Friday, July 19, 2019

D&D Sling Damage vs. Large Targets

In many early editions of D&D, weapons were assigned two damage values: one for small/medium targets (i.e. man-sized) and one for large targets (giants and such).

On the whole, it more or less breaks down like this:

  • large piercing/slashing weapons do more damage vs. large targets than they do vs. small/medium targets
  • small piercing/slashing weapons do equal or less damage vs. large targets than they do vs. small/medium targets
  • blunt force weapons of any size do equal or less damage vs. large targets than they do vs. small/medium targets

This general scheme makes sense to me. If you run a 4' sword through a human's 12" deep abdomen, the sword only rips through 12" of flesh. If that same sword is run through a giant's 24" deep abdomen, that sword rips through 24" of flesh, thereby doing more damage.

Conversely, a small piercing weapon, like an 8" dagger, in either case would only rip through 8" of flesh. For the human, this is 67% of the total depth of the abdomen, while for the giant this is only 33% of the abdomen's depth -- thereby doing proportionally less damage to the large target.

Similarly, a blunt force weapon should do, at most, the same damage to a small/medium or large target, and possibly less to a large target, since the force of the blow is the same in all cases, while the large target would theoretically have a thicker muscle wall protecting its organs and bones against anything that gets around the armor.

Here though, is the conundrum. All the old rules that I'm aware of (including Greyhawk, AD&D and clones like my favorite, Iron Falcon) that use this differentiation of damage between small/medium or large targets list sling projectiles (in AD&D specifically sling bullets) as doing more damage vs. large targets than they do vs. small/medium targets.

I can't get my head around this, since the sling projectile is a blunt force weapon, and a very small one at that. In theory it shouldn't really penetrate per se, and the normal principles of blunt force weapons should apply (i.e. it should do no more than equal damage vs. a large target, possibly less).

Even if I'm mistaken here and it does penetrate, perhaps due to its high speed, I don't see how a small, blunt projectile could possibly go deeper through the thicker hide, thicker muscle, and thicker bones of a large target than it would through those of a smaller target, when the force of impact from a given slinger will be the same in all cases. In short, I can't see any rationale for why the sling projectile would do more damage to the large target than it does to a small/medium one.

I'm inclined to think this is poetic license by Gary to replicate a Biblical David and Goliath situation. But before I house rule this to rectify what I see as a physics error, I am curious to see if anyone out there knows of a solid argument why a sling should do more damage to a large target than it does to a small/medium one. Maybe I'm completely wrong about slings.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?


  1. The increased damage in AD&D is for Sling Bullets not for sling stones. So Gygax must have rethought the issue since the release of the Greyhawk supplement.

    As for the physic issue is all about F=MA and how flexible the surface of the impacted object is.
    If it flexes too fast then the surface break allowing the force to start working on the internal structure thus causing internal injury. During all this the energy of the blow is being dissipated as it travels inside the body.

    A giant's body isn't fundamentally different other than it has more mass. Since the mass of the weapon is the same, since the acceleration imparted by the wielder is the same. Then the damage is the same irregardless of the mass of the object. The only difference in the case of a giant version of a creature is that the surface layers may be thicker, enough to that the flex point is different compared to a normal sized human. I.e. you may be cutting/piercing/bludgeoning a thicker layer of skin and fat than a normal size human.

    But D&D doesn't model that nor does it need too. All of this can be abstracted by assigning more hit points to a giant sized creature. Maybe by also bumping up Armor Class by +1 or +2.

    My view is that I find varying damage by size to be overkill in terms of D&Dish mechanics. The size of the creature should result in more hit points and if tough skin is a factor then consider a boot in AC.

    1. Thanks for the link regarding conservation of momentum. That said, wouldn't that mean that either the sling should not do more damage vs. a large creature, or else that all blunt force weapons should do more damage vs. large creatures? In other words, it still doesn't address the question of "what is special about the sling?"

      I agree that primary difference between a large and a small/medium creature is mass (though of course depth is a factor too, as above allowing for the possibility of a longer wound tract not possible in a smaller creature); and while that mass in most cases would mean thicker muscle walls, thicker sternum, skull etc., I agree that that is best modeled by better AC/hit points.

      That being said, the increased weapon damage for some weapons vs. large creatures is not about modeling that. It's about making certain weapons more effective vs. those big guys, rather than making the big monsters tougher. It's about humans using a tool to mitigate their own size disadvantage in a fight. Mechanically, I have no trouble with the varying damage by target size. From a game perspective, it's not a particularly cumbersome rule (players simply have to note two damage stats for their weapons). And I find the idea has appeal since it gives some much-needed love to the fighter types (and to a lesser extent the thief) since they're the only ones who can use the weapons that do more damage to large creatures.

  2. I mean, this is obviously just a fun little David and Goliath easter egg, right? Might as well keep it, it's neat.

    1. Yeah, but the inconsistency with the sling just irks me a bit and I can't help myself. :-)

  3. In my opinion, this is too granular. You’re not doing it wrong but I would eschew this analysis in favor of speed of play.

    1. Hi Scott. The analysis is really just for my own nerdy edification really. Back in high school when my friends and I played AD&D (or AD&D-ish -- since we did drop out a lot of cumbersome stuff like AD&D's convoluted initiative, weapons vs. armor type and such), we did use variable damage by monster size. It doesn't slow down play in the slightest. Instead of noting one damage range for each weapon on the character sheet, players just list two of them. In play, there's no impact.

    2. Yes, we did it too. I’ve dropped it as an adult. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it.

      My fighters stay relevant with different kludges, including social advantages and including stopping at level 11. Wizards tend to take off around level 7 but fighting men stay relevant.

    3. That's a good way to keep the fighters relevant too.

  4. That was damn interesting, the penetration of weapons!

  5. I have little to add, but interesting analysis.

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