One thing that has bothered me, almost since day 1 of playing 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, is how little size matters in combat, and how the prodigious Strength of monsters such as ogres, trolls and dragons is barely reflected in the game’s mechanics.
Now, I get that D&D is a fantasy game, in which heroes are supposed to go toe-to-toe with epic beasts, and I’m certainly not aiming for complete realism here, but when I read in the Monster Manual that an ogre “stands between 9 and 10 feet tall and weighs close to a thousand pounds” and then see it has the same Strength modifier as the party fighter then I’m a) disappointed and b) incredulous of the world we’re playing in.
An ogre is nearly as heavy as a black rhinoceros but a 1st level fighter with proficiency in Athletics is the favourite to beat it in a grapple, favourite to shove the
rhino ogre backwards (seriously!?), favourite to beat it in an arm wrestle, or any other contest of Strength. Meanwhile, this huge hulking beast of muscle is all too easily out-done by something as paltry as the use of one superiority die to trip or menace it. I mean look at the thing… you seriously think you could trip or menace that!?
This disconnect between the monster’s description, artwork and, you know, the laws of physics, when compared to the game’s mechanics bothers me A LOT! And if it bothers you too, then keep reading…
HIPSTER HOUSE RULES
Here are my Hipster House Rules for handling Large creatures.
- Large creatures have advantage on Strength-based ability checks
This should deal with the grappling and shove size disconnect, discussed above.
- Large creatures have advantage on Strength and Constitution saving throws
This should help prevent enormous hulking brutes (be they ogres, or gorgons or bulettes) being bullied by the likes of thunderwave, gust of wind or a Trip Attack maneuver, as if they were a teensy kobold, and it also makes the monk’s somewhat overpowered Stunning Strike ability less effective (which is fine by me!). Plus it offers them protection from a lot of poison effects and damage. Try bringing down a rhino with rat poison….
- Large creatures have advantage on saving throws against being frightened by creatures one or more sizes smaller than them.
This rule might need a bit of situational interpretation, and I might distinguish between a non-magical use of the Menacing maneuver and a casting of the fear spell. Their size needn’t protect them from magical effects.
Ok those three abilities make Large monsters a lot more resilient against control effects, in line with what we might expect from such bags of beefiness, but I also want to make them A LOT more scary. Any sane person would be absolutely sh!tting themselves if an angry ogre entered the room, and being a dab hand with a rapier or having taken a few martial arts classes would be scant reassurance. How can we reflect the danger these bruisers bring to the battlefield? Well I could just boost their Strength scores, but I don’t want to rewrite the Monster Manual and mess around with to hit modifiers. Plus, is anyone gonna notice if a monster does an extra point of damage or two? What I want is something that terrifies the players, and something that’s going to make them hesitate before charging in with their usual insouciant feeling of invincibility. I think I have the solution….
- Large creatures score a critical hit on a roll of a 19 or 20.
Perfect… the big guys don’t hit any more often than in RAW, but now they have twice as much chance as landing a truly deadly blow! That feels both realistic and fearsome, especially if it precipitates a roll on the dreaded Lingering Injuries table. And here’s the trick…. I’m going to tell my players that the ogre/troll/minotaur has an extended critical range beforehand. They need to know that they’re going up against something brutal and deadly!
I’m also thinking of offering the likes of ogres an opportunity attack when a creature ENTERS their range, given their long limbs and reach mean that even approaching these monsters can be deadly. Still mulling over the pros and cons of that one.
Anyhow, I’m going to press publish on this post now, because I’ve got a lot of writing work to do on my forthcoming adventure… but I will come back to this post with thoughts on dealing with Huge and Gargantuan creatures.
In the mean time, please share your own thoughts, experiences, house rules and hacks on dealing with Large monsters in D&D….