Jan 272012

Let’s take a minute and think about the good old 5 foot square. Since 3E came out we have used them to precisely calculate our movements in combat, used them to figure out how many goblins we hit with a fire ball or perhaps to decide if we get an attack of opportunity.  But have we ever really thought about just how big or small our five foot squares are?

I first really started to think about this a few weeks back when I was cooking up a map for my Sunday night game.  I had drawn a chamber that was 30 x 20 and realized that was a 600 square foot room. That is bigger than some of the apartments I have lived in.

I walked around the storage facility I work at this morning and snapped a few photos to put things in perspective.  So let’s see how big a five foot square really is.

The above picture is a 5 x 5 storage unit. You can see that there is room for one person to stand, but not enough to fully extend both arms. Think about this the next time you are fighting cave bears in a corridor that is 5 x 30. That would be one heck of a tight fit, swinging a blade while archers try to shoot around you.

Here we see the view from ten feet back in a five foot wide corridor looking at a large doorway. There is not much to see here, just a slice of the next corridor. On the other hand in the next image you can see just how much of the corridor you can see from the door.

In this image you get an idea of how little space you have to work with when there is an obstruction in your path. That pipe would make it hard to run down the corridor, especially in heavy armor with  swords and axes sticking out every which way.  Now think about that being a party member and you realize how generous being able to move through a friendly creatures square is in combat.

Last we look at a realistic small room. This is 10 x 15 with a 12 foot ceiling. This is the sort of space in which we might see a dungeon crawl encounter take place.  The space would fill up quickly with only a few Orks and the party.

There you have it, a visual guide to the 5 foot square and what it really looks like.

  5 Responses to “The Five Foot Square”

  1. Great post. Thanks. This discussion happens all the time I feel and it’s nice to have some good images for it.

  2. Earlier this week I wrote about Fantastic Locations and highlighted how the scene outside of my office window (a large concrete courtyard full of obstacles) would make for an excellent D&D fight. This is relevant to your post because the ground of the entire courtyard is filled with 5ft x 5ft squares. Check out the article and the pictures to get an idea of how people actually occupy a 5ft square.

  3. Interesting discussion, you should have people standing in the spaces, this would really help communicate the sense of scale.

  4. There is a lot of absurdity in D&D going back to when the game was brand new. The metaphor I use to describe the absurdity of a dungeon crawl is this: Imagine a high rise apartment block in the style built in big cities in the 1960s. Now imagine you are wearing full plate armor and going from room to room murdering the inhabitants with swords, crossbows and lightning bolts. The inhabitants of the place just sit tight, in their rooms, waiting for you to walk in and kill them. As you go higher up in the apartment building, the people get tougher to kill, for some reason. No one leaves their apartments. No one calls the police. No one does anything but sit patiently in their rooms, waiting for their doors to be broken down and get killed.

    Also, if you’ve ever been spelunking, imagine doing it in plate armor. It’s absurd. If you’ve ever been in an office cubicle, imagine swinging a two-handed sword in there. It’s absurd. If you’ve ever seen the TV show “Hoarders,” imagine going into a hoarded out house and swinging a flail around. It’s absurd. Medieval weapons were all designed to be used outside in open plains. Medieval armies didn’t even fight in forests, much less inside caves.

    • The metaphor I use to describe the absurdity of a dungeon crawl

      Actually you describe the absurdity of taking it seriously and thinking realism matters. It’s only a game. Do you consider chess absurd because there is only 2 knights? Or because the queen and bishops particiate in the war?

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