Hipsters & Dragons

Because roleplaying is social, creative, fun… and kinda cool!

Size Matters: Let’s Buff The Big Fellas

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!?

My money is on the ogre! (Artwork from the Monster Manual, published by Wizards of the Coast).

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….

Previous

Memorable NPC Name Generator

Next

The Shield Master Feat: Bossing It!

24 Comments

  1. Michael

    A largER creature should always have Advantage in Strength contests with a smallER creature (never liked gnomes anyway!) Not sure they need Advantage otherwise. Is a gust of wind less likely to blow over an ogre or a giant? Possibly but if you delve too much into biophysics you realise they can’t exist in the first place . . .

    The critical I like. Though I want to expand the critical range by 1 for every size class. So your Tarrasque crits on a 17 (16 against halflings ). That’d sort out all those on the forums who claim their party took it down at 6th level. (They very clearly didn’t have me as a DM.)

    As for the fear thing – I think you’ve forgotten everything you learnt as a child about what happens when an elephant sees a mouse.

    • duncan

      yes, it would make more sense to adjudicate the advantage comparatively to other sizes. At least the Strength contests. With two size differences equalling an automatic win (this is tacitly represented in many ability mechanics which affect a “Large creature or smaller”, although in RAW being Small is not such a disadvantage as we’re proposing).

      I would say a gust of wind is more likely to blow over a 100 lb creature than a 1000 lb one, although would depend on their surface area I guess… certainly tripping a creature that weighs 1000 lbs and stands with their legs some 6 or 7 feet apart is wildly different to tripping a creature that weighs 150 lbs and stands with their legs maybe 2 or 3 feet apart. Meanwhile poisoning a larger creature is indisputably much harder. Going on weight you might need 5 times the dose to poison an ogre as a human. This is partially reflected in a good Con modifier and higher hit points, I know, but some poisons produce an effect like paralysis etc. and an ogre’s body mass would give them a huge advantage here.

      Re: hyper-extended critical ranges. Well that was something I am mulling over for Huge and Gargantuan creatures…. I would feel rather cruel doing this comparatively and thus dooming many a halfling and gnome PC to a squishy death… although you could perhaps give halflings etc a boon by saying. “When you attack a creature three sizes smaller than you, your attacks are made at disadvantage.”

      I won’t comment on your elephant / mouse theory! 🤣

      • Dennis

        Surface area is proportional to the square of size and weight to the cube. Thus if you double the size of a creature it will have 4 times the surface area and weight 8 times as much. This is why the larger creature would be more stable.

        • Dennis

          But against a gust of wind or some such, the big monster is taller which means it’s body forms a longer lever against which the wind acts. I believe this would cancel out the difference weight/area.

      • Giancarlo

        Hi Duncan! Just recently found your stuff, and I’m quickly becoming a big fan. I really love these ideas, though I would also agree that advantage on Strength contests would make more sense to be tied to size. I would even potentially say non-magical effects that require Strength saves should similarly be tied to size difference, though general advantage on all Strength saves does sound fairly reasonable. And while I do enjoy these ideas, I also have 2 clarifying questions. Is the extended critical range limited to the creature’s physical attacks, or does it apply to any magic it has on top of that? Also, would these benefits extend to any creature that isn’t normally Large but gets enlarged somehow, either through the Enlarge/Reduce spell or a class/racial feature such as Rune Knight’s Giant Might feature?

        • duncan

          Hi Giancarlo, thanks for the kind words.

          The intention was extended critical range more on attacks that relied on brute strength, be it a fist, club or thrown boulder.

          Hmmm, good question. On the one hand those player abilities are usually pretty carefully balanced by the designers, so I’m loathe to play around with them. On the other hand adding additional critical range to these two powers make sense, would be fun, and I don’t think they would break the game… so I’d allow it (can always tell players… ok we will playtest this, and I later I might decide no!)!

          Cheers!

          d

    • Dos

      Observations: 1. As a semi-pro fighter (before too many injuries), I can verify that a 4 inch difference in height is enough to give a significant advantage. I fought a Mexican dude who would have beaten me if he were taller. Lightning fast! 2. The mental/confidence/morale part of combat is huge – imnsho, bigger than the physical piece because you can win a fight/lose before it has begun. But AD&D dropped the morale component in about 1980. Warhammer still has it. When you (op) say PCs (and players) should fear an ogre, your thoughts turned to damage, but that’s not how it works.
      3. You cannot beat a big guy without tactics. The rules should reflect that.

      • Rick Coen

        You thinking, “morale wise”, like a low-level automatic Intimidation? (either low DC save, or only affects HD x or less) when a mountain of muscle charges you, it is scary.

        • dos

          Sure, that would work.
          I am thinking of a simple system like Deadlands has, maybe simpler.
          Off the top of my head, everyone could have N levels of morale (5? 7?), each giving a bonus or penalty to actions. Start at 0 or some positive number. If you are wounded more than half, take a -1 penalty to most actions; tired – take another; suffer a crit – maybe lose another level of morale. Enemy takes an action to overawe you…
          You crit an opponent, your cleric blesses you, wizard casts a cleaning cantrip on your underwear, or bard plays your favorite BeeGees tune – morale improves, +1 to actions.
          Fighters are trained for this sort of thing, so they get bonuses on morale. Berserkers are immune to all or most morale failures, but at the cost of blind rage.
          This could all be built into the system and factor into tactics as it does in real life. PCs do not automatically run, but at some point the negatives pile up and running becomes the reasonable thing.
          It is a dimension that the game seriously lacks. I only play it because their is so much support material for it and my son wants to play 5e.

          • Rick Coen

            I played a CRPG long ago called Knights of Legend, where the “Bravery” attribute was just as important as all the others. Fighting bandits and wolves might be a difficult fight, but it wasn’t scary; fighting even a single troll could kill you all despite being an “easy” fight because of the terror of the supernatural! So picking the weaker-but-braver race was actually a completely serviceable character choice, so you could act *at all* in the face of these dangers. (I think it was a 100-pt scale, with percentage rolls against scariness, and you gained +1 per level…)

  2. Kurt

    Would you apply the same rule to a medium creature enlarged by the Enlarge/Reduce spell? As that is a sizable (pun intended) boost in that spell’s effectiveness, yet it fits the logic used here.

    • duncan

      Ok interesting you should mention the Enlarge spell, as it basically offers many of the same benefits to en-Large-d creatures as I am proposing….

      Enlarge. The target’s size doubles in all dimensions, and its weight is multiplied by eight. This growth increases its size by one category – from Medium to Large, for example. If there isn’t enough room for the target to double its size, the creature or object attains the maximum possible size in the space available. Until the spell ends, the target also has advantage on Strength Checks and Strength Saving Throws. The target’s Weapons also grow to match its new size. While these Weapons are enlarged, the target’s Attack with them deal 1d4 extra damage.

      After that it’s a judgement call I guess if you’d also confer advantage on Constitution saving throws (I probably would for thunderwave, as they are 8 times heavier and harder to move.. but maybe not for poison, as their size is somehow superficial, and definitely temporary). Against being frightened I wouldn’t confer any advantage…. they still feel Medium on the inside! Extended critical range…. sure why the hell not, it’s a 2nd level spell that’s slightly on the weak side in RAW., or at least doesn’t confer too many combat benefits, so it’s fine to offer this buff.

  3. Rick Coen

    Oh wow. I love this. I just ran a couple encounters featuring ogre zombies, and then an Zombie Girallon… and the human Battlemaster was Tripping them, shoving them down ridges. Even when he was “surprised” by the ogre zombie’s meaty fist bursting out of the ground and grabbing his leg… he was only held one round – it was a straight-up contest between them!

    I especially like not having to recalculate all their accuracies and damages. I agree that magical effects should still have full impact – a thousand pounds of flab and muscle will protect you from poison delivered by a dagger slice, but not one magically delivered to your bloodstream all at once.

    The other thing that was bouncing around the back of my head – and aligns with your crit suggestion – was to make all their attacks “Brutal” (i.e. “reroll 1s”, or “reroll 2s”)… you never take a “glancing blow” (min damage) from a mountain of muscle. *but*, in practice, I found that I use the 5e average damages for my monsters, so that really just equates to “he does 13.. wait, 14 damage”. The crit rule, on the other hand… Twice the likelihood of “he does, 26 plus 13… ” *That’s* scary!

    And yes, the players should know this, going in!

    In Rolemaster, they had completely separate charts for huge creatures. You could cut up their legs all day long, but unless you had some sort of magic or special circumstance helping you, you just couldn’t score a meaningful crit. (Lots of “extra damage”, but anyone who has played Chartmas… uh… Rolemaster knows you kill something with crit effects, not raw damage.)

    Questions, though — would you apply this to *any* disparity of size? Should a human fighter be able to toss the Tiny pixie around and ignore its effects? If the fighter gets Enalrged to Large, does he gain this bonus? does it negate the ogre’s? What about Huge and Collossal creatures?

    • Rick Coen

      In the period of time that my internet was down, between reading this as-yet-unresponded article, and when my comment posted, I see that at least one group of my questions has already been asked (comparative size). I don’t think there was a satisfactory decision/compromise reached on the questions, though.

      I do try to keep in mind that the party is going to face *lots* of monsters; the monsters are going to (generally) face *one* party of adventurers, once. That’s one issue with making crits more deadly/common…. the monsters are, by sheer volume, going to receive far more crits! But anything that makes the PCs pause and *think* about the foe, maybe strategize about how to eliminate the foe’s advantages (no pun intended)… I think that’s a win. I really like giving monsters extra defenses that can be overcome by the right skill/weapon/trick… in this case, if you want to face an ogre head on – get Big yourself!!

      But, as when I tried to add Knockback to my game, my players quickly pointed out / questioned why they weren’t knocking back kobolds and goblins? What about a Horse (Large creature)?

      • duncan

        Hi Rick

        I’m not 100% sure yet if some of these advantages should be comparative or flat… probably need to give this more thought, especially in regards to what happens when creatures with two size difference come into contact. But I think most DMs will be comfortable adjudicating something on the fly, based on the general principle I’m advocating.

        I think though I’m going to say comparative, and that yes I’d be ok with a PC automatically winning a Strength check against a pixie (if the pixie is flying though I might rule that shove attack requires a to hit roll though), and with medium sized PCs having advantage in Strength contests against a goblin or kobold.

        BUT you could also argue the difference between small and medium creatures is not as big as that between medium and large creatures…. that’s backed up at least partially in the book with a small creature taking up the same space as a medium one (which in turn only takes up a quarter of the space of a Large one). If you don’t want to punish halflings and goblins etc. with these rulings. Thus you could group small and medium together as one size, with some justification.

        Re: Enlarge spell…. see comment above, but I’d say that yes a Medium creature that becomes Large get all the same benefits, and that if two large creatures contested a grapple you could just decide either they both have advantage or neither of them do.

        Ogre and Girallon zombies sounds like a fun encounter… was that in Chult!? I can imagine that the battlemaster probably dealt with it a bit too easily, and that’s partly what inspired this post… glad you like the extended critical range solution. Brutal rerolls is not bad either, but as you say, it only adds up to a few extra damage and the PCs might not even notice.

        Rolemaster… wow, I have some very vague 30 year old memories of playing that once or twice. If I remember correctly was a d100 system with unplayably crunchy combat….? And lots and lots of injury tables.

        Thanks for the comments!

        • Rick Coen

          Thanks for the reply. Yeah, Rolemaster was, ahem, a *few* years ago…

          Okay, so settling on “Advantage on STR and CON checks and saves, and nonmagical poison saves. Critical Hit range increased by 1.” if you are one size class larger than your opponent.

          Caveat: “Small and Medium are treated as 1 category, as they are actually fairly close.”

          I would suggest, rather than automatic success/victory, +5 for each additional size category. My players whine a lot about anything that auto-wins (or loses, at least they are consistent)… “there should always be a chance!” Not advocating “20 always succeeds”, but rather “In the special circumstance, because of the macguffin item and the edge case spell description and my special multiclass combination of skills and bonuses, and standing on the left on a tuesday in Avernus, I have a +17 bonus to this roll…” In those circumstances, they want a chance to beat the Huge Giant (who will roll at base +6, with advantage for being 1 size larger, and then +5 for being two sizes larger… in the words of every cocky action hero ever “I’ll take those odds!”).

          And if they can hit the pixie, they’ll get Advantage too. No gnome-punting for the humans, though…

          • duncan

            Hi Rick

            Yeah, I don’t like automatic wins /fails either, although they are also built into RAW with texts like “if the target is Large or smaller, it must make a Strength saving throw.” Ie. automatic fail if the creature is larger than Large.

            If we imagine that a Medium creature takes up a 5 foot cube, a Large a 10 foot cube and a Huge a 15 foot cube, then I guess we’re looking at a creature 27 times the weight of a human.

            But still, as you mention, with all the special circumstances that they can bring to bear, it’s nice to give PCs a chance….

    • Aite

      Maybe have the con bonus only apply to non-magical effects

  4. Dennis

    This particular piece of the weirdness in the rules is a result of using Strength for hitting with melee weapons. Being big doesn’t confer much advantage in hitting thus the Strength scores of large creatures are similar to those of player characters.

    If attacks and damage used attributes that reflected how weapons actually workd then big monsters could have realistically high strength scores. Dexterity would be the attribute for melee weapon attacks and damage, and Intelligence or Wisdom for ranged weapon attacks and damage, with Strength minimums determining whether or not one could use a particular weapon effectively. Unarmed attacks would use Dexterity to hit and Strength for damage. But making such extensive changes to D&D is a route to madness….

    I don’t like the wider crit range for big monsters. It’s a recipe for TPK’s that will be disruptive to play styles other than OSR dungeon crawls.

    Per D&D rules the damage dice for large creatures are doubled and huge creatures quadrupled. So a player character’s greatclub does 1d8 damage, while the Ogres would do 2d8, or a Hill Giant’s 4d8. This should be enough to make them scary for low level characters, of course, high level characters won’t notice the difference, but they’re supposed to be demigods anyway.

    For Strength contests with differing sizes I’d give give the player character advantage if opposed by a smaller creature, and disadvantage if by a larger creature. I think having the player roll with advantage/disadvantage makes the point more effectively than having the monster roll with disadvantage/advantage.

    • duncan

      Strength as a to hit modifier makes sense if you think that Strength also equals power, which equal speed, and also 50% of hitting is getting through an opponent’s armour. So I don’t know if that is a good excuse for ogres etc. not having higher Strength…. as an abstraction I guess the designers didn’t want monsters that hit more often than PCs, which makes sense for gameplay, even if it’s not realistic.

      I see your concerns, but I don’t think higher critical range needs to lead to more TPKs, as long as one remembers that what was a fairly unchallenging CR 2 monster, in the case of the ogre, is now quite dangerous. If you make monsters more dangerous you obviously factor that in to your encounter building. For me, the question is more, “do you want larger creatures to actually convey a fear factor, or are you happy for them to be just a stat block to be dispatched….” I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong answer here… but as a personal response, as a player I’ve found fighting 1000 lb brutes to be extremely unchallenging, even at low levels. My DM would be giving a scary description of a pair of tree-snapping monsters, and then 12 seconds later they would be dispatched without a sweat.

  5. PK

    My solution is for “Successive Checks” prior to Contest.
    – its a general solution
    – player is the focus, and has to roll well (repeatedly), and
    – it builds drama and epic stories.

    Consider a Storm Giant (+14 to Athletic) in a tug-of-war with a Halfling.

    As a DM, I consider this a pretty epic moment, and were the Halfling to succeed it would become character defining renown.

    However, it all changes if the Halfling also has Athletics +14.
    E.g. a Battlemaster 3/Lore Bard 3: STR +3, Expertise +6, and casts Enhance Ability for ADV which is approx +5.

    Not to mention the buffs/debuffs for Guidance, Bless, Hex, Bardic Inspiration, Cutting Words, etc that a lowly Tier 2 party could bestow to make it no contest at all!

    Successive Checks prior to Contest
    ———————————————
    Start at DC 10, and each size difference is a challange, with DC increasing by 5 for each step.

    With the Halfling (+9 + ADV) vs Storm Giant:
    DC 10 – 1st size challenge, “the giant flicks the rope side to side”
    DC 15 – 2nd size challenge, “amused, the giant suddenly tugs the rope 1 handed”
    DC 20 – 3rd size challenge, “frowning, now the giant grabs with two hands and yanks hard”

    “… Suprised you succeeded, the Storm Giant knows now its in for a battle. It sets its feet firmly, grits its teeth, and unleashes its full might and power in a real contest of strength it is determined to win!”

    And on top of it all I’d still give ADV due to size to the bigger creature in the final contest.

    Note:
    – I house rule that a 1 is a fumble in a DC check (but a 20 is not an auto success!) It makes the Naturally Lucky trait, the Lucky feat, and the Reliable Talent relevant, and all tier 3 & 4 checks more interesting.
    – Advantage, buffs, and debuffs only apply to one roll – player can choose.

    • duncan

      Hi PK

      Loving the flavour you’re bringing here…

      In an epic high fantasy tale, the halfling vs. storm giant could be a lot of fun, and certainly the stuff of legends. In a slightly grittier campaign, it could be immersion breaking… so just depends on your play style etc.

      A question regarding your successive system of checks… if they fail one check, then the PC fails the challenge?

      This looks like a great system for building drama, and fleshing out the story, as you say. If you have a little more info to share on that, I’d be interested to hear it!

      One thing I’ll add, is that this system doesn’t solve the problem of strength checks of mismatched sized creature in combat, which need a faster solution.

      • PK

        Hi Duncan,

        (Yes -So sorry, my cut and paste for my answer omitted the important part – combat!)

        For Combat, I like the Idea of using +X Hit Dice by Size, where X is the size difference.

        This comes from the Monster Manual Introduction (pp 7): Hit Dice by Size.
        – Small d6
        – Medium d8
        – Large d10
        – Huge d12
        – Gargantuan d20

        A Storm Giant (with a great sword) hitting a Halfling would be +3d12 to damage with this rule (Size difference of 3, Huge Hit Dice of d12 => 3d12). And it works both ways – a PC Human (medium) hitting a Tiny creature – PC should get +1d8 damage.

        I like to balance this with imposing Disadvantage to the larger attacker when the size difference is 2 or more. E.g. Large attacking Small.

        No need to change the critical range, it becomes apparent to players pretty quick that big creatures may well splat a character.

        • duncan

          Ok, I have some reservations here… because in this system a halfling or gnome PC is going to be taking a lot of extra damage in virtually every combat! Maybe against Large creatures the disadvantage to hit Small creatures balances out the extra damage, but against Medium creatures they are incredibly vulnerable vs. other PCs, taking an extra d8 damage per hit. (If I’ve understood your proposal correctly).

          Meanwhile the advantage of being Small vs Medium is lost once you fight Huge creatures, which will do 3d12 extra damage at disadvantage to halflings/gnomes instead of 2d12 at disadvantage to other PCs.

          I’m still ironing out my thoughts on this one, but I think I’m only going to consider relations of size for actual Strength contests, but for damage I’m looking for some stable advantages for big creatures that don’t change, no matter what size creature they’re attacking.

Leave a Reply to Dennis Cancel reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: