Thursday, September 4, 2014

Growing Animals


Original D&D Vagaries; Advanced D&D Statistics; Proposal for Simplified Spellcasting 

In the prior post I was looking at the 5th-level D&D wizard spell, animal growth, throughout various editions of the game. One problem I pointed out is that the earliest editions commonly didn't give explicit stats for normal or giant animals (as required by different versions of the spell). For example, while the OD&D spell says that animals can "grow to giant-size with proportionate attack capabilities", the following is all you get in OD&D on the subject (from Vol-2, Monsters & Treasure):


That's from the table on p. 4. The first value is for Number Appearing (more for smaller types); the rest, including Armor Class, Move in Inches, Hit Dice, % in Lair, and Treasure Type, are all simply "Variable".


The text paragraphs are from p. 20. For large insects or animals ("giant" types), AC can be 2-8 (i.e., practically the entire range of AC's allowed in the game at this point), hit dice can be 2-20 (at the top end, significantly exceeding any other monster in the list), and damage can be from 2-4 dice (d6, of course; and again actually exceeding any other damage listing in the text of this book). So that more or less boils down to "anything you want, and feel free to surpass any of the other monsters we presented". Which to me seems like a big problem when numerous giant animals are included on the core wandering monster lists, quite heavily so at the starting levels (see Vol-3, p. 10). And an open-ended argument when a player casts animal growth in the game. (Also, you'll notice that reference to John Carter-type Martian beasts is included, and those types likewise show up in the desert wilderness random encounters on p. 18.) 


Now, in the Monster Manual (the first of the AD&D line, and almost entirely consistent with OD&D rules) we do get lots of explicit entries for giant animals. This solves the wandering-table issue, and would almost solve the animal growth spell issue (except that the spell is changed to double the normal animal's hit dice and now that's the thing you're generally lacking). But what are the general parameters for those animals (e.g., if we wish to use them as products of the OD&D spell)? Consider the table below which compiles all the AD&D Monster Manual giant animal types (ordered by increasing hit dice; optionally refer to PDF or spreadsheet ODS).


What do we see here? For starters, the hit dice range of 3-to-5 encompasses almost two-thirds of the giant animals (27/43 = 63%), with a fairly small number of monsters above that and below. In those few cases where hit dice for the "normal" animal type are given (see last column), the giant animal is never exactly double hit dice; some are close while others are much higher or lower. I'll also point out that there are some notable outliers to the high side, in the range of 7-15 hit dice, and they are almost entirely aquatic-type monsters (noted in bold at the bottom of the table -- perhaps emblematic of the rather terrifying "sea monsters" suggested in OD&D Vol-2, p. 15; in fact, the top-level hit dice match up quite nicely). Therefore, I've excluded those unusually huge aquatic monsters, and computed "Trimmed Average" statistics for all the other types, in the last row. Of course, since the majority of giant animals are in the 3-to-5 hit dice range, the average is 4 HD, etc.


So here's an idea: If we're playing under classic-type rules, and almost all of the land-based "giant animals" in the game are close to 4 HD anyway, why not just set that average as a standard profile in the description of the animal growth spell and run with that? That would mean: (1) We don't have to catalog, look up, or debate a list of either normal or giant animals when using the spell (as in any published edition of D&D). (2) We don't need to do a series of math calculations at the table when the spell gets used (most egregiously in 3E). (3) We can rein in the magic to some known parameters, and not run into trouble with some totally open-ended potential from the spell (like, say, casting it on a group of smilodons, killer whales, or triceratops; see also the polymorph problem -- link). Even using that simplifying assumption, we'd be within 1 HD of almost all the giant animals in the AD&D Monster Manual anyway, and with enormously less work.

So here's a proposal for a revised and simplified animal growth spell:


Animal Growth: (Range: 12 inches, Duration: 6 turns) Up to 6 normal animals in range grow to giant size. In most cases this provides: AC 6, MV 15, HD 4, Atk 1, Dam 2d6 (some creatures will exchange one die of damage for poison, paralysis, or blood-drain).  Optionally, use specific statistics from any monster book in use. This spell gives the character no special means of command or influence over the enlarged animals.


What do you think of that?

12 comments:

  1. @ Delta:

    It would seem that the spell...it's parameter and its intended effect has changed significantly between OD&D and AD&D. The original version turned normal animals into giant animals (for which there were no stats, requiring extensive house ruling). The REVISED version simply "grows" animals...if you have an animal, you can double its size, which doesn't normally equate with a "giant animal." In addition, the revised (AD&D) version does not appear to limit the spell to "normal-sized" animals (it simply grows "animals") which would seem to indicate the ability to grow a giant animal to double its "normal" size...for example, turning a giant beaver (HD 4) into an HD 8 monster!

    'Course, how is this different from the AD&D *enlarge* spell?

    My normal inclination is to read each new ruleset as "its own thing" though knowledge of past editions does sometimes trip me up. Here, I might look at the listed *charm animals* and *speak with animals* spells...do these work with giant animals? That might really help establish the precedent.

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    1. Ugh, sorry...that should say "doesn't NECESSARILY equate with a giant animal." It might...it might not.

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  2. Hmmm. Looking at the chart, it seems most of the land animals are "small", with the exception of Hyena and Boar and maybe Wolverine (never seen one in person). SO I could see some issues if someone wanted to cast this on a bear or horse or something. (Thats were the "most" comes in).
    Personally I would see it tighened up where is it limited to "smallish" animals, or has a more explicit allowance for Medium to Big animals. But thats just my style.

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    1. I can see what you're saying there. Reports that some players used it on an elephant, say, irk me as well. I feel like maybe setting the target at 4HD takes care of the problem, because if the animal is that large already, then no benefit occurs.

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    2. @ Delta:

      But then, is it worth a 5th level spell slot?

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    3. Lets call it "Embiggen Animal" therefore big animals can not be Embiggended :)

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    4. JB: For like 6 or 8 animals, then I think yes.

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  3. Does seem sort of underpowered.

    You could perhaps make it 3/4/5 HD for small medium and large creatures (minimum gain of 1 or 2 to cover casting on elephants?), with the size designations being loose (house cat, wolf, cow).

    I envision the spell working on all animals in some radius, which could get you into trouble, especially with smaller creatures. Do you envision this working on insects? (are normal animals, animal kingdom non-monsters, or are they mammalish non-monsters?)

    6 creatures seems low, you can just about summon that many creatures for the same cost. Who chooses which 6? If you allow insects and birds, squirrels, snakes etc, most regions will have way more than 6 creatures with 120’ of the caster.

    It is also generally more powerful in a druids hands than a wizards, since wizards are less likely to be able to direct the animals. That means you can’t make it a lower level spell for Druids, if anything it should be higher, which is counter-intuitive.

    I imagine this as a spell you would use once in a blue moon when there are stampeding animals you direct toward your foes, then cast this. Once in a lifetime, that was AWESOME, kind of thing. For that kind of effect I would not mind if it was quite powerful, the problem is PCs figure out how to make once in a lifetime effects happen much more often; then the spell ends up being too powerful. PCs will figure out to use animal control, animal friendship, speak with animals etc. (although at that point they are using several spells). That is the problem with many of these spells the literary antecedents just don’t end up matching the game well.

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    1. Those are reasonable points. I had a question mark about the insects thing myself -- I lean towards "yes", as the fact that giant ants, spiders, and ticks are canonical monsters seems to set precedent for that. And that expectation is why I've got the "possible poison or blood" language in the proposed text. I'm assuming the caster can choose which, I think?

      I can imagine players throwing animals into a room with enemies and holding the door shut, say (while giant spiders or whatnot run amok) without a control spell being mandatory. Maybe that's a cheesy excuse on my part. But I'm always analyzing this stuff in isolation from other spell-using classes (esp. since my game actually doesn't have PC clerics or druids).

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  4. "I can imagine players throwing animals into a room with enemies and holding the door shut, say (while giant spiders or whatnot run amok) without a control spell being mandatory. Maybe that's a cheesy excuse on my part."

    I think that is totally reasonable. The animals may not attack right off, and even if they do, unless they are used to hunting together, are likely to use poor tactics (even if they do hunt together they would use poor tactics with regard to focusing on casters etc.)

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  5. On the topic of animal charts: http://zenopusarchives.blogspot.hk/2014/09/random-animal-table-1e-dmg.html

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    1. That's a great observation, thanks for linking to that. Big list of normal animals with stats in the DMG "bag of tricks" listing.

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