The speed of a character in Dungeons and Dragons can be found at the top of their sheet. It represents how far that character can move, and that's about it. What a waste
A Human Urge
For whatever reason, be it the importance of outrunning predators and prey or the titillation of having wind through your hair, going fast has been base human urge for millennia. By foot and horse and chariot in the beginning, and graduating in both speed and danger as technology outpaced animals. It's said the first automobile race took place as soon as the second car came off the production line. Children determine their social standing by how fast they can run. And yet, in a game rife with imagination, a system that emphasizes what makes a human is not whether they're human or elf or goblin but their motivations and morals, the need for speed goes horribly overlooked. We like going fast. Why can't we in DnD?
Speed as Power
Magic tends to be the dominant source of power in any given Dungeons and Dragons world, and that's as it should be. Players and monsters can wield magic alike, and the gods of the realms tend to realize their wills using magical means. Additionally, for a game of (primarily) escapism adding an element of magic is just fun, and there's no downside to it playing a primary role. However, DnD relies on many sources of in-game power. There is still divine powers aplenty, but more importantly are the martial powers, the abilities of characters who cast no magic to become heroes of the ages. Why is speed not counted amongst the powers available to heroes to become great? To avoid evasion you must fast as well as stealthy, to chase down an escaping foe you need to be quick as well as strong, a decision made too slow is often worse than the wrong one made fast. Speed is more than just movement, as the character sheets of DnD prescribe, it is power. And should be treated as such.
Speed in Practice
So, how to turn the number at the top of the character sheet into something more interesting and useful? There are a variety of ways.
- Increasing and decreasing: This is generally the extent of where the current rules end. It's a valid tactic, because whoever has more speed has more options. Increasing someone's speed grants them more options and decreasing speed removes those options. Simple, straightforward, valid.
- Building Charge: Speed is distance over time, which requires kinetic energy of some kind. What is energy if not power? When characters are moving, or perhaps not moving, their speed or lack of it means energy that can harnessed for something other than movement, like empowering attacks or ability checks, or maybe creating intimidating auras to those around them.
- Resistance to speed based injuries: Going fast is fun but if you stop too abruptly you can die, or at least get hurt. However, in a magical world it makes sense that creatures have the ability to resist pesky things like ramming into walls at high speeds, paired with the ability to ram other creatures without taking that speed based damage and you have a winning combo.
- Speed based technology: DnD has incorporated firearms into much of its source material, but weapons are not the only tech to undergo change. Firing a flintlock pistol is cool, but it would cooler to be firing it out the side of a convertible.
Another urge innate to human society is the need to compete. There is nothing that celebrates both speed and competition more than racing. With a simple, single number, the thrill of racing isn't all that thrilling. You can change the mechanics of speed to create a more interesting race, perhaps by having feet of movement be earned or by creating a vehicle with a speed to leave the characters free to take other actions. But even if we stick to the base rules of DnD, you can still create an engaging race by adding external factors like other racers, obstacles, or courses with more interesting environments.
That's a lot of work
Yeah it is, which is why we're doing it so you don't have to. We're in the early stages of setting up a Kickstarter for a sourcebook called Guillman's Guide to Speed which we've been working on for nearly a year now. It includes everything talked about above and lots, lots more. There's a brand new world with unique lore, subclasses, races, ancestries, backgrounds, items, spells, puzzles, riddles, curses, feats, monsters, skill challenges and more. We're really excited about it, and we're doing everything we can to create something valuable for the amazing DnD community that we care so much about. If any of this sounds like something you'd be interested in, please join the Discord we've set up so that we can bounce ideas off of you and give up updates on where we're at with the project. There's lots more to come and we're excited about every bit of it.