Changing Range Increments

Range increments in D&D 3.x have always struck me as a little strange.

First and foremost, they are basically meaningless most of the time.  Almost all combats I’ve seen in the D&D 3.x era (and most of those before that) almost everything happens within one range increment.  Most battle mats I have seen can cover a little over 100 feet on their short side and not quite 200 feet on their long side (24 inches by 36 inches is 120 feet by 180 feet at 5 feet per inch, standard scale for D&D 3.x… and most people don’t really have room for bigger on their tables).  Pythagoras says this amounts to just over 215 feet if you go corner to corner.  The worst non-exotic ranged weapon (short bow) has a range increment of 60 feet, meaning that even someone as far away as you can get is only -6 to hit… and anyone shooting at someone that far away is almost certainly not going to be using a short bow.  In fact, I have seen few combats in D&D 3.x start at that kind of range because it leaves out everyone who can’t practically attack at range, and they mostly get solved by the heavy artillery (wizards and sorcerers) anyway.

Second, and a direct consequence of the above, the presented range increments become a fiddly little detail.  The difference between short bow and long bow, when within 200 feet, is pretty small.  The short bow gets -2 per increment at 60/120/180, the long bow gets -2 per increment at 100/200.  Fiddly detail, and I don’t like those.  Yes, ultimately the long bow could shoot 1000 feet (at -20 to hit… which seems unlikely to me) while the short bow is limited to only 600 feet… but that almost never matters whatsoever.

Third, and something I find irksome, they are inconsistent with spell ranges.

I can see ways to make things more consistent.

Common Fixed Range Increments

Rather than having weapons with varying range increments, reduce them to the following:

  • Immediate range is basically within your own square.  This is used primarily for grappling and the like, and there are rules about what can be done (light weapons only, for example).
  • Melee range is the common melee range, and applies to things within reach.  Normal melee weapons can be used, well, normally, as can touch spells.  Most missile weapons provoke attacks of opportunity when used at this range.
  • Short range is generally within one round’s travel.  For spells this is presented as 25 feet plus 5 feet per two levels.  For weapons, I think it would be suitable for anything thrown by pure muscle (no mechanical assist).  Hand crossbows would also be in this range, since they are so low-powered.
  • Medium range is basically ‘on the battle mat’.  For spells this is 100 feet plus 10 feet per level.  For weapons this would be suitable for launched missiles, where there is a mechanical assist.  Any kind of bow, crossbow (except hand crossbow), and spears thrown with atlatl or the like.
  • Long range is ‘outside battle mat range’.  For spells this is 400 feet plus 10 feet per level.  There are no weapons that normally reach this far without penalty in the ‘D&D era’, but modern firearms certainly can.  In fact, because there are no weapons that can do this without penalty, I am greatly tempted to reduce most combat-oriented long range spells (though honestly fireball is the only one that comes to mind immediately) to medium range.  Higher-level combat spells (such as meteor swarm) and non-combat-oriented spells (such as dimension door) might not be so reduced.
  • Extreme range was presented to me in Rule of Cool’s Legend, and I would consider it 1600 feet plus 160 feet per level to be consistent with the shorter ranges.  In weapon terms the best modern rifles and whatnot might use this.  By the rules presented there, shots taken at this range need a round to get to their target.

Extreme range is new, so let’s do a check.  Assuming a fourth-level fighter (real world tops out about there) with +4 from ability score and +1 from Weapon Focus, and +1 a bonus from a masterwork weapon, he’s attacking at +10.  At fourth level his range increment would be 2240 feet (1600 + 160*4).  The target was about four range increments away, for -8 to the attack.  Hmm.  The range increment might be a little long, actually.  Assuming a flatfooted target (AC 10, no Dex bonus) the shooter would still hit on 8+.  That’s not even hard.  Halving the range increment would make that a -16 penalty, so he’d still hit on 16+ — not exactly easy, but still worth the shot.

Close enough.  The circumstances needed to get the shot are unlikely most of the time.

As shown, though, it means the range increment increases with level.  I’m okay with that, high-level martial characters should be able to shoot farther and more accurately anyway.  This is partly handled by the improving Base Attack Bonus, of course, but allowing longer range increments is appropriate as well.

Other Thoughts and Options

There are a few other things that could be done with this line of thought.

Simplified Fixed Range Increments

Drop the per-level modifier.  Short range is 25 feet, medium range is 100 feet, long range is 400 feet, extreme range is 1600 feet.  Done.

Spells with Range Increments

Spells don’t have range increments the same way weapons do.  It is as easy to hit a target at the limit of a spell’s range as it is to hit a nearby target.

Let spells have rules similar to weapons here.  Each range increment away (whether level-based range increments or simplified as above) makes it -2 harder to affect the target.  This might mean -2 to the attack roll (as with acid arrow) or -2 to the save DC (as with fireball).

Areas of Effect

Areas of effect can be similarly made consistent.  Instead of arbitrary fixed areas of effect, use the same categories as range.

  • lightning bolt is no longer a 120-foot line with 120 foot range, but ‘medium line with medium range’.  This increases the range to 150 feet at fifth level (and up to 300 feet at 20th level… but who still uses lightning bolt at 20th level?)
  • fireball is no longer a 20-foot spread but a short radius spread (30 foot radius at fifth level, and up to 75 foot radius at 20th… where it does make sense to cover a larger area anyway).
  • burning hands goes from a 15-foot burst to a short burst, 25-feet at first level and up to 75 feet at 20th.

This is generally an increase in power, potentially quite big.  As much as I like the effect, I would be inclined to either go with the simplified fixed ranges above.

Closing Comments

Just a few things that came to mind, I thought I’d get them out so people could take a look.  The simplified fixed ranges and spells with range increments ideas I kind of like.  The areas of effect change… I’m not so sure, since it appears to be an almost unilateral improvement to powers that really don’t need it.  As much as I like the effect and think it thematically good, I suspect it would prove overpowering in the current game structure.

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2 Comments

  1. tussock

    I prefer fixed ranges for spells, because I don’t care to do exact positioning if the enemy are about 500′ away in the first place, and the mini-game of finding perfect range where they can’t quite attack but you can doesn’t ever happen. Ditto for bows if you were to introduce such things. No real benefit unless you can guarantee big gaps, maybe better as per-tier jumps in Echelon.

    As for range penalties, make them all the same for everything. -2 per 50′ should be easy to use. Let fireball use splash weapon drift when you miss the AC 5 target square (corner, whatever). Give thrown weapons an additional -2, and rays +2. Other spells could have a similar save bonus at range, because you can see it coming, or the Wizard’s voice is too faint, whatever.

    But yes, ranged weapons and spells should probably all use the same maximum effective range. Short for throwing, medium for direct-fire, and long for artillery/archery. “Ranged Shot” can give you +2 to hit at 50′ or more. Simple, no muss, real effects with minimal hassle. Good.

    • As I said, I’m a bit back and forth on the per-level range modifications anyway. Kind of like, kind of don’t like. Frankly don’t care, so might as well go the easier way.

      Fixed range (short, medium, long, maybe extreme). Shortening the range of lower-level ranged spells is probably a good idea, I don’t like the idea of not being able to shoot back at the spell casters.

      I think I might keep the penalties per range increment, though, rather than fixed 50′. Only being able to shoot a bow 100 feet seems pretty weak. OTOH, could extend bows to 400′ range, same as fireball.

      short = 25′ = thrown (-2 fixed penalty for entire range)
      medium = 100′ = lesser direct fire (short bows, light crossbows)
      long = 400′ = archery (long bows, heavy crossbows)

      I could live with either option, really. I still kind of like the first option (effectively 25’/100’/400′ range increments with a -2 penalty per RI, with most low-level spells reduced to medium range), but this one’s okay too.

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