Movement and Combat Rounds in OD&D

User Tegres over on Discord asked, how I handle movement in combat rounds in OD&D. And what about shooting bows?

Surely, when it comes to OD&D, these are the most commonly discussed rules questions.

What’s in the rules?

The original rules contain various hints at how movement and combat rounds should be adjudicated, and all of them seem to be somewhat contradictory. On page 15 of Vol. I Men & Magic we learn:

Light Foot Movement12″
Heavy Foot Movement9″
“Armed” Foot Movement (shouldn’t it read “armored”?) 6″
Movement categories in OD&D

So e.g. a Heavy Footmen, that would be a fighter in chainmail with sword and shield, has an assigned movement of 9 inch – 9 inch on the tabletop that is. But 9″ per what? In what time? Once per turn? … but wait, yes! Further down the page we’re presented with the example of an Armored (sic!) Footman moving 6″/turn. It’s per turn! … so that seems settled.

On page 8 of Vol. III The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures the reader is informed that:

“In the underworld all distances are in feet, so wherever distances are given in inches, convert them to tens of feet

So 9″ would be 90 feet in the dungeon. Alright, sounds familiar, especially if you know your B/X rules.

“Movement (distances given in Vol. I) is in segments of approximately ten minutes … ”


“Two moves constitute a turn.”

Wow, moves/movement, segements, turns … I’m confused. But let’s note: 1 turn is approximately 10 minutes. Now let’s close in on the combat round:

“Melee is fast and furious.”

Hell yeah! let’s get to it!

“There are ten rounds of combat per turn”

Ah, here it is. From this statement it’s commonly derived that one combat round would thus be one minute long. But do the authors explicitly say so? Single combat rounds could be much shorter than a minute, or much longer, only on average ten combat rounds amount to one turn, or ten minutes – at least that’s the freedom I’d like to take in this case. Surely everyone needs to catch his breath after 10 rounds of combat …

Regarding distances in the wilderness we finally find on page 17 of Vol. III:

“inches convert to tens of yards for the wilderness”

And that’s it. Other than that, when it comes to combat rules, OD&D refers to Chainmail, a miniatures rules set published in 1971. There simply is no clear statement what distance a character might cover within one combat round.

How about Common Sense?

How far can a human move within one minute? A quick search gives me these estimates:

Pacekm/hm/smeters/minute (“combat round”)
commonly achievable speeds of human-sized bipeds

O.k., wait … so while a real world human walking at a leisurely pace will cover 60 meters per minute, the hero of our beloved fantasy realm – even when unencumbered – will only cover little more than half the distance? – given that 12″ should convert to 120 feet or 36 meters by OD&D standards … this is kind of embarassing.

So no way could movement per combat round (1 minute?) be meant as one 10th of the movement per turn (10 minutes). It has to be one “move” per combat round. But even that is slow, as we just figured out.

On the other hand, provided we’re using the common scale of 5′ or 1.5 m per square, if the distance covered in one combat round would actually be 36 meters, that would convert to 24 squares per round. Since my battlemap is 21 x 25 squares large, an unencumbered character could essentially cover all of the battlemap within one round of combat. How does this even make sense?

Let’s face it: one minute combat rounds are ridiculous!

But then again, 10 minutes for a fight of some 10 combat rounds? with all the give and take, readying of weapons, short breaks of combatants circling each other, panting with exhaustion, wounded combatants being taken care of, spells prepared and cast … Isn’t that, what the original rules really intent?

So what do I make of this? (TLDR)

I think the most essential information on movement in OD&D is in the values given in tabletop inches! It’s the first information given in the rules, and I’m convinced it should be read as the principal information.

A heavy footman moves 9 tabletop inches per combat round. period.

So combatants move some 6 to 12 squares on the battlemap. That’s playable and thus – for me – makes sense.

How far said distance actually is narratively, depends on the scale that’s currently in use. In narrow dungeon hallways, characters might be moving a couple of meters per round, in the outdoors a heavy footman might cover almost 100 meters per combat round – still well within the bounds of real world human speed. In an aerial combat, flying mounts might cover hundreds of meters. It depends on the scale that narratively makes sense.

After 10 combat rounds about 10 minutes will have passed. That’s that. Stop worrying!

Now, what about the bows?

OD&D gives us no clue about this. In fact it gives us no information about the structure of combat rounds at all, not even about initiative.

I’ve written about the structure of combat rounds before. Basically, I interpret the rules given like this: in each round a character may move it’s designated move in tabletop inches and have the chance to achieve one relevant success pertaining to the combat. That is: one roll to hit. For archers I rule, that they may roll twice to hit, if they decide to forfeit their movement. Casting magic takes time. Wizards may not move in any round they’re casting a spell.

Finally, while in our recently finished campaign we consistently used group initiative, since being a player in a Classic Traveller campaign, I have grown fond of simultaneous initiative. That is: no rolls for initiative at all, it’s a non-concept. There might be rolls for surprise (those are actually mentioned in OD&D!), then everyone rolls to hit once (or twice) per round, and even a dying character might still deliver a last damaging blow to his opponent. How cool is that?! Fast and furious!!