Monday, October 19, 2015

Cat Stats

There's a big holiday coming up next week: National Cat Day, October 29. I'm a big cat person, and so are many famous writers: like H.P. Lovecraft and that dude who worked on the Reichenau Primer. Here are the stats for different cats in AD&D:


Values for average weight are taken from bigcats.com (with those for the prehistoric sabre-tooth and spotted lion/cave lion from Wikipedia articles). All of the HD 3+ types would count as "big cats", various species of lynx would be "medium cats", and below that are the "small cats". What most of us call the cougar is given in the MM as the mountain lion (*).

The primary trope that Gygax used when sketching out all of the different cats is to give them 3 basic attacks (claw/claw/bite), and another 2 rake attacks (with hind legs) if the initial 2 claw attacks are both successful. This first appeared in the context of OD&D Supplement-I (p. 18), where most of the original monsters were switched from one attack each (1d6 damage) to having a multitude of attacks at different die values. I tend to think that this was greatly overdone, and for my OD&D games I give about half as many attacks as shown there. (e.g.: Horses and bulls are all given 2 or more attacks, and while I've been kicked and run over by steers on a number of occasions, I've never been hit by more than one hoof at a time.) Moreover, this pattern gets really silly trying to maintain it at the lower levels, rolling lots and lots of attacks for negligible damage on the order of 1-2 points each or something (e.g.: Cheetahs are given damage 1-2/1-2/2-8 and 1-2/1-2; why not just make 2 total attacks at damage 1d12 and 1d4 or the like, and save over half the attack dice rolls?) Perhaps if I was writing the big cats from scratch I'd give them 2 attacks, with both successful meaning the cat was latched on -- no escape unless the cat is killed or breaks morale, and following 2 attacks per round at +2 hit and damage (and maybe some extra hiding bonus).

The domestic cat from Monster Manual 2 is borderline infamous for being a possible NPC and PC-killer at 1st level. They are weirdly given 1-5 hit points (on a normally 8-sided hit die; in the chart above I've abbreviated this as about 1/2 a hit die, **). They get 3 total attacks (damage 1-2/1/1-2) instead of the possible 5 attacks everything else gets, but in sum this is still more hit points than a serf or starting wizard is likely to have. I would argue that the superfluity of attacks by all the other cats may be equally ridiculous; it's just that our direct experience with domestic cats highlights the issue at that level.

The other thing that's strange is the "Giant Lynx" from the original Monster Manual. It's given as being intelligent and having its own language. The thing that I find particularly hard to parse is that normal lynxes (along with related bobcats, fisher cats, golden cats, and ocelots) weigh on the order of 20-50 pounds, and looking at the chart above, the spot we should place these real-world types would clearly be at the HD 2 level (above small wild cats and below cheetahs) -- the same as that given for the "giant lynx". So what exactly did Gygax mean, or what did he take inspiration from, for this "giant" lynx which is actually the same size as a real-world lynx?

Finally, you can see that average weights and given Hit Dice make a nice power curve progression, with a 97% coefficient of determination, topping out at about 1 HD per 100 pounds:


Edit: A table of proposed cat stats for the OED house rules (closer to original OD&D style):

23 comments:

  1. "and while I've been kicked and run over by steers on a number of occasions"

    Would you care to elaborate on that?

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    1. Well, just that I grew up on a farm in Maine, raised 4-H beef steers from age 7-17, learned how to drive oxen from my veterinarian father, etc. Our favored breed was angus, which is known to be ornery, although I'd describe them as "smart and opinionated". If you do something around their back end they don't like you'll get a karate-kick in the chest, and we would have to chase down escaping cattle once or twice a year.

      Also if you squint closely at the 1996 movie "The Crucible", I'm in it working as an offscreen wrangler/onscreen ox driver.

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  2. I agree. While I enjoy most of D&Ds idiosyncrasies nowadays, I still dislike the idea of a domestic cat being able to kill a 1st level character often.

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  3. As an aside, giant lynx are from Hiero's Journey by Sterling E. Lanier, which had a clear influence on early D&D, and more obviously on Gamma World.

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    1. The original giant lynxes are probably derived from the tales of Appalachian panthers, which continue to defy explanation to this day. They are said, depending on the source, to be either giant-sized versions of a lynx (and totally black), or a bit larger than a mountain lion, depending on the source. Scientists have never yet managed to document the existence of these cats, and they are still regarded as a myth...but they're a darned persistent one.

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    2. Bill, thanks for that; I'd never heard about it!

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  4. Huh. So a Spotted Lion or Sabre-tooth Tiger has about as many HD as a dragon? Or at least one of the smaller dragons? I don't think I ever put that together before...that's a bit hard to square with most of the illustrations.

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    1. But not with medieval descriptions and illustrations, where most dragons are only slightly larger than a horse.

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  5. I use a logarithmic scale for size of creatures, with +2 being a doubling in size. Each +1 gives you e.g. +1 on damage for attacks. If you have humans rated as 0 and put Sabre Tooth Tiger as +8, then you get Sabre Tooth +8, Spotted Lion +7, Tiger/Lion +6, Jaguar/Cougar/Leopard +3, Cheetah +2, Lynx -1, Wildcat -4, Cat -6. That is, a lion is as deadly for a human as a human is deadly to a cat. For all the animals down to a cheetah you get within 1 of the HD values above. So I think the HD system is working well for the larger wild animals, but fails for the smallest (having nowhere to go below 1HD).

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  6. Yeah, you know, I've come to the opinion that the multiple attacks of monsters (including the typical claw/claw/bite) is pretty silly in light of abstract combat...it just perpetuates the fallacy that one attack roll = one swing of a weapon.

    My current systems just give a single attack to tigers and the like...the damage roll determines how many claws/teeth might have successfully mauled the target.

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  7. Well, someone already beat me to the questions raised by the off-hand comment, "...while I've been kicked and run over by steers on a number of occasions...," so I'll content myself with pointing out that after the MM2 came out, I immediately played a Magic-User with a standard domestic cat as a familiar... and gave the DM quite a surprise during our first encounter with a handful of bog-standard goblins. "Get 'em, Felix! Get 'em!" Hahahahahaha.

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  8. There was an episode of "The Avengers" (the John Steed and Mrs. Peel version) called "The Hidden Tiger" where the bad guys weaponized domestic cats by means of a special radio control collar that stoked them into a full on murderous frenzy.

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  9. I think a major problem with early D&D monster stats is the linkage between HP and Attack bonus. It makes a lot more sense for something like a large predator to have good attack bonuses but a smallish amount of HP, while something like a giant has a low attack bonus compared to a huge pile of HP. This got weirder when D&D moved from D6 for HP and damage die into variable HP. AC is somewhat a means to mitigate this, but because D&D quickly left behind the idea of AC being limited and started tossing out stat bonuses and magic weapons of increasing attack bonus like candy. AC also becomes somewhat absurd at mid level.

    Thus if you want a tiger to be dangerous to a 2nd level party it needs 6HD because it needs both an attack bonus that just might hit a warrior in platemail +2 with a 1 point dex bonus and a shield +1 (that's AC -2 btw).

    Now of course none of this really matters in that every monster can be reskinned easily enough, you can use the polar bear stats for tigers if you like.

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    1. You could do this by using a hit point penalty. So a dangerous but fragile character might have 4d8-8 hit dice. So attacking as a 4HD creatures but having hit dice of a 2 HD creature. But, no monster to my knowledge has ever had less than a -1.

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  10. Domestic cats kill animals their own size all the time. For that to be possible, it needs to be possible for the cat needs to do the prey's HP in damage in a round. I think the problem is putting a crow or domestic cat on the same scale as a human.

    Instead I'd use the 3E size scales (Diminutive, Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Huge, Giant, Colossal) and say if you're more than two sizes smaller you can't hurt the larger creature unless you're in a swarm of about 20 or the big target is paralyzed.

    Yes this means humans with 3' swords are finally unable to just stab to death a dragon the size of a movie theater.

    But because it's hilarious, I'd also say you can't beat down on anything more than two sizes smaller than yourself. Pixies can't hurt humans because their tiny swords won't do more than nick his skin, but the human just slaps around and can't smack the pixies.

    Same goes for (Giant) giants throwing boulders at (Small) halflings, (Colossal) dragons trying to bite (Medium) humans, etc. A dragon could still breath-weapon an area covering the little people for example. This is just for attacks relating to the mobility and hand-eye coordination of the larger creature and the penetrative and destructive ability of the smaller creature.

    To answer the problems people will have with this: make your dragons and giants less stupidly, pointlessly huge, and make your pixies less ridiculously, ineffectually tiny.

    To take another 3E convention (not that I rather like 3E much, but its Quixotic quest for standardization led to some valuable tricks), halving a manlike creature's height cuts its mass by 1/8. Ignoring extremely specialized creatures like ants, you'd expect to see 1/8 the force output and penetration depth for an attack from a swordsman 1/8 the mass. It's why we have boxing weight classes. So if a human can do 1d8 damage, you'd think a halfling could do 1/8 of that, with a d8 damage spread of {0.125, 0.25, 0.375, 0.5, 0.625, 0.75, 0.875, 1}, or if rounding, 3 in 8 chances of 0 damage and 5 in 8 chances of 1 damage to a human. The human would have the same 0-1 damage outcome instead of 1-8 when fighting a 12' Giant. That Giant should do 8x damage to the human.

    This ignores skin and fat thickness, durability of internal tissues and bone, as a factor in how much injury the creature sustains from a blow of 8x or 1/8 force. Imagine a sword stab into a halfling instead of a human: the halfling's organs are weaker, closer together, protected by frailer defensive tissue. A stab that might puncture a human's esophagus could sever the entirety of a halfling's throat. A human whose artery was just missed would correspond to a halfling whose artery was completely severed. Because of this, an attack with x force should do more end damage to a smaller creature than a larger one.

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    1. Don't conflate small size and greater agility with hit points. Dex gives AC, Con gives HP. Quicklings have massive AC and terrible HP, and that's the way it should be. If you finally do hit the little blighter, you're going to explode him like a water balloon full of ketchup.

      This 1/8 size and damage jump strongly illustrates why it's ridiculous to think that a 6" Diminutive rat could hurt a 6' Medium human regardless of attack rolls. But in order to argue for the human not being able to hit the rat, I appeal to size and mobility. The human, to hit another Medium human, usually has about a 50% chance regardless of edition you're using. Humans can get really agile, dropping that chance to maybe 30% (which again varies more by edition). And non-superhero humans can learn to fight well enough that they can raise that percentage from 50% to 80% or so. But a halfling with 1/4 the visible profile (height and width) and if anything better agility, should present 1/4 the chance to hit. Just imagining an archer firing at two targets, one 6' x 2' and one 3' x 1', should make this clear. So if you have a skilled hero human attacking a halfling, instead of his 80% chance vs. humans he would have only 20% vs the halfling. And against a 1' domestic cat only a 5% chance.

      Just as the 3 sizes smaller attacker has a loophole (attacking in a swarm of 20 or against a paralyzed target), the 3 sizes larger attacker has one: the natural 20. Depending on your system, a natural 20 (5% of attacks) is an auto hit or counts as a higher hit (such as a 30 instead of a 20). A really huge attacker may end up with at worst a 5% chance to slap a given tiny nibbler. This probably reflects cornering the creature, or smooshing it with your hand from the other side when it wasn't looking, or just lumbering along until you accidentally step on it.

      What to do about spells? While I'm tempted to scale range and area of effect to creature size, I don't really want wizard duels to amount to "whoever wins initiative after we both cast Enlarge wins the fight". On the other hand, if one wizard Shrinks another, he should be able to pick him up by his stars-and-moons robe and bellow with laughter without worrying that the little punk will cast a Magic Missile bigger than he is. I also want dragons to be able to clear large swaths of pointless halflings with a breath weapon.

      Note that Enlarge in early editions gives something like +10% or 20% height per caster level, leading to a doubling into the next size category within a reasonable level range. But in 2E I believe it specifically gives a commensurate percentage increase to weapon damage instead of the square like a mass increase. I'd say Enlarge raises MASS by 10 or 20% per level, meaning height increases that much per 4 levels. We don't see a shift to the next size category until caster level 20 or 40, which is quite fine. And if you have caster level limits by spell the problem solves itself, and if you don't then party on dude! One downside is that while the combat output of the spell is the same, other purposes like intimidation, reaching high things, or not being able to use it effectively indoors will work differently when you Enlarge mass instead of just height.

      Or heck, just say enough cats can kill Voltron and move on. Once I figured out that a 3E wolf could eventually chew through a log cabin I decided you either let stupid results happen because it's hilarious or you use common sense and stop the worst system failures like a cat killing a peasant.

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    2. "Domestic cats kill animals their own size all the time. For that to be possible, it needs to be possible for the cat needs to do the prey's HP in damage in a round."

      I think that an alternative is to have a "grab" ability that prevents target flight, such as a domestic cat with a bird, or a tiger with a zebra (latch on and then bite the throat repeatedly until dead). That's actually part of the cat 3E stats regime; see also my edit with alternate attacks above.

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    3. I would be careful about conflating mass directly with strength/force like that, and doubly careful about applying that association to damage.

      For my first point, note that an ant has extremely high proportional strength - carrying between 10 and 50 times its body weight - while an elephant has very low proportional strength, able to carry only a few percent of its body weight without risking injury. This is because the surface area to volume ratio of an animal is physically and physiologically very important, and while volume scales with the cube of height/length, surface area only scales with the square of height. More info here: http://www.curiousmeerkat.co.uk/questions/how-strong-would-a-man-sized-ant-be/

      For the second point, I'd simply note that where you hit is often far more important than how hard you hit. If you can hit exposed flesh, a knife, sword, or spear doesn't really need all that much force in order to penetrate. It's more important for bludgeoning weapons, but even then, while it does take a great deal of force to break primary structural bones, it's quite a bit easier to break a rib (which may go on to puncture vital organs) or at the very least cause internal bleeding. Note that a similar phenomenon occurs with bows, which is why a longbow with 100# draw weight isn't twice as effective as a 50# short bow. More effective, yes, but not in a 1-to-1 proportion with weight.

      It's also important to note that humans generally don't use their full strength for every blow; conserving energy for later in the fight and the defense one sacrifices during a long windup and follow-through are both significant concerns that highly discourage "swinging for the fences." Part of a small fighter's strategy may simply involve using proportionally more of his available strength than a human would - particularly since a smaller warrior would naturally have greater staying power (his reduced mass means that simply moving and maneuvering requires less energy) and quicker recoil time from each swing.

      Finally, as to making small creatures unhittable (or nearly so) by much larger ones fails to take into account the large surface area of the larger creature's hitting implement. I certainly don't need the real-life equivalent of a natural 20 to swat a fly - or for that matter, to catch my cat if she manages to sneak into the garage or outside while I have the door open. If I miss and she gets a running start, of course, then catching up to her is nigh impossible... I think the in-game speeds of many small and tiny creatures are understated, but that's a separate issue. Similarly, I don't know that two size categories smaller is the right place to make the "unable to harm" distinction. Certainly a mosquito won't do me any lasting harm, but I think if a domestic cat could do some real damage if it spent a full minute attacking me - assume in this hypothetical situation that I don't defend myself, as obviously the "fight" couldn't last that long if I actually wanted to kill the cat.

      TL;DR, don't underestimate the size-impaired.

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  11. I know it's silly, but I love how a house cat can kill a level 1 mage. It's not a bug, it's a feature!

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  12. As with other, I've simply gotten rid of all the multiple attack routines and just given all creatures a single attack. These multiple attacks don't add anything to the game other than wasted time.

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    1. To a large extent I very much agree. In this case the whole cat grab/rake thing is almost the only flavor, so when I restat cats I do keep 2 attacks (not 3) to adjudicate the grab/bonus ability (which is not more attacks but a to-hit bonus).

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