Friday, October 18, 2019

Friday Figures: Testing 5-foot Squares


A couple weeks back, a few different people (thank you!) sent me the link to the Dutch martial-arts HEMA group HVN's testing of combat with swords and daggers in current D&D-canonical 5-foot wide squares.

Very cool stuff, so glad they could share this with us. The main critique they have coming away from the test is that the squares are kind of a bit on the small side -- they find themselves standing mostly on the back end of the squares, and say that there isn't enough room to use the swords in thrusting style (so: cutting and hewing only).

And that's an interesting take, because my question for many years has mostly been whether the 5-foot size is maybe too large to be realistic. (Whenever I find myself on a tiled floor I look around and gauge whether 5 feet seems like a reasonable for combat space or not.) That's probably some bias resulting from Gygax's assertion that 3 fighting men per 10 feet should be the default (OD&D Vol-2 p. 12, AD&D 1E DMG p. 10). Really comforting to know that the 5-foot size is within the bounds of reasonability.

Videos on HVN's Imgur page here.


Don't forget: Live chat this Sunday on Wandering DMs: Paul & I have special guest D.H. Boggs, applied researcher in RPG history, on the show to discuss Blackmoor, Dave Arneson's play style, mechanics visible and hidden from players and other Twin Cities topics! 1 PM ET. 

 

15 comments:

  1. I want to say Gygax's three men per ten feet is a "close order" situation, like how the Greek phalanxes or Roman legions would fight, using spears and short swords with shields overlapping, whereas what we usually picture in heroic fantasy is more of a free-wheeling one-on-one sort of duel.

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    1. Yeah, I agree, I think that's part of it. The fact that the 5' spacing is also better synchs with miniatures in use tells me they really missed something at the outset.

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  2. As I noted a while back, inspired by HEMA-inspired blog Spells and Steel, it may be most realistic for swords' length combat to take place with a 5' distance in between squares.

    http://rolesrules.blogspot.com/2013/06/blog-shout-out-spells-and-steel.html

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  3. 5' squares feels like one of those compromise situations.
    The videos show that it is likely too small a space to fight with swords, but seems really large for other fighting arrangments or compared to the size of a miniature.
    Do we take the 5' square to be an absolute location? Or should we think of it more as an abstraction, that the character/ figure's actions will center around that space?
    Plus, how much big swinging can you do when you factor in the theoretical dungeon walls and low ceilings?
    I always thought a 5' square was too big and would like to have seen 1yard/meter become the standard, but after seeing these videos, I will take 5' as "good enough" to get the job done.

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    1. Great observations, and I'm right in the same camp at this point.

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  4. This suggests AD&D's 10' melee range with "quantum" positioning within that space was the right call

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    1. It was. Realistically up to 20' is just heartbeats away for melee combat.

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    2. I'm compelled to point out that the rule in AD&D was actually that each person/figure took up 3⅓ feet of space (AD&D DMG p. 10) -- consistent with the OD&D 3-abreast in 10' rule.

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    3. Dan: I think the rule Trent is referring to is from the AD&D PHB section on surprise.

      "Distance of 10' or less can usually be closed and an attack made in 1 segment."

      And again in the DMG section on closing to striking distance.

      "This action is typically taken when the opponent is over 1" distant but not a long distance away."

      Both implying that if the opponent is 10' or less distant, that is considered to be melee attack range. I might be forgetting other references, either more or less explicit, as well.

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    4. Great point. Thanks for reminding me about that!

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  5. Interestingly, the rod or perch (unit of length) is 16 and a half feet long. It was named after a weapon of the same length. If we assume that a wielder kept about one third of the perch behind his forward hand for leverage and as a counterweight, the reach of the perch extends roughly ten foot past that, compatible with the distances given here. On the other hand, a perch is far too long to use effectively against a target that's only five feet away. I've known that for a while, though I'm surprised to see that the same thing might be true of fighting with swords as well.

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    1. Oh geez, I love that. Do you have a reference for that use of rod/perch as a weapon? I've never heard that before and now I really want to know more.

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    2. That's odd - what I learned was that the perch was carried forward from an ancient Roman measure, and various regions had their own customary perches which might be 15 feet or 21 feet or whatever. Then the rod was introduced by statute in medieval England to replace the various perches with a single standardized unit. I had never heard of an association with a weapon, but Wikipedia claims that when pike lengths were standardized (presumably for the English or Scottish since it's an Imperial unit) they were set at one rod.

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