Should Small PCs Move Slower?

In the OED update the other day, I added a note that dwarves & halflings move slower than humans & elves. (base 9" vs. 12"). However, as soon as I start playing with that, I get a foul taste in my mouth, and I think I'll probably back it out in the next update.

Here's the problem: Throughout the publishing history of classic TSR-era D&D, no distinction was ever made in the player-type materials for different racial move rates. But, at the same time, in all of the monster-type materials there was a clear legacy of dwarves, et. al., having a slower move rate that other types. Which should take precedence?

Consider the following table compiled from early monster-book sources (including Chainmail, OD&D Vol-2, Swords & Spells, and the AD&D Monster Manual):

This chart shows a couple interesting things in the history of D&D monster entries. (A dash "-" indicates no value given, even if we could perhaps infer a value.) First and foremost, we see that all the move values present in Chainmail were simply transcribed verbatim into OD&D and then AD&D (excepting halflings); and so too all the armor values present in OD&D were copied directly into AD&D, regardless of any changes in rules for armor types (e.g., leather: AC7 or AC8?) or encumbrance. It's pretty obvious that the original intent was for elves to be in chain mail; dwarves in chain & shield; goblins and orcs in leather & shield. In fact, this matches up with the AD&D illustrations (as far as I can tell), although the AD&D text armor descriptions were changed to match the now-different meanings of the same numbers.

Secondly, it's clear that dwarves, goblins, etc., are always slower than such types as men or elves. More specifically, if we look closely at the armor types noted above and the official encumbrance rules, elves are faster than they should be (12" vs. 9" in chain?), dwarves and orcs are slower than they should be (6" vs 9" in chain; 9" vs. 12" in leather), and goblins are much slower than they should be (6" vs. 12" in leather?). Interestingly, however, halflings were actually made equally fast as elves all through Chainmail and Swords & Spells, until the AD&D MM came out.

To put it briefly, there's a clear tradition of dwarves (for example) being slower than elves -- in fact, basically half as fast throughout all these rulesets, even while wearing fundamentally the same armor type.

(Note that the AD&D DMG introduction of the "elven chain" type is pretty easily interpreted as a fix to the elves-apparently-moving-too-fast issue. Still, it does nothing for the dwarves-moving-more-slowly issue.)

While the general sensibility that "dwarves move slower, elves move faster" is consistently maintained all through the monster entries for Chainmail, OD&D, S&S, and AD&D, this is never reflected or addressed in the players' encumbrance-and-move rules. You can even dig up a quote from Gygax where he says, "I'd give the short-legged folk a base of 9" (at Dragonsfoot in 2005), but this was apparently never enough of a priority to actually put in any of the OD&D or AD&D player's handbooks. Not until 3E was there a version of D&D that codified slow-moving dwarf and halfling PCs.

So, again, which should take precedence? Personally, I'm torn. On the one hand, there's an argument for "more realism and detail" that the monster entries give us, arguing that short-stumpy dwarves really should move more slowly than other types. However, when I go to implement this in my own game I'm aggravated over certain players being hobbled, and having to explain to one player that their choice of race may slow down the entire party permanently. Even if everyone decides to strip armor for a surveillance mission (say), the party will remain slowed by any dwarves or halflings. Nor can I think of any fantasy story (Lord of the Rings, say) where a plot point was made of dwarves slowing down a travelling party or army.

Granted that such a rule never existed for PCs in any version of D&D (for the first 25 years), I'm prone to ignore it and have a somewhat cleaner system. In fact, the original game's (Chainmail through Swords & Spells) relatively fleet, speedy halflings give me something of a warm fuzzy feeling. But in any event, for things to be consistent, you've got to change either the movement rules or the monster entries in a way that was never officially done.

See poll results here.


  1. What about giving them the same movement rate, but making their running multiplier smaller?

  2. The key question here for the individual DM is this: in the event of a party route, who gets eaten first?

  3. It might be that humans are faster in open country, but dwarves might be more sure-footed in the mountains, elves in the forest etc.

  4. ...and characters with infravision would be faster in dungeons, even compared to someone with a torch.

  5. For game mechanics and verisimilitude reasons encumbrance/armor is the more important factor. It's easier, simpler, more likely to be remembered if that is the one determiner of movement rate.

    But, it depends on what sort of movement you are talking about.

    In combat, "move" is not one's absolute direct line distance covered. It's how far you can maneuver while weaving your way through melee defending / attacking yourself. Only armor/the heaviest encumbrances should affect combat move speed.

    "Dungeon" exploration "move" again is not max move. It assumes carful movement and all sorts of back and forth search, mapping, etc. Plenty of time for short legged people to keep up. This speed is fixed 120' every 10min. Even armor/encumbrance doesn't reduce it. Nor does faster move ability increase.

    Flight/Pursuit "move" and overland "move" is where you might gimp short people. But, if so, do it for mechanical balance rather than "realism" issues. Hobbit sized kids are damn fast and I have doubts that short legs are a large disadvantage to sprint and distance speeds. On the otherhand people carrying too much, they're the ones that get eatin by whatever everyone is running away from.

  6. I think the idea that short folks move slower is a bit arbitrary.

    I did a little web lookin', so this isn't scientific, but a lot of animals are smaller than a human and move just as fast or faster than them. A housecat, for example, is lighter and has shorter legs than a human, and both move around 30mph at a run. Of course a cat has four legs and is running differently.

    I guess what I'm inferring here is while a halfling might be half as tall as a man, they're also half as light, and maybe could justify moving at an equal speed to a human. A dwarf is 2/3 the height of a man, but is ostensibly just as heavy as a human. You could argue that dwarfs should move at 2/3 the speed since they do have shorter legs moving an equal amount of mass.

    I dunno, tho. This took all of five minutes thought. There's probably holes in my logic. I sourced this page for animal rates of speed.

  7. I just got back home from an outing with two hobbit-sized people. :)

    If the big people are moving at a regular walking pace, they need to walk briskly to keep up with us (and need frequent reminders). If we had to run (say, to catch a bus or something) they definitely couldn't keep up. I'd be tempted to pick one of them up and carry them -- which is something you see in the Ralph Bakshi animated Lord of the Rings movie.

    Now... Hobbits, Elves and Dwarves don't exist. They're totally imaginary, so you can do anything with them you like. Maybe they have higher metabolisms and move really fast. Maybe they walk above the rough ground and snow and aren't affected by terrain. It's all make-believe... so whatever sounds like more fun you should go with. :)

  8. @Stuart
    Yeah, now that you say it, kids do move slower than adults, we've all witnessed this.

    Then again, a halfling is a mature example of their species, whereas a kid isn't. A halfling's muscles and coordination would be fully developed for a being their size. You might be able to posit that halflings are naturally stronger pound per pound than an immature human. Then again, this is fantasy so YMMV.

    I've also noted that kids often don't move with the same sense of purpose that adults do. When out with my niece and nephew on outings, I've noted that kids are often anything but focused on moving from point A to point B, as opposed to the adults whose job it is to keep the troupe moving.

    Whether that has a factor on a halfling sized child's rate of speed or not is debatable, though. That might be a factor if you were playing *shudder* kender...

  9. Norman: "'Dungeon' exploration... This speed is fixed 120' every 10min. Even armor/encumbrance doesn't reduce it."

    No, you've misread that. OD&D Vol-3 p. 8: "In the underworld all distances are in feet, so wherever distances are given in inches convert them to tens of feet. Movement (distances given in Vol. 1) is in segments of approximately ten minutes. Thus it takes ten minutes to move about two moves — 120 feet for a fully armored character."

    So you see that the armor is taken into account. The specific example is fully-armored, which with the two-moves rule works out to 6"x10x2 = 120 feet. Unarmored would be 12"x10x2 = 240 feet. Same as any other version of D&D.

  10. I'm sure all kinds of rationale could be applied to either side of the argument. However, I voted for small PCs not moving slower for one simple reason: it makes my job as DM easier. Why make things more complicated?

    Once you introduce one thing like this, it's a short road to adding stuff like individual initiative, weapon speed, or alternate damage by weapon and armor type. Ugh.

    The only time in my games I ever even care about movement rate is when the players tell me "I run away" or "I give chase". Then it's a simple comparison of movement rate of chaser vs. chasee to determine who wins. And honestly, given the importance of knowing when to run away in old school games, that's enough to make the players really think before allowing themselves to slip an encumbrance rank.

  11. I vote YES, because they SHOULD move slower. In practice, I do not play that way because it's usually more trouble than it's worth.

    Do as I say, not as I do...

  12. Great post, love the data, but I'm not sure when we should be inferring intent, but it is very interesting. Very few OSR blogs do such a good job illuminating how these things developed.

    They should move slower. I always like the Warhammer mechanic though where dwarves move slower as a base but don't suffer the same reductions for armor, so that in effect a man and a dwarf in full armor move the same speed. I guess I'm a little more sympathetic to speedy halflings. I assumed the hobbits in LOTR were carried by the orcs because they were beaten & tied and not able to willing to run. By the way Tolkien orcs (and dwarves and of course elves) could all run for prodigious periods. Legolas and Gimli could keep up with Aragon.

    Re all the comments that 12" for all is simpler, that sounds great for players! How about we simplify things and don't bother with encumbrance, keeping track of rations & ammo, and gold for that matter. :)

    I also like Anachists' idea about different races having reduced penalties in different terrain.

    Regarding animals, chickens are bipedal and walk just as fast as humans, but can't run as fast, from what I'm told.

  13. I think there should be a reduction in movement rate, but I'm not sure if a 25% reduction is right. Perhaps too much - or maybe even too little!

    Certainly, my 5' tall wife has to work to keep up with my 6'2" frame. She can do it, but there is visibly more effort involved.

    At the least running should be gimped, though most normal movement would probably be the same.

    There really should be some difference, but I concede that finding the right balance in terms of rules complexity requires some thought.

  14. AD&D 2e already gives different movement rates:
    Human 12
    Dwarf 6
    Elf 12
    Half-elf 12
    Gnome 6
    Halfling 6

  15. "AD&D 2e already gives different movement rates:"

    Hey, you're right, good observation. Funny that dwarves/halflings are all the way down at base 6" there: likely just 3" in chain & shield or so. Wacky.

  16. Quite sincerely I always found the distinction of speed among races pretty useless. There are so many factors which one would need to take into account to accurately "simulate" speed (e.g. a small character might well have a reduced inertia so that its agility would be higher, hence he would be able to maneuver faster etc.) that it's better to apply an Occam's Razor and consider everything on the same ground. It's not worth the trouble IMO.

  17. Ran an impromptu session using the Cave of the Unknown today (great stuff) using your house rules and after seeing the movement penalty the dwarf fighter's player didn't grumble but had the dwarf creep around, aware that he probably wouldn't be able to outrun foes. Ended up more like a sniper using his crossbow, dousing his torch and relying on infravision.

    He said he saw a dwarf fighter as being tactically different than a human fighter - in melee, less charging/more steadily advancing with shield.

    Is this limiting dwarves or encouraging tactical diversity ? - I'm undecided :)