D&D 5E Distance Estimation

plisnithus8

Adventurer
Do you as a DM (or does the DM you play with) always tell specific distances of objects, creatures, or location from a player?
For instance: “The goblin is 35 feet from you.”
Or are distances estimates or left to PC’s to figure out?

I tried using estimations while using minis on a gridless table. Players could look and estimate distances, but they wouldn’t know until the distance mattered (for range attack or spell) and we used a tape measure. They really didn’t like this at first but got used to it.

I can can see this as an option using theater of the mind (“The goblin seems about 30 feet or so away.”). Gridded maps make this less than useful.
I guess PCs could also use an intelligence check to know more precisely.

Thoughts?
 

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Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
With minis, for battles that matter and tactically interesting things are supposed to happen, we use ungridded maps. Too bad if you thought you could run more than you actually could. On the other hand, I allow INT or WIS checks for the precise placement of an area of effect, where avoiding two PCs requires having a circle ending just a few centimeters behind them -- it's mostly cosmetic, because those are generally high stats for casters, just to remember that one day, a botch could happen... it also tend to make casters more cautious, which I like.

In TotM, I am lenient to players and give info, since there is no way they envision the world the same way I do.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
The players only get what their characters could reasonably know. Rough estimations are the best more people can do, so that’s what the players get.
 


J.Quondam

CR 1/8
TotM or grid, I've always just assumed a PC knows their own capabilities well enough to competently gauge how far they can throw, shoot, or cast. They might not know it's "exactly 67.4 feet away", but they probably do have the intuition that "yeah, I have a decent chance to hit that."

In real life, I can look at a tree and be reasonably sure whether I can throw a tennis ball that far or not; and for close targets, I even have an idea whether I have a good chance to hit it. So I figure a hunter can make the same sort of estimation for their arrows, or a wizard with their fireballs. IMO, there's no need to add that extra layer of complexity for something the PCs are accustomed to doing.
 


DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
The distances that matter are ‘in melee (close), in reach, in dash, in range and long range”, they dont need to be precise, just give the needed information
This is about as exact as I get as well in most cases. I might parse it a bit more on occasion (like half your move or something), but that's about it.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I play on a VTT, so the distance to objects are apparent to the players and they can count squares or use the ruler tool if they want to measure it. When giving a description, I don't tend to mention specific distances or sizes in feet or inches because it's pretty dry and boring to do so in my opinion. Only when it matters will I bring that sort of stuff up. The old adventures with the different wall lengths and whatnot in boxed text - yikes. I get why they did that back then, but these days no thanks!
 

Irlo

Hero
For me, using exact measurements is a compromise to facilitate game play. As DM, I do not want to give rough estimates to the players, watch them act on it, and then decide (using ability checks or any other method) how wrong they were and adjudicate the results.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Do you as a DM (or does the DM you play with) always tell specific distances of objects, creatures, or location from a player?
For instance: “The goblin is 35 feet from you.”
Or are distances estimates or left to PC’s to figure out?

I tried using estimations while using minis on a gridless table. Players could look and estimate distances, but they wouldn’t know until the distance mattered (for range attack or spell) and we used a tape measure. They really didn’t like this at first but got used to it.

I can can see this as an option using theater of the mind (“The goblin seems about 30 feet or so away.”). Gridded maps make this less than useful.
I guess PCs could also use an intelligence check to know more precisely.

Thoughts?
I do the same as you and run gridless combats. We have rulers or actually fixed sticks for common ranges (where all it matters is within/out of reach) and flexible tapes for movements, but most of the rounds you don't even need to use them, only when it's unclear.

For out-of-combat exploration I don't mind telling precise distances but I think it's generally not useful. Again, if you intend to use some ranged ability, within/out of range is all you need to know.

For travelling, I never use distances but always time. "The town is 50 miles away" is useless without context, "the town is 3 hours away on horseback" is what they need to know.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
We usually use a combination of precise distances and shorthand like, you are two moves or 1 dash from the orc.

I find with 4 players and a single enemy that I can keep track of relative distances between them well enough. Add in more enemies and it gets difficult, and I revert to less defined values.
 

aco175

Legend
I recall throwing axes on time at a scout campout. There was a log with a poker card pinned to it and we all stood like 15 feet away to throw, The kids were hitting with the axe ok, but I kept bouncing off the handle. I quickly figured that I needed to take 2 steps back to compensate for my rotation. After that I was able to just walk up and throw.

PCs do that for their lives sake. I think they would know how far they can shoot. Also, I hate playing gotcha with the players since I hated it when I was a kid.

"I step up 10ft and throw my axe at the orc that was 30ft away."
"Ok, roll with disadvantage."
"I moved up 10ft to be within 20ft of my axe throw."
"Yeah, he was really 35ft so you needed to move 15 ft."
 

plisnithus8

Adventurer
It’s not gotcha. If you use this, make it a known rule and use it with consistency.
It doesn’t work well in TotM imo.

Estimation doesn’t effect all ranged, only the very edge of range. An NFL QB knows his max range, but if you took away the yard markers and had him trying to throw across a chasm or through a crowded market, it would be much more difficult to gauge exactly how far out the max is. Or like a kicker, they’d want to get closer to have a better chance of the field goal.
After a little practice, I feel it’s much easier to gauge 6” increments (especially from a bird’s eye view above the table) than 30’ increments.
 

Oofta

Legend
I use a grid (well, hex map if I'm at home) and I let people count out squares all the time. If they are trying to cast a fireball to avoid hitting their allies while also hitting adjacent enemies and there's enough chaos/confusion/visibility issues I may have them make an intelligence check to position the fireball correctly but even that is rare.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I use exact distances, but I’ve wanted to try and use some sort of targeting check for AoE effects and the like. It doesn’t quite feel right with being able to do “danger close” fireballs and the like with pinpoint precision, but the additional effort has not been worth it for me; I’ve generally already got enough on my plate to worry about such dealing with short-round fireballs and the like.
 

I tried using estimations while using minis on a gridless table. Players could look and estimate distances, but they wouldn’t know until the distance mattered (for range attack or spell) and we used a tape measure. They really didn’t like this at first but got used to it.
Yea... if distances matter, then use a grid. What a PITA to have to measure every movement and attack etc.
I guess PCs could also use an intelligence check to know more precisely.
Perception would be better IMO. Gauging distances is actually a stereoscopic vision ability, and has nothing to do with intelligence. (though wisdom is a stretch too).
This assumes TotM, which should be more forgiving by its nature. Having a character largely miss their action because they charged the goblin you decided was 35 feet away when you said "about 30 feet away" is asinine.
Yes, agreed.
The players only get what their characters could reasonably know. Rough estimations are the best more people can do, so that’s what the players get.
But people know with extreme accuracy what their trained/proficient abilities are. They may not know if something is 90 or 95 feet away, but they know within inches if they can run, jump, hit, reach, etc it.

So, if you are going to use more than melee, short, long, out of range, then you need to allow players to move their characters (if within movement) to the appropriate place so they get the corresponding range. "Oh, you moved 1 foot too short to get to normal range, roll with disadvantage", is simple a horrible play experience.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
But people know with extreme accuracy what their trained/proficient abilities are. They may not know if something is 90 or 95 feet away, but they know within inches if they can run, jump, hit, reach, etc it.
No, they really don’t. Olympic athletes might. Most people don’t. A D&D PC is not an Olympic athlete.
So, if you are going to use more than melee, short, long, out of range, then you need to allow players to move their characters (if within movement) to the appropriate place so they get the corresponding range. "Oh, you moved 1 foot too short to get to normal range, roll with disadvantage", is simple a horrible play experience.
Declare, measure, then fire.
 



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