Friday, December 19, 2014

How Heavy is my Giant? Reality & OD&D! Justifying Large Monsters? How about we just have fun!

This little post is about internet discussions on forums and the odd turns they sometimes take. Many DMs and players alike want to explain things in OD&D in terms of the real world and they get upset if you can not explain things in real world terms or once they realize what the implications of a real world explanation means then they get upset. I am going to look at one specific example and then I will have a few more comments.

Back in The Dragon #13 there was a fun little article titled HOW HEAVY IS MY GIANT? by Shlump Da Orc. They took an average 5'8" tall man weighing 180 lbs and scaled him up 30' tall; except the calculations all started with 160 lbs, so I assume the 180 was a typo.

For a quick example: a 20' tall giant would weigh 7,010 lbs (about 3.5 tons). There are a lot of assumptions inherent in this table. One is that giants are built exactly like the average human only bigger; two that the bones, muscles, etc of giants are the same density as the average human - just to name two things. If you look at the real world it is claimed that people of this size are impossible because the mass is cubed, and they claim that strength increases as the square. So when we play D&D we are in effect assuming that strength increases as the cube also or even a bit greater and that tendons, ligaments, etc are also much stronger or none of the real large monsters will work, but that likely means that the damage that larger monster deal out should be greatly increased if we want to be realistic.

One poster said they could not justify giants that were taller than 10' because they would have to be a lot stronger and then they would have to do a lot more damage. He thought giants already did enough damage so he limits his giants to 10' tall.

So if a giant weights 7,010 lbs and they can lift their own body weight (if the same as humans a really strong one could lift double their body weight) then how big of a boulder could they throw. Lets go back to the above table a 6' tall pitcher weighting 185 lbs can throw a 5.25 ounce baseball at 100 mph and if they hit a player in the head it breaks facial bones, in such cases ending careers and potentially killing the player. So if we just scale by height it would weigh 17.5 ounces or just over a pound and if it were thrown at you at 100 MPH and hit your head or body you would be dead. So if we scale by the square that baseball is now 58.3 ounces or about 3.6 pounds and if it were thrown at you at 100 mph and hit your head or body would be dead and if it hit your arm or leg you might die of the shock (think of the effects of cannon fire on the battlefield).  And if we scale it up by the cube it would weigh just about 6 lbs.

Now we are talking about a boulder, how big is a boulder? When it says a giant throws a boulder I picture a rock that is about 3 feet in diameter as what they are really throwing because to me a boulder would be at least 10 feet in diameter. This is funny since a boulder is defined as a rock 1 foot in diameter or larger; when I looked it up I was amazed that something that small is a boulder.

A limestone boulder of average density (approx 145 lbs/cubic foot) and 1 foot in diameter would weigh about 76 lbs. How far could a 20' tall giant throw 76 lbs.  A shot put weighs 16 pounds and the world record is just under 76 feet. Scaling 16 pounds up by height, the square and by the cube gives us 53.3 pounds, 177.8 pounds and 296.3 pounds.  So lets say for the sake of argument that a 20 ft tall giant could easily throw a 76 pound boulder 80 feet. IMO that would be guaranteed death with a hit.

What other weapons would a giant use? How about a club? A typical baseball bat has a max length of 42 inches in the pros and Babe Ruth used bats ranging according to him from 37-54 ounces, but he used a 36 inch bat weighing 40 ounces for most of his career. So if a giant used a 10 foot long club weighing 92 pounds how much damage would it do?

In OD&D a 20' tall cloud giant does 3d6 hit points of damage. Is a max of 18 HPs of damage enough for a 92 pound club or a 76 pound boulder? 

The point is this: whether it is how much does a giant weigh or how does infravision work or how does this or that spell work or etc., there are problems when you try to apply real world science to OD&D and if you do it is impossible to apply real world physics and other sciences consistently across the board. Going by forum posts all of this causes some people a great deal of anguish, because in their minds it all has to make "sense" or they can't buy in. Or they have to have some way to justify everything based on the real world and they apparently lose a lot of sleep over it and have less fun because of it.

Here is how I feel about it. It is OD&D, it is a game and I am there to have fun and I hope you (the players) are there to have fun too. If you can accept that there are elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, trolls, dragons that fly and breath fire, magic swords and armor, magic-users and clerics that cast spells, and you can grow much more powerful by gaining experience, then surely you can buy in to everything else I do as the ref including giants. Neither you nor I need to set around trying to figure out how all of this works with real world physics, chemistry and technology, we just need to have a lot of fun and leave all the worrying to those that like to worry.


  1. I have that issue of Dragon I think... Shlump Da Orc may have autism. When it comes to giants the best way to handle their size is to describe every action according to scale. Imagine their immense size and convey this to the players through words, not numbers.

    Joe the giant picks up a cow that moos in protest as he hurls it down upon the cowering farmer. A swift kick of his leg sends the milk maid soaring over the hedgerow. Towering above the barn, the giant turns towards you, his head blocking the sun. Each thunderous footstep shakes the ground as you stand in his shadow.

  2. Oh I agree with you, that was the point of the essay. Those who want to try to pin down everything in terms of the real world are missing the point, that is the difference between OD&D and some later games. In OD&D you describe things as you have noted, whereas in later games you try to quantify everything. But it is not this world it is that other world and trying to quantify everything and explain everything does not work.

    I like to send people to old fairy tales and folk tales as a guide to how you describe things.