bringing this up as it's not something I've looked into before.

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  6. No, you're right. The reference to inches is in all the copies I have, but, for some reason, I didn't see it in two of them, even though the layout is identical. I must be tired :)

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  7. As a teenager learning D&D by himself (no one taught me) in a metric-using country, you can imagine how mysterious this whole section was to me!

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  8. Coincidentally I was looking into this last week. I'm going to be warband tabletop gaming using D&D and went through my O-, Basic- and AD&D books looking into this very topic.

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  9. What really confused me is somewhere (I believe in DMG) it said 1" = 10ft indoors but 10yards out doors. Thought it made sense for missile / throw weapons (less height = less distance, plus darker etc). Not so much for spells and esp area's of effect.

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  10. Well, this is in AD&D PHB p. 39 and it does include a shouty all-caps dictate that it doesn't apply to spell area of effect.

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