The weirdness of square monster spaces

One of the controversial changes from 3e to 3.5 was giving all monsters square areas on the map. This meant that no longer would a horse control a 5’x10′ space, it controls a 10’x10′ space. This meant many more creatures would have to use the “squeezing” rules (which allow them to move at half speed through an area half as wide as their normal space).

It also means that a typical carriage with two horses running side by side operates as if it were 20′ wide–even though the actual carriage is approximately 10′ wide at most, and a typical road made for a carriage is barely more than 10′ wide.

And if you ignore that 20′ width of the two horses and just treat them as a 10′ wide unit, technically they’re “squeezing” (because the center of each horse is only 5′ apart, their 10’x10′ spaces are overlapping) and should only be able to move at half speed.

Therefore, a carriage pulled by two heavy horses (creatures with speed 50 ft.) moves at half speed, which is speed 25 ft., which is slower than an unencumbered human moves.

Which means I can outrun a stagecoach.



50 thoughts on “The weirdness of square monster spaces

  1. Sure, but if all creatures aren’t square, then you have to have rules for turning and facing.

    And that creates its own unique microcosm of nightmare rules scenarios – especially for compatibility.

    (I have it on good authority that while the variant rules for facing and variant rules for hex grids in Unearthed Arcana were each maddening on their own merits, using both simultaneously was functionally unplayable.

    • {Sure, but if all creatures aren’t square, then you have to have rules for turning and facing.}

      Not really. There are a couple corner cases where it gets weird (like a long creature running into a corner and having a “magic” turn to fit into that spot, but that’s no more awkward than saying the square creature couldn’t fit into that space at all).

      I played in 3.0 D&D games run by Monte and Chris Perkins for approximately 3 years, and we never had a situation come up where a creature’s long spacing required turning, facing, or weird positioning.

      • Never? Our milage varied. It came up multiple times, particularly turning in difficult terrain. Which end turns, do you have to pay double to swing over, or do both ends turn at the same time like a pivot? Having uniformity was welcome. Fortunately, Pathfinder continues this, yes?

        Also: Coaches aren’t always about speed, they’re also about comfort and convenience. For speed, you’d want a team of four or six horses, yeah?

        And: There is a point where the game part of the game should have a higher priority than realism. This is one of ’em! ;)

    • Sure, but if all creatures aren’t square, then you have to have rules for turning and facing.

      Do you really, though?

      Maybe you need rules for turning, since there will be spaces the figure will fit through turned one way but not the other, though that could probably be hand-waved by just counting spaces.

      I’m not sure you need rules for facing, though, when the 3.X combat rules are so abstract about facing anyway, I don’t have a problem with the notion that for combat purposes a horse “faces” both its long and short “sides.”

    • UA facing

      UA facing rules were neutral, though there was a good amount of referring to the diagrams as we got used to it. But I wouldn’t generalize “facing rules are bad” from one set of facing rules didn’t add to a game that otherwise ignored facing.

      After a few sessions of trying them we ended up giving up the UA facing rules.

  2. Nothing wierd about it…

    Horses need about 3 feet on either side of them to run at full speed without crashing into each other. This is established in civil war cavalry records. Hitched animals would conceivably take up less space since they are attached to each other and their movement would be guided from the same source.

    • Re: Nothing wierd about it…

      I’m not sure what your point is.

      You’re saying that the hitch would change the game-space of the animals and they wouldn’t be considered “squeezing”?

      Would two intelligent horse-like creatures (say, centaurs or unicorns) be able to run right next to each other without crashing into each other?

      • Re: Nothing wierd about it…

        I’d rule that. Makes sense since they are actually next to each other and moving.

        I’d also rule that two intelligent Large quadrupeds would have to be mindful of moving so close to each other, either giving themselves enough room to keep apart (ie their 10×10) or slow down and stay next to each other (squeezing). It’s an approximation to allow for movement within the space itself.

        The 10×10 is a game abstraction for combat purposes, to approximate the amount of space someone needs to move about while fighting and moving about. Just like I don’t physically occupy a 5×5 space but can easily move back in that space when I did Kumdo or fencing, the 10×10 represents movement for the Large creature that won’t require it to slow down or be as mindful (squeezing)

      • Re: Nothing wierd about it…

        So the square space issue of the monster doesn’t apply if the creature is intelligent and able to override its default spacing?

        How many movies have we seen where a guy on one horse rides right next to another horse (mounted or not) and either grabs the second horse’s reins, attacks the guy on the second horse horse, or jumps onto the second horse… without the horses both suddenly slowing to half speed because of squeezing.

      • Re: Nothing wierd about it…

        It’s a game mechanic to allow for appropriate and moderately realistic space for movement. If you would like, make them 3 foot squares if you want them to be closer. Then that solves your problem for people not ‘occupying’ the whole of the square.

        As for the movie example, how many movies have we seen the other horse veer off, collide into someone, etc.?

        It’s not a perfect model, but it works in most cases.

      • Re: Nothing wierd about it…

        So the fix to your universal patch (square facing) is another universal patch (3 ft. squares)? :)

        As for horses veering off or colliding with someone, none that I can recall.

        As for your last statement… you could say the same thing about rectangular facing, hmm? Not perfect, but it works in most cases? :)

      • Re: Your solution then?

        You’re a game designer too, think some up :)

        That being said, consider the following:

        Horse is going down a 5 foot corridor with a 90 degree bend in it, moving at full speed. Describe his movement in game terms as he passes through the bend.

      • Re: Your solution then?

        1) I would but I’m trying to finish writing Bastards of Erebus. :)

        2) Assuming you mean “double move” when you say “full speed” (because you can’t turn when making a run), you just need to use something like the 3.5 squeezing rule. “A long creature turning a corner in an area smaller than its longest space treats that area as difficult terrain. When in that space it has a -4 penalty on attack rolls and a -4 penalty to AC.”

        Note that the 3.5 square facing rules still don’t address a 10×10 horse trying to make a turn in a 5-foot-wide hallway. Is it squeezing? Yes? Is it able to make that turn? No answer. What happens when it’s in that corner area? No answer. The 3.5 rule has failed to address the problem it was supposed to address.

    • So what about corridors perpendicular to each other? :)

      Draw it out on a hex map and you will see what I mean.

      I love hexes too (old Champions player) but interiors get odd when you have your combat spaces not matching up to right angles.

      • I used a hex map for a Fallout tabletop game I ran and it worked out pretty well. I just drew out hallways at normal angles and had a simple set of rules about what size a creature had to be to occupy a partial hex.

        Unless you make all map layouts rectilinear, you’re always going to have to deal with partial shapes.

      • Pretty short. Adult human-sized creatures can only occupy a hex if more than half of the hex is open. Smaller than human-sized creatures can occupy hexes that have as little as one quarter of the hex open. I don’t differentiate sizes “less than human”. A hex with less than a quarter open is effectively unusable by anyone. Big creatures just have to fit in a space, period. Their center has to be in a hex, but not necessarily centered in that hex. If someone can see into a hex that a big creature occupies, even fractionally, that someone can see the big creature.

      • Not that simple to me, and prone to lots of argument, but each their own. If it works for you, it works for you.

      • The only argument that could arise is how much of a hex is open, which is easily arbitrated by any GM who isn’t totally spineless. If a GM can’t make that call, they have bigger things to worry about than where creatures can go.

        It also isn’t a problem specific to hexes. On a square grid, any map that isn’t laid out perpendicular to all other elements will have the same issue. Additionally, oddly shaped/placed items within a room “spoil” a perfectly rectilinear room layout.

        Ultimately, the GM has to be the arbiter of where creatures can and cannot go no matter how the map is laid out. In the 10+ sessions I ran using these rules specifically, there were never any disagreements that lasted more than a few seconds. It’s the sort of thing that sane human beings can work out pretty rapidly. And the number and duration of disagreements on this particular topic was no greater than it has ever been running D&D games using square grids.

  3. It’s one of those irritating points about the system. It also makes for the occasional funky and distressing pose for a monster (I’m thinking of the vrock) that isn’t really ever going to fit over that area.

  4. Speaking as an engineer, your post reminds me of the many cases I have encountered in my professional engineer when a relatively simple problem/question results in a profoundly over-engineered solution.

    That said, and not to detract at all from your point (which is a legitimate one), it is worth noting that, viewed realistically, the advantages of driving a cart or wagon around a medieval town instead of walking are not supposed to, nor likely to, include increased speed.

    Frank the Wanderer

    • People use carts and wagons in places other than towns. The squeezing rule means that you can’t have a “chase after the fleeing stagecoach” scenario… because whether walking or running, a human is faster. Okay, the horse has the Run feat so its run is 25×5=125 and the human probably doesn’t so he’s 30×4=120, but it means a human with the Run feat is faster than a horse. Except we know that in real life a galloping horse can maintain 25-30 mph, which even halved is 12-15 mph, whereas a typical human’s run speed is 10mph.

  5. but two horses pulling a carriage aren’t in combat, aren’t ‘controlling’ diddly-squat, because they’re just trotting along. how many people fit in that carriage, anyway?

    • The rules make no differentiation between being in combat or not when it comes to how much space a creature controls. And I’m sure anyone about to be run over by the horses considers them to be “in combat” and needs to know if the pair of horses is 10 feet wide or 20 feet wide to best avoid an overrun, bull rush, or trample attack from the “just trotting along” horses.

      If two people can sit side-by-side in a one-horse carriage (like the ones you could rent for a tour through Manhattan), I’m expecting you could cram three abreast in a carriage with two parallel horses… and if you’re building such a thing, you’re probably having one seat face forward and the other face backward, so that’s 6 people. But 4 is probably more comfortable.

      Example of small one:

      Example of a large one: (four horses, two by two)

      This article has a pic of what a four-passenger carriage looks like, and includes text saying that’s its capacity:

      • but there you have it. the interior width of the concord stagecoach is given as just over four feet. that’s only enough space for one medium person. and you can’t squeeze more in, unless they’re helpless.

        maybe that’s the solution? you can tie two horses into a single 10’x10′ space to pull a carriage, but they’re considered to be helpless wrt combat?

        (for the record, the concord stagecoach could seat nine inside.

      • So you have a problem in the game (“long creatures have some issues”).

        You could make a specific rule to deal with that situation (“long creatures work like this regarding those issues”).

        Or you could make a universal rule that means that problem never happens (“long creatures are now square”). Which in itself causes problems (“horses are ‘square’ creatures that break the squeezing rule when you hitch them together, which happens a lot”). So you want to create another rule (“hitched-together monsters that would otherwise be squeezing are helpless but not squeezing”) to take care of the problem with the universal rule? You’re little-patching the big-patch. Why not make a better little-patch for the original problem instead of using a problematic universal rule?

        Also, what does “with respect to combat” mean? Are they at an opponent’s mercy? That means they can’t attack, but hitched horses obviously *can* attack. I assume you intend for them to be able to move. What if you hitch two unicorns or two centaurs to a carriage, can they still attack or use spells, or are they helpless? We need more rulings on this fix of a fix.

        Sounds to me like the thing that needs to be fixed is the original square rule.

      • *shrug* you’re the one with the problem, not i. :) i don’t mind applying the square rule to individual creatures in combat, and simply not applying them to creatures outside of those strict bounds (such as squeezing nine passengers into a relatively small coach).

      • i don’t consider it any more flawed than the hit point model, or armor class, or any other abstraction used by the game to balance verisimilitude and playability. square spaces makes certain things easier in a battle, not more realistic. and that’s fine with me.

  6. I didn’t care for the 10×10 Large change right at first. Then I sort of came around on it just because Large sized minis tend to stand up a little better on a two inch base than on a one inch base, and it provides a little visual reminder of reach. Those are probably not great reasons for liking a rule that I otherwise wouldn’t, but I am who I am.

    As far as the cart issue goes, it might be fine to just rule that hitched creatures either (1) don’t count as squeezing, even though their spaces overlap, or (2) take the to-hit and AC penalties for squeezing, but don’t suffer the movement penalty.

  7. So… what problems does it create if instead we pretend horses are like dragons and are allowed to be way bigger than their space? ;)

    Cause a 5×5 horse would be a lot simpler, right?

      • Might I propose a Gordian knot solution and just say “play without a grid?”

        I’ve had many fun combats just moving miniatures around on a black table for relative distance, or no miniatures at all (boy is that much faster)!

      • I can do that, because I am awesome.

        Other not-so-awesome people (or perhaps awesome people with jerkface whiner players) may need the stability and verifiability of the grid to settle issues without argument.

  8. What I want to know is: why am I commenting if I think this conversation’s silly?

    Sean, is this just an intellectual exercise, or are you actually looking for an answer?

    ‘Cuz, t’were this a situation that came up in my game (which it hasn’t, and probably won’t come up any time in my game in the near future), I’d just put the damn horses into the same 10’x10′ square. They’re pulling a cart or wagon or carriage or whatever, which means they’re attacked to a yoke, so it’s not like they’ve got a lot of freedom to independently turn 360 degrees in a 10′ space anyway. Obviously, in real life, the horses aren’t slowing to a speed less than that of a human when attached in such a manner. And, in the case of the fight on a moving stagecoach type thing, usually the horse is there as a form of locomotion, not to move and attack every round, so it’s double-moving or running the whole time. Trample rules can still apply in this regard, since IIRC, they’re part of your move action, not some kind of separate attack action.

    On the issue of two horses riding close to each other so that one guy riding the horse is grabbing the other horse’s reins or jumping on to it’s back, well, the 10’x10′ space is the creature’s fighting space. It’s no more difficult to reach into or attack that space than it is to reach into or attack any other adjacent space. This is a non-issue. It’s like arguing about not being able to attack an ogre because he might be standing in the space farthest from you.

    On the issue of horses going down a 5’ corridor, well, I’m going to just adjudicate the slowdown due to the fact that horses don’t generally walk into cramped spaces willingly very often. It’s been mentioned several times in many books about horses and many other animals and their unwillingness to go into underground caverns with adventurers. If the issue’s really that important, just house-rule some acceptability with “long” creatures and squeezing, if it’s coming up a lot. It feels like a dumb thing to argue about, though. There’s gotta be something better to do with your time.

    This is all just my take on the matter, however. I don’t write game rules for a living, or even casually, for that matter. I’m a big fan of fast and loose hand-waving, and rules semantics really only serve to annoy me. I’m just throwing my spare change into the ring and walking away from this one. If my concept isn’t “rules-y” enough and feels like a way to just get things moving, well, it is. That’s just who I am and how I play. If, on the other hand, this is just you musing on a “wacky rules conflict” moment, then I apologize for my intrusion.

    Actually, I’m just going to apologize for my intrusion anyway. Apologies. :P

    • Re: What I want to know is: why am I commenting if I think this conversation’s silly?

      {Sean, is this just an intellectual exercise, or are you actually looking for an answer?}

      There was no question mark in my original post. :)

      • Re: What I want to know is: why am I commenting if I think this conversation’s silly?

        Good point. Ah, written linguistic cues, how they confuse me. :P

    • Re: What I want to know is: why am I commenting if I think this conversation’s silly?

      Here’s a more descriptive answer to your question.

      If I were running this in a game, I’d hand-wave it.

      But when I’m writing an adventure that involves a carriage pulled by two horses, I can’t hand-wave it because I need to let the GM know how fast the carriage is, how much space the horses take up, if the 20 ft. wide pair of horses is actually wider than the 10 ft. road built for the carriage, and so on. Because if I don’t put these things in the adventure, people are going to post on the message boards wanting answers to these questions when they hit that point in the adventure. And they may have argumentative players who won’t accept an on-the-fly ruling.

      So sometimes I gotta know so I can write it down, even if I wouldn’t give it more than ten seconds’ thought during a game session.

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