Fighting Shoulder to Shoulder

Yesterday I ran another practice run of one of the A-series modules, the sewer part of A1 in fact.  I will post more detail about this later, but one thing that quite surprised me was how the fighting in cramped corridors worked.  The map clearly has pretty much every corridor as being only 5′ wide.  When informed of this my players immediately formed themselves into single file marching order, as opposed to the two-abreast marching order they usually prefer for 10′ corridors.

It wasn’t until they hit the first big combat with the orcs that I realized the module assumes the corridors are actually big enough for two to fight side by side.  In fact, both major encounters with the orcs dictate that the orcs should have ranks two wide.  It’s even depicted that way in one of the illustrations.  Now, since the party had already made the assumption that 5′ was only wide enough for 1 and we had gone that route for some time, I stuck with it and adapted the orcs’ strategy.

Of course, now that I have the time I dug into the books.  According to B/X, “When fighting in a 10′ wide corridor, it is not likely that more than two or three characters could fight side by side.”  (B26).  Hmm, that’s not too helpful.  AD&D is of course a bit more specific:

Each ground scale inch can then be used to equal 3½ linear feet, so a 10’ wide scale corridor is 3 actual inches in width and shown as 3 separate squares. This allows depiction of the typical array of three figures abreast, and also enables easy handling of such figures when they are moved. (DMG, p. 10)

I’m pretty sure this is not at all how most people play.  Those of us used to using miniatures in the modern versions of the game probably got the 5′ per inch stuck in our heads, and thus when using a battle-map and miniatures only two figures can fit side by side in a 10′ wide corridor.

Of course in my games I don’t use a gridded battle-mat, so that’s not a concern for me.  Now I feel conflicted about which direction to go on this.  Certainly when running A1 again I will allow two side by side in the 5′ wide corridors as it seems that’s what the module is built for.  For general use though, I could see going either way.  Sounds like a good excuse for another poll:

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  1. The number of side-by-side combatants depends on the weapons used, as well as the presence of shields. I’d allow two human-sized creatures fighting side by side while using short swords or spears. If they are using two-handed swords? Not so much.

    One of the groups of orcs in A1 that fights two-abreast in a tight hallway is said to be using hand axes. Hand axes have just as low of a “Space Required” as spears & short swords, as listed on page 38 of the PHB. I’d be fine with a pair of orcs those in tight quarters.

    Still, two human-sized combatants fighting side-by-side in a 5-foot wide corridor is pretty darn tight, even if using appropriate weapons. It’s reasonable to think the orcs have trained specifically for that sort of thing. Ditto for the PC fighters. Probably not so much for other PCs.

  2. Good point Guy, I had not noticed that column in the chart. Certainly for AD&D I think the answer is pretty clear, though typical for AD&D the answer is “it depends”.

    In B/X I think the answer is still pretty foggy. There is no chart for space required for each weapon type, and frankly I’m glad there isn’t. That’s a case I think where playability trumps realism, and a simple consistent rule would do best. Given that the text is vague “2 or 3”, I think I simply have to choose one and stick with it. I’ll probably put the question to my players at our next session, but if it’s tied I’ll probably stick with 2 simply because it’s what we’ve used to date.

  3. I’m glad there’s not a space required chart for B/X either. That said, I’m not sure B/X necessarily implies playability over realism. There are some key areas where B/X is more “realistic” than AD&D. And I generally think of AD&D as more *detailed*, as opposed to more “realistic”.

    So for example, even though there’s no space required chart in B/X, it just means I have a smaller amount of hard data to fall back on. I’d still allow a naturalistic answer. Two longsword wielding combatants side-by-side in a 10′ wide hallway? Sure. Two two-handed sword wielding combatants? Not so much. Can they cram three spear-wielders abreast? Absolutely! Maybe even four! In all these cases, I’m not using tables of data to help inform the answer … just imagination and visualization. I wouldn’t want a hard rule in place, because that might crimp my players’ creativity. (And my creativity, when deciding on enemies’ tactics.)

  4. When I open up my copy of A1, there’s a post-it note with “Run just underground tournament section?” inside, which is of course just what you’re doing now. 🙂

    Interesting observation about A1 tunnel widths; I think I’d run into the same trouble. Here’s a bit: the maps even seem to contradict at least part on the sewer level introductory notes: “The passageways [dirt tunnels] are normally 10′ wide…” [p. 11]. There’s other stuff about the A1 maps that don’t make sense to me, maybe this was unintentional.

    Now, I don’t disagree with anything Guy said. I general I like to assume 2 people per 10′ corridor assuming a standard motley adventuring group with assorted swords/axes/maces, and not trained to fight in formation shoulder-to-shoulder. Seems: (a) realistic, (b) fits the miniature sizes if/when you use that, (c) presents a nice level of tactical options. For A1 I would consider hand-waving the corridor widths to wide enough to allow that and match the picture.

    Also, there’s a typo in your DMG quote: it’s 3⅓ feet per tabletop inch (not 3½ feet). For what it’s worth, the first place the topic appeared was in OD&D Vol-3 p. 12, underlined for emphasis: “Allow perhaps 3 in a ten foot wide passage”, and what came later was reiterations and interpolations based on that. God help me and the neurons dedicated to remembering that particular fraction.

  5. I would say 1-2 sword armed combatants. To fight free-ly with a sword takes up about a 10-foot radius, I would say. A swing and a step can put the point of the blade anywhere within that circle (try it and see – hold something three feet long in your right hand, take a big step, and extend your arm fully – the point of the sword is a looong way away).

    A two-handed sword is slightly longer than a one-handed sword, maybe 4 feet instead of 3. That’s not a much bigger factor than size of combatant, not enough to be the difference in this case, I would say.

    So, I would say, if you want to be realistic, 1 sword-armed combatant could take up the whole hallway (and then some). If the swordsmen were willing to limit their tactics, you could maybe fit 2. Definitely not more than two. And the difference between different kinds of swords I don’t think would be a deciding factor.

  6. I like Guy’s train of thought. Weapons with a huge sweep have just that, a huge sweep. Others combinations, such as a hand axe/shield, spear/shield, or shortsword/shield are more suited to side-by-side fighting. You’re using your shield to create thrusting opportunities or quick chances to hack at something vulnerable.

    Battle-ax wielder + longsword/shield wielder = no room left over. Two spear wielders and a hand axe wielder? Sure.

    Playing 2v2 gets a bit monotonous; allowing varied options would be an interesting choice and a way to spice up the NPCs tactics as well.

  7. Assuming the characters in the front of the marching order are fighting class characters, i.e. fighters, barbarians, etc… they will typically be employing swords or similar weapons which have a considerable length. Long swords are typically around 3-4′ in length and short swords about a foot less. This mean they need room to swing these weapons, as well as parry or defend. Figuring that the character’s torso is roughly 2′ and the weapon is an average 3′, the characters would be confined to an area roughly 5′ in width, were they to stand to either side while swinging their weapon(s). Perhaps they could be using daggers or similar smaller weapons, allowing for less required space, but imagine the chaotic nature of melee, where the maneuvers when employing sharp and deadly weapons is dependent upon several factors, such as what the opponent does, how you are attacking, etc… Certain types of swords would be less effective if used in only a thrusting manner, so it would be foolish to assume that this tactic could be used exclusively.

    I would allow only two fighter class (type) characters to a 5′ area. In instances where the characters insisted on tighter areas, I would employ serious penalties to hit and even consider the possibility of collateral damage (friendly fire) to adjacent party members. This is no less a reality than casting a spell with an area of effect that could potentially harm friendly characters.

    Also, consider the characters behind those in front. Are they employing ranged weapons? Consider penalties to hit (due to obstruction) and also the possibility that an arrow, bolt or stone might inadvertently strike the back of a party member’s head, back, or leg, etc…

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