Monday, 3 February 2014

Range In RPG’s

There is a kind of ‘natural’ imagined space around an imagined body. It’s the spatial area we work most often with in RPG’s. It ranges from roughly the size of a room to a large hall.

I noticed this when thinking about range and snipers in RPG’s. It’s always a little difficult to be a sniper or to use the full potential of ranged weapons in RPG’s. I wouldn’t say it’s hard enough to stop you doing it, clearly people do it all the time. But the mind must be forced to imagine the space whereas the space around, for instance, a sword fight, springs into being quite naturally in the minds of the participants.

Almost no-one uses the full potential range of bows to their maximum effect in RPGs. Even for a shortbow in LOTFP its 450 feet. Of a lightly encumbered opponent moves 60t per round, that’s 7 rounds of shooting before they get you.

I think the reason this is rarely done is that it feel unnatural to keep saying, “what’s four hundred and fifty feet away?” We don’t imagine the interact-able world in quite those terms.

Of course this may be the reason that we build rooms and halls the shape we do. There are engineering constraints, but even forgetting those we do tend to build similar area’s around ourselves.

There are also giant mech fights. But the whole point of those is that you effectively ‘become’ a big giant robot guy for the period of the fight, so while you are shooting long distances, relative to your current body-scale awareness, they are not that far. About the distance of a bowshot.

There is also the drama-factor in close-scale combat. Face-to-face fighting unifies tactical and dramatic conflict while modern long-distance fighting seems to anonymise and atomise the meanings of combat.


Have you ever gamed and commonly used extreme ranges, say 400 yards and above? Anyone have any experience of that?

Do you think there is a ‘naturally-imagined’ scale of things around the human body that pop most easily into mind when we imagine characters?

Do you think working in this ‘naturally-imagined’ space makes it easier for groups of differently minded people to collectively imagine the same space in a useful way?


  1. In most of parties of my players there is a sniper of sorts (but I rarely play in dungeons, though). Quite often my Evil Overlords get shot while running away from the party. This has led to many interesting questions (how hard it is to shot someone hidden in bushes, 50 meters away, when you only can hear him?) and at least one discussion on whether medieval people were healthier than modern archers and thus could fire arrows from more than 200 metres.

  2. I think the ranges given in D&D are mistakenly based on ranges in mass combat as opposed to skirmish combat. It is much harder to hit a single man 400 feet away than to aim a cloud of arrows at that unit 400 feet away. In skirmish combat, targeting rather than mechanics usually determines maximum effective range.

    1. +1,000

      Accurate to target bow range is about what they do in hunting and archery competitions. 70-90m being long range (the edge of where you can hit a target)

    2. I will attest to this - I've been involved in archery since I was a little kid; on an outdoor range, 70m is near the practical limit for consistent target hitting. Unless the bow's poundage is insane, you begin using more indirect fire and less aiming as the distances increase beyond this. When I used to hunt helpless wild animals with a bow, i would generally try to shoot at 50m or less.

  3. Yes, definitely, but it was a WWII using John Harper/Paul Riddle's The Regiment. The game is miniatureless/mapless, and it focuses on the GM rendering a very perceptual experience for the players. We were US forces during the D-Day invasion, so a nearly invisible machine gun nest embedded in dense hedge row a few hundred yards away was a typical encounter.

    I love playing without a map, since it reinforces the importance of sensory description. With a map, I found it was too easy for us to just resort to an ever more detailed sketch of the battlefield, and then the conversation would shift to, "Okay, we run up to this pencil line here."

    Also, since our common tactic for taking ground was to pin the enemy with a solid base of fire (e.g. our platoon's MG team), then assault from a flank, PCs would regularly be separated by a hundred yards or more, clinging to cover and with little mutual visibility. Without a map, it was more habitual for us to be asking questions about whether we could see or signal one another, and so on.

    Now, on the subject of snipers specifically, they were tricky to integrate in our game. The game has a very plastic flow of time (unlike, say, round-by-round D&D combat, an 'assault' roll could represent anywhere from a few seconds to hours, depending on what's going on). The sniper's sense of constant vigilance and adrenaline doesn't really translate, he'd just headshot anonymous enemies through the gloaming while we advanced.

    It ran a little differently when we played John's Bandit Razor scenario (we were special ops doing an extraction from the favelas of Rio), and so the battle site was much more constrained. In this case, our sniper could actually 'scout ahead' by surveiling (and attacking) the floor above where the infiltration team was. That made it a more active and varied role to play.

    Having modern-day throat radios really helps the play experience here, I think, because the sniper player can relay what he sees to the rest of the team, but also color it with opinion on threat relevance (as opposed to merely characterizing as he relays what the GM says).

  4. In my current AD&D campaign, we have had some combat at moderately long ranges (~200 yards, a long bowshot for a longbow), but it was usually against a good number of enemies who closed rapidly (30+ goblinoids on one occasion). It helps that movement is considerably faster in my games; my homebrew rules allow you to move up to 120' and still make a melee attack; you can charge for 180' and attack, or simply run the entire round and cover 360'. This is using 20 second rounds, which means that last one is about equivalent to running the 100-yard dash in 16 seconds...considering my quite sedentary self can do it in 15 seconds or so, I don't see that as unreasonable. And those rates are for a base move of 12 (i.e. unencumbered)...a guy in plate will be half that. Then again, a guy mounted on a light horse will move twice that.

    Basically, if you really want to run up and stab a bowman, you'll be able to do it before he gets more than a couple of rounds of fire at you. If snipers want to shoot without getting stabbed, they should stand on top of a tower or a cliff.