Friday Figures: Outdoor Areas

Outdoor areas survey on ODD74 Discussion forum.

Here's another somewhat surprisingly contentious survey result on Original D&D rules from the ODD74 Discussion forum (thanks to all who participated!).

Starting with OD&D Vol-3, there's a rule that each "inch" denoted for movement and spell effects means 10 feet indoors, but 10 yards (30 feet) outdoors. That's a rather enormous change; consider the fireball spell at scale 4" diameter. This effect is kept explicitly in the extensive list of spells in Gygax's mass-combat Swords & Spells rules for D&D; e.g. on p. 12 there's an example of a fireball catching 8 figures of orcs (80 individual orcs) in its area.

But then with Dragon #15 Gygax made a large theoretical shift; here he decided that rule didn't make sense for areas, and instead we should read 1" = 10 feet for all spell areas of effect, whether indoors or outdoors. He calls this one of "the most obvious precepts", and heaps scorn on any player who would seek an advantage from the DM to rule otherwise. This then becomes a rule which is expressed thereafter in screechy all-caps in Dragon, the 1E AD&D PHB (p. 39), the D&D Expert rulebook, and so forth (p. X19).

From the 1E AD&D PHB

That said, a few counterarguments can be put forth: (a) For some high-level large-scale spells, the adjustments makes the area so small as to be effectively useless in mass-combat situations (e.g., hallucinatory terrain, massmorph, move earth, lower water, etc.). (b) If this precept is so laughably obvious, then why did Gygax himself miss it entirely when preparing the several pages worth of spell statistics in Swords & Spells? (c) Further on in the 1E AD&D PHB, why is Gygax again asserting a switch in scale for the part water spell (p. 51)?

So this is certainly one of those areas where there's a great opportunity for a schism, about whether one chooses to honor the later rules adjustment or not. The survey on the ODD74 Discussion forum shows a 2:1 ratio in favor of following the revised rule; a significant majority, but far from unanimous. This is clearly one of those areas where the systemic "distortions" that Gygax speaks of (see Dragon #15, and also his Warriors of Mars text) create a practically irremovable fault line in the system; there is no perfect fix, especially if we seek both gameable man-to-man and mass combat action. What are your thoughts?

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  1. Schism is a good word for what an argument like this would be for we are relying upon received wisdom from a source which so many folks consider unassailably authoritative.

    My take on the 1” = 1” regardless of scale: this is a gaming conceit. The players had stencils of a certain real size and used them inside and outside. That means they covered more in-game area outdoors.

    My take on the change to standard areas: Gary was fiddling with stuff and thought it would be more fun to stay consistent. All of this stuff is just made up for fun. We know he changed rules around all the time as he gained experience over the decades. Sometimes he suggested things that he probably hadn’t tested, eg 80% of Unearthed Arcana.

    My conclusion is: don’t take it so serious. Okay it how you like and don’t look back. And if you feel like it, try it the other way in the next campaign.

  2. I didn't answer the poll because it's honestly not applicable for me, since I do all combat - whether indoors or outdoors - on a scale of 1" = 5 feet because that's what works well with the miniatures I own. And on top of that, I started with AD&D 2nd Edition, which dispensed with the scale inches in spell descriptions and gives the actual feet or yards, so I'm accustomed to using the real measurements and converting into squares myself.

    1. I also use a real-minis-and-tabletop scale of 1" = 5 feet. When I think about mass combat, it exacerbates the fact that some top-end spells (hallucinatory terrain, move earth) get really small at the bigger scale, so partly I wanted to see if it was customary to expand it in that case. (Otherwise I have a problem with those spells in the mass combat game.)

      Also this was a bit of a sly attempt on my part to see how fundamentalist the "LBBS have no errors" camp really was.

  3. I've gone by the 1981 expert set rules for years, which keeps the AoE the same both indoors and out. That being said I find many of the spells in B/X to be rewritten in a better fashion than they appear in AD&D.

    For example, hallucinatory terrain has no area of effect: the illusionary terrain must simple be within range of the spell (240', which one might presume to increase to 240 yards in the outdoors). Part water has a set area of 120' (40 yards) which is good enough for crossing a narrow part of a river or stream.

    I'm inclined to default back to B/X whenever other editions fail to satisfy my sense of the sensible.
    ; )

    1. It's a very strong ruleset, and in the last week or so (partly because of this issue) I wavered once again on going back to B/X as my default ruleset. But there are enough Greyhawk-isms I'd prefer not to use (table-based XP awards, d8 hit dice, high ability score mods, no mix-and-match multiclassing, etc..) that it still makes me land (narrowly) on the side of OD&D.

      Their edits to spells are so good every time I look there. I wish those guys had been empowered editors for the AD&D project.

    2. *sigh* Yeah.

      I've started digging into AD&D as a rule set recently and have found I really like many of its "Advanced-isms," including the combat system as written (with its 1 minute rounds and segments and fiddlyness) and because of THAT I really appreciate the casting times and component break-downs. But a lot of those spells (as you've discussed in prior "Spells through the Ages" posts) could stand to be re-written, if only for clarity.

  4. When in doubt, our group used to go to the Gold Box games (Pool of Radiance et al) to figure out the rules. In those games fireballs affect fewer enemies when outside, so we went with the revised rule.