In the third edition game, a creature’s size has a significant impact on its statistics. Each of the nine size categories came with its own size modifier. This modifier was used to modify attack bonuses, armour class, grapple checks and hide checks. There’s a full list of the size categories and the modifiers over at the d20 SRD site. The question I am currently wrestling with, as I’m sure you all saw coming, is how much (if at all) we incorporate Size into HD&D. Do we need to go down this road at all?
A Closer Look at Third Edition
You can follow the above link and look at all the juicy rules for size and third edition. Despite that, I’m going to reproduce most of them here to facilitate discussion. There were nine size categories in third edition, all of which gave the creatures varying bonuses and penalties. Let’s have a look them:
Height: 6″ or less; Weight: 2 oz. or less
AC Modifier: +8; Attack Modifier: +8; Grapple Modifier: -16; Hide Modifier: +16
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (-10), Dex (+8), Con (-2)
Natural Armour: 0
Height: 6″ – 1 ft; Weight: 2 oz. – 1 lb
AC Modifier: +4; Attack Modifier: +4; Grapple Modifier: –12; Hide Modifier: +12
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (-10), Dex (+6), Con (-2)
Natural Armour: 0
Height: 1 -2 ft; Weight: 1 – 8 lbs
AC Modifier: +2; Attack Modifier: +2; Grapple Modifier: -8; Hide Modifier: +8
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (-8), Dex (+4), Con (-2)
Natural Armour: 0
Height: 2 -4 ft; Weight: 8 – 60 lbs
AC Modifier: +1; Attack Modifier: +1; Grapple Modifier: -4; Hide Modifier: +4
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (-4), Dex (+2), Con (+0)
Natural Armour: 0
Height: 4 – 8 ft; Weight: 60 – 500 lbs
AC Modifier: +0; Attack Modifier: +0; Grapple Modifier: +0; Hide Modifier: +0
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (+0), Dex (+0), Con (+0)
Natural Armour: 0
Height: 8 – 16 ft; Weight: 500 lbs – 2 tons
AC Modifier: -1; Attack Modifier: -1; Grapple Modifier: +4; Hide Modifier: -4
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (+8), Dex (-2), Con (+4)
Natural Armour: +2
Height: 16 – 32 ft; Weight: 2 – 16 tons
AC Modifier: -2; Attack Modifier: -2; Grapple Modifier: +8; Hide Modifier: -8
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (+16), Dex (-4), Con (+8)
Natural Armour: +5
Height: 32 – 64 ft; Weight: 16 – 125 tons
AC Modifier: -4; Attack Modifier: -4; Grapple Modifier: +12; Hide Modifier: -12
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (+24), Dex (-4), Con (+12)
Natural Armour: +9
Height: 64 ft or more; Weight: 125 tons or more
AC Modifier: -8; Attack Modifier: -8; Grapple Modifier: +16; Hide Modifier: -16
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (+32), Dex (-4), Con (+16)
Natural Armour: +14
Is it any wonder that so many have accused third edition of being too complex? The size rules in third edition are a good example of Modifiers Gone Mad. What seemed like a sound and rational use of the rules to begin with, was extrapolated to the point that all they do is slow the game down. This is probably the reason why the size rules aren’t properly followed in third edition. The Enlarge Personspell grants the recipient +2 Str, -2 Dex and -1 to AC and Attack rolls regardless. The halfling is a Small creature, but it gets a -2 penalty to its Strength, not -4.
You will also note that the third edition size rules are something of a dodge. They seem to be following the (arguably reasonable) rationale that large creatures are ungainly (and therefore easier to hit), and clumsy (find it harder to hit others). A low dexterity, and the imposition of a size penalty to armour class and attack rolls played into this. But larger creatures get such stonking Strength and Natural Armour modifiers that this is completely eclipsed their defects. A colossal creature is actually harder to hit and a better fighter despite its size. Which largely makes you wonder why they bothered.
A Closer Look at Fourth Edition
Of course, in fourth edition, they didn’t bother. The only significant nod toward size is that Small PCs can wield two-handed weapons. Size doesn’t factor into the rest of the rules at all, except to tell a GM how many squares a monster occupies on the battle grid. Size was a big thing in third edition, and yet it hardly matters at all in fourth? Do either of these games provide us with a model for HD&D?
Also in fourth edition, the designers reduced the number of size categories from nine to seven. They did away with the Colossal and Fine categories (the latter of which was a damn silly name any way). However, I suspect their motivation had more to do with fitting the largest monsters on their doody Dungeon Tiles series of products. I feel a rant coming on, but I’ll fight it down to keep the post on track.
Size in HD&D
Conceptually, HD&D leans much closer to third edition than Fourth. However, I don’t really want to embrace all of the third edition size modifiers with gay abandon. There are some things I’m sure that I want to do, other things that I’m not so sure about. Hence me writing this post at all.
Generally, the problem of Size granting bonuses and imposing penalties to anything, is that Size isn’t something that scales with level. You are either one size or the other: it doesn’t matter if you’re a 55th level fighter, if you’re a human you’re still only medium sized. If all the other variables in the system (attack rolls, defences and so on) scale with level, then a character of a different size is a statistical blip in the system. However, I don’t want to champion system efficiency at the expense of verisimilitude. That is, after all, why we’re working on HD&D in the first place.
I’m happy to keep the nine size categories from third edition. Anyone out there who can come up with a name for the smallest category that isn’t “Fine” will have my eternal gratitude. At the moment I’m leaning towards “Teeny Weeny” – which goes a long way to demonstrate how much I dislike the term “Fine”. So, the categories are: Teeny Weeny, Diminutive, Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Huge, Gargantuan and Colossal.
In all likelihood, PC races will either be Small, Medium or Large: with the vast majority being Medium, and the tiniest minority being Large. Therefore, workable rules need to exist for all three of these sizes to be available for player characters. That’s a challenge.
I have already mentioned this in a previous post, but it is my intention that Size modifiers a character’s hit points, by providing additional hit points at each level. Size takes on the roll that Constitution did in third edition. My initial thoughts as to how size modifiers hit points are as follows:
Bonus Hit Points
This is a modifier version of the table that first appeared in my post on Hit Points and Damage back in January. The bonus hit points are in addition to the 4 hit points per level than every race gains. So a medium-sized creatures gets an extra 4 hit points per level, and a colossal creatures gets an extra 20 hit points per level. I explained my reasoning behind additional hit points for larger creatures then, and my reasons haven’t changed since so I won’t repeat myself.
I think it’s crucial for the game that Medium and Small creatures are treated in the same way in almost all circumstances. There are so many Small PC races that to do otherwise is simply confusing. The laundry list of additional abilities granted to the third edition gnome and halfling is simply not sustainable in HD&D.
However, I am giving Large characters +4 hit points per level. I’m not sure that the HD&D system can cope with this benefit as a freebie that gets handed out to specific races. I remember it causing some issues in my old second edition Darksun campaigns, where the half-giant PC could simply swandive off a mountain range, get up and walk home. To draw a third edition equivalent, it would be like one character in the party having Con 18, and all the other party members having a Con of 10. So what can be done to balance this?
What if we applied a bonus or penalty to a character’s Reflex Defence based on their size. Larger characters have more hit points, but they get hit by attacks more often due to their size. Of course large creatures are also likely to have thick armour, so hitting such a creature is no guarantee of damaging it; but the obvious trade-off is in play. Large creatures have more hit points, but they are easier to hit so are more likely to be damaged more often. This sounds as though it should work. It sounds like the sort of thing that will make a player think twice before choosing to play a Large character.
But how do we get the balance right? Can we get away with using the same size modifiers from the table above? Probably not. A colossal creature might be getting +16 hit points per level, but that doesn’t balance with a -16 penalty to its Reflex Defence. That would mean a thirtieth level dragon would have Reflex Defence of 9 and would be successfully hit 95% of the time by almost any PC of 10th level of higher.
So what balance would be right?
I have crunched the numbers in a ludicrously complex Excel spreadsheet, that I won’t bore you by uploading. Basically, if we impose the same size modifier to Reflex defence as we do to hit points, then we notice the following things:
- Small and Medium size characters work well at all levels. It takes three successful hits (over six rounds) to bring such a character from maximum health to zero hit points.
- It’s slightly more advantageous to be Tiny or smaller at low levels, and more of an advantage to be larger at higher levels.
- Low level creatures of Huge, Gargantuan and Colossal size are more likely to be killed quickly than low level opponents of Medium size. This is because the extra hit points isn’t enough to off-set the extra damage they take from being hit more often.
- A -4 penalty to Relfex for Large characters seems to work. Let me expand upon this.
If they just receieved the +4 hit points per level, Large creatures would be brought down with five successful hits (over the course of 10 rounds in a one-on-one fight), as opposed to the three successful hits it required to floor a medium sized creature. However, that is only the case if the chance to hit the Large creature is the same as the chance to hit a Medium sized creature. A -4 to Reflex Defence is the same a 20% increase the chance of being hit with each attack. It doesn’t affect the number of successful hits that are required, but the amount of times those hits land is more frequent. Assuming a one-on-one fight, the -4 to Reflex means that a Large character will take those hits over six rounds during the very low levels, and over seven rounds for the majority of its career.
Basically, a Large creature with +4 hit points per level, and a -4 to Reflex defence can only expect to stand up in combat for one round longer than a Medium sized character with less hit points and a higher Reflex. Frankly, that doesn’t sound like too bad a situation to me.
If you are looking at a situation where you have Large and Medium sized creatures fighting alongside one another in the same party, then this would seem to be an obvious solution. But there are some problems doing it this way. I’ll touch on them below.
Apart from Reflex Defence and Hit Points I don’t propose to let Size affect any other character-based statistic in HD&D. Creatures of a larger size are obviously going to be stronger and slower than smaller creatures but I don’t think there’s any reason to formalise that into a size-related ability score modifier. The invidual attributes for any given race can cover that aspect of the rules just as efficiently and far more simply. If we have a spell that makes a character larger, then we can adjudicate what that spell actually does when we write it. The same can be said of a natural armour bonus.
Equally Size doesn’t need to apply to grapple anymore. There’s no such thing as an “Opposed Grapple Check” in HD&D, instead you’d be making an Unarmed Strike against your opponents Fortitude defence. And as for the Hide skill… well the rules say that in order to hide you have to find an area of cover or concealment that is larger than you are. So there’s no need to impose a penalty on the check, it’s just that larger creatures will find that the chances of them being able to make a Hide check are few and far between.
Problems Inherent in the System
I have no problem in using Size as a way to increase the hit points of larger creatures. That seems highly appropriate. However, also using it to modify a character’s Reflex defence is a might iffy. Remember that one of my hopes in giving humungous monsters more hit point is that a group of PCs could attack one such monster, and the fight would last more than about half a combat round. Balancing Size to Hit Points destroys this idea.
But you might argue that such an idea deserves to be destroyed. After all the “Solo Monster” concept for 4e has been met with general disdain from my current gaming group. But this is not just a 4e problem. The greatest of all solo monsters (the great wyrm red dragon) may have 1390 hit points in 4e, but it still has 660 hit points in third edition. That’s still significantly more than the PCs because it’s intended to be able to survive for a fair amount of time against a number of opponents. We don’t want the dragon getting killed half way through round two because all the PCs are attacking it at once.
Two things could ride to the rescue here. The first (and most obvious) is Armour. Colossal creatures have very thick hides. They may get hit more often, but their armour class (i.e. damage reduction in 3rd ed-speak) is likely to compensate for this. That would require a little more number crunching on my part. However, if we go with a Damage Conversion rather than a Damage Reduction mechanic for armour, that solution evaporates.
The other thing is we could just use different size modifiers to modify Reflex Defence, than we use for hit points. Nothing wrong with that. We could stack the deck so there was no net benefit for a PC to play a Large character, but the advantage of size soon ramped up when you reach the Huge, Gargantuan and Colossal categories. But that feels a bit like cheating to me. If we halved the modifiers a Large creatur would have -2 to Relfex, Huge -4, Gargantuan -6 and Colossal -8.
We could just say “bugger it” and only apply the Size modifier to hit points. Let Large PCs enjoy the benefits of being large without being incommoded by it. We could balance it in other ways. Large Size could be a racial talent (or a number of talents) if we thought it appropriate. Personally, I think it would be nice if we didn’t have to bother with talents: that the extra hit points you get for an increased Size balances with the penalty to reflex defence. It’s a trade off. This trade off only needs to be fair for large creatures, because players are never likely to get their handso on anything bigger.
The thought of a Great Wyrm dragon who is more agile than a kobold ballerina continues to irk me. Some thoughts on this one please! I need some guidance here.