Exploration speed

Recently, in a game, we tried to make haste, because a spell was running out in X rounds. So we moved, but it seemed we did not make any real progress, and the spell slipped away before we got anywhere. Then we met a lot of enemies and had to run away. We crawled back through the tunnels at [character movement speed], while the monsters chased us at [monster movement speed]. That is not unfair (both sides being very slow), just narratively unsatisfying.

And it reminded me of some debate on Discord a while back, where someone calculated through all this, and I will now try to re-hash what he or she said.
Standing on the shoulders of giants, basically, taking note of their ramblings.

The topic is speed. Especially, speed in dungeons, and in overland travel.

To move for a turn

Unencumbered, as a normal person like you and me, in Dungeons & Dragons, a person can move 120 feet in a turn. 120 feet is not a whole lot. To say it in the metric system, it is 36 and a half meters. An exploration turn lasts 10 minutes.

In other words, moving for an hour, an unencumbered dungeoneer makes 720 feet, or 220 meters. On a workday, walking for 8 hours, he makes 5760 feet, or 1755 meters, otherwise known as one mile.

What, you might ask, ONE mile in a DAY? Was Gygax crazy?

Well, exploration.

We assume a dungeon. Exploration speed assumes that the party explores fresh and hostile territory, expecting traps, monsters, falling boulders, and minding uneven flagstones, spiderwebs, not to speak of, trying to be silent in order to attract no undue attention from creepy denizens of the deep. Adventurers go SLOOOOOW.

That is why the 120 feet per turn rule makes sense going forward in dangerous new territory, but not a lick of sense walking back through already explored places. Neither does it make any sense if characters try to move quickly to capitalize on a spell duration, as in the earlier example, nor if they are walking leisurely under the sun from farmstead A to village B.

Overland travel

Gygax, Arneson, Moldvay & all their friends did know that, and that is why there is a separate Overland Travel speed in old rulebooks.

Overland travel, following B/X, is Exploration speed divided by five, but in miles.

An unencumbered person who just strolls through the fields will make 24 miles in a day. in other words, the they are 24 times faster than they would be exploring a dungeon, and that is not even running, that is hiking.

Dividing the hiking speed down to turns would give us a speed of no less than 2640 feet per turn!!
Compare that to the 120 feet of careful examination in the earlier example. 2640 feet are half a mile in 10 minutes, or 805 meters. That is roughly between 5 and 6 kilometers per hour, actual normal walking speed.

In other words, if a party explored a dungeon, and then after an hour Timmy the Cleric says, “I go back to the horses and fetch the flask of oil.”, then his trip back to the horse and to the party again, through already cleared rooms, takes him 1440 feet. He will be back in just 6 minutes, including some quick chat with the hirelings who are outside minding the horses.

And if the party decides to spend the night outside with the team, they can just walk back out in the evening, no need to make it an agonizing bullet time crawl. Known territory is a cakewalk!

Combat Speed

What about running? What if the party needs that flask of oil desperately because they are fighting off some foe that is vulnerable to fire? Timmy must run!

Is that combat speed?
B/X gives combat speed as exploration turn feet divided by three, in feet! – but inside a combat round.

That means, instead of 120 feet in 10 minutes, Timmy the cleric can run 40 feet (or 12 meters) in 6 to 10 seconds. (Ignore this if you play with 1-minute combat rounds, obviously. In 1 minute, let Timmy run all the way to the next Inn to recruit more fighters. [I jest, I jest!!] )

Not exactly Usain Bolt, but Usain Bolt did not carry a sword and backpack either.

To return to our Timmy-example the round trip to the horses and back was 1440 feet. Timmy can run that in 36 combat rounds, or 216 seconds = 4 minutes, if we include a quick rifling through the saddlebags.
Not much faster than a normal walk. That is not really running speed, it is combat speed: How far a PC moves during a fight, minding enemy arrows and blades. He moves faster than during a walk, but it is not yet running.

9 minutes a mile

A typical running speed would cover a mile in 9 minutes. That is 5867 feet in 10, or roughly 10 feet a second, or 60 feet in 6 seconds (18 m or 20 yds).

That is half the exploration turn feet within one combat round.

If we assume that Timmy will not only run, but sprint (he does not want to leave his friends alone too long!) we could give him not only half, but two thirds of his exploration turn feet within a combat round, that would be 80 feet (24 m) in six seconds, taking him just 2 minutes or 18 combat rounds to speed out of the dungeon, to the horses, and back the battle. Perceivably faster than a mere walk, and worlds faster than exploration — and wouldn’t you know, it is just the speed of fleeing units routed from the battlefield!

Which tells us that the game designers of old did not just pull out some random numbers out of thin air –they pioneered quite a similar train of thought than this one, and that the feet counts in those old rule books still stand the test of time.

The need for speed

For us GMs, DMs, judges or whatever we want to call the role, it pays to remind ourselves what exploration speed means, and that if characters say they are going faster, we should not tie them down to the same speed that applies to those who carefully tap the flagstones with their staffs. We should give them options to move faster.

Here is a handy overview to make this easier:

Exploration – 10 minutes

  • 120 feet / 36,5 m
  • 90 feet / 27,4 m in leather
  • 60 feet / 18,3 m in metal

Overland – a day

  • 24 miles / 40 km
  • 18 miles / 30 km in leather
  • 12 miles / 20 km in metal

Combat – 6 secs

  • 40 feet / 12 m
  • 30 feet / 9 m in leather
  • 20 feet / 6 m in metal

Running – 6 secs

  • 60 feet / 18 m
  • 45 feet / 14 m in leather
  • 30 feet / 9 m in metal

Sprinting – 6 secs

  • 80 feet / 26 yrds / 24 m
  • 60 feet / 20 yrds / 18 m in leather
  • 40 feet / 13 yrds / 12 m in metal

Image: Aidan Jarrett, Songchai Kongkamsri, Digital Buggu on Pexels

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