... now with 35% more arrogance!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Paces and Squares

I've long wanted a way to describe distances on dungeon maps that is not tied to a standard measurement system.

This may sound crazy, but think about it: the overwhelming majority of dungeon modules use feet as a standard measurement, because D&D was made in the US and the US uses the Imperial or Customary system of measurement. You can't just switch to the metric system, because:

  • Everyone else is using a different system and it makes your product non-standard,
  • Game systems refer to the Imperial system units, not metric,
  • Metric just doesn't feel right in the context of a pseudomedieval setting, although it works great for sci-fi.
But on the other hand, the system we use makes no sense to those who aren't used to it. It's not relatable to their experience.

One solution is to use yards and meters interchangeably. You wouldn't want to do that in the real world, of course, but for a game, they are close enough that it's perfectly fine for people to pick the most comfortable and just use that.

That works for heights, but not so well for either long distances (travel) or short distances (dungeon maps.) For the former, I've already switched to giving distances in leagues, which are not exact, but translate into one hour of travel, so it's relatable. For the latter, though, typical dungeon maps use 10-foot squares (or 5-foot squares, for new school people.) That doesn't translate well into either yards or meters.

What I'm thinking of doing is using paces as my unit of dungeon distance. Like leagues, paces are not exact, but are based on human scale measurements: the length of one step. The "standard" pace is 2.5 feet, which makes the traditional old school dungeon square 4 paces.

It makes sense, because anyone doing mapping in a dark dungeon is going to be pacing out the distances, anyways, rather than using rulers or surveying equipment.


  1. I like it. The black hack, which I like, uses an abstracted system where things are describes as being nearby or far etc, but this is a nice middle ground between abstraction and accurate mapping.

    1. I was extremely tempted to measure other things in cubits, with the typical human being about 4 cubits tall, but I was afraid that would be going too far.

  2. What a brilliant idea! I shall be stealing this lock, stock and barrel!

  3. yards and meters are one pace
    lots of old measures based on human proportions and useful lengths
    miles varied in length all over uk till Elizabeth first standardised mile

    1. Yep, I taught myself to visualise in empirical (grew up in Oz- metric) to understand D&D. My players often baulked at it but a yard is so close to a metre it doesn't matter.

      And guess what, those foot long rulers you guys use in "elementary school" are the same size as the 30 centimetre rulers we grow up using in "primary school"... So it's not really an issue I've found playing in Oz, with Britons, in Singapore with locals & expats...

      A metre is basically a yard & a foot is like a 30cm ruler...

      A pace is a human metric but people aren't actually used to thinking in it, so it adds a layer of abstraction really as they adjust to a new term.

  4. Notably, a Roman pace is two steps, or roughly five feet, or one "new school" square. Which is one of the reasons I now map in new school squares.

    Also worth noting that a Roman mile is 1000 Roman paces/squares, if you ever need to convert that sort of thing.