Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Rpg Question – How can we handle Giant creatures in Old School?

A Hill Giant
How the hell can a human fight it?

The group of adventures, after many days inside the gigantic dungeon, crawls their way inside the monolithic cave of the ancient Red Dragon. With a haunting presence the size of a tower, eyes glistening malignant with fiery rage, its mouth oozing flames hotter than the sun, the dragon smiles for the worthy opponents that rivals its magnificence. Then, the brave warrior, with sword in hands, leads the charge attack, screamming: “I attack the beast with all my might!”.

Did you people see something like that in your games? I did, and that scene, no matter how emblematic and awesome it is, has always stuck with me as something weird. Because, no matter how high the level of a warrior is , how the heck does he manage to attack a dragon the size of a building?

The Size Chart in the 3rd Player's Handbook
one of the best charts I've ever seen
When the warrior is still running towards the dragon, its gigantic claws are already in reach of his body. Can't the dragon just claw him away? What if the dragon just rolled over the party? Can't it just crush all of them with a single swipe? And, even if the warrior gets near, so what? What will his tiny sword do? Pluck into the dragon's nails? Just think about it: does a single ant threaten a human? So, why should a warrior threaten a dragon?

I comprehend that D&D is about great deeds and that the players are heroes. Even so, I've never understood how to handle encounters with giant creatures. In fact, I think I've never seen in any rpg (except very briefly in FATE) how to handle very big creatures. And we don't need to think colossal big, no. What about a hill Giant against a human?

The giant has better reach, bigger size and weight than the human. So, why don't he just grab the human and throw him away? Or, you know, sit on him? And it doesn't matter what kind of armor the human is wearing, a punch of a Hill Giant will hurt. Gosh, even if the armour is indestructible, the impact of the punch will be enough to kill a human. What could be the explanation to deem possible a human fight a giant? Well, I can think of some possibilites:

  • . Heroism: It's a game that emulates heroic edas and mythological stories. It doesn't matter how can a meak human hurt a giant dragon: it just happens.
  • . They are all slow: The big monsters are really, really slow. All of them. So, there is ample time for warriors to charge against them and evade their attacks.
  • . Magic: As characters level up, their 'power level' goes up too through magic. So, a warrior level 20 is as durable, strong and capable as a gigantic monster with 20 HD.

However, those explanations are very meek, and sound like excuses. If a giant creature is fast and capable, how mechanically could we make it work? So, I'd like to ask all of you old schoolers out there, the grognards, the dungeon crawlers and legend singers to discuss here how do you handle Giant Creatures in your Old School game, specially regarding those following points:

  • . Reach: A bigger creature has a bigger reach. Does that mean that it can attack far away and not allow the warrior to reach it? Like, a giant carrying a tree. Couldn't he just smack the warrior and step aside, impeding the warrior to come even close? And, in the end, how can a warrior truly HURT a giant creature? Even if the warior dives her sword completely inside a colossal monster, it will not be enough even to reach the insides of it. Just like an ant biting a human, it might cause some pain, but it will not truly hurt.
  • . Speed: Even if we accept that giant creatures react slower, they are, overrall, faster than human sized ones. How can warriors keep up with them? Unless the creature is cathathonic slow (like a Gealatinous Cube), I see no way that a warrior may come close hurting a monster, unless if under the effect of a Haste spell or riding a mystical mount.
  • . Armor Class: We all know that the AC of a creature does not mean only the hardness of its hide, but also its capacity of evading, dodging, size and fighting skill. However, how do we factor all those things? Normally, even though 'hiting' gets easier as a creature gets bigger, hurting it becomes a problem. So, the bigger a creature, the better the AC. However, in AD&D, the Purple Wurm has but a meek AC 6 [14], while a Nightmare has AC -4 [24]. How could we explain it, that the flying horse has better AC than a gigantic plated wurm?
  • . Hit Points: Although the bigger the creature, the more HP it has, it is not proportinal to its size. Let's suppose that 1 HD equals to 1 good sword blow or 1 good shot with an arrow being enough to kill it. So, a creature with 10 HD would need 10 good blows to die, right? A Purple Wurm, in AD&D, has 15 HD. So, 15 good arrows would be enough to kill it? It is kind of strange, don't you think?
  • . Attack: How can we define a big creature's attack and damage? Does it make sense that a creature the size of building 'miss' a warrior using plate mail? Imagine a human punching an ant. Now, imagine a human punching an ant armored in a tiny ant plate mail. Can you see the problem? Even if the armor is undented, the ant would be dead by the force of the blow.
  • . Saving Throws: My main problem here is about effects. Many giant creatures have good saving throws, reflecting their endurance. However, is that enough? If a red dragon great wyrm fails a save against a disintegrate spell, should all its colossal body be turned into dust, the same way a rat would?  

The Zaratan. Yep, you may kill it. Roll to hit.
I'm just curious on how you folks handle such a pickle. I'd like, as a final word, remind you all one of the most absurd examples of giant monsters: the Zaratan - the monster that is a giant turtle with a FRIGGING ISLAND ON ITS BACK. Okay, it has 50+ HD, AC -6 [26], but, really, how could anyone fight it? Will you throw fireballs at the mountain? Will you plunge your sword on its trees? It's surreal that such a monster even have statistics. How would your group fight this beast?

Anwyay, I'm interesting in seeing how you people handle all those things, I will read the answers and make a following entry on the blog discussing what you folks think and what are my house rules for dealing with giant monsters.

Until then,


Image 1, 2, 3


  1. First of in D&D I always seen level more as a measurement of power than experience. A level 10 fighter is not just a good swordsman but downright legendary. He can take more damage than any ordinary/mundane warrior could ever hope to. It might not be logical but its the only way I could get D&D level and Hps to work in my mind. I later moved away from D&D to RPGs without levels so this issue is less pronounced there.

    This is from a video game called Shadows of the Colossus, but I think it could work in a RPG. Instead of counting hps per mass, each giant monster have weakspots. An achilles heel if you like. Depending on the monster it can have one or several such weakspots before its dead. Staying in the D&D ruleset a weakspot could have AC, and HPs.

    Lets take a cyclops as an example. Let say this particular cyclops is 15 feet tall. It´s has three weakspots; it´s knees and it´s eye. All other damage will be cuts and bruises, not enough to bring it down. It won´t die if you take out it´s knees, but you will bring it´s eye down to your height so you may now strike it with a melee weapon. Or you could attack the eye directly with a ranged weapon. You might also get creative in other ways; climb the cyclops back or scale a wall and jump down on it´s shoulders, and so forth.

    1. About Hit Points, they migh also mean dodging, parrying and just being plain lucky. I talked about it here:


      About Weakspots, that is something similar on how FATE deals with giant creatures - you just consider that they are a conjunction of many different foes.

      I will talk more about giant creatures in a future post. Your suggestion will be pointed. Thank you, =3