The Grey and Wolves

This is sort of a reply to Wolves are Really Scary. One thing I’ve noticed is that I tend to overdo it when I try to do “X is pretty dangerous” in my game. So I consciously refer back to game stats to try to keep things sane.

In 1E D&D: A normal human is d6 HP, so just under 1 HD. Maybe call it 1-1 HD. A Veteran fighter has 1d10 HP, so possibly twice as many as a regular dude. Few people in the world are 1 HD. Adventurers, some military officers, etc. The policemen in town? 0-level. Dude standing watch on the tower roof of the local garrison? 0-level. Sedentary adults (like us modern folk, most of us, even if we go rock-climbing on the weekends and hit the gym twice a week) are 0-level humans with 1d4 HP. Two minutes of getting beat up with good solid punches is enough to knock us out. A single dagger stab can do it. Falling 10′ uncontrolled is risky, but falling 20′ is likely to cause some serious injury.

Now a wolf has 2+2 HD. You can hit it with a spear (3.5 average damage vs. it’s average 11 HP) for three minutes before it goes down. Unarmed you’d have to fight it for 5 or 6 minutes, all while it’s chewing at you. Here’s the math:

Non-sedentary mercenary with leather armor and spear (AC 8, HP 4, 3.5 average damage per hit, 35% chance to hit AC 7 wolf per round, damage output 1.225 per round)

Wolf (AC 7, HP 11, 3.5 dph, 65% chance to hit AC 8 merc, dpr 2.275)

Our merc can hold out for 2 rounds against the wolf, while the wolf can last 10 rounds with the merc. That is, if we had 5 mercs, the wolf will probably still drop one of them before dying.

You can add better armor or a better weapon to the mercenary. You can give him an extra round of missile attacks because in your mind he could encounter the wolf with a huge open plain between him and it. But by my math, you’d need to have this merc in Full Plate (AC 1) and a Shortbow (1d6 x2 attacks per round) to have any effect on the 1v1 outcome: the merc lasts 4 rounds, the wolf lasts 5. An I can bet no random 0-level dude is going to be able to afford 4,000 GP for armor when he makes like 4 GP per month in wages.

There are other reasons wolves are scary. Its movement is 18″ which means you can’t run away from it if it wants to catch you (especially if you’re wearing decent armor). It also means the wolf can run in, bite a couple times, and run away and survive. You can’t really chase it. And in its rough terrain you probably can’t shoot it down before or after it attacks.

In the Monster Manual it gives an ability for wolf howls to panic herbivores 50% of the time if not handled directly by a human. If your horses are tied down for the night this could send them running, with a chance to bust loose of their leashes. There go half your mounts and equipment-donkeys.

Finally, the wolf comes in packs of 2-20 outdoors. That’s an average of 11 wolves in an encounter. They are willing to fight (75%) and fight as a group. Ignoring the howl effects, that means a wolf encounter will easily shred an armed band of around 30 men and the only hope these guys have is to team up and focus their attacks on the same wolves to at least kill some before they die and possibly drive the wolves off with poor morale because of the pack’s losses. Or to flee and hope the pack sits down to eat the ones they killed already.

A Sleep spell, standby of lowbie M-Us, will drop only 1d4 wolves. Assuming an adventuring party of 5 1st level fighting-types and one M-U, and six 0-level men-at-arms, the encounter with (11 – 2.5 from his one Sleep) 8 wolves is the equivalent of 8 wolves vs. 16 0-levels. That is, a hopeless massacre.

Now take a dozen unarmed, unarmored, injured, demoralized, starving, frozen, non-sedentary 0-level humans and one 1st level Fighter vs. 8 wolves. Those are still pretty gnarly odds and I can see why it isn’t a cakewalk to get to civilization.

Wolves don’t need amping up.

If your players, with their 5th to 6th level PCs don’t fear wolves, it’s because these characters are heroes! The equivalent of 5 or 6 normal men each! The party M-U could blast the wolves with a Lightning Bolt and kill a couple, driving the rest off yelping. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a group of 5th level PCs with decent equipment fight a pack of 11 wolves without a problem. Cleric patches everyone up after the fight and we’re back in marching order. This is expected, and good, and it would be silly if regular wolves that threaten peasants are still a huge problem for high-level adventurers.

That’s why we have Dire Wolves and Winter Wolves and Werewolves etc.

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One Response to “The Grey and Wolves”

  1. Justin S. Davis Says:

    I really, really liked this post. Wolves rule.

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