29 August 2013

The Absurdity of the 1-Minute Round

I was reminded in a discussion on G+ with Noisms that some people still use the 1-minute combat round from 0e and 1e, in favour of the significantly more reasonable 6-10 second round of other editions.

Let me start off by saying I have seen a lot of swordfights, something that can't be said of Gygax and Arneson. Further, I've read a fair bit about medieval combat (I am far from an expert, but again - much more so than Gygax or Arneson).

Let me state it plainly: 1-minute combat rounds are absurd.

I don't think I've ever seen a swordfight that took more than 1 minute to resolve. Allow that people may be more timid with sharp swords in a fight to the death (but then again, they may not - timidity is death in a fight), and let's say 3 minutes at the outside for a 1-on-1 fight with sharp weapons.

Examples of Combat

OD&D says that two 2nd-level fighters with plate and longswords (+1 Attack, ~7hp, AC 3, 2d6-TH using the usual houserule for 2-handed weapons) do an average of .9 damage per round, so the combat will take (on average) about 7-8 rounds to complete.

Nearly 10 minutes of straight combat in full armour just to take out ONE GUY? Nope, sorry. Not buying it.

But switch the exact same fight to 6-10 second combat rounds, and everything makes sense. Now those 7-8 rounds is more like 1 minute of combat in armour - totally doable, and in line with what I would expect in real life.

Examples of Movement

There's also movement to consider. With a 1-minute combat round, your top movement speed should be something on the order of 500-750 feet (jogging or running) or 250 feet for basic walking.

What we actually see in 0e is a standard move for an armoured man of 12'/round, or a max of 24'/round (as it says you can move at double speed during pursuit/flight situations, so presumably this is running).

Well, I'd say Gary didn't own a sliderule, as that running pace is the stately speed of .44 km/h - about one-tenth of normal walking speed (edit: originally said half, for no apparent reason). That's for running, remember. Normal walking speed for an armoured man is one-twentieth normal walking speed. (edit: corrected similar math mistake).

I've written elsewhere (here and here) about this, so this is really only a brief recap. Suffice to say that if you're using 1-minute combat rounds, the movement speeds are just absolutely laughable.


1-minute combat rounds don't match up with real combat durations, and make the math for movement speeds absolutely ridiculous.

Both of these problems are solved by moving to a ~6-10-second combat round.


  1. I don't agree that they're solved by a 6-10 second combat round, because of the way D&D combat works. But I'll save that for a blog post. ;)

  2. I agree that the movement rate thing is a bit wonky, but the move from 1-minute rounds to 6-10 second rounds is one of the prime culprits in the transformation of D&D combat in most players' minds from admirably abstract to "1 roll = 1 swing" -- a transformation that made the entire system incoherent.

    1. 1 roll = 1 swing is moronic.

      That said, it's no more moronic or incoherent than 1 roll = 1 minute of dancing about.

      1 minute rounds is truly incoherent. Nobody with any experience with swordplay can really buy that.

    2. I actually ran into a man who used to teach collegiate fencing and yet agreed with the 1 minute round.
      I however, do not agree with a 1 minute round, a 5-10 second round is much more believable for me as someone who has practical experience with hand to hand combat. A minute is a very long time.

  3. Those movement rates are funky! I started with AD&D 2nd which had a great improvement: a movement of "12" meant 120 yards per round (years before the Combat and Tactics switch to shorter rounds). This corresponds to a real fast walking rate.

    But I have a question: What do you think of those round lenght when applied to unarmed combat?

    In boxing and other sports where the action is constantly interrupted, fighters go for 9 to 36 minutes, with a 30 seconds break each 3 minutes. In MMA, most promotions have fights lasting 15 to 25 minutes.

    Would you consider those fights to also have 6-10 seconds rounds, or would an approximation at one minute per round seems ok for those (speaking of "D&D" rounds, not the period lenght). This would reprensent 15 to 25 attack rolls or 90 to 125 attacks with shorter rounds.

    I'm curious about your take on this

    1. It's important to remember that boxing and MMA are games, and bear little resemblance to real fight-to-the-death combat. Not disparaging the skills of the competitors, just pointing out that it's actually pretty different.

      I think you'd find MMA would look pretty different if fishhooks, eye gouges, biting, groin shots, joint breaks, etc. were allowed, as they are exceedingly effective techniques (and disallowed for their very effectiveness).

      Boxing is so obviously a sport almost totally divested from any notion of real combat that I don't think I need to comment further on that.

      Personally, I think traditional D&D combat handles unarmed pretty poorly, and every "unarmed combat" system makes things worse (i.e. more complicated but no more believable).

      The problem is that the assumption of 0e D&D (and hence every other edition to a greater or lesser degree) is that 3.5 damage is a mortal blow half the time for someone with no martial training (I have a more thorough explanation of this theory in a post scheduled for the next day or two). With that level of granularity, it's pretty difficult to model unarmed combat, where numerous blows can have little permanent effect.

      I'm currently working on a role-play focused "descriptive damage system" that will, in conjunction with my already-published unarmed combat rules, work much better.

      And will use 10-second rounds.

      So, the short answer is that unarmed combat in traditional D&D is so whacked out that it really doesn't matter what you do - it's going to be whacked out.

    2. thanks for your reply. I'll need to check out those unarmed combat rules.
      also happy to read that i'm not alone thinking boxing is not much related to real combat (even if it can still be useful for real combat)

    3. I suggest youtubing some of the old Vale Tudo or early (90's) international MMA stuff. It's pretty unpleasant and the skill level isn't to the current standard, but many of these promotions allowed groin strikes, headbutts, eye gouging and most/all dirty tactics. Also, generally there are no timed rounds, fights go to finish.

      Surprisingly, a lot of these fights last quite awhile, several minutes being average, but some fights basically end in exhaustion as both parties are "gassed" and can't hurt each other enough to end things.

      Moral issues and boxing commissions aside, these kinds of fights aren't sustainable as injuries are basically guaranteed. At the very least a few broken fingers/toes, but probably worse. A very famous early tournament had a judoka get permanently blinded in one eye (he still won his fight). Many of these rules are to keep fighters healthy and able to continue entertaining people.

      I assume the sword fights you saw didn't end in someone's death, but you still find them useful for making conclusions about swordplay in general.

      This leads us into the topic of permanent damage as a consequence of combat. I enjoyed your post on that subject. It's quite a challenge to bring any sense of combat/violence aversion to players without killing them outright.

    4. I've seen some of those, they are indeed useful. Some of them are very, very, short, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6dIXsb8yOs

      Basically won with the first throw - stuns the guy enough that he can get a chokehold, and just knocks him out.

      I think a truly no-holds barred fight would see more fights like that - one throw, then a neck stomp while the guy is momentarily stunned to kill him. Also a lot more missing eyes and broken fingers.

  4. Most duels I've seen are under a minute. Battles stretch but they are different from single- combat. That's for fake fighting of course.

    Real fights are usually sickingly quick fights and are only long between fairly even combatants that aren't striking lethal blows.

    A lot of RPG writers luckily have no experience with fighting, and that's a good thing.

  5. When Arneson was first coming up with the concept of turns and melee rounds, he was using a combat system based on Chainmail where the fight was resolved with one die roll, a single hit killed your opponent. Even after switching to hit points, character did damage equal to their hit dice (the original meaning of the term was the dice of damage you did with a hit). Under these rules, combat would take one, maybe two hits before someone was dead if they were approximately the same level. The change to 1 hit equal 1d6 damage came relatively late in the process after the 10-to-1 relationship between turns and rounds was already established. So I wouldn't say that this was a case of Arneson not not knowing how combat works rather it was a case where the game sort of evolved with the primary focus on how it plays rather than any attempt at realism.

    I don't know why Gary stuck with the 1 minute round for AD&D especially since Holmes already dropped it down to 10 seconds (or 6, I can't recall which).

    1. Interesting! Doing more dice of damage as you level up makes really no sense, but 1 hit = 1 kill kinda does if your rounds are 1 minute long, and you're ok with a completely abstract combat system.

      I don't see why you wouldn't just have a single opposed die roll at that point to determine the winner of a combat, though... You've basically thrown all notion of tactical combat out the window at that point.

    2. Doing more damage was, at the time, the only way a fighter improved under those early rules. So a 8th level fighter could take out another 8th level fighter in one hit or he could allocate that damage to 8 (or so) first level fighters and, thus, kill many inferior opponents with a single attack roll. Likewise, a first level fighter doing 1d6 points of damage would need to "hit" a fourth level fighter multiple times without being hit in return to win a fight. Not very likely.

      And, yes, it is more abstract not at all tactical.

  6. Most every weirdness in D&D's combat system can be traced to leftover baggage from miniatures games simulating mass melee and even naval combat.

  7. Hi, I've just found your blog and I'm very much enjoying reading through the entries -- you've got some good material here!

    On the subject of 1-minute combat rounds, I've always found them to be nonsensical. Some people say it's abstract, and they like to narrate what goes on, but a minute is just so long that anything could happen, far too much to dictate by a single dice roll. Personally I favour 10 seconds, but 6 works too. I suspect a lot of the oddities in movement rates etc. were just mistakes that were overlooked when translating the game between different scales.

    I don't suppose you've seen this post by Delta?


    1. For sure! Delta is one of the giants of the OSR, and one of the reasons I'm here thinking about games!

      I agree that the oddities were simply errors. I think the reduction of round length in the Holmes edition (which is largely just an edit-for-errors-style-and-layout of the LBBs) more or less proves that.

  8. As Hedgehobbit wrote, the original combat system used for Arneson's Blackmoor game was Chainmail, a war-game. In Chainmail, the scale was 1 turn = 1 minute. OD&D (0E) still used Chainmail as the default system with the D20 attack roll versus AC as a "variant combat system." OD&D continues to use the term "turn" even for combat (rather than round) but defines turns as having different lengths of time depending on the actions being taken (for example, 10 minute exploration turns versus 1 minute combat turns). It's all very half-assed...but this was the primordial soup days of the game.

    [on the battlefield, the 1 minute combat turn works with the scale of the game. In a small-scale skirmish, like the usual D&D combat, 1 minute seems too long even in the abstract]

    I, too, prefer the 10 second round for the small scale.