From dwarves to giants …
In role-playing games, giants seem kind of … uninspiring.
D&D giants top out at 20 feet or so. In miniatures-based combat giants usually take up four or more squares (or three or more hexes); their longer reach means they can attack characters one or two spaces away. Otherwise they move, attack, and take damage like other figures.
Some versions of RuneQuest allow larger giants, but damage done and HP scale linearly with the giant’s height. On one forum I commented that Glorantha giants must be made of aerogel.
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:
A giant’s weight is proportional to the cube of the creature’s height, all proportions being equal.
Muscle strength should at least be proportional to the square of height. I assume the length of of the giant’s limbs would cancel out any effects from the length of their muscles. So only the number of fibers, i.e. the cross-section of a muscle, would matter.
Physical trauma (damage) depends on the mass of an object and its velocity at time of impact. A giant swinging a club the size of a tree should not only smash a humanoid but knock them into the air to take further falling damage.
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:
True giants are unstoppable forces of nature. Player characters must negotiate or outwit them. Most fairy tales take this tack.
Giants are invulnerable except for one nearly inaccessible spot, as in Attack on Titan.
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.
Giants are more fragile than they appear. Mundane weapons can chip away at them, but bringing one down requires group tactics.
A GM who wants to pit player characters against a giant has to answer some questions:
Do mechanics even matter to a giant of a given size, or are they beyond such things? (See options #1 and #2 above.)
How many hit points, health points, etc. should a 30+ foot giant have?
Would it make sense to track HP by body part instead?
What kind of armor (passive defense2 or damage reduction3) would a giant have? To support all that weight, wouldn’t they also be denser than human flesh?
Does being stepped on by a giant do ordinary damage, or does the Chunky Salsa rule apply?
How much damage would a giant do, intentionally or not? Does greater size make them stronger, weaker, or about the same?
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.)
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)|
- 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.
- 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.
Based on strength, moral rectitude, devotion to a particular god, descent from a god, or some other criterion. ↩︎
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. ↩︎
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). ↩︎