Imperial vs. Metric


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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As an American, I do understand the units they use pretty well. (They're really only the most basic units that would be used by most americans) I also do feel like it does have a dash of imperial/medieval/ancient feel to it.

However, I wish all of us here in the states would just use the metric system. It's really easy since everything is divisible by 10, and you only have to add prefixes to base units to get a different scale of measurement.

Honestly, if it wasn't a thing you had to use in everyday things with normal people (I say this very loosely), I would be using metric all the time.

I'm sorry, the US and maybe one or two other countries are using the imperial system (and not consistent ones either), but we need to get on board. :P


But if we switched, what would happen to poor Mauritius?


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I hail from Europe, and when I see translated source books talking about dwarves having speed of 6 meters/round... it just feels odd. The fact that, at least in our perception of it, the imperial system comes imbued with a peculiar medieval flavor is, I think, actually a big plus in a fantasy setting.

That said, I do admit that I have to do my share of mental conversions, as I lack the intuitive feel of how much, say, 100 feet are (pretty close to 30 meters, apparently). The same problem a relative of mine had when he came visiting my family in Europe: his Garmin GPS was set to metric, and he kept underestimating distances while trekking in the woods because he would just mentally consider 1000 meters a short walking distance, when in reality it was almost 2/3 of a mile.

In my opinion, though, the imperial system is just better suited for measurements (especially those performed in everyday life), while metric is superior when performing calculations.

To clarify my point: having a foot divided into 12 inches might sound bizarre at first, until you realize that counting in base 12 makes a lot of sense as far as divisions are concerned: 12 you can divide by 2, 3, 4 and 6 (as opposed to 10 only being divisible by 2 and 5), giving a carpenter using of inches a very convenient way to express such notions as half a foot, a third of a foot etc. (in metric, that would force him to use repeating decimals). For similar reasons, Babylonians divided the circumference in 360 degrees.

Secondly, the imperial system manages to have just the right scaling where it counts. You can't measure a man's height as a multiple of 1 meter (1 is too little, 2 is - usually - too much), you can use centimeters but that would take a lot of them (your average guy being 180 cm tall). The Fahrenheit scale manages to capture between 0 and 100 °F virtually every temperature not exceedingly hostile to human life. And so on.

However, when it comes to calculating esteems, metric is much smoother. 1 cubic decimeter of water is 1 l, weighing 1 kg (that means a cubic meter weighs 1 ton). Most liquids (no, I'm not looking at you, Hg) have similar densities, so it's very easy to make an educated guess about how much a certain volume of, say, oil, would weigh. Gasses are usually a thousand times lighter - that means 1 g per per liter, or 1 kg per cubic meter. Solids are usually heavier, but most are around 10 kilos per cubic decimeter, give or take - so you just multiply by 10.

As far as heat is concerned, you would need 1 kcal to raise that liter of water's temperature by 1 °C degree. If you wanted to stay within the boundaries of the International System of Units, here is the first time when you would need to remember a conversion by heart: 1 kcal is about 4 kJ: that is, if you prefer, a 1 kW microwave left running for 4 seconds.

Luckily, my dwarf fighter never had to perform such calculations. He's more concerned about his movement speed being a measly 20 feet per round.


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Limnen_euron wrote:


Secondly, the imperial system manages to have just the right scaling where it counts. You can't measure a man's height as a multiple of 1 meter (1 is too little, 2 is - usually - too much), you can use centimeters but that would take a lot of them (your average guy being 180 cm tall).

Decimetres to the rescue! That'd be 18 of them :)

You can't measure most heights in a multiple of feet either. I'm 165 cm tall, which I guess makes me about five and a half feet? There's a big difference between 5 and 6 feet, so for the most part I just don't see the advantage of saying 5 foot 7 inches rather than 1 m 70 cm or 170 cm (or 17 dm if you want to be slightly weird).


Thymus Vulgaris wrote:
Limnen_euron wrote:


Secondly, the imperial system manages to have just the right scaling where it counts. You can't measure a man's height as a multiple of 1 meter (1 is too little, 2 is - usually - too much), you can use centimeters but that would take a lot of them (your average guy being 180 cm tall).

Decimetres to the rescue! That'd be 18 of them :)

You can't measure most heights in a multiple of feet either. I'm 165 cm tall, which I guess makes me about five and a half feet? There's a big difference between 5 and 6 feet, so for the most part I just don't see the advantage of saying 5 foot 7 inches rather than 1 m 70 cm or 170 cm (or 17 dm if you want to be slightly weird).

I guess that was far from the best example (I have to say though, I've NEVER heard decimeters used in real life).

Of course, once you do have the precise measure, all systems are technically equivalent . What I actually meant is that, should you have to make a rough estimate without having access to a ruler, using feet instead of meters (or centimeters) allows you to make better approximations. For instance, I'd say a plank is about 1 meter long, and then I'd skip straight to 1 and a half meters long if I wanted to convey the information that it was actually a bit longer than a single meter (I wouldn't go for 1.3 or 1.2 meters because that would seem far too precise having just my naked eye at my disposal - think of it as a matter of significant figures). Using multiples of 1 foot, however, seems just right: calling something 4 feet long allows me to use a finer-grained scale without unreasonably narrowing the confidence interval.

That said, I fully agree with you that nowadays, with very precise measuring instruments becoming commonplace most of the reasons I quoted for the validity of the imperial system are rapidly becoming obsolete. Nonetheless, I hope I was clearer this time about the point I tried to make, even though I highly suspect I was not :) Going to sleep!


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GregTheHun wrote:

As an American, I do understand the units they use pretty well. (They're really only the most basic units that would be used by most americans) I also do feel like it does have a dash of imperial/medieval/ancient feel to it.

However, I wish all of us here in the states would just use the metric system. It's really easy since everything is divisible by 10, and you only have to add prefixes to base units to get a different scale of measurement.

Honestly, if it wasn't a thing you had to use in everyday things with normal people (I say this very loosely), I would be using metric all the time.

I'm sorry, the US and maybe one or two other countries are using the imperial system (and not consistent ones either), but we need to get on board. :P

I have two big problems with the Metric system. First the actual measurements are poor. They should have just said 1g (gravity) = 12 meters/second/second. And they should have used base 12!

Base 12 is much better for dividing things up than base 10. With base 12, you can divide things easily into halves, thirds, quarters, sixths, and fairly easily into eighths and ninths. With base ten, it's halves and fifths. We even have special words for 12 and 144.


I have to say this imperial vs. metric annoye me a lot, but I got used to it even if I "wing" a lot of numbers

The worst are the German translations as they always tries to translate it, but sometimes make big mistakes (e.g. 1 mile = 1 km)


Vod Canockers wrote:
GregTheHun wrote:

As an American, I do understand the units they use pretty well. (They're really only the most basic units that would be used by most americans) I also do feel like it does have a dash of imperial/medieval/ancient feel to it.

However, I wish all of us here in the states would just use the metric system. It's really easy since everything is divisible by 10, and you only have to add prefixes to base units to get a different scale of measurement.

Honestly, if it wasn't a thing you had to use in everyday things with normal people (I say this very loosely), I would be using metric all the time.

I'm sorry, the US and maybe one or two other countries are using the imperial system (and not consistent ones either), but we need to get on board. :P

I have two big problems with the Metric system. First the actual measurements are poor. They should have just said 1g (gravity) = 12 meters/second/second. And they should have used base 12!

Base 12 is much better for dividing things up than base 10. With base 12, you can divide things easily into halves, thirds, quarters, sixths, and fairly easily into eighths and ninths. With base ten, it's halves and fifths. We even have special words for 12 and 144.

I dislike base 12 because our entire way of counting works on base 10, which makes base 10 so much easier to work with.

9'7'', how many inches is that? Uhh... nine times twelve, plus seven... 108... 115.
9.7 metres, how many centimetres is that? Oh, that's easy, you just move the decimal point two spaces and get 970 cm.
Now what are the above expressed in miles and kilometres? I need a converter for the feet and inches above, but it's easy to tell that 9.7 m equals 0.0097 km.

Base 10 number system, base 10 units.


mkenner wrote:


I don't really mind for fantasy games, because it feels appropriate to a medieval setting to use an archaic system of measurement. If I were running a science fiction game though it would feel strange not to use SI units.

#ShotsFired

/jk I don't like the Imperial system either, and I grew up with it.


I only know about inches and feet because of D&D/Pathfinder. And I only use it for exact measurements during fights. The height of my character, the weight of his gear, etc. is all in the metric system. I especially despise the volumetric measurements. For them I use a handy unit calculator on my tablet or smartphone.

And yes. The imperial system feels archaic. It is even used by american authors (David Weber in his Nimue Alban series) to demonstrate how backwards a society is... ;)


I certainly prefer metric, but I'm comfortable enough with imperial that I've got no problem with it in Pathfinder. I'd be happy for it to change, but it doesn't bother me as it stands.

Here in New Zealand imperial use actually seems to have faded quite a lot lately. When I was growing up in the 80's I used both, but height and weight used to almost always be given in imperial. Though i never remember getting milk in anything other than litres. And by now weight is pretty much always given in metric here, and while imperial is more common for height the usage is still fading.

Limnen_euron wrote:
To clarify my point: having a foot divided into 12 inches might sound bizarre at first, until you realize that counting in base 12 makes a lot of sense as far as divisions are concerned: 12 you can divide by 2, 3, 4 and 6 (as opposed to 10 only being divisible by 2 and 5), giving a carpenter using of inches a very convenient way to express such notions as half a foot, a third of a foot etc. (in metric, that would force him to use repeating decimals). For similar reasons, Babylonians divided the circumference in 360 degrees.

I think the beauty of metric is how easily the units scale though. If I'm building something I'm more likely to use millimetres for any fine work, but if precision matters less it's pretty easy to shift to centimetres or metres.

Basically it means that you can express pretty much anything to two decimal places, you just need to scale your units. But I like that it makes measurement 'rules' much the same whatever scale you're working in. I think in most cases that trumps the easier divisibility of 12 for me,


Pamela Elizabeth wrote:
Just out of curiosity, are players outside the United States annoyed by having all the measurements in feet, pounds, etc., or are there 'translated' resources available? Or do you guys just not care?

It only really bothers me if they then also translate those measurements into their own invented measurement (like "squares"). Sure, it's not super complicated math, but it is yet-another layer every time you have to translate a measure into something relatable.

It's also slightly inconvenient when a game uses certain set amounts that doesn't translate neatly into metrics. Like 5-foot steps. A "roughly 1.5 meter step" is a lot less elegant.

Come to think of it, it becomes increasingly inconvenient the more grid-based the game tries to be.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Tryn wrote:

I have to say this imperial vs. metric annoye me a lot, but I got used to it even if I "wing" a lot of numbers

The worst are the German translations as they always tries to translate it, but sometimes make big mistakes (e.g. 1 mile = 1 km)

That translation wouldn't trouble me much, I have seen worse.

Like the guy that in a boardgame (Crescendo of doom) translated "In condition of Wet weather (game term) the hexagons adjacent to hexagons of mud are hexagon of Bog (game term for hexagon where a vehicle incur the risk of bogging down, not for actual bogs)" as "In condition of Wet weather (game term) the hexagons adjacent to hexagons of mud are hexagon of mud", making the whole game board mud, troubled me (it was the last time used a translated rule set if the original was available).

Or the guy that translated in a SF book a piece about the "light brigade" as if light was about a light source. But, as the piece was about the "light brigade charging in the valley of death", it was clear that the author was speaking of the Charge of the light cavalry brigade at Balaclava.

I find a simple measurement error way less troubling.


Tryn wrote:
The worst are the German translations as they always tries to translate it, but sometimes make big mistakes (e.g. 1 mile = 1 km)

Pet peeve alert!

It honestly bothers me more when the translation is super exact. Like when someone goes "oh, it's about two miles that way" and it gets translated to "oh, it's about 3.219km that way". I hate that so much. :)


On the subject of measurements:

The standard length of a railroad rail in the US from the 1880s was 39 feet. Seems like an odd measurement that would make estimation of distance cumbersome, doesn't it? Why not make it an even 40 feet? Because the rails had to be shipped to the construction sites on rail gondolas and so had to be made to fit. The gondolas were 40 feet so the rails they transported had to be made a foot shorter to fit properly.


A game designer with a foot in each system and going for a "medieval" feel might use units that are easily translatable in both system such as the yard, which is close enough to 1 metre, or the league (about 3 miles or 5 km = about 1 hour of walk over flat land).

the furlong is a distance of 1/8 of a mile, which is about 200m; a long-range-yet-not-overland-distance unit that "speaks" in both imperial and metric.

The quart is close enough to 1 liter to be used a reference unit (although it being a fraction already, it would be weird to have volumes of "half-quarts" and whatnot. Not sure if it would really be necessary however...)


Slaunyeh wrote:
Like when someone goes "oh, it's about two miles that way" and it gets translated to "oh, it's about 3.219km that way"

Hahahahaha!

Liberty's Edge

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Personally, I love my archaic system of weights and measures. You can have my yardstick when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.

Sovereign Court

For anyone who thinks the relationship between imperial measurements is arbritary - it is! It's a mishmash of a bunch of different systems which were somehow combined and/or based upon ballparks off bodyparts (foot & inch - and a cubit for that matter).

For example - a mile is 1000 staves. A staff being 5.28 feet. The problem is that no one has used a staff as a unit of measurement in (don't quote me) centuries. Heck - if they wanted they could say that each square for minis is a staff squared. :P

Although - I still prefer Fairanheit for figuring out the temp of a room etc. Celcius is more scientific, but Fairanheit is more useful for most temps that people actually use on a daily basis sans cooking.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

In game terms, I always just convert to squares. I play in France with French RPGers, and their books are published in French, with the metric measures. My books are in English, so when looking up spell ranges or creature movement I have to do feet /5 = squares, or meters /1.5 (or x 2/3) = squares. Makes me stop and think about it a sec, but you get used to it.

Encumbrance is a pain, I'll just look up the items on the French version of the prd. Or just take kg /2 = pounds, which seems to be what the book translators used.

<shrug>


Pounds? How many stone is that?

Feet? How many hands is that?

Scarab Sages

Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Claxon wrote:
Pounds? How many stone is that?

About 7 Kilos to Stone

Spoiler:
14 pounds to stone

Claxon wrote:
Feet? How many hands is that?

Well horses have hooves and are measured in hands to the shoulder.

Spoiler:
3 hands to a foot

Now bask in my erudite and pedantic knowledge!


My players and I are 'fluent' in both measurements, so we're good.

However, Fahrenheit infuriates us. ;)


Andrew Harasty wrote:
Claxon wrote:
Pounds? How many stone is that?

About 7 Kilos to Stone

** spoiler omitted **

Claxon wrote:
Feet? How many hands is that?

Well horses have hooves and are measured in hands to the shoulder.

** spoiler omitted **

Now bask in my erudite and pedantic knowledge!

I did actually know those, though Gods know why. I was mostly just trying to be funny.

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