Monday, February 23, 2015

When an Inch is Not an Inch in AD&D

I've said this a few times in the past, but it always seems to get lost in a larger discussion, so I'll make one post here to highlight the issue. In Gygax's AD&D, one scale "inch" is not one inch on the tabletop.

Now, everyone knows in AD&D that when the book says 1" it means 10 feet in the dungeon, right? But look at DMG p. 10, under "Use of Miniature Figures with the Game", where it says that 10 feet will be 3 actual inches on the tabletop. So 1" = 10 feet = 3", or in brief, 1" = 3". Now that's a clever trick!


If you wonder why that contradiction could ever be permitted, recall that Gygax clearly stated that his circle had entirely eliminated using miniature figures by the time they started the role-playing game they called "Dungeons & Dragons" (link). So use of miniatures was really a vestigial organ, not truly playtested or maintained in the ruleset, and this section really exists in the DMG to promote the business case of selling branded miniatures (see the all-caps-and-boldface parts of the following paragraphs, and consider later Games Workshop and WOTC business plans). Gygax may have written it, but he didn't use it.

So while the 1" scale in the Chainmail mass-warfare game represented an actual inch on the tabletop, by the time of AD&D the 1" scales given for movement, missile fire, spell area and ranges, special monster powers, etc., are effectively purely abstract units, representing 10 in-game feet and nothing else. They don't indicate anything in particular for the tabletop -- for that purpose, you'd have to convert each book scale 1" to an actual 3" on the playing surface, or at least so says the Official Advanced D&D Dungeon Masters' Guide. (Compare in spirit to: moneys of account.)

Primarily, this insanity is why I highly recommend that O/AD&D be fixed, as in later editions (Moldvay Basic, 3E D&D, etc.), to use 1" = 5 feet for scale, in both book and tabletop, so as to avoid the Euclidean space-warp effect that most people can never get their heads around.


16 comments:

  1. Scale movement in Moldvay Basic is 10' to 1", not 5' (page B19).

    : )

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    1. Well that's interesting, because it's contradicted by a more detailed discussion on page B61 under "Playing Surface".

      The best sheets for this use have 1" squares, and the scale of 1" = 5' should be used when moving the figures.

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  2. Gahhh! I always wondered about this. So many of the issues I have had with the AD&D DMG over the years would have been alleviated if I had read this post first. There are so many things that never made any sense whatsoever until just now. Thanks much for clearing that up.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. :-) I agree, I found this one thing to be absolutely essential if you think you're going to play AD&D by-the-book.

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  3. So what you're saying is that Gary & Co. invented the AOL inch. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=AOL+inches

    Sorry, had to say it! ;)

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  4. What a mess. Imagine some people challenging me when I claim EGG was a terrible rules designer.

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    1. There is some clearly flat-out broken stuff in there, no doubt. One does get tired of the "rules don't matter" defense crowd on some days.

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  5. I remember reading and re-reading that passage back in the day and deciding I did not understand it because I was not a miniatures war gamer.

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  6. I asked Chirin-Bakal a similar question about how they used miniatures when, in EPT, character could fight two-abreast, three-abreast, or four-abreast in a 10' corridor depending on what weapons they were using. His response was that they just piled the miniatures on top on one another to get them to fit.

    This seems a strangely practical solution and one I prefer to the "each character occupies a 5' space" solution seen in 3e onwards.

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    1. Well, I used to try that myself but even with old-style small 25mm figures, and no extra basing, it was unsatisfying. Even three 3 figures wide would definitely take up more than 1". Front-to-back was even worse, a single figure would take up most of 1" no matter what.

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  7. I thought this post was really good so I added a link to it in my Best Reads of the Week series. You can check it out at this link below if you'd like.

    http://dyverscampaign.blogspot.com/2015/03/best-reads-of-week-february-22-28-2015.html

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  8. I strongly suggest we break the shackles of some irrefutable scale for D&D.

    I use 10 yard hexes, even 20 yard hexes, 10 yard squares for indoors, 10' squares for dungeons, as well as 5', 3 & 1/3rd foot. And... whatever else is appropriate to facilitating the game.

    My understanding is, the only metric that matters is the game metric. You can play D&D at 10' = 10' if you can manage it. Only the pattern that is the game matters in the end.

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    1. I'll politely disagree. :-) Scaling thing non-proportionally, even if it looks fine at first, makes nonsensical results pop up later on.

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