Range can be abstracted. I discussed it recently in Weapon Speed in D&D at KJD-IMC, but it can be abstracted slightly more than that.
Range honestly amounts to “too far away”, “just right”, and “too close”. ”Too far away” means you can’t affect your target, or can only do so at a penalty. “Just right” means you can affect your target normally. ”Too close” means you either can’t affect your target, or you can affect your target with some difficulty.
In melee it might be worth slightly more differentiation. Melee weapons in Dungeons & Dragons 3.x and Pathfinder include ‘reach’, which is a little longer than normal melee weapons.
There are thus essentially four physical ranges — normal range (“one square” or “five-foot” range), reach (“two square” or “ten-foot” range), out of range, and I’ve added “immediate” range to cover the use of light weapons “in the same square”, inside the reach of normal weapons.
This sounds like it could get complicated, but if handled abstractly it’s actually pretty easy. When you have two or more creatures engaged in melee, whoever has most recently hit controls the current range. Normally this might not matter, two characters facing off at normal range will likely stay there because “just right” is the same for both. If the characters can be most effective at different ranges it might be worth changing the range.
For instance, a character using a dagger against a character using a long sword would benefit from closing with his opponent. This changes the fight from normal range to immediate range, which is to say from “just right for opponent and too far for me” to “too close for opponent and just right for me”. Many creatures using natural weapons have an effective reach that covers both immediate and normal range, and will thus benefit from closing with opponents.
I notice also that when fighting using the ‘full defense’ stance it can actually to be to the defender’s benefit to either close with or withdraw to different range. This strikes me as a wonderful part of the model, though I’m not sure who to handle it when successfully hitting changes the range. I’m not sure how to resolve this.
On the other hand, unarmed attacks and attacks from smaller creatures can be readily handled by making them effectively “shorter range”. Unarmed characters can be considered to use “immediate range” weapons, putting them at an appropriate disadvantage until they close to immediate range, at which point their opponents become disadvantaged.
Once out of melee range I have found that there are really only a small number of effective ranges.
Spells have the following standard ranges: self, touch, close, medium, long. There are also nonstandard ranges, but I’m ignoring them for now.
- “Self” range means just that, the spell may only be cast on the caster. Simple, boring, moving on.
- “Touch” range is effectively “melee range” and is solved above. By D&D 3.x RAW (rules as written) this is effectively normal range, but I may make this “immediate” range instead.
- “Close” range is 25 feet plus 5 feet per two caster levels. For the regular range of D&D 3.x caster levels this can be anything from 25 feet to 75 feet.
- “Medium” range is 100 feet plus 10 feet per level. For the regular range of D&D 3.x caster levels this can be anything from 110 feet to 300 feet.
- “Long” range is 400 feet plus 40 feet per level. For the regular range of D&D 3.x caster levels these can be anything from 440 feet to 1200 feet.
Missile weapons have range increments from 10 feet to 30 feet for thrown weapons (which can be thrown up to five range increments, at increasing penalties) to about 50 feet to 120 feet for launched weapons (which can be launched up to ten range increments, at increasing penalties). Thrown weapons thus have ranges from 10 feet to 150 feet depending on weapon, taking penalties from -0 to -10, while launched weapons have ranges from 50 to 1200 feet, taking penalties from -0 to -20. Either way, many feats and other special abilities grant benefits when ranged attacks are made with 30 feet, regardless of weapon range increment.
This is complex and honestly makes bugger all difference in practice.
Again, I have observed there are functionally only a few ranges that come up.
- Close range, which amounts to how far you can throw a weapon without penalty. I am prepared to consider this the same as “Close range” for spells, and I will simplify it to be notionally 30 feet. This is also, not entirely coincidentally, how far a normal human can expect to move and be able to attack, so this might also be considered “almost melee” range.
- Medium range, which amounts to how far you can launch a weapon without penalty. I am prepared to consider this the same as “Medium range” for spells, and I will simplify it to be notionally 120 feet. Most unarmored humans can close this range and attack (possibly with a charge in the second round) in two rounds. I have noticed over the years that most combats happen within one or two range increments of launched weapons. Having range penalties that generally come up only infrequently at all, and only around the edges of a fight, strikes me as more trouble than it’s worth.
- Long range, which is anything beyond that. In practice, it seems only spells have this kind of range, and there are no mundane methods of attack that can reliably reach this far — even the longest-range launchers will take about a -6 penalty to reach the shortest long range possible with a spell. The longest normal spell range, before Enlarge Spell (which doubles standard ranges; the name of this feat has always annoyed me) is 1200 feet at twentieth level, which can be matched by a heavy crossbow with a -20 penalty. Standard spell ranges generally increase by a factor of four, so I will maintain that and call long range 480 feet, for those cases I feel the need to actually measure.
So, “close” is almost melee and throwable range, “medium” is not-melee but can become so, and covers most of a semi-standard battlefield, and “long” is anything longer than that but is still within credible range.
Now that I’ve examined the ranges in the rules written, I think I’ll use the following simplified ranges. Note that any of these may have exceptions caused by specific abilities or talents.
- Melee range normally applies with melee weapons. When acting outside your action’s preferred range you take a penalty on your action (currently -2, but I may change it to -4 or -5). You cannot use an action if it is two range steps away from your preferred range (a dagger-wielder cannot attack a pike-wielder at the pike-wielder’s preferred range, and and a pike-wielder cannot attack a dagger-wielder at the dagger-wielder’s preferred range), but may move to a position where you can force a change in relative position. This may involve provoking an attack of opportunity.
- Immediate range applies to light weapons and unarmed attacks. Smaller creatures using natural attacks might only be able to attack at immediate range. Notionally “0 feet” or “same square” if using a grid.
- Normal range applies to almost all melee weapons. Notionally “five feet” or “one square” if using a grid.
- Reach range applies to special weapons such as long spears and to many larger than human creatures. Notionally “ten feet” (or possibly longer) or “two (or more) squares”.
- Missile/spell range applies equally to both missile attacks and spells.
- Close range is within 30 feet, or “almost melee range”. This is the range that missile attacks often gain special effect, and it is within easy closing range for melee. Thrown weapons take no penalty in this range. I am tempted to have launched weapons take a penalty here, and medium-range spells with attack rolls.
- Medium range is within 120 feet, or “normal battlefield” (if in doubt, assume you’re in this range). Thrown weapons take a penalty in this range, launched weapons do not. Normal unencumbered humans can close and attack within one or two rounds if they charge, depending where they started.
- Long range is within 500 feet, and “extreme battlefield”. Used primarily for times when neither side can actually close with the other — closing can take at least two and up to eight rounds, double-movement, for normal unencumbered humans. Not a lot of fun, seriously. If you must attack at this range, launched missiles take a penalty and thrown weapons can’t reach this far.
- Very long range is used by Legend (from Rule of Cool, not the RuneQuest-based game from Mongoose), is four times Long range, and whatever gets sent takes an entire round to get there — the target may have the opportunity to run and get out of the way. I don’t have anything using this range now, but I thought I’d mention it.
Where a range does not fit in these standard ranges (such as lightning bolt having a range of 120 feet for a 120-foot line, or burning hands having a range of 15 feet for a 15-foot cone-shaped burst) simply convert to the nearest match. Thus, lightning bolt becomes a medium-range line, and burning hands would probably be a close-range cone-shaped burst (or possibly ‘reach burst’, but I don’t like how that looks).
Now that I’ve simplified things, let’s increase the complexity again.
Actually, I like most of what I have here. The only thing I would really consider for increasing complexity is going back to the “spell range” definitions for the ranges above. ”Close” becomes twenty-five feet plus five feet per level, “medium” becomes one hundred feet plus ten feet per level, and “long” becomes four hundred feet plus forty feet per level (and “very long” becomes sixteen hundred feet plus one hundred and sixty feet per level).
You could also go back to counting squares, but I honestly don’t care for that model at all. I’d rather keep it to “melee range (with breakdown within that), almost melee range, not melee range, far away” and stop there… and I don’t want to count that many squares anyway.
The numbers are pretty arbitrary, and I prefer to abstract things anyway, so don’t get hung up on the numbers. These are nominal ranges. Most fights happen entirely within medium range, regardless of how far a tape measure says it is. If you’re close enough to engage me in melee this round, you’re within close range (spell or thrown weapon). If you’re outside that but still on “the battlefield” you are medium range; I can try (at a penalty) to hit you with a thrown weapon, or launch a missile (arrow or sling stone) at you. If you’re outside that… well, I can’t throw my dagger that far and honestly hope to hit you, but I can shoot an arrow with some possibility of success.
For normal people, at least. Heroic characters who want to throw their daggers and spears at medium range without penalty might be able to do so, and higher-tier characters might be able to throw to long range, or even very long, without penalty.
Shalorn of the Spear, Legendary Spearcaster, throwing his spear (see the theme here?) half a mile to kill a fleeing enemy is entirely appropriate. He’s spent a Legendary slot (D&D terms, a 17th- to 20th-level character resource) to throw spears, that thing should not only be allowed to hit the target at that range, but glow with righteous separcasting awesomeness.