Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Wilderness Movement Rates with Cook/Marsh Expert D&D

I’ve been terrified of wilderness adventures my entire life. I could always grasp the basic concept of a dungeon adventure… but the sections in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide just completely boggled me. I really wanted to have something that could put the Rangers and the Druids on center stage, but it’s really one of those dream sessions that never had much chance of materializing. Even with the Mentzer Expert Set I had to go a long with my Moldvay Basic Set back when I was a kid, I was completely lost. Isle of Dread looked liked something that was completely impossible to run at the time…. Well… let’s see if it makes any sense today.

In the Caves of Chaos, the players generally weren’t going to clean out more than one cave at a time. Most of the time, they just died or else left some poor adventurer in the kobalds’ pit trap. Encumbrance was easy enough to handwave. And those iron rations everybody buys… they never really needed much more than a sack lunch for their day trip to the caves. Well… they did have to camp out on the way, but still… it was never enough to merit tracking especially given the death rates.

Anyways, the movement rates on page X2 are clearly laid out. Even better… they are broken down in an easy-to-handwave manner– each armor type has its own movement rating per turn, combat rates per round, and running rate per round. Not spelled out on the chart is the fact that in wilderness situations, those feet tick marks suddenly are treated as yards. (I’m not sure who thought that was a good idea, but the net effect of that choice is for me not to trust any distance or rate figures I see anywhere.)

But let’s work through an example to make sure how this works. Consider a guy with plate armor. His movement rate is 60 feet per turn in the dungeon. He moves 60 yards per turn in the wilderness– 180 feet! If he needs to run… well… that’s 60 yards per round. (And no, I can’t remember how many rounds there are in a turn without looking it up in my Moldvay Basic book¹.) It says on page X20, “pursuit speed is equal to 3 times  the combat speed of the character.” Thankfully, the rules then (via an example) indicate that you can use the running speeds from the chart on page X2… you just need to convert them into yards during a wilderness situation. Confusing as heck, but I guess I’ve got it now.

So… our guy in plate armor encounters a stegosaurus and decides to run away. The stegosaurus and the guy in plate armor can both run at rate of 60 yards per round in the wilderness. Who tires out first? Well… there’s no rules for that here. Our guy will presumably come to a bamboo forest of great density that the stegosaurus can’t move into while the plate mail guy rests– if you have a lenient dungeon master that is. (What are the odds of that?) If you want that same sort of dead-even, neck-and-neck chance to escape a tyrannosaurus rex, you need to be completely unencumbered and not wearing armor!

Well… I have to say, D&D’s impossible-to-understand movement rules are the number one reason I never got a true wilderness adventure off the ground back in the day. Cook and Marsh nearly lost me with their thing on pursuit speeds. If they hadn’t known to make a clarifying example, there is no way I could have been sure what the rules really meant. I’m not sure of the origin of the abominable way Gygax put movement rates in inches in the AD&D Player Handbook²… but eliminating them was a major improvement in terms of clarity. The fact that Cook and Marsh provide a chart of movement rates in miles per day on page X20 is also a great mercy. (Gygax had the strange rule-of-thumb that you moved your inches in miles in a half-day of travel.)

It’s no wonder I was able to run the adventures that appeared in Autoduel Quarterly back in the day even when failing to run just about everything else. In Car Wars combat, in each one second combat turn you move one inch (15 feet in game distance) per 10 mph of speed. Interstate travel has specify your speed in miles per hour… and it is easy enough to figure out how far you travel (and whether or not the cops try to pull you over.) This is one more reason why people often ended up playing Car Wars when they did not have a Dungeon Master available to run D&D for them.

¹ Turns are 10 minutes long and rounds are 10 seconds long. This information is not in the glossary of Moldvay Basic. On page B23, it states the following (almost cruelly): “To help prevent DMs and players from becoming confused, the word turn should always be used for normal movement, while the word round should only be used for encounters and combat.” Sorry… this is still the most confusing aspect of D&D, even after getting cleaned up for B/X.

² I assume it is yet another vestigial artifact left over from Chainmail.


4 responses to “Wilderness Movement Rates with Cook/Marsh Expert D&D

  1. Alex J. February 4, 2013 at 10:16 am

    The inch thing is for tabletop use of miniatures.

    • jeffro February 4, 2013 at 10:23 am

      *cough* Chainmail *cough*

      Weird how most groups in the eighties played without miniatures. Even the session run for the 60 Minutes segment was like that.

  2. Aaron February 4, 2013 at 11:09 am

    If I ever made my own retro-clone (ha!) I’d probably convert movement to some simple die roll. +1 for being fast, -1 for being slow, etc. You seldom need to know exactly how far you can move if you’re not using mapped combat.

    Oh, and AD&D actually had two sets of outdoor movement rates. There was a completely different one in the DMG. The rules in the PHB actually match the ones in the basic rules.

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