On miniature scale and the difference 2 feet can make.


First off, yep, I got distracted and forgot about this blog for a while again. Partially on purpose, had some bad times the last few weeks. Won’t go into that more.

On to the purpose of this post. It will come as no surprise to my players that I really don’t like using miniatures for tactical combat in RPGs. For a tactical board game like Battletech or Renegade Legion, sure, but not for RPGs like D&D or GURPS. They slow the game down way to much. I prefer to use them as a visual aid to theater of the mind. “Okay, Branor the dwarf is standing over by the table, the rest of you are at the bar 30 feet away” with a map and minis placed appropriately. This means that the rest of the party can’t instantly leap to defend Branor from a sneak attack, which is to far away for them to effect in a timely manner.

Part of that is a fundamental non-comprehension of the scales involved on the part of most players and GM/DMs. Some of this devolves to the scale of the miniatures and how they’ve changed over the years, some of which I’ll explain below.

Of the most common RPGs I play, GURPS and D&D 5e (as well as several others), the standard map scale is 1 inch equals either 3 feet (GURPS hexagons), or 1 inch equals 5 feet (D&D and several others). In and of itself, these scales are perfectly reasonable. The problem comes into play when the miniatures used are of a different scale, and when the people playing the game don’t fully understand what the scales mean. If I ran a game store, I’d be very tempted to have the carpet printed with at least a couple of 5 foot squares and a couple of 3 foot squares, for demonstration purposes.

Miniatures scales are often listed as either 25mm or 28mm, and sometimes as 28mm Heroic. GURPS recommends 25mm figures for a 1 inch hex (50mm scale). D&D suggests 28mm Heroic figures for 1 inch squares (60mm scale).  Confused yet? It gets worse. Different companies measure their figure scales in different ways. The two most common are “To the top of the head” and “To the eyes”. This means that two 28mm figures manufactured by different companies can be different sizes. One company measures to the top of the head, meaning that their figure is 28mm tall, measured from the bottom of the foot to the top of the head. The other company measures to the eyes, which will give a total figure height of 29-30mm in size, for a normal size human.

And then there is that other word involved, notice that I used the term “28mm Heroic figures”? This means that they are larger than the listed scale, but intended for use as if they were that scale. A 25mm Heroic can be as tall as 34mm measured to the eye. 28mm a few millimeters taller. 36mm is just under 1.5 inches tall. So an average character, say 5’6″ tall would be scaled at 28mm top of head, non heroic, as being 28mm tall. So far so good.

If 1″ equals 5 feet, and an average character is 5 feet 6 inches tall,  a 28mm top of head non heroic figure would be just a tad too big, call it half a millimeter. Close enough for jazz. But a 28mm top of head heroic, which would be about 33mm tall is 1.25 inches tall. They appear as a bit more than 6 feet tall. And the most common scale in use for D&D today is 28mm Heroic, measured to the eye. So they’re about 36-37mm tall, right at 1.5 inches tall, leading an average character to be almost 8 feet tall.

Now that the preamble is finished, I’ll get into why I feel this is a problem for some groups.

Perception matters when making DM/GM calls for some things.  In a recent game I played in, our PCs made their way to the top of the city wall, and since there were a lot of us (9 or 10, I can’t remember exactly), at the 1 inch per square scale, and with many of the miniatures being 2 to 2.5 inch tall orcs (representing half orcs and dragonborn), it was very crowded. More than one player asked if their character could see past the characters in front of them, to cast spells, fire bows, etc. The answer from the DM, based on the figures and the map was: No, you can’t see past the tightly packed bodies in front of you.

Personally, had I been the DM, I would have allowed it, because the assumption is that a figure on the board is standing at the center of a square, 5 feet on a side. Fighting someone/thing standing in the center of the next square, also 5 feet on a side. This means they are fighting with a space of 5 feet between them. That is plenty of space, even with moving bodies fighting as they (as I assume they would be) moving around inside that very large area, to see something past them. This is less of an issue with a smaller scale, say one inch squares being equal to 3 feet on a side (or a 3 foot hexagon). This would actually put a 28mm Heroic, measured to the eyes figure at a bit too short for a 5.5 foot tall person.

The judgement being made simply on how closely spaced the not to scale miniatures and map are caused us problems, and I’ve seen many such judgements made.

If I had the space to do so, I’d change any scale maps to from a 1 inch square equaling 5 feet to being a 2 inch square equaling 5 feet.

On a related note is that I’ve found most players and DMs are not able to translate distances on a miniature scale map to the real world. For example, in D&D 5e, a player sees a bad guy 20 squares away (100 feet) and wants to shoot at it with a short bow. By the rules, this means that the player rolls at disadvantage to have their character hit the target. But almost every time this comes up in a game I’ve participated in, someone, or multiple someones, insist that 20 squares isn’t that far, and they shouldn’t be at a disadvantage. When asked why they feel this way, they almost always say “well, it’s only as far away as that bookshelf (exchange bookshelf for any other object used as a reference that is between 15-30 feet away)”.  They are almost always shocked when I tell them that the distance they are trying to hit the target at is closer to trying to hit something across the street. (streets here are about 80 feet wide, plus an additional 10 feet of sidewalk/curb, and the blocks are about 600 feet long).

Anyhow, this has been a long ramble about one of those things I’ve noticed during gaming. End result, if you’re having fun with it, by all means, continue having fun. The event that caused me to write this, on the other hand, had more than half the players sitting around bored, and not having fun.

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