Monday, February 9, 2009


Romantically, I see a combat between a massively large creature and a group of small humanoids rather differently than it tends to play out in the campaign. I see the humanoids rushing forward—quickly finding themselves in over their head and being forced to scatter for their lives. The lumbering hulk of a creature peering behind rocks or trees; tearing the trees up by their roots and tossing them away. A member of the party stepping out and firing a bow. The monster bounding across the distance, making an attempt to smash at the bowman...missing or hitting, but now being close enough for another, nearby fighter to make one desperate swing. The mage, terrified, moving from rock to rock, waiting for the chance to let go a spell (that won’t be that effective, but will distract the monster for a round or two)...

Most of all, the battle going on, and on...

What happens, however, is that the party swarms the monster. Even a hydra attacking with 10 heads isn’t really enough to dissuade a seven-person party (characters and henchmen) with 5 or 6 levels. There’s no tactics to it...just leap it and keep swinging until its over. The monster barely has a chance—it gets in one deadly hit per round, then finds a third of its hit points gone from magic, swords and missiles.

I want a monster to be so terrifying that the party, in the encounter, realizes A) my puny sword isn’t going to do much; and B) I really could actually die.

This is the purpose of the mass table. The greater the mass, the more damage it can tolerate, as according to the shown table. Average hp per “die” gives a sense how many hp a truly large monster might have. You might notice that the monster’s mass goes up considerably faster than the average hp/die...this was done on purpose, simply to control the potential number of hit points and also because it is a fair argument that larger monsters carry more fat and other non-muscular structure as part of their overall bulk, and therefore should be penalized for this in terms of their combat resilience.

(The "average" and the actual dice roll do not agree because I wanted to keep the desired average separate from that of the dice so that, should I decide to change the dice, I have the original calculation. Don't worry about it, its nerd thinking)

A mastodon, which I understand weighed about 8,000 to 12,000 lbs. Call the average 10,000, or five tons—on the table, that means a mastodon would have an average of 43.3 hit points/die. With its 12 dice, that’s a total of 519.6.

Ridiculous, you say? Well, why? I threw a mastodon at the party with 102 hit points and it went down in four rounds (yes, one of those rounds included an 8-die fireball). This mastodon, therefore, should last twenty rounds, even thirty or forty, given that the party’s fireball could only be used once.

I tell you, there’s no doubt in my mind that the party would think twice about tackling one.

Okay, yes I know, the table includes things like a “d42.” This is because I can make a die of any size on my excel. I wanted there to be averages for each die but I did not want a high minimum, such as 28d6 would have produced (in exchange for 4d42). If you don’t use excel, substitute your own figures.

And hell, change them all. Downgrade them considerably...its your system. If you like the idea but find this just insane, you don’t need to go to my extremes. The idea should suffice.

My difficulty is in getting good numbers for monster masses. For example, lets take humanoids:

This is basing humanoid weights on the human template given in the DMG: 175 lbs., 6 feet tall. Yes, the numbers generated don’t match up with the Monster Manual...oh, boo hoo. Suddenly an elf with 1+1 HD is reduced to 2-7 hp. Cry me a river. Meanwhile, the orc, listed in the book as 6+ feet, gets a d10. Which might help explain why they’re a little scarier than another human.

But if you think the creatures are all too small here, consider the same table, generated using a dwarf template:

Goofy, huh?

I know this won’t be a popular idea. I have yet to try it out on my party with something really large. It should be fun, when they’ve done 250 hp damage and the fucking thing just keeps on coming.


  1. I don't find it insane, it's something interesting to think about.

  2. Definitely interesting. The only game I'd ever seen that accounted for a relation of mass-to-hp was RoleMaster, with its varying hit dice types for certain races. Nothing this in-depth, however.

  3. I guess the only counter to this theory is that a creature is not made of single substance and that there are certain vital parts that can't really sustain much damage. As I understand it the last hitpoints taken by a creature tends to represent that fatal blow. Though the extra hit points could represent the greater difficulty of reaching these vital areas on a large creature. You could also do away with the damage vs. large creatures or even say that weapons do 1/2 damage (or less against these sorts of creatures).

  4. Thanks for posting this. It's something worth tinkering with. I was thinking maybe coming up with a table that bases the HD on the size of the creature modified by type. (A zombie would be tougher than a human, despite their normal size, for instance.) HP for class would be added as a modifier to HD at each level, something like the old D&D scheme when everyone used dc and fighter was +2, cleric +1, etc.

  5. I think your best bet to achieving what you're looking for here is to adjust hit points and armor class on bigger creatures to represent their mass and the additional skin, fat and pain resistance. Hit points are great, but there's a certain amount of damage that a large creature will just shrug off. Although instead of adjusting AC (since it works differently in 3.x than it did in AD&D -- it's more of an Enumeration than a true Property under the old rules), you give them a flat damage resistance number against certain attack types. They ignore the first 10 points of damage from clubs, for example. Maybe they ignore all damage from non-magical arrows (think Gulliver in Liliput), and for magical arrows they ignore all damage except for the magic arrow bonus.

    Consider bumping the strength numbers and the resultant damage those creatures wreak in line with their mass. Conversely, you should bump down the Dex of creatures as necessary to reflect their greater mass and having to overcome gravity to move it around.

    I think you're going to have to rewrite every creature in the monster manual if you keep this up. It's arguable even now as to whether you're even playing D&D anymore! :-)

    I struggled to make AD&D conform to the laws of physics for years. It won't. Ever. You'd need a rewrite so thorough you'd have an entirely different game when you were done.

    I had heard years ago (at the release of 3rd Edition) that WotC released the rights to AD&D, giving rise to games like Hackmaster. I don't know why you couldn't do the same thing.

  6. "I struggled to make AD&D conform to the laws of physics for years. It won't. Ever."

    I disagree that that is important.

    "It's arguable even now as to whether you're even playing D&D anymore!"

    Which was my opening in the first of this three-post series.

    I don't think I have to do most of the things you suggest as I'm doing THIS. First of all, because 10 damage will be "shrugged off." Secondly, I do not play by the same combat system, remember? I wrote a post about that. This system is adapted to that system. No system is an island.

    Thirdly, I'm prepared to change damage AND movement due to the creature's mass and "stride."

    Finally, I don't want to write a game system, with another set of closed-mind rules. I want a world with people creating their own game systems. And for that reason I'm throwing mine out there. For free.

  7. Finally, I don't want to write a game system, with another set of closed-mind rules. I want a world with people creating their own game systems. And for that reason I'm throwing mine out there. For free.

    That's why I read this blog. Your rules tinkering is awesome food for thought, even when I think you're totally nuts. :)

    In this case I think you're on to something. I think that some monsters should be huge, tough, and dangerous and that has to be represented somehow. My only question is how you expect players to meet this challenge. Now if they're smart they'll likely run away most of the time, but what if for some reason they have to stand up to the beast? What sort of strategies would better their odds?

  8. @James V - think like a hunter. Use terrain, what you've got, what you can use from the land. Don't have enough? Go make some. Don't think you can kill it? Maybe you can move it. It might take time, resources, but there is a way of dealing with creatures.

  9. Given your depth of thought on game design, I'm disappointed that you don't want to publish. You have great ideas and your gaming philosophy is prevalent in the hobby but missing from the marketplace.

  10. An easier way to deal with BIG creatures;
    Instead of giving them large hitpoint totals based on size;
    Assign large creatures DAMAGE REDUCTION, merely on the basis of their tremendous bulk.
    From page 307 of Monster Manuel v3.5

  11. From page 307 of Monster Manuel v3.5 . . .

    “A creature with this special quality ignores damage from most weapons and natural attacks. Wounds heal immediately, or the weapon bounces off harmlessly (in either case, the opponent knows the attack was ineffective). The creature takes normal damage from energy attacks (even non-magical ones), spells, spell-like abilities, and supernatural abilities. A certain kind of weapon can sometimes damage the creature normally, as noted below.

    “The entry indicates the amount of damage ignored (usually 5 to 15 points) and the type of weapon that negates the ability. For example, the werewolf’s entry reads ‘damage reduction 10/ silver’. Each time a foe hits a werewolf with a weapon, the damage dealt by that attack is reduced by 10 points (to a minimum of 0). However, a silver weapon deals full damage.”

    For example; whale blubber gives
    damage reduction 10/ harpoon.

  12. clovis,

    Yes, I've read it.

    "The creature takes normal damage from energy attacks (even non-magical ones), spells, spell-like abilities, and supernatural abilities.".

    The difference is that your system favors mages, who already don't need any help. Whereas my system favors no one.

  13. exactly, in your CAMPAIGN
    you could ALSO have damage reduction apply to "energy attacks, spells, spell-like abilities and/or supernatural abilities."

    i was just quoting Cooke, Tweet & Williams to show that
    'nothing is new under the sun.'

    LOVED your analysis of the RPG hobby

  14. Alexis,

    I adapted your idea to a campaign I am designing and I thought I would share my methodology and results.

    I set a D8 as the standard for an 80kg human, then every time mass doubled, I increased the die (D8->D10->D12->D14 etc.). Using an elephant from Labyrinth Lord and the wikipedia weight of 5,500kg for an adult, African male, I came up with a D20 for hit dice. The 9HD elephant goes from ~40 hit points with a D8 to ~95 hit points with a D20.

    Not as dramatic as your system, but I thought I would throw my idea into the fray.

    Oh, and thanks for putting up unique ideas like this for general consumption.


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