D&D 5E Distance Estimation


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.


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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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.

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