Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Two or Three Figures Fighting Side by Side"

Over on Jeff's Gameblog, he asks if we've been doing minis wrong, and quotes a portion of page 10 of the AD&D 1E DMG (1979) that talks about three squares/figures per 10' wide corridor (i.e. 1" squares that represent 3.3' rather than 5'). This reminded me this idea goes all the way back to OD&D, Vol 3 (1974), where we see:

"There can be places where 300 Hobgoblins dwell, but how many can come abreast down a typical passage in the dungeons? Allow perhaps 3 in a ten foot wide passage, and the balance will either be behind the front rank or fanning out to come upon the enemy by other routes" (page 12, underlining is found in the original text)

Holmes included an interpretation of this idea in the manuscript for Basic (1977), which Gygax left unchanged as published: 
"Characters can be attacked by more than one opponent at a time; the Dungeon Master should be guided by the actual placement of the figures on a paper sketch or on the table in deciding how many opponents can engage as melee starts, always keeping in mind the dimensions of the dungeon itself. One would not expect to get more than two or three figures fighting side by side in a ten foot corridor, for example" (page 20 of the published rulebook; I covered this text in Part 16 but didn't note the original source for this rule).

Holmes possibly went with "two or three" based on the weapon length limitations presented in Greyhawk (1975). For example, a battle axe "requires not less than 4' of space on each side of wielder" per the table on page 15. Update: Holmes may also have been influenced by the rule in Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) that Jeff discusses at the end of his post, which allows for 1-4 characters depending on weapon size.

Finally, in the Keep on the Borderlands (1980), which came out after the 1E DMG, Gary elaborates on the "two or three" rule:
"In a standard 10’ wide corridor, the most common arrangement is two adventurers, side by side, in each rank; however, three characters could occupy a single rank if all of their weapons were small (such as daggers and hand axes)" (page 5; this text is found in both the original version for Holmes, and the revised version for Moldvay Basic).

Moldvay Basic (1981) itself, however, simplifies the rule to "Different marching orders may be used when opening doors, searching rooms, fighting combat, and so forth. The most common marching order is to explore in a column of two-by-two though this may vary in corridors of different width" (pg B19).


  1. I would point out that all of these numbers are absurdly high. It takes a lot of room to wield a sword effectively, a lot more than 3-5ft. Even more room for a spear.

    Ten feet is probably a good minimum width for *one* swordsman.

  2. Ancient Roman and Hellenistic drill books suggested a frontage of around 3 feet per heavy infantry man. That's big shields, spears and/or short swords.

    That would fit 3 men in a ten foot corridor. 2 would be appropriate for amateurs, and people using longswords and other slashing weapons.

  3. I argue that this is a symptom of (a) Gary being negligent on properly setting scale in man-to-man Chainmail and D&D Vol-1, and (b) actually abandoning use of minis once he started playing D&D (so everything he wrote from that point was untested conjectures).


  4. I am highly suspicious of that three foot figure. It's at the least being taken totally out of context.

    You can't make any basic defense without stepping off line, and you can't do that if you're jammed in shoulder to shoulder.

    If you can't defend yourself, you can't fight.