Giant Steps

2019-05-10

From dwarves to giants …

In role-playing games, giants seem kind of … uninspiring.

Where are the terrifying giants of “Jack and the Beanstalk”? Where are the Frost Giants of Marvel’s Thor comics?

As J. B. S. Haldane’s essay “On Being the Right Size” argues, humanoid giants couldn’t stand or walk, assuming they didn’t collapse under their own weight. So for the most part giants belong in the realm of fantasy. That said, we can make some logical inferences:

But do these assumptions make a truly giant Giant too tough? Would ordinary iron age or medieval weapons harm such a giant? To a 40’ giant, an arrow is no more than a dart and a sword no more than a sharp letter opener. I see a few possibilities:

  1. True giants are unstoppable forces of nature. Player characters must negotiate or outwit them. Most fairy tales take this tack.

  2. Giants are invulnerable except for one nearly inaccessible spot, as in Attack on Titan.

  3. Only supernatural weapons (or high-tech artifacts) can significantly injure a giant. The scale rules of Open D6 and Everywhen would support this if supernatural weapons had a larger “scale” for a hero worthy1 to wield them.

  4. Giants are more fragile than they appear. Mundane weapons can chip away at them, but bringing one down requires group tactics.

Attacking Titans

A GM who wants to pit player characters against a giant has to answer some questions:

Putting Giants on the Map

After playing RPGs without a map for several years, I kinda miss it. However, I’d need a set of rules in which figures don’t mostly stand still and whack each other. E.g. figures get knocked back, circle each other, step forward or back for tactical advantage, and use team tactics for advantage. “Theater of the mind” is fine, but sooner or later every GM has to draw a map to explain the space characters find themselves in and to keep everyone’s positions straight.

In the Long Long Ago Chaosium printed a cheap pocket game called Stomp!. One player plays “elves” stealing melons from a garden; the other plays the giant trying to squish them. The Giant player wins if he crushes 15 (of 18) elves. The Elf player wins only if they trip the Giant. (You’d think they’d win if they escaped, but you’d be wrong.)

Stomp! counters

While the elves have pretty standard counters, the giant had three counters on the board: Left Foot, Right Foot, and Club. Each foot took up two hexes on the battle map. Both feet had alternate counters to indicate that the elves had speared the giant’s sandal at the toe, heel, or both. If the elves speared one part of a foot, that foot could only pivot around the spear. If the elves speared both parts of a foot, they could use ropes to pull the giant down. The Giant also trips if his feet end up in an awkward position: pidgeon toed, too far from each other, etc.

Imagine, then, a battle map with a giant 40 feet tall if not more. Against human-sized opponents on the ground, only the positions of the giant’s feet, its weapon, and possibly its shadow would matter. Melee weapons could only reach the giant’s ankles, and ranged weapons would have to take the giant’s height into account. (Preferably without computing a hypotenuse for every shot.) Below is a chart approximating (guessing) at the size of the counters/models required for a “giant” of each size and how far each foot could travel in a combat round.

Height (ft) Foot Length (ft) Foot Width (ft) Step Length (ft) Steps / round Speed (5 ft / rnd) Speed (yd / rnd)
4 0.8 0.4 1.6 15 5 8
7 1.4 0.7 2.8 11 6 10
10 2 1 4 8 6 10
20 4 2 8 6 10 16
30 6 3 12 4 10 16
40 8 4 16 2 6 10
50 10 5 20 2 8 13
100 20 10 40 2 16 26
200 40 20 80 2 32 53
Height:
the total height of the giant.
Foot Length/Width:
the length and width of each of the giant’s feet, calculated as 1/5 and 1/10 of the giant’s height, respectively.
Step Length:
the maximum safe distance that the giant can plant one foot ahead of the other, assumed to be two foot lengths.
Steps / round:
the number of steps the giant can take in a round, pretty much guesstimated to make the numbers look right.
Speed:
the distance the giant can move each round, doing nothing else.

Note that the first two “giants” are actually a dwarf and a tall creature proportioned like a dwarf. To combat the Square-Cube Law I assumed giants had the thick legs and wide build of a stereotypical FRPG dwarf rather than the long legs and thin ankles of humans. A giant making a full move may also have a reduced turning radius because of its considerable momentum.


  1. Based on strength, moral rectitude, devotion to a particular god, descent from a god, or some other criterion. ↩︎

  2. i.e. armor that reduces the chance to hit its wearer, as in D&D and other d20 System games (and early versions of GURPS). It assumes a nonzero chance the weapon will simply glance off the armor. ↩︎

  3. i.e. armor that reduces damage done to the wearer, as in Cypher System, GURPS, and d100-based games resembling Chaosium’s house system (RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, BRP, etc.). Most such rules subtract a fixed or random amount, but one could also reduce the damage range (e.g. 1d8 becomes 1d6 or 1d4, or else roll the damage die twice and take the lower result). ↩︎