C Series • #4
How far away is that building? Is that monster close enough to hit with thrown or projectile weapon? Are you far enough away to avoid the dragon’s breath? Is the derelict ship within the maximum reach of a starfighter’s scanners? These questions can be answered by considering the game mechanic known as range. Also known as distance, this element helps clarify travel, observation, combat and magic and for that reason it is one of the most important rules in the hobby.
The consideration and usage of range fall into two general categories. The first is the precise measurements of the tactical method common to D&D and all of its derivatives. The second is the more flexible and less fussy range banding method used in narrative games like Star Wars Force & Destiny and its sister systems. As with all rules, there is no right or wrong choice between these two options but rather a choice of what works best for your game experience.
Most gamers are familiar with the defined ranges found in D&D and a great many other rule systems. Characters move 30ft in a round, a Magic Missile will hit a foe up to 100ft (plus and additional 10ft per level) away, and blaster rifle’s shots are measured in 30m increments. With these solid figures at hand, adjudicating combat in an RPG adventure becomes much easier as guesswork is all but eliminated. All players and the GM know where each character and monster is located as well as the amount of space between them. Exact ranges allow for effective bow or spell attacks and also give participants accurate data for closing into melee. All of this lends itself toward an orderly and tactically-sound combat encounter that is in line with a simulationist feel.
A different approach has come from the Force & Destiny-related systems. Rather than giving specific increments for weapons and special effects, the combat encounter is measured in broad range bands: engaged; short; medium; long; and extreme. Physically moving from one range band to another takes one maneuver action, moving across two takes two actions. Each band has its own difficulty dice added to those thrown for various attempted combat actions. Nothing is defined with hard-and-fast measured distances nor are tactical grid maps and miniatures used in depicting the scenario at the table. Everything is in the “theater of the mind” milieu and as such it is highly adaptable and very narrative-friendly.
While the two approaches are in opposition to each other, and possible diametrically so, there is room to use them both within the same game session. For example, during a chase scene with some amount of weapon fire or spell slinging happening in a location with a lot of bystanders, the precise range method probably would be a poor choice. All of those NPCs will needlessly complicate the tactical system as each one would need to be counted, placed and moved around the battlegrid. Ranged attacks that miss the intended target would need to be resolved as the possibility of unintended hits has been magnified. So what should be a high-energy, fast-paced interlude encounter very well could end up eating up the entire game session due the details involved.
The fuzzy-focused and narrative method, however, might be less optimal for a smaller-scale and meatier main encounter. For this example, consider the PC party finally catching up to (or being cornered by) a villain and a few of his henchmen. The broad range bands and vague distances take away from some of the more impactful abilities of characters and their foes. The value of certain character build options is lessened by the inherent vagueness of the range band approach. A certain degree of fun that can be found in correctly positioning just out of range of a spell blast or maneuvering into a sound flanking position can be lost when hard tactics are abandoned. So, in this case, what should be a tense combat encounter of some consequence becomes more of a cinematic blur with an ending based on vagaries.
Both means of accounting for distance are good and have value. Some game systems are built around one of those models and are quite effective at what they do. But no single approach is ideal for everything so don’t be afraid to take a chance on trying an alternate method in some circumstances. After all, there always is more than one way to from here to there.