Why Do Characters in D&D occupy a 5 foot square
How big is 5ft? That might seem like a simple question, but when comes to D&D measurements come with some complexities. In D&D everything is measured in increments of 5th—movement, spell effects, and weapon range are all in units of 5ft. It makes things easier on the DM but can create some interesting issues too. Imagine that a character takes up a 5ft square in in battle or while moving through a dungeon. That’s fine until you compare it to real life. If you’ve ever been in a 5 or 10 foot area in real life, you know a lot more people can fit in that space.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, so I decided to explore this apparent flaw. I grabbed a few research assistants (my kids) and we made a 1:1 real-world dungeon in my house. I measured out 5x5 foot squares in my living room and hallway and marked them out in masking tape. We grabbed some LARPing weapons from the closet (yes, we are that nerdy) and put the 5ft grid to the test. To make things fun, I even created some dice gauntlets for the kids to wear and placed some stuffed animal enemies, beanbag slimes, and nerf traps around to give them a challenge.
Even though the research team was halfling and dwarf sized, we quickly realized it was very dangerous to swing a sword or mace with anything less than 5 ft. We had a bunch of close calls. We discovered why flanking is totally a thing…it really does help in combat. It also helped us understand why thirty feet of movement is the limit, especially when you consider that a turn takes place in 6 seconds.
So, having explored the idea of 5th in real life, I have realized that the 5ft abstraction on battle maps is actually very accurate useful. My experiment also helped me that realize it’s ok to let characters scrunch up together in non-combat situations. This can lead to some interesting entanglements when they suddenly have to roll for initiative. I guess that famous meme was right all along.
See you next Friday and until then, may the dice be ever in your favor.
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