Swinging a sword at an orc is all well and good, but if your friend needs help, you have to be able to reach him. Moving to (or fleeing from) a foe, or seeking a position that gives tactical advantage, is part and parcel of fighting. In fact, an emphasis on footwork, distancing, and movement is one of the key parts of combat training in many styles.
I’d love to generalize to “most” or even “all,” but I’ve not trained in most or all styles. The ones I’ve studied and trained in emphasized footwork and movement, and I’ve not see that contradicted in my readings of other arts.
In the games, movement is important because (in the simplest of terms) it’s how one gets from fight to fight. Of course, there’s more to the game than fighting. Well, mostly. But getting into, and out of position can matter a great deal.
In any case, we’ll be looking at several facets of movement in the five selected games. Speed and acceleration drive the ability to position oneself on the battlefield (or battle map, as the case may be). The impact, if any, of posture on movement and action determine whether that’s important at all. Finally, we’ll look at several types of special movement, such as jumping, sprinting, and of course, the ever-popular chandelier-swinging.
Overland movement and hiking won’t be treated here; while important, they’re more key to large-scale strategic movement than the kinds of personal engagement that Violent Resolution treats. But while hiking isn’t treated, moving around under the influence of materialism – that is, while carrying mounds of equipment and loot – are examined to see if, and how, the games treat movement when loaded. With stuff.
Just to level-set things at the high end of human ability, let’s take a look not at Barry Allen, but the real fastest man alive, Usain Bolt.
Mr Bolt can cover 10m in about 1.9 seconds, and has a reaction time before his initial sprint of about 1/6 of a second. From a standing start, then, with no encumbrance, but with the knowledge that beatin’ feet is imminent, Bolt accelerates at about 2/3 of a gravity, about 6.6m/s^2. In one second, including reaction time, he’ll cover about 2.3m. His maximum velocity during his 100m race will be just over 27mph, or 13.5 yards/second. If we consider a six-second round common to RPGs, including his acceleration period, Usain can cover up to about 60 yards, or 180 feet, based on the split times in some of his more well-documented efforts. If we allowed maximum velocity for the entire trip (a terrible assumption given a standing start) he’d cover 240′.
That sets an upper limit on really fast humans, or if not an upper limit (given that high-level RPG “cinematic normal” characters can push this sort of world record), at least set the boundaries by which things start to raise eyebrows. On the slow end, anything less than about 20′ in a six-second round is getting quite pokey – that’s a treadmill set to about 2mph, an easy walking pace.
Comparing maximum sprint speeds is all well and good, but one of the kickers there is that such comparisons are usually made without the assumption that someone’s going to try to behead you at the end of your run, and that is all that matters is how far you run during that turn – that is, it assumes that you’ll still be running all-out at turn’s end.
For an RPG, this is a poor starting assumption. Characters often move around the map (if one is in use at all) like chess pieces, in discrete units. A D&D fighter might move 60′ in one round, sit still for two more, then a 30′ move, no move, and then first a 60′ dash followed by a 30′ action. Any of the movement contemplated in the prior example could have multiple melee attacks and defenses in any segment that does not include a “dash” action.
This means that if we use Usain’s notional acceleration (and again, it’s not constant – check out his velocity vs. time graph), ignoring reaction time, and force him to a standing stop at the end of a six-second round, he’ll cover less ground than an all-out sprint. If you trust my math and allow a few simplifying assumptions (0 reaction time, accelerate at 6.6m/s^2 to max velocity equal to 2x acceleration, then maintain for two seconds, then decelerate at same rate to a stop) this will cover about 170-175′, or about 28.8 feet per second.
Finally, the round length is critical here! If you allow a 10 second round on the same profile, 60% of the trip is at full velocity, and you’ll cover 350′ in ten seconds – 35′ per second. If you have to start and stop in the same second, even with Usain’s mighty limbs, you’ll cover less than two yards and never get even close to maximum velocity.
Getting around in D&D5 is done by taking either a move as part of another action, such as trying to beat the tar out of someone with an axe, or a Dash, which comprises two moves.
Most characters will have a base speed of 30′, which is the distance that can be covered in a six-second round. This speed is described as the creature’s walking pace, and that’s accurate – the average velocity here is about 3.5mph, which is a nice steady treadmill walking pace. A dash, then, is twice that speed, 20 yards per six seconds, or just shy of 7mph – elves can go a bit faster, at 8mph – roughly 1/3 of Usain’s top sprinting speed.
So no issues with “too fast,” though perhaps one with too slow at the upper end. If a normal human can walk 30′ and dash 60′, then Usain can sprint at 6x the walking pace (!), or 3x the dash pace. It would be a small thing to allow an all-out sprint at 4x the base rate, at some cost. Maybe you can’t do it if you’re carrying a shield or wearing more than light armor.
The game calls out crawling, which is moving when prone. The rules are worded oddly, but that’s because of how they interact with terrain modifiers – they’re additive, not multiplicative. Crawling adds an extra foot to the cost of moving a foot – in practice, on good terrain, you crawl at half your walking or dashing pace. “Difficult” terrain has the same modifier (adds a foot to the effective distance per foot travelled), so 10′ of crawling (adds +10′) through difficult terrain (adds another 10′) eats up the normal 30′ movement allowance. Other postures such as kneeling or crouching are below the resolution of the game – usually such a thing would be to take advantage of partial or total cover, and that provides its own bonus and rules.
You can do a standing long jump up to half your Strength score (so STR 10 is 5′), and with at least a 10′ runup you can broad jump double that distance – equal to your STR. Jumping over obstacles, you can do a running jump equal to 3′ plus your STR modifier – so 3′ for a STR 10 individual, and 8′ for STR 20. You can standing jump half that: 18″ for STR 10, and 48″ for STR 20 – and that 48″ vertical is actually a pretty good approximation of what people like Olympians Karch Kiraly and Eric Sato could do. Both of those guys were in the 40″ neighborhood, and the world record is something like 55″.
You can swim or climb roughly as fast as you can crawl.
As for banister-sliding and chandelier-swinging? Roll Dexterity (Acrobatics), I suppose! More seriously, such rolls should be allowed, as even someone like myself could do, with maybe a 15′ runup, a dive roll over a standing tumbling mat (5′ tall) without touching it. That might, for example, add your DEX modifier to the existing STR modifier – so that technique (DEX) reinforces power (STR).
The encumbrance rules are deliberately simple – in fact, they’re deliberately set at a weight (15x your STR until you hit your limit) that won’t be troublesome, and there’s no impact to load if you’re under this limit. A variant rule on the same page reduces move by 10′ if you’re in excess of 5xSTR in pounds, and 20′ if you’re in excess of 10xSTR (also, you have disadvantage to a whole passel of stuff – attacks, physical saving throws, and physical attribute checks, which includes all skill use).
The movement rate in Savage Worlds is called “Pace,” and its given in units of physical inches per second – but it’s inches on the tabletop. Savage Worlds is explicitly meant to be played with miniatures, and so movement is measured with inches on a game table or battlemat, and weapon ranges are given the same way.
That being said, a scale is given: two yards to the inch. So to be equivalent with the D&D measurement in feet, for comparison, distance moved is basically 6′ multiplied by your Pace. The round/turn length is equivalent to D&D as well, at six seconds each. So let’s see how movement compares.
Much like D&D, there isn’t much inherent variability in the Pace for player characters: humans start with a Pace of 6″, or 36′ per turn. If they run, they add another 1d6″ – an interesting choice. On the average, then, a running character will move about 57′ – pretty close to the D&D speed for a human using a Dash action – but it could be as low as 42′ and as high as 72′. This makes foot races somewhat interesting, and can actually mean that a chase between two characters of equal ability has tension to it.
Running and moving while crouching is given mechanical weight – half speed for doing either while crouching, in exchange for -1 to hit such a foe with a ranged attack. Crawling is done at a rate of 12′ (2″ on the tabletop), or 1/3 the normal Pace. In addition to either modifier, moving across Difficult Ground is done at half speed. There is an Edge that can grant another +2 to the basic Pace, increasing base movement to 48′ per round, and max speed to 84′. That’s faster than most D&D characters, but still not out of bounds.
Jumping distances are fixed – a horizontal jump of 6′ standing, 12′ with a running start, and up to another 6′ for either one with a successful Strength roll. Swimming isn’t explicitly treated in the rules.
Note: there’s an erratum in my Deluxe rules hardcover, which lists Encumbrance on p. 17 in the index; at least in my book it’s p. 49.
Each 5lbs. times the die type for your Strength score gives a load limit, which should really be thought of as a load increment, and passing each increment gives a -1 penalty to Agility and Strength tests and totals. So there is a gradual decrease in ability as you carry more weight – but it does not impact Pace. You may not normally accept more than a -3 penalty, which means that your true load limit is roughly 20 lbs multiplied by your die type (for a d6 Strength, your first 30 lbs. are no penalty, and you’ll hit -4, and therefore your limit, at 120 lbs.).
In GURPS your move is equal to the truncated value of your Basic Speed (if your Basic Speed is 5.75, your unencumbered Move is 5). This gives your movement allowance in yards when taking a Move or Move and Attack maneuver. It is, therefore, basically equal to a character’s maximum combat speed in yards per second. Typical unencumbered heroes will have Move from 5-8 (often 5-6), and therefore will be able to move 15-18 feet per second. This equates nominally, in the six-second rounds common to the previous two games, to about 90-110′ per D&D/Savage Worlds combat round. This is much, much faster (by almost 50%) than either game . . . and yet because so many actions can happen during the six full turns that is the GURPS equivalent time span, from a players’ perspective it can seem like forever to reach a fallen friend being menaced by a bloodthirsty adversary.
As noted in the introduction, almost anything that happens on a one-second timescale is going to be limited to about 2 yards of movement – basically 4′ of travel at 0.5g acceleration (Bolt’s is 0.66g), and 8′ at 1g – in other words, from a yard to two yards. One would have to accelerate at about 1.12g in order to eke three yards out of the movement . . . which is actually a higher acceleration than the Indy Car used to look at if a human could outrun one at sufficiently short distances.
That being said, the maximum velocities allowed in the game are really only 20% higher than the basic movement rate, which means that in order to hit Bolt’s real-world speed of about 13.5 yards per second, his “Basic Move” needs to be higher than 11 (!). Further, to move that quickly, the character takes a flat -4 to attack, and no matter what other penalties are assigned, the maximum skill may not exceed 9 (meaning you’re hitting just shy of 40% of the time in the very best case). These maximum speeds require more than one second of movement – your can hit your Move on your first turn, and subsequent turns thereafter you may claim a Sprint bonus of 20% of your (encumbered) Move.
Mostly, in combat characters will be taking a Step (1 yard) with an Attack maneuver, two Steps with Committed Attack, or up to half your Move (mostly two steps, maybe 3 for some) with an All-Out Attack that relinquishes all active defenses. From that perspective, the movement rates for actual combat motion are fairly accurate. It’s just when Move and Attack or Move are selected one turn, and then the following turn no motion is elected, that things start to get weird.
GURPS covers movement while in a deep crouch (2/3 normal), as well as kneeling and crawling (1/3 normal, similar to Savage Worlds), as well as movement while lying down (1 yard/sec). Characters swim at 1/5 their Basic Move. Posture is also paired with penalties when attacking and defending, as well as a penalty to hit you if you’re the target of a ranged attack.
While GURPS provides for special movement like jumping and sprinting was covered above, the point-buy system that is used for character building contains enormous flexibility to modify movement to more or less anything the player and GM can agree on. Horses, for example (or Centaurs), will often take a level of Enhanced Move, which basically treats the Move as an acceleration and gives you more than one multiple for speed. So with Move 6, you can hit max normal speed of 6 yards per second in your first turn. With Move 6, Enhanced Move 1, your top speed is doubled to 12 yards per second, but it will take you two seconds of acceleration to get there.
More mundane is the direct altering of Basic Move, at a fairly low price of 5 points per additional yard per second – and given what encumbrance does to Move, this can be important.
The more you carry, the slower you go, and the more seriously your Dodge score is impacted. Your strength determines a “Basic Lift” score, and at certain multiples of Basic Lift (1, 2, 3, 6, 10) you start to feel the impact on your Move and Dodge. Joe Average, with ST 10, has a 20-lb basic lift – so not much gear, really – and will take a -1 to Dodge and a 20% reduction in move if carrying between 20 and 40 lbs. Lift is quadratic in ST, though, so at ST 14, you basically double these amounts.
The penalty to Move at high load-to-ST ratio can get nasty, especially when chasing down fallen comrades. If the character is burdened with heavy armor, a shield, and a heavy weapon, loads can hit 60-80 lbs. pretty quickly in fantasy games, and looking at the potential gear list for US troops as deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom shows combat loads in that same range, with “emergency approach” loads of 110-150 lbs. depending on the specialty. Even a ST 12 guy with a 30-lb. Basic Lift is in Medium encumbrance (0.6xMove, -2 to Dodge) with the combat load there, and well into Heavy with the all-in loadout (0.4 x Basic Move, and -3 to Dodge). Even the normally fleet of foot (Move 6) is dropped to Move 2-3 at those levels, making movement only slightly (if at all) more swift than using the Steps allowed during a Committed Attack. The extra yard per second of move can offset this, if purchased, making it a pretty liberating point spend.
The other three games are overtly tactical. They might not be physically played on a map in some cases, but the assumption tends to be real-world distances: inches on a battlemat, feet or yards from a foe. At worst, one might wave the hands a bit and declare “range bands” as Night’s Black Agents does with firearms ranges. Still, given that you’ve established that folks are about 300′ away from each other, you know that it will take – depending on the game system – 20-30 seconds to purposefully cross that distance.
Fate, being even more abstract, does not have fixed units of speed or distance. Instead, it divides the combat into “zones,” which are of a resolution large enough to contain many fighters but small enough to meaningfully divide a large combat space into segments.
Sound fuzzy? It is, since it’s entirely situational, but that becomes very clear when a GM sketches out the zones of interest on a piece of paper or VTT, or even simply describes them for the players’ edification.
Crossing zones is not a matter of hexes or feet of movement. It’s usually a matter of Overcoming an Obstacle – a test against either a GM-set difficulty number or, if opposed, the foe’s appropriate skill. This includes special movement as well – jumping is almost a classic Overcome action.
As with most things in Fate, such things as posture will be handled by temporary Aspects that can be invoked to represent the difficulty in crossing a zone. It would not be out of the question for the GM to define one or more Terrain or Environmental Aspects that would “actively” oppose movement by characters within that zone, or treating the environment as a character, which can spend a limited quantity of Fate Points, or accrue free invocations if the terrain “succeeds with style” in opposing player movement.
As with everything in Fate Core, if it’s not an Aspect, Extra, or Stunt, it’s fluff. That’s not a slam, it’s a restatement of the Fate Fractal – you can treat anything in the game as if it were a character. If it’s important, a character might take the Aspect “Loaded like a Pack Mule,” which would be invoked against any Overcome actions that involved physical stunting. On the other hand, the player of that character might be able to invoke that same Aspect to procure a needed piece of gear at just the right moment: “Oh, I just happened to have a spare set of surveying tools with me; after all, one doesn’t carry this much gear without a certain amount of preparedness and forethought!”
It would be simple, and somewhat accurate, to merely state that NBA does not treat movement. And to a certain extent, this is true. There are no zones discussed, as with Fate, and certainly there are no movement allowances in yards per anything.
But that would also be misleading, because the focus of the game is on the action thriller genre, and from that perspective, Jack Bauer can cross LA in rush hour traffic in as little or as much time as the plot requires. If two combatants need to be in the same scene, they are. If they’re not and want to be, they can invoke the rules (and that usually involves spending points from a relevant pool) to Jump In. Movement is implied and implicit, and if you spent the points, you managed to get where you needed to be.
In addition, it is a thriller, and the game provides a useful mechanic for chases. The GM establishes a Lead, and the chaser and quarry spend points and make die rolls until the lead drops to 0, in which case the quarry is caught – or at least caught up with – or it increases to 10, and the pursuit is lost. This rule could also be invoked as a barrier to Jumping In, where instead of Lead each group of fighters have a Separation, and moving from fight to fight (or, in Fate terms, zone to zone) requires expenditure of an appropriate total number of points or successful die rolls.
Posture is a description, encumbrance does not feature in thrillers much. The only nod given to special movement would be an Athletics test. Certainly difficulty numbers might be increased for certain tests by 1 or so if the GM decided it was dramatically appropriate because the PC was particularly burdened with gear (specified or unspecified), but that would be an in-play determination, not something where wordcount has been spent to draw out rules or even guidelines.
The size of the fight is not the size of the tabletop or the mapboard. It’s how far the players can cover to either engage a new enemy or come to the aid of a friend – especially if combat happens, more often than not, at arm’s length. GURPS movement rates in absolute time are faster, even for average characters, than those in both Savage Worlds and D&D. But where a D&D character might spend six seconds to move 60′, while each of his friends and allies act once, a GURPS character with Move 5 will require four seconds to cover that distance . . . and therefore each friend and ally will act four times. Subjectively, then, the players may well feel that GURPS movement is slow relative to other games, because they’re denied agency (which is shorthand in this case for ‘usefully beating the snot out of things”) for a longer time.
In my own experience, I found this true – movement from one local skirmish to another seemed agonizingly slow, and at least my groups have suffered from the “rush in where angels fear to tread” syndrome – high movement rates and widely dispersed vectors with no thought to formations or mutually supporting tactics. Given how GURPS can punish such action, I’m surprised we didn’t have to generate new characters more frequently.
This can be mitigated by ranged fire to some extent, and guns and even bows can provide a withering deterrent for such distance-closing action. Whereas a foe can rush up to a D&D character and be in his face pretty rapidly, the GURPS character can not only loose arrows or shoot bullets two to four times minimum, they may also be able to retreat while doing so, buying them more time to shoot while still out of range. So that can cut both ways.
The more abstract method used by Fate (and to a lesser extent, Night’s Black Agents, if only implicitly) of dividing combat into Zones pairs well with the lack of specific time per round. It requires an adept GM, but with the right focus, closing a long distance between a fighter that prefers melee and his ranged-combat assailant can be represented by either an appropriate number of zones of separation, a high difficulty to cross between zones (representing all of time, distance, and terrain), or both.
Always in motion is the future, and your character won’t have one if the right movement strategies aren’t used to defeat your foes. Whether it’s grouping together for mutual defensive and offensive support (especially key for many-on-one fights common to fantasy RPGs), getting into, or staying out of trouble, how the game rules treat movement will dictate how you do it, and whether you bother to try. A game where movement is too difficult creates a fairly static situation. Once you defeat your local foes, you’re effectively frozen in place and, for the time being, your game is over. A game where too much movement is allowed with no opportunities to respond can create similar issues, where local superiority cannot be effectively leveraged because more foes can suddenly “teleport” in with no recourse. D&D does try to deal with this with various rules for Attacks of Opportunity, but there are still situations where movement can occur and the players are left thinking “but surely I could have done something.”
Ultimately, movement is used for critical tactical purposes in D&D, GURPS, and Savage Worlds. It is used mostly for narrative purposes in Fate and Night’s Black Agents. Given the intended play styles of each game, this is not surprising. Unless you failed your perception check. Alas.