Saturday, June 11, 2016

5e D&D - Combat options with Giant Creatures

I've already discussed in this blog how hard it is to find interesting rules in rpgs that emulate the power and danger that a giant creature offers in battle. It is always mistifying to me how in many combat rules, giants act so illogically. Instead of grabbing and trampling all over their puny opponents, most of the time they stay still, just throwing a few melee attacks here and there. In D&D 5e, the DMG offers the chance for smaller characters to grab unto a giant's back. It is an interesting take, but nevertheless lacking in regards to how a giant creature can act to trash their enemies.

So in this article I will offer many options to use with massive sized creatures in your games. Take note that these options will make giant creatures a very terrifying threat, specially creatures with size Huge or bigger. They will be able to smash, trample and overall wreak havoc unto smaller opponents. These rules intend to make giant creatures something that will trigger shivers into your players. At the end of the article, I will also offer some options for players to fight giant creatures in order to emulate games such as Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus.

1) Options for Giant Creatures:

Wherever a giant creature (a creature of a size bigger than its opponent's size) attacks, instead of using its normal options for attacks, it can use the options below:

- Giant Strike: The creature use its action of the turn to active one of these options.

  • Massive Impact: The creature makes one weapon attack that is not a bite against a smaller target. On a hit, the target takes full damage and half damage on a miss. Before receiving damage, the target must succeed in a strength saving throw or the attack is considered a critical strike while pushing the target back 10 feet per size difference. If the strike already was a critical, then triple the weapon's damage. A creature of Huge+ size may hit more than one smaller creature with a Massive Impact (DM's choice). 
  • Massive shove: A giant creature can shove all target's in its front melee reach. Make the check as usual, but use the passive values for the defenders (creature's athletics vs 10 + Athletics or acrobatics of the targets, whichever is higher). With a hit, all defending creatures take damage as if they were hit by one of the creature's weapon attacks (DM's choice; no bite) and are pushed back 10 feet times the size difference. 

- Giant Grab: A small creature grabbed by a giant is restrained instead of only grappled and has cover (the DM decides how much cover. In general, it has full cover against all other attacks). Most spells cannot be cast while restrained this way - the DM decides. Also, on the same turn a giant grabbed a creature, it can crush, swallow or throw it. On the DM's fiat, a Huge or Colossal creature may grab more than one smaller creature with this action.

  • Crush: A giant squeezes a grabbed smaller creature. If the creature has no written statistics for a crush attack, consider it as one of its weapon attacks (but not a bite). Even if the attack misses, it causes half damage.
  • Swallow: Use the creature statistics for it. If the creature has no swallow attack, then it cannot use this option. 
  • Throw: The giant throws a smaller creature 15/30/60 feet (for each size category difference). The thrown creature takes damage as if it was hit be the creature's weapon attack (DM's choice; no bite; no need to roll for attack). If the target area is another creature's space, the giant makes an improvised thrown weapon attack roll (using only the Dex modifier). If it hits, both creatures take the weapon attack damage - if not, just the throw creature takes damage.

- Giant Move: A giant creature has special move actions that it can use.

  • Swagger: The giant creature stretches its muscles, emits a mighty roar and tower over the enemies. Using its move for the turn this way allows the giant to use its Massive Impact twice this turn.
  • Pile over: This is a special kind of move  that mixes both a shove and a grab. Making use of its sheer size and mass, the creature can roll over smaller beings. Using its move action for the turn, the giant may enter a smaller creature's space and make a free grapple attack. If it succeeds, the smaller creature is pushed under the giant, is restrained (as per the Giant Grab option above) and is crushed (see the Crush attack under the Giant Grab option). As long as the giant stays at the same position, the creature receives a Crush attack at the beginning of the giant's turn while still being restrained and under full cover against all other attacks. A creature in this position can take an action on its turn to make an athletics or acrobatics check resisted by the giant's athletics to escape this grab. If the giant fails the pile over action, it cannot enter the smaller creature's space.
  • Trample: This powerful move can only be done against creatures 2 sizes smaller than the giant's. Using its move action for the turn, the giant can freely walk through smaller creatures' space. All trampled creature's make a dexterity saving throw. With a success, a smaller creature either slides between the giant's legs or is shoved away from its movement unharmed. Those that fail takes damage as if they were hit by one of the creature's weapon attack (DM's choice; no bite).

- Legendary giant actions: A giant creature that has legendary actions may use Giant Strike or Giant Grab with the spent of 1 legendary action. It may use 2 legendary actions to activate one Giant Move.

- Death fall: When a giant creature falls dead, it's descending body makes all smaller creatures make a Dex saving throw. Those who fail take damage as if they were hit by the creature's weapon attack (DM's choice; no bite).

2) Options for characters:

Whenever a character is in combat with a giant (a creature whose size is bigger than its own), they have access to these options:

. Dodge and attack: If you choose the dodge action on your turn and a giant creature misses you, you are entitled to a single opportunity attack against that creature this round.

. Tactical positioning: Using your move for the turn, you can move between the creature's legs and dance around its size, searching for an opening. Make an acrobatics check against the creature's passive acrobatics (10 + Acrobatics). If you have success, you have advantage with one of your attacks against the creature this turn.

. Crippling strikes: Characters may target specific areas with their attacks - Arms, Legs or Head. The DM must track damage separately for each body part. Unless you are using a ranged attack, each body part can only be targeted under special circumstances explained below:

  • Arms: Can only target creatures that have tentacles, pseudopods or limbs that it uses not to walk but to manipulate objects. A melee character may target arms if the creature has any attacks with them, meaning that the character waits for an opening. When a creature receives 1/4 maximum HP damage in its arms, they have disadvantage in all attack rolls.
  • Legs: Can only target creatures that have specific limbs for locomotion. Melee attacks may target legs without problem. When a creature receives 1/4 maximum HP damage in its legs, it is slowed and has disadvantage on initiative checks.
  • Head: The creature must have an anatomic center where its brain lies. A melee attack can target the head if the creature has a bite attack, meaning that the character is waiting for a counter attack opportunity. When a creature receives 1/4 maximum HP damage in its head, it has disadvantage in all saving throws.

3) Using all options

It will take some time until you are comfortable with these options. In general, try using Giant Movement to start your turn and complement with an attack option. If you are using large creatures (such as trolls and ogres), use Swagger to attack twice with Massive Impact. Or Pile In in against a melee defender (such as a fighter or barbarian) and then strike one of the more vulnerable targets behind the defender (an archer or mage).

If you are using a Huge or bigger creature, wreak havoc. Trample whenever you can and end up your move next to a spellcaster. Follow it up with a Giant Grab to end their menace, specially if you have Swallow. Instead, you might even move twice to both Trample and Pile In to restrain the caster. All the while, push every one around with Massive Shove. If you have fewer targets, just Swagger and Massive Strike them to oblivion.

Now, if you are a player, you will have to think smart. Use flying spells on spellcasters, allow only the tanks to stay close to the giants. Coordinate attacks towards an specific area - Arms, Legs, Head - whichever your party's think is the best to weaken the monster. Have rogues use Tactical Positioning in order to get some sneak attacks, and if you have low life just dodge all turns - you are both increasing your chance to survive and allowing yourself free opportunity attacks.

Final Words

I love giant creatures and I like to emulate their action in a way that makes sense. Think about it: if you are attacked by a rat, you will not passively stand and only try to hit it with a single attack. You may try to tample it, stomp it, grab and crush it. If there are many rats, you can trample all over them. That is the same thing a giant should do against characters.

Try these options on your table, but do not forget to tell your players you are using them. They will make combat with giant creatures scary and, at the same time, epic and interesting. Tell me what you folks think about them.

Until next time,



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  2. Awesome. I had tried these kind of rules with the Pathfinder system. Just one question: what about interactib with objects when in combat? I mean, ie, when a giant misses the blow near a wall, or a dragon walks through a forest, bending trees...
    Very good article.

    1. Heia, I'm happy that you liked it. About environment destruction, I believe that can just be something narrated by the GM. A giant creature is able to destroy almost anything it wants, haha

  3. Hi,

    Interesting post!

    For what is worth, GURPS 4e covers combat with giants, and also expands the subject in the Pyramid magazine #3/77: Combat (in the "Combat Writ Large" article).

    Also, in WotC's The Storm King's Thunder (pp. 246-246) there are a few additional options for giants, which seem derived from a tweet (