01 December 2012

League After League

When it comes to fantasy role-playing in ancient or medieval settings, I have a preference for outdated units of measurement. They are consistent with in-character dialogue and they are neutral with regard to the systems of measurement used by gamers all over the world. That is why I proposed the adoption of the cubit as the basic unit of measurement for fantasy settings. Suppose, however, you need to measure much greater lengths such as the distance between two towns. The kilometer, of course, is out. The mile is historically accurate, having been first used by the Romans as the mille passuum ("one thousand paces"), but it is also currently used in the U.S. The neutral solution would be to adopt the league.

The league is an obsolete unit of measurement that was once quite popular in many countries and remains popular in fantasy literature, which makes it eminently qualified to be used in fantasy role-playing. A league is simply 3 miles (or approximately 4.8 km), and its origin was practical: it was the average distance a person or horse could walk in one hour. If ever there was a unit of measurement made for itinerant adventurers, the league is it. And unlike the mile, it doesn't evoke a specific empire or culture. The league is both generic and folkloric. In other words, it is perfect for our uses.

1 league = 3 miles = 15,840 feet = 5,280 yards = 4.827 km

As for how many cubits are in a league...

1 league = 10,560 cubits

Whilst I'm on the subject, if you happen to be playing in an historical setting (or an alternate history) that uses miles and cubits, the following conversion may be useful:

1 standard mile = 3,520 cubits

Another option is simply to use all Roman units of measurement including those that survived to the present in some nations, e.g. pes (foot), mille passuum (mile), uncia (ounce), libra (pound), etc. (See the Wikipedia article Ancient Roman Units of Measurement for more information.)


  1. I am very fond of the system of measurements in Swordbearer, which used the pace of 30" (2 1/2 feet, about 0.75m), the bloc of 20 paces (50 feet), and the league of 6000 paces (15,000 feet, or about 2.841 miles/4.572km).

    1. I've been meaning to get a copy of Swordbearer for years.