Movement, Position and Distance

Go to the Pathfinder: The New Deal index


There’s a whole most of rules on pages 192-194 of the Core Rules (2009) about moving your character around a battle-grid during combat. As always the full text of the rules can  be found over on the Pathfinder PRD. These rules are quite complex, and seem a bit daunting. Fortunately, we barely need to use any of them.

This is where the fact we’re not using a grid or the tactical combat rules really helps to simplify and speed up the game. Mostly the rules seek to codify what would be blatantly obvious if you really were standing on a battlefield and looking around you. I’m going to go briefly go through this section of the rules and highlight the things we need to be aware of. I hope that I’m mostly saying things that are obvious:

Tactical Movement

You character’s Speed is the distance he can travel in one move action: it’s expressed in the game in both feet and squares (with one square equal to five feet). Obviously, without a grid we just ignore any mention of “squares” and just concentrate on feet. The general rules for encumbrance, hampered movement and bonuses to speed don’t change; however the way speed and movement is implemented in combat does change.

I spoke in the post on Tactical Combat that position and movement in a gridless system is all about relative positions. Rather than having an absolute distance that your character can either travel in one round or not, it’s often about how your Speed compares to other characters. Am I faster than the orc? If I back away 30 ft. can they reach me next round? There’s an onus on the DM to make the relative positions of PCs, NPCs and physial elements like difficult terrain, cover or concealment as clear as possible. A verbal description may be sufficient, a map of varying degrees of detail might be required.

I believe that as long as there’s good communication between the GM and the players, then actual movement is not an issue. This means the GM needs to be thorough and consistent in his descriptions, but it also means that the players need to continually ask questions in regard to their position, and test the limits of their abilities.

Measuring Distance

There’s no way to measure distance in a gridless system, but as long as the descriptions are good, and we’re adopting a relative understanding of each character’s position then there’s never any need to either. The player asks “Can I hit the dragon with my magic missile?” The answer should be obvious. Characters do not move diagonally, they just move forwards. There isn’t really a lot to add here.

Moving Through a Square

These rules explain whether its possible to move through a square on the combat grid occupied by a friend or a foe. We don’t really need these rules. In the real world you can either go around a target or you can’t. You cannot physically pass  through a person regardless of how well or ill-disposed they are to you. So when you envisage combat in your mind’s eye, a character running from point A to point B is always going to take the path of least resistance.

There are two areas what bear further explanation.

There may be times when the route you want to take is physically blocked: there half a dozen orcs standing in a line across a bridge for example. In these situations, your character has a choice of going through the obstruction or going over it. Going through the obstruction is an Overrun maneouvre. If you don’t have the feat Improved Overrun then barging through your enemies provokes attacks of opportunity. If you decide to go over the obstruction, then that’s a tumbling attempt. In order to try that you need to be trained in the Acrobatics skill and make an Acrobatics skill check with DC equal to 5 + the CMB of the obstructee.

Because attacks of opportunity are no longer provoked by simple movement (see previous post) the utility of Overrun and Tumbling is lessened. They aren’t going to come up in combat anywhere near as often as they would do if we were using the tactical rules and a battle-grid. I think that’s unavoidable, but it’s certainly something to bear in mind when generating your character and choosing skills and feats.

The second area that bears further explanation is to do with the size of the creature. The rules say that any creature can move through a square occupied by a creature that is three size categories larger than itself. This means that a colossal dragon would have difficultly stopping a medium-sized human running through its space, as the human could simply run between the dragon’s legs. That sort of rule can remain in a gridless game, but needs to be applied with common sense.

It makes sense to say that a small creature should be able to pass a bigger creature unhampered. Those orcs lining up on the bridge aren’t going to stop a beetle from wandering between their legs and across the river. The same applies with a halfling slipping under the legs of a titan. But it depends on the creatures involved. A human can slip between the legs of a colossal horse; he can’t do the same thing with a colossal ooze, or a colossal maggot. So treat the ability to move through the space of much larger creatures as a principle that is often broken.

And don’t forget: although movement no longer provokes attacks of opportunity per se, there is nothing stopping a creature from readying an action to stop someone from trying to overrun, leap over or even run past him, or through his space. Combat isn’t that easy!

Terrain and Obstacles

Difficult terrain is an all-encompassing term that includes deep snow, a steep slope, boggy ground, heavy undergrowth and anything else that is likely to impede the speed at which your character can cross it. The official rules state that each square moved in difficult terrain counts as two squares. So basically that means if you’re crossing difficult terrain you only move half as quickly. That’s pretty easy to slot into all the rules we’ve previously discussed in this post.

Obstacles will also slow you down. If you have to vault a table to get to the other side of a room, you’re going to cover less physical distance. Some obstacles might require a skill check such as Acrobatics to overcome, and some obstacles can’t be overcome – you’ll simply have to go around them. We’re ruling that the path of least resistance is usually the best route for crossing a combat, and that should also apply here. Although some PCs might like the added challenge or ostentation of running along the counter of their local tavern to kick someone in the face, rather than simply walking up to a target and stabbing them.

Squeezing is something that can be adjudicated almost on the fly. Saying that a creature can squeeze through a gap half as wide as the space they occupy is a good guide. The human occupies a 5 foot space, so can squeeze through a gap about 30 inches wide. That sounds about right to me. From our point of view, all we have to remember is that you take a -4 to AC, and a -4 to attacks while squeezing.

Special Movement Rules

The official rules need to point out what happens if you accidentally find yourself ending your movement in an illegal square and how diagonal movement works in difficult terrain. Fortunately we don’t. However, it is worth remembering that even if a character has so many penalties heaped on her Speed score (from encumbrance, difficult terrain and so on) that she doesn’t seem to be able to move, she can still use a full round action to move five feet. That’s not something that comes up very often, but I thought I would point it out.


Go to the Pathfinder: The New Deal index

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