It often gets a little glazed over by DMs & players and who can blame them? 1″=10 yards, 1″=10 feet, 1/3rd inside or 1:10 or 1:20… Lets take a closer look at what distance REALLY says.
On Page 39 of the PHB (Easley cover 1980, #2010) is the section on distance. The paragraph starts off telling us that distances are 1/3 with respect to converting spell and missile range from outdoors to indoors. but wait – it gets confusing…
OK – that first part makes a little sense. Our friend Gary Gygax was a table-top war gamer. So measuring things like range and spell effect with inches is just how things were done. It sounds like going from outdoors to indoors the scale drops from 1″=a yard to 1″= a foot. (1/3) but it doesn’t. He goes on to justify the ruling by telling us that outdoor ranges are much extended by arching arrows and missiles up to achieve the distance. BUT… we then talk about 1″=10 feet underground and 1″=10 yards outdoors. So the 1/3 ratio is true – yes, but the wording is just confusing as all get out. It’s ok Gary, we still love you and the game.
Gary may have been grasping at explainable straws in the text making measuring the table for minis still work in both situations. This is a game, and we accept his explanation and move on.
Here’s where a potential curve ball comes into play. Spells and magic need to match range with archers and the like to make the game work. So outdoors spell ranges are also 1″=10 yards. With ALL CAPS there are warnings that spells and magic should only use this scale for range and not area effect. Then, Gary’s favorite hobby jumps into play again and we are given the confusing caveat that area effect is to be amplified if the mini ratio is 1:10 or 1:20. This is possibly one of the more confusing statements made in the section if you aren’t a war gamer.
What is being alluded to is if your 1 wizard mini on the table represents 10 or 20 wizards, then area effect is converted from feet to yards. (If I understand it correctly) A 3″ fireball would then cover 30 yards.
This is, what I feel, the key phrase of the entire rule set here. The text acknowledges, in not so many words, that these rules are likely not really true-to-life, but they fit the game. THAT is the key. Movement has some other tweaks that change in various situations and the PHB tells us that the DM has that. It’s a similar situation in that movement outdoors is typically less hindered than carefully exploring the dungeons of the world.
Which is what most of us do when we sit down at the table to game. 1″ = 10 yards above ground, or 10 feet below, indoors, and sometimes in town. Like the old Goldbox video game sets, DMs often switch to indoor rules and measures during encounters, then back to yards when travel resumes. This is typically the ‘house rule’ on the situation for AD&D. Unless, of course, the party is leading an army and there is a table set up for mass combat. 5E tackles the rules on this differently, but there are many years of play-testing in between. Both systems are viable and work within the confines of each game respectively.
I hope this closer look has helped clear up some of the mystery around distance in AD&D. Those movements and ranges in inches make sense if you remember that DMs and players came to the game with minis and were measuring with rulers for combat. Some still do in new and old systems.
As always, enjoy the game, roll the dice and role your play!