Go, speed, go

In the earliest days of D&D, movement rates wore their wargaming roots on their sleeve.  How far a character could move was measured in inches, because that’s the way their movement would have been figured in Chainmail.  This led to some odd assumptions–in a dungeon, the fastest a character could normally move was 12″ per round, which translates to a bit less than 1 1/2 miles per hour. (It was assumed that characters were walking forward slowly, checking everything around them and mapping–even in combat, presumably.) Still, this served the needs of the game–it gave a precise number which allowed for tactical combat on a map.  Even though they’re no longer handled the same way, this still fits D&D’s needs as it’s integrated more tabletop wargame elements with recent editions.

Since then, the general trends in movement rate and speed have been:

  • A set amount of distance per time unit, like D&D.  (This may include more abstract distances, like “Areas” in TSR’s Marvel Roleplaying Game.) This fits best with games intended for at least some tactical play on a map, since it’s not much use otherwise.
  • In less tactical games, movement rate and speed are loosely linked to the character’s physical capabilities, but aren’t given in hard numbers.  In games with very loose rules, characters may not have numbers defined for these capacities at all.
  • Generally speaking, speed and movement are likely to be a derived stat or stats (drawing from one or more physical stats).  It may alternatively be assumed that characters move at roughly the same speed unless they have a particular advantage or disadvantage (including encumbrance).  Extraordinary speed may be represented by superpowers (in the broad sense of the term, since this includes abilities like Vampire‘s Celerity).
  • Movement rates are generally used for:
    • Tactical combat, as described above.
    • Calculating travel over distance (how long does it take to get to the dungeon/New York/Venus?).
    • Comparative speed–is X faster than Y?  Can X reach Z before Y, or will Y catch X first?

This brings me to my central question: Has there ever been an RPG where speed is treated as a contested stat? By which I mean, rolling your speed vs. someone or something else’s in the same way an arm-wrestling contest might be a contest of strength.  It strikes me that this would be the easiest way of modeling use #3, which is the most important in a non-tactical game.  Do you outrun the ogre?  Can your car catch up to the train in time?  Who grabs the treasure first?  Roll speed vs. speed and find out.  (This system also has the possible advantage of adding some uncertainty to these situations, rather than the character with the highest Body/Dex/whatever always winning.) All sorts of things could have Speed stats, from characters to vehicles to falling rock traps.  I can see ways to do this in various system, mostly involving rolls against the stat(s) speed is figured from, but I don’t know of a system that has this built in.  Does anyone?

(There is one game I can think of that has a subsystem that works like this.  The car chase rules in Unknown Armies are an abstract system based around car lengths.  Every round, the driver makes Drive rolls, and relative success or failure allows them to increase or decrease the distance between vehicles or attempt other maneuvers.)

Until next time, the Woggle-Bug says, “Here come old flat-top, he come grooving up slowly”.

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