Gygax starts by recapping the historical mass-combat Chainmail rules which used a scale of 1 turn = 1 minute, 1 figure = 20 men, and 1 inch = 30 feet,which I have no problem with and seems both gameable and realistic (really, the gold-standard for game design). Then he says:
When Dave Arneson took this concept into the “dungeons” of his Castle & Crusade Society medieval campaign castle, Blackmoor, he used a one-third smaller ground scale. This change was quite logical, and it was retained when I wrote D&D.A nice credit that Arneson was initially responsible for the 1" = 10 feet D&D tradition. Or really maybe that's not so generous, since there's no reason why you couldn't have made ground scale equal to figure scale (approx. 1" = 5 feet) and avoid all the attendant distortions and problems, as done by almost all games post-D&D. So while the new 1" = 10 feet system will be used indoors/underground, Gygax attempted to stick with the old Chainmail mass scale of 1" = 10 yards for outdoor action (OD&D Vol-3 p. 8, vs. p. 17). I might call these the first and second fundamental missteps. These led to the following realization:
Len Lakofka was kind enough to point out to me what happens if the yards of effect of a spell are converted to feet in a game where a 1:1 ratio is used, viz. 1" equals 6 scale feet. A huge area can be covered with webs from a lowly magic-user’s second level spell. Of course this is ridiculous... If one scale is tampered with, all of the others must be adjusted accordingly in order to retain a reasonable, balanced, and playable game.So it was Len Lakofka that had to point out the first problem with trying to hand-wave a sliding scale system, and needing to make sure that if the value of an "inch" changes for movement, then it must do the same thing for spell ranges and areas, or else the action becomes imbalanced. Or rather, since it's basically inexplicable to have areas changing value outdoors vs. indoors (as opposed to bowfire being partly limited by ceiling height), then they'll need to permanently fix the spell areas at the lower 1" = 10 feet value.
The “Fantasy Supplement” was an outgrowth of the medieval rules and the “Man-to-Man Combat” (1 figure to 1 actual combatant) section I also devised for conducting battles of several different campaigns I ran for the LGTSA... As D&D grew from CHAINMAIL, it too used the same scale assumptions as its basis. Changes had to be made, however, in order to meet the 1:1 figure ratio and the underground setting. Movement was adjusted to a period ten times longer than a CHAINMAIL turn of 1 minute, as exploring and mapping in an underground dungeon is slow work. Combat, however, stayed at the CHAINMAIL norm and was renamed a melee round or simply round.Now, the first part of this passage once again reiterates the point that the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement was intended to be an outgrowth of the Man-to-Man rules, at 1:1 scale -- which is actually one of the few facts that Gygax was completely consistent regarding in all of his writings from the very earliest years to the end of his life (and also one of the more virulently contentious observations that I ever make on this blog).
But the conclusion of that paragraph is, I think, where the third and perhaps most egregious mistake occurred. Gygax just wrote in the immediately preceding paragraph, "If one scale is tampered with, all of the others must be adjusted accordingly in order to retain a reasonable, balanced, and playable game", and yet here he neglects to fix the time scale (as it should be adjusted downward, jointly with the figure and distance scale), leaving it at the same 1 turn = 1 minute that was originally fit for a mass-scale wargame. Leaving this unfixed is what locked him into the infamous and rather absurd defense of the scale as highly abstracted action, taking up lots of dense argumentation on DMG p. 61 ("...many attacks are made, but some are mere feints..."), even though it makes no sense in terms of first-strike capability, ammunition shots used, etc. It's even worse when you note that mass Chainmail already has a notion of the combat "round" as subsection of the 1-minute turn, which only needed to be followed up on.
Approaching the end of the article, there is this:
For about two years D&D was played without benefit of any visual aids by the majority of enthusiasts. They held literally that it was a paper and pencil game, and if some particular situation arose which demanded more than verbalization, they would draw or place dice as tokens in order to picture the conditions. In 1976 a movement began among D&Ders to portray characters with actual miniature figurines... Because of the return of miniatures to D&D, the game is tending to come full circle; back to table top battles not unlike those which were first fought with D&D’s parent, CHAINMAIL’s “Fantasy Supplement”, now occurring quite regularly. Unfortunately, the majority of D&D enthusiasts did not grow up playing military miniatures, so even the most obvious precepts of table top play are arcane to them. Distorting the area of effect of a spell seems to be an excellent idea to players with magic-user characters, and many referees do not know how to handle these individuals when they wave the rule book under their nose and prate that scale outdoors is 1” equals 10” yards.The first part -- that at the outset, D&D was played without miniatures -- is again consistent with other times that Gygax spoke on the same issue. (and explains why the quality of the scaling rules degenerated, because they had become vestigial and not actually playtested with miniatures).
But the second part is truly fascinating and delightful, because remember: this "game [which] is tending to come full circle" in regards to miniature usage (or least their promotion as a business case) was being observed as early as 1978. At this point -- 2012 -- we've gone through so many similar cycles of miniatures/not-minatures that I think I've personally lost count of them. It's like the Eternal Recurrence as simulated in-world by the mechanics of our metagame. And at the end of this passage, we see Gygax being aware of the problems if one is oblivious to matters of scale, and expressing some amount of contempt for those players who seek to gain an advantage through such slipperiness (much like those who think that D&D heroes can function identically at either 1:1 scale or 1:20 scale).
Finally, from the last paragraph of the article:
More unfortunately, the blame for the possible ignorance of player and Dungeon Master alike rests squarely on my shoulders. It would have been a small matter to explain to everyone that the outdoor scale must be used for range only, never for area of effect, unless a figure ratio of 1:20, or 1:10, is used, and constructions (siege equipment, buildings, castles, etc.) are scaled to figures rather than to ground scale! If ground scale is changed, movement distances must be adjusted. If time scales are changed, both movement and missile fire/spell casting must be altered. Furthermore, if 30 mm or 25 mm figures and scale buildings and terrain are not used, then the area of effect must be adjusted proportionately. I ask your collective pardon for this neglect, and I trust that the foregoing will now make the matter clear. There are distortions of scales in D&D and ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS as well. Despite distortions, each meshes with the other to make the game an enjoyable one.Now, the emphasized portion above was basically transcribed identically to the all-caps rule in PHB p. 39. But what really made me sit up straight when I read this passage was Gygax expressing acknowledgment for a mistake in the system, personal blame, and asking "collective pardon for this neglect", which is not something that I'm accustomed to ever reading from his pen. It seems very much out of personal character for Gygax (or at least as his official TSR/D&D writings of the time), and should serve as a flag that this issue deserves possibly unique attention, much as I've tried to give it in this blog over the last few years.
So, in summary -- This article shows us a Gygax who is fairly aware of issues of scale and the problems, imbalances, and cheats that can occur if they are ignored. He is aware that mistakes had been made and is personally penitent for them (!). Yet he seems to not have actually driven the precise changes that occurred in D&D, as he reports that the alteration in scale was first suggested to him by Arneson, and then a later correction by Lakofka. He still admits to important "distortions" in the last two sentences, which, I maintain, would have been much more easily fixed by doing the following:
- Setting ground scale to the same as figure scale (i.e., about 1"=5 feet),
- Decreasing time scale in proportion to distance scale (i.e., about 1 round=10 sec),
- Abandoning the different outdoor scale for man-to-man action, and
- Actually playtesting the rules if he's going to bother publishing them.