It’s never been clear to me how a whale can have 36 hit dice. This would seem to suggest that a fighter, given the chance to swing repeatedly at a whale, would be able to kill it with a sword or a trident—whereas this is completely ridiculous, if you know anything about whales.
First of all, if the whale is in a position where you can swing at it with a sword more than once, the whale is laying on dry land. In which case, the whale has effectively NO hit dice. It can’t fight or move…and regardless of how long you hit it with your sword, it’s the monster’s own weight that will kill it. You’re an afterthought.
If the whale is in the water, and assuming you have some way of swimming as fast as it does, long before you can kill it the whale will go deep; the pressure will end the combat before it gets a tenth of a way to even harming the whale. If you think that little stick in your hand is doing any damage, go read something about blubber. It has no nerve endings.
The only effective tactic to kill a whale has always been the same that is still used today: let the whale kill itself.
A ship moves up to where a harpoon can be hand thrown (thrust, really) or mechanically fired into the side of the whale. The harpoon’s head expands inside the whale’s body so that it cannot be pulled out…and if the harpoon has hit clean, the whale is a goner. It’s only tactic, to go deep, is countered by the ship being a bubble of air which cannot be pulled under the water. This helps explain why Ahab never lost faith in his certainty of the eventual kill—the thought that a whale could be big enough to actually pull a ship under the water was crazier than him. But that is the genius of Melville’s book.
The ship/bob forces the whale to expend huge amounts of energy to tear itself apart fighting physics. Effectively, the whale kills itself.
The title is of course inaccurate. Yes, you “kill” the whale, but certainly not by ordinary combat.
So how exactly does the application of “hit dice” apply to a whale?
Possibly, there might be some even larger monster which could combat a whale, eat part of it in a large chomp and thus give the hit dice meaning. But that isn’t human being; it isn’t even a storm giant, which would have to kill it the same way as we do. Because a whale weighs a hundred tons…1,000 times as much as a human being.
Yet strangely the books suggest that it has the same chance of survival as four 9th level lords. Uh…yeah.
I ended my last post with the question, why should a hit die equal 1 to 8 hit points. Other than that it always has. The number is arbitrary, of course—and being arbitrary, when it ceases to be useful, another arbitrary number deserves to be put in its place.
I realized a week ago that the best system I could devise would be to ascribe different hit point rolls to the “hit dice” given in the Monster Manual. And so that won’t be hard to follow, I’ll start at the bottom end. Follow my reasoning on this.
A kobald is listed in the book as a half-hit dice creature, with 1-4 hit points. A kobald, I will point out, fights on the same table as a human first level thief, which is rated at 1 hit dice. Let me add, as a last piece of useful information, that I estimate a kobald’s average mass, at 4’ tall, at 52 lbs.
What if we, instead of supposing the kobald’s hit dice to be one-half, that instead the kobald’s hit dice is actually “1”…and that the number of hit points per hit die is 1 to 4? Why don’t we further assume that all creatures weighing in and about the mass of a kobald have 1-4 hp per die? This would solve an nagging problem that I have wondered about for some time.
Why does a brownie have 9th level magic spell use if it only has half-a-hit die? That would seem excessive. But it wouldn’t be if the brownie, being 2’ tall with an average weight of 6 lbs. had only 1 hp per die! This would justify the brownie fighting as a 9 hit dice creature without actually having the hit points of a stone giant.
I know. Too much math.
The logic, however, follows beautifully in the other direction, also. A gnoll, average seven and a half feet tall, weighs an average of 342 lbs. This is almost twice an average human male; the tendency is to think, okay, that explains why 2 hit dice. But it doesn’t—a human doesn’t have twice the hit dice of an elf or of a goblin (which has only 1 hp less). Which means that the extra 167 lbs. is a lot more of an addition than just twice the human’s fighting strength. Remember that a gnoll has a strength of 17, which is seventeen times the human average (trust me, it is…the chance of a human having a 10-11 strength is 52 in 216, and the chance of having a 17 strength is only 3 in 216).
There has to be something that accounts for that. My suggestion is that the gnoll has 2d6 hp per hit die; this is an average of 7 per hit die.
Thus, the hit point designation in the monster manual isn’t so much a recognition of the creature’s power (the dimension/mass of the creature does that) but of the creature’s effective fighting power. A 1 hit dice 7 and a half foot tall creature would still have 2-12 hp and would fight as a 1 HD creature—but it would still be markedly taller than a human being and the system would account for that.
And that’s what I want. Accountability.
Next: massive, very dangerous mastodons.
Update: My error. A halfling is only 18" tall. And crap, kobalds are only 3' tall. A goblin mass would be about 52 lbs. It has been a long time since I've looked at a monster manual.
Well, please read between the lines above. I don't want to rewrite everything.