Saturday, 5 September 2009

Wargamers’ Myths :: Paces

Regular readers will know that I play wargames using DBMM written by Phil Barker.  What you may not know is that he’s recently issued a set of draft clarifications.  This has initiated a high volume of debate and a certain amount of uproar on the DBMMlist; what a surprise.  Now everything seems to be the subject for debate not just the proposed changes.  People have been lobbying for all sorts, changes, clarifications, and simplifications, left right and centre.

One good side effect was that I ended up looking at parts of the rules that I’d previously paid little or no attention to.  Whilst doing this I spotted this statement:
“Distances in [DBMM] are in paces … because the length of a man’s stride has remained constant throughout history ..”
The use of paces, and a tabletop equivalent depending on figure scale, is a common device in wargames rules and a useful abstraction not least because standard units of measure have changed constantly throughout history.  Previously, I’d assumed it was just rule writer’s shorthand but this time I noticed the absolute nature of the assertion and started wondering if the human stride really is constant; even on average.   After all, DBMM covers all the regions of the known world for a period of 3,000 years.  That’s an immense geographic and temporal span for things to remain constant.

I did a little research; not a lot, just enough.  From the published information it’s perfectly clear that average human height, and by inference stride, currently varies significantly between populations and did vary throughout history.  Average height depends on how well fed any population is and the levels of disease within that population.  So it would appear that the “constant human stride” is yet another wargamer’s myth and a necessary, if untrue, approximation for wargames rule writers.

1 comment :

  1. I imagine he meant constant enough for game purposes - it oughtn't make much difference to the rules if an element's width is 60 or 55 meters - not absolutely constant.

    A rather worse issue concerning the 'pace' is that it sometimes refers to the length of a single step (around 75 cm) and sometimes to a double step (around 150 cm; the length from two successive settings down of the same foot). DBMM uses the former, of course, but the Roman military manuals Phil likes to refer to use a passus of 148 cm.


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