Stones Through the Ages -- Giant Throwing

Today I figured I'd take a look at the tradition of giant rock-throwing -- that cousin of the fireball and lightning bolt missile spells, which also had its roots in how Chainmail catapult fire worked. However, we'll see that the original mechanic did not have quite the same lasting legacy as those two mainstay spells.

Chainmail Fantasy
GIANTS: Giants are one of the most effective fighters. They can demolish normal opponents with ease, for they melee as 12 Heavy Foot with an extra die for their oversized weapons. They defend as 12 Armored Foot, and Giants must take cumulative hits equal to a number sufficient to destroy 12 Armored Footmen before melee or missiles will kill them. Moreover, Giants act as highly mobile small catapults (20 inches), without minimum range restrictions, and they can move on turns they don’t throw missiles, for reloading for them simply consists of picking up a boulder to give it a heave. Giants need never check morale! [CM, p. 34-35]
That's the entirety of the text for giants in the Chainmail Fantasy rules. Their stone-throwing is simply the same as that of a light catapult. Recall that rules for light catapults involve declaring range of a shot; killing all normal figures under a 2" diameter; and firing only every other turn. (Until recently I'd overlooked this last restriction to giant throwing, but it seems highlighted by the phrase "can move on turns they don’t throw missiles", which would seem unnecessary if it wasn't a forced-reload time.) Some limitations to who gets killed are given a bit later on:
CATAPULT FIRE VS. FANTASTIC FIGURES: Only the following kinds of fantastic creatures will be subject to catapult fire (including missile fire by Giants): Halflings, Sprites, Dwarves, Gnomes, Goblins, Kobolds, Elves, Fairies, Orcs, Heroes, Anti-heroes, Wights, Ghouls, Lycanthropes, Ogres, Treants, and Rocs. [CM, p. 38]
In terms of Chainmail Fantasy, this then excludes these types -- Super-heroes, Wizards, Trolls, Giants, Dragons, and Elementals. I suppose it's something of an open question for Basilisks, Cockatrice, Giant Spiders and Insects, and Giant Wolves, which are not mentioned as being vulnerable, but clearly seem weaker than other types (and listed in terms of "defend as a Lycanthrope", etc.)

Note that there are no differing giant types yet. Likewise, there's only one dragon explicitly detailed in Chainmail ("We will deal here with the great Red Dragon (Draco Conflagratio, or Draco Horribilis)"; also p. 35). Variation in types is emblematic of the expansion (or bloat) that is endemic to the commercial enterprise in later editions.

Original D&D
GIANTS: As stated in CHAINMAIL, Giants act as mobile light catapults with a 20" range. [OD&D Vol-2, p. 8]
That's actually all OD&D has to say about giant rock throwing. It's a good example of how dependent OD&D is on using Chainmail for actual combat resolution.

The next sentence does say, "Due to their huge weapons all Giants will score two dice of damage when hitting an opponent", but is that for melee only? It's slightly unclear if missiles use the old Chainmail "kill all humans", or if they should use the new 2d6. (The following table also notes that Stone Giants specially "Throw as a heavy catapult".) I know if I'm running OD&D giants I feel like there's a good bit of ambiguity there.

Holmes D&D
Giants can throw rocks like a catapult, range 200 feet with a 20 foot hit area. Each rock does 2 dice of damage to anything it hits. A giant can throw one rock every 5 melee rounds. [Holmes D&D, p. 26]
After this passage, the rest of the Holmes D&D giant description is a recapitulation of the "Fire Optional" rule from Chainmail catapults: declare a range and roll 2d6 for over/under that for exact location of the throw on the tabletop. "Anything within 2 inches of the impact is hit. If figures are not used, treat the thrown rock as an arrow or other missile on the combat table." [See the full text.]

So here we see that we've explicitly changed from Chainmail's "kill everything under 6HD" (basically) to 2d6 damage. We've also wrapped in the variation rule (which previously was optional), and reduced rate-of-fire from every 2 rounds (by reference in Chainmail/OD&D) to only once every 5 rounds. I think these edits are very wise, as the effect of giant-throwing is overwhelmingly powerful if it affects everyone in a blast area and totally bypasses the armor mechanic, without some serious reduction in damage and rate-of-fire. Without the change, I'd think that giants would nearly always avoid melee in favor of throwing.

But this is actually the last time we'll see this mechanic for giant throwing; it wasn't carried forward into any later edition of D&D. Instead, the attack form is hereafter absorbed into the standard D&D "to hit" roll motif versus a single target (as alluded to in the last line quoted above). We've discussed giants a few times on the blog before (see very end here), and many commentators have expressed favor for giant stones acting as area-effect grenade-like weapons; but after OD&D and the Holmes book, this mechanic was no longer officially used.

One other point highlighting the method's end-of-the-line status: This is the only place in all of the Holmes D&D rules where any distance is expressed in inches ("Anything within 2 inches of the impact is hit"). With the ironic single exception of an earlier passage that prepares you to see that a lot ("Since DUNGEONS & DRAGONS was originally written for wargamers who are used to miniature figures, distances are often given in inches... 1 inch = 10 feet" [Holmes, p. 9]).

Advanced D&D (1st Edition)
All giants are very strong, with strengths ranging from 19 to 25 as compared with humans. Because of this strength, they are able to pick up rocks and hurl them as if the missile were shot from a catapult, but without the minimum range restrictions of the device. [1E MM, p. 44]
Keep in mind that the 1E Monster Manual was the first of the AD&D books to be released, and was largely a consolidation of the OD&D monsters in the various volumes (desperately needed at the time, since basic monster stats were in a separate section or even book from their damage statistics). So it's no surprise that the language is mostly the same. Throwing damage keeps the revisions first seen in the Greyhawk supplement (Sup-I); still 2 dice, but the dice may now be 8, 10, or 12-sided (depending on type).

One thing that's added is the possibility of catching opposing missiles, as shot by each giant type. For example: "Adult hill giants are able to hurl rocks from 1” to 20” distances, inflicting 2-16 hit points of damage. They are able to catch similar missiles 30% of the time." [1E MM, p. 45]

Something that's been kept is the comparison of giant throwing to catapults (see quote above). But interestingly, when siege engines appear in the AD&D DMG (published 2 years later), they no longer appear to have the area-effect capacity that they did back in Chainmail. Rules in the DMG for catapults (and the like; p. 108-109) are to make a normal to-hit roll with certain adjustments against a single specific target. Only if it's a miss is the "Grenade-Like Missiles" section consulted for possible bounce onto another target (or alternatively, if a target is totally unseen due to cover, then "A target area must be named and the GRENADE-LIKE MISSILES determination is then used to find where the missile actually hits." [1E DMG, p. 109]). It does say that "As noted in the GRENADE-LIKE MISSILES section, missiles from small catapults are considered to be of 1' diameter, those from trebuchets 2'" [p. 109]

Advanced D&D (2nd Edition)

2E AD&D doesn't appear to have any special general language about giant rock-throwing. Each individual giant type simply has it listed as a missile attack, with the same parameters as 1E. (Example: "Hill giants... hurl rocks for 2-16 (2d8) points of damage. Their targets for such attacks must be between 3 and 200 yards away from the giant. They can catch rocks or other similar missiles 30% of the time." [2E MM]) Cloud giants appear to have their rock-catching ability removed, but that's probably just an oversight.

Rules Cyclopedia
All giants can throw boulders as missile weapons, though the range varies. Any hit from a thrown boulder inflicts 3d6 points of damage. Throwing ranges in yards (for outdoor encounters) are given for each giant. If encountered in a dungeon, the range should be read as feet. [RC, p. 179]
So at this point in the BX/BXCMI evolution, giant throwing damage has been boosted from 2d6 to 3d6. The maximum range is mostly as it was before: earlier 20" here written as 200 yards/feet for most types. Hill giants have been reduced to range 100; stone giants get 300. We also see ranged categories such as "100/200/300", indicating that standard ranged attack penalties apply (which is not something we saw in any other edition up to this point). No sign of any area-attack effect is given; neither is the AD&D "catching" ability present.

d20 System D&D (3rd Edition)

Rock Throwing (Ex): Adult giants are accomplished rock throwers and receive a +1 racial bonus to attack rolls when throwing rocks. A giant of at least Large size can hurl rocks weighing 40 to 50 pounds each (Small objects) up to 5 range increments. The size of the range increment varies with the giant’s variety. A Huge giant can hurl rocks of 60 to 80 pounds (Medium-size objects).

Rock Catching (Ex): A giant of at least Large size can catch Small, Medium-size, or Large rocks (or projectiles of similar shape). Once per round, a giant that would normally be hit by a rock can make a Reflex save to catch it as a free action. The DC is 15 for a Small rock, 20 for a Medium-size one, and 25 for a Large one. (If the projectile has a magical bonus to attack, the DC increases by that amount.) The giant must be ready for and aware of the attack. [3E SRD]

Here we see that the overall throwing ability is clearly part of the standard missile attack metaphor, including standard ranged penalties. The catching ability is included (with the necessary detail expanding over time, as usual). Range increments (as per 3E) are 120 feet for hill/frost/fire giants, 140 feet for cloud giants, and 180 feet for stone giants. With up to 5 increments maximum, that's a total of 600, 700, or 900 feet -- a whole lot farther than the 200 feet underground that we'd see in OD&D/Holmes/1E/RC, but matching the non-scaling 200 yards that you get in 2E.

(Photo by nhussein under CC2.)


  1. The area of effect for the Holmes rock-throwing seems absurdly too big: is the giant really throwing a rock with a 20-foot diameter? That's greater than the giant's height! Moreover, it really ought to do more than 2 dice of damage if it's that big. This is the best example yet of the unfortunate consequences of carrying forward the catapult mechanics of Chainmail; no wonder it wasn't used in any later versions of D&D.

  2. There's another odd thing about the Holmes rules. First they say the rock has a "20 foot hit area," which ought to be a 20-foot diameter, but when discussing the variation rule, they say "Anything within 2 inches of the impact is hit," which is a 20-foot radius! Just how big is that rock?

  3. John: That latter point is a really good one, and I hadn't picked up on it. While using the same "hit area" terminology, we switched from a 2"-diameter in Chainmail to a 2"-radius in Holmes. Good catch.

    On the subject of "how big is that rock?", what other commentators have asserted here in the past (I wouldn't have thought of it myself) is the idea that the rocks are splintering and exploding like fragmentation grenades. I'll let you judge how reasonable that is.

  4. In the DMG gygax says the combat scale is 1" = 3'. Why are people using the exploration maps to determine the actual feet? It just says 2" fireball. Does this mean that on the overland exploration map (1" hex = 5 miles) that a fireball is a nucular bomb?

  5. UWS Guy: Because (speaking of AD&D) the DMG miniature scale is different from the official scale for movement, missiles, and spells.


    [All caps in original text.]

  6. 'Only the following kinds of fantastic creatures will be subject to catapult fire ...'

    Clearly the wording indicates that at some point, some referee made a ruling that some physically small figures were too important to the story to get crushed by a flying boulder. I imagine that the argument invoked the referee's favorite fantasy pulp story about humanoid protagonists. So the argument might have been "The Grey Mouser would never die in such a stupid way," or "Ningauble would never die from catapult fire," or something. But the judgement probably did not enter the issue of whether Giant Spiders were ever important characters in a story.

  7. postgygaxian said: "Clearly the wording indicates that at some point, some referee made a ruling that some physically small figures were too important to the story to get crushed by a flying boulder..."

    True. I could additionally theorize that some of the left-out types were added in a later edition of Chainmail, and this list failed to get updated at the time.

    Notes: My quotes are all from the "3rd Edition" (7th Printing, April 1979); I don't have 1st or 2nd Edition to compare to. And the left-out types are all near the end of the section. But I could be wrong.