So. Surveying. Boy, oh boy.
Land is kind of a funny thing in gaming. Sometimes it’s measured in squares, sometimes in hexagons. Sometimes land is measured in zones, or by individual cards with the [Land] descriptor. Land, and the use thereof is… complicated.
I’ve written on land, locations, and such in the past.
Now I need to work on it. I actually finished the outline for the seventh and final school of magic yesterday — I’ll write more on that later — I’ve technically moved to land because I need it for assets. When is land important to the players?
In Settlers of Catan, you measure land in units of resources.
In Risk, you measure land in units to raise armies.
In Magic: the Gathering, you measure land in units to cast spells.
When do you care about land in Dungeons & Dragons? I’m tempted to answer this with something like, “measure land in units of adventure” or “units of dungeon,” or something like that. In 3e or 4e, you care about the battle-map, or grid.
But shouldn’t there be more to the game than the battle-map?
How do you put a city or a village on a battle-map? I’ve actually tried this before, and players get confused. They wind up thinking of everything in terms of the battle-map. They assume everything is there to be fought.
Obviously that causes some problems.
We could always measure things in miles or city districts or dungeons…
Looking at a history of surveying — and by extension, geometry — it’s been a sociopolitical thing for basically all of recorded history. Land and taxes are intrinsically bound, and personal economy is really important to PCs.
But I don’t think that’s quite it.
I think there’s a bit of wisdom hidden in the tactical movement rules of 3e/4e. Where each creature or character receives a Standard action with which they’re permitted to attack or cast a spell, they also receive a Move action.
With that action, a character can move up to their “move rate.”
If they forgo their Standard action, they can take a second move.
It seems to me then, that land in a roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons should be measured in units of “however far a group of player characters can travel and be permitted to do something substantial in one interval of time.”
There are actually some good measurements out there for how long it takes a group of people to travel, and how far a group of people can reasonably travel in one day before they begin to exert themselves.
Off the top of my head, I remember something from Boy Scouts about ten miles in eight hours. I’ll want to verify that but it takes into account the hiking speed of adults and young boys. Which might just compare to wizards and halflings.