That one really got stuck in people's craw. Apparently, it is nearly a criminal offense to suggest that players should be so put upon as to suggest they're not shoulder-to-shoulder at the moment of an encounter. I find it funny and a bit sad . . . but there we are.
The deeper issue, the one that inspired this post, can be found about 2/5ths down the page, where one of the commenters makes this argument to defend parties sticking together:
"Most hunting parties, on the other hand, stick close together, at least until the prey is spotted. This is to reduce the risks from the prey, from one another's weapons, and from other predators. Generally, such a group stays within a couple yards of each other, staying clearly within one another's sight ranges. Many use hand signals once prey is spotted, reinforcing the need for short ranges.
"A military unit moves much the same, maintaining similar paces by long hours together, and by having it drilled repeatedly into them. Patrols don't tend to bunch up, but also tend to stay between single and double interval (2.5-5 feet; roughly 0.75-1.5m) in a single file until encounter, and then bunch up for instructions if time, or spread to line abreast if no time, but again, tending to stay single to triple interval (2.5-7.5').There is something deliciously dissonant about this argument that, I've found, almost never obtains its most obvious rebuttal: the world in which fantasy proposes to take place comes at a time when the above described military training hasn't been invented yet. One might just as well argue that four passengers in a car don't wander from one another either during a trip - since both the gas-powered vehicle and the above described patrol patterns were invented together and at the same time.
But this rarely occurs to the military fanatic, who fervently believes that Colonel Washington's men at Fort Wilderness performed the fist or the two-finger hand signal that has become so common in films this last decade, mostly because it is such a great way for directors to show that this group of dorks are really brilliantly trained commandos. Of course, as they move around they fuck up in about a hundred other ways, showing that they're not that brilliant, but that's not important; the guy pressed his index and middle finger together and waved it - yay, film.
It is very, very hard for these military types to accept that prior to modern warfare, there was far less reason to standardize arm and hand signals for use between individual soldiers on the battlefield. The practice didn't come into use until long after army discipline was developed - the late 17th century - following certain practical developments in speedily reloading and firing the new rifles of that period. It took 150 years after that just to develop the most basic structures of a modern combat unit, much less the sort of developments and adaptations proposed by military writers throughout the 19th century. When the Civil War began, most of the 'tactics' consisted of reloading as fast as possible, massing the men under command and rushing them at the enemy . . . because this modern commando vision of men perfectly communicating with each other through hand signals hadn't been invented yet.
Nevertheless, any argument that proposes "sight ranges" as being relevant to D&D character movement is worth posting. The world needs humour.
I feel compelled to point out that most Medieval depictions of 'hunting' tend to show their subjects scattered higgledy-piggledy within the frame, as this Unicorn Tapestry, circa 1495-1515:
|Note the lack of effort each hunter takes in remaining out of|
each other's sight ranges.
|Hand signals are a bitch when every hand is filled with a|
weapon or a shield.
While we do know that Romans marched in time and as a group, we have no contemporary examples of what this actually looked like. Everything we imagine about Roman soldiers marching has been recreated in our heads, first in Renaissance painting and later in film. Here's a Roman depiction of soldiers, from Trajan's Column:
|Not exactly lockstep|
|Not quite the discipline we've been led to expect|
Once upon a time, soldiers really did not act like modern trained regulars. That's a recent development. Somehow, to some people, it doesn't seem like that's possible. It seems to them like our neanderthal forebears must have been slashing brilliant commandos, simply because they hunted all the time and had not yet learned how to speak. They MUST have developed some clever way to talk to each other, right?
Somehow, it never occurs that it's possible that they just didn't.