This weekend while playing, our wizard found an invisible creature (detected with see invis) and when asked where it was by the party, the player started counting the squares to give an exact measure of where it was. The GM balked and said that this was not possible but they could give a general distance such as close range or about 50 feet. The party argued that this was easily possible to do in real life (IRL). Note, it is not easy for me personally but one person stated it was because I am not combat trained (several of them are military/ex-miltiary) and that the characters all are. After so many debates, I don't really go for "I can do this IRL answers" anymore, I prefer to have rules written (for or against, or going with GM call).

Are there rules given for characters being able to relay distances by exact feet or squares?

Note, I know the character must be able to tell because otherwise, spell casting ranges would be difficult to impossible. The key here is being able to relay exact distance, such as in this case where only one character could see the foe. I admit the player themself having to count the squares has made me skeptical.


6 Answers 6


As SevenSidedDie says, there are no rules for this, so you(r DM) needs to make a ruling one way or the other.

Personally, if I was the DM on the spot, I'd probably rule that:

  • Yes, the characters can totally call out "invisible goblin on my 2 o'clock, distance 30 feet!" and be understood. If necessary, they can also use their finger to point.

  • No, I'm not going to quibble about whether the characters would know such tactics, or whether they'd really be appropriate for the setting, at least not without a very good reason. The characters, at least past level 1 in any typical campaign, are all highly experienced combat veterans; they'll know how to do that, or something equivalent.

  • Yes, relaying the information to the other players in squares is a perfectly reasonable abstraction. Or we could just skip that bit and just assume that the other characters now know where the enemy is.

  • Yes, the other characters can attack the indicated square. However, the target creature is still invisible, and thus has total concealment, so even by RAW, they'll have a 50% chance of missing it completely.

  • If the target is more than, say, 10 squares away, I might even give the other characters an additional penalty to hit, because they're not even sure exactly which square the target is in. Also, unless they're using telepathy or something, the target might be able to hear the shout and take evasive action, which might merit a further penalty to hit. Neither of those is RAW (as far as I know), but I'd consider them quite reasonable rulings, depending on the exact circumstances.

  • If anybody objected, I would discuss these rulings (especially the last one) with my players, and adjust them accordingly. However, I would also remind them that, whatever they can do, their enemies can do as well. If their wizard can pinpoint an invisible enemy's position exactly from 500 feet away, and relay it to the rest of the party, then so, presumably, can any intelligent enemy with See Invisible. That should, hopefully, be sufficient incentive to reach a decision that's actually more or less balanced.


Distance in squares and other actions:

  1. Did a spellcaster ever miscast a spell as he suddenly realized that the target was out of range?
  2. Did a fighter ever charge and notice that he could not reach the opponent, wasting his action?
  3. Did an archer ever shoot an arrow to notice that it could not reach the target?

If you answered three times with no I think you have agreement that your characters are capable of detecting the distance in squares. So, I think that the answer to your question should be yes.

Informing others about positions:

Another question is if a character can describe the positions well enough that others can use that information. Now, you must decide if it is easy to describe ("He is standing in the doorway.") or difficult ("He is on this endless plane just 60 ft. north and 40 ft. east from my position.").

Maybe a skill/ability check to be sure that enough informations were given?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would allow you to tell the exact number of squares away as the wall might have some special points. He is at the wall just below the torch. \$\endgroup\$
    – limsup
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 21:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ #2 and #3 happen with some frequency in my games. My players have a limited amount of time to declare what they are going to do, and off-by-one errors are pretty common. \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ #1 is a different issue because most of the spells that spellcasters cast in range can reach very far. But yes, sometimes it happens! \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ This does not cite any rules and therefore does not answer the question asked. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 7:52

There are no rules for this. That's okay though, as rules for this won't solve your problem anyway, and you need to approach this differently:

The event that inspired this question is an example of social contract conflict or friction—some groups are OK with reifying game abstractions, and others aren't. Your GM isn't, and your wizard-player is.

To solve this, you don't need to find or establish a rule, you need to talk together about group expectations of out-of-character and in-character knowledge and get on the same page. The point of conflict you need to resolve is whether the game-abstraction convenience of perfect player knowledge of squares and feet is knowledge that PCs can use or not. You have to discuss whether this kind of metagaming is acceptable to the group or to be avoided (and, for proper understanding, why).

Only once you're on the same page might rules governing this be helpful, but they may also be unnecessary depending on what group understanding you discover.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Mm, I don't know that this really solves the issue. Sure it's a step in the right direction, and it works if they say "yes, PCs have perfect knowledge of squares." But it doesn't really help if they choose anything less than perfect meta-knowledge. Even if the PCs don't know squares, real people can communicate locations reasonably precisely, especially at close distances. \$\endgroup\$
    – AceCalhoon
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon When they figure that out, they can ask a new question about how to implement their goal, instead of asking for non-existent RAW. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 23:30

Part of the RL Hunters training, here in Denmark, is stating how far an object is away from you. I don't have the education myself and my hunter friend isn't online right now, I'd assume it would be something a kind to inside or outside shotgun range and security measures.
And your friends are also right, part of the military training is knowing - that door is that far away. Window is that high up and you need to drag you friend that far to get him safe. During patrols you need to be this far from you buddy.

I'll update this when my friend comes online.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a photographer I estimate distances routinely for manual focusing (film) cameras -- it's not hard to learn to do this. It's nothing like accurate enough to, say, target arrow fire or spells for the people who can't see invisible, but it's plenty good enough to get, say, a fireball or oil flask where it'll do some good. I'd take issue, however, with assuming that all PCs have had combat training or learned to estimate distance -- unless they have missile weapon proficiency, they'd have no reason to need to know at better than, say, 50 yards vs. 100 yards accuracy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 15:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZeissIkon "unless they have missile weapon proficiency". This question is not system-agnostic, it is flagged for the 3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons. In that game, it is extremely bizarre to build a PC character who does not have proficiency with any missile weapons at all; nearly every possible build is proficient at least with slings and crossbows. Therefore, making an exception if they are, and therefore assuming by default they're not, does not fit. Also, there are so many other fields where this skill is learned, that it's unlikely a PC who has a backstory doesn't have one covered. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 22:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ As the asker is looking for an actual rules basis for this stuff, are you able to comment on the rules themselves, in addition to the realism of doing this? Please see Should I be requesting people answer the question independently? for the reason why, and advice for what to do if you feel you'd just be repeating other answers. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 23:57

There are no actual Rules to cover this situation. While my exact ruling varies by Edition and rules set, assuming a stable paramilitary group of PCs (a generic adventuring party, undead hunters, a shadowrun crew, etc) I usually allow this after a couple missions or adventures together.

For 3.5, assuming PCs don't have shared background experience, I usually let them have it around level 4, when they grab their first teamwork benefit. If you wanted to be stricter, mechanically, a skill trick could be appropriate (or even its own Teamwork benefit or Language slot).

That being said, NPCs totally can do this too, and Elite city watch, other adventurers or commando units or private armies (I play in Ebberron mostly) will do the same to PCs.

For me, it isn't a matter of knowing distances. The rules for spells, charging, and ranged attacks, as noted, rely on characters being able to tell this; but more on working out an effective free action communication protocol.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by "Teamwork benefit"? I played 3.5 for a long time, and don't recall ever encountering any such mechanic as you describe. What book is it found in? Is it an optional rule? A house rule? Also, as for a free action communication protocol, why doesn't "talking" count? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 17:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Teamwork Benefits are listed in the PHB II (Pg 157), and represent the benefits of working and training together (and investing some skill points, in some cases). You can have 1/4HD of the lowest HD member of the team. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do allow talking as a free action, but if you've ever played a party game like Taboo (or another asymetrical information word game) communication under time and other constraints can be tricky. After a few levels, or some time spent in the same adventuring party (or military organization, etc) I allow PCs to effectively transmit information, overcoming obstacles like different dialects or slang terms, or just different training, even in the heat of battle, and to describe situations varying from invisible foes to the presence of traps or even the nonreality of illusions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 17:29

When I've GMed similar situations (in AD&D, The Fantasy Trip, and GURPS), I've allowed the character to do what he would reasonably do -- if he takes the time and risk to pace off the distance; he can give it in yards or paces. He can say anything he likes, but without some means of measurement, he won't even know the distance very precisely, and the GM should take into account that it won't be exactly what he said it was (even if paced off, it's plus or minus ten percent or more -- you tend to alter your stride to the circumstances).

IMO, this is more of a role-playing principle than rules-as-written issue; but both AD&D and all editions of GURPS have general rules for this kind of thing (never played or GMed D&D 3.5, but I'd expect it's there somewhere).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Any professional-level photographer (probably not your PCs), or anyone competent at hunting (Wilderness Lore, anyone?) or sport archery, or who has military training for field operations, or competence in any of a dozen other fields, should be able to look at something, and estimate and communicate its distance to within 5% or better. If what you're looking at is within 100', that's enough to put it within a 5' square. If the wizard somehow managed to not have any of those dozens of things in his skillset or background, sure, force a spot check. Otherwise, it's absurd to doubt he can do it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 22:18

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