Wizard vs. Cat

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jan 30, 2007

Filed under: Projects 65 comments

In the comments of Monday’s DM of the Rings, there was an interesting discussion about some of the funny things in the D&D combat system. For example, I once heard that the odds are that a Level 1 Wizard will lose a bare-handed fight against a common housecat.

Telas said in response:

Dunno about the actual odds, but A cat has 2 hit points, and 3 attacks per round for a full attack action, at +4/+4/-1 for 1 damage each. If our 1st level Wizard loses initiative (very possible against a 15 Dex cat), and misses with his first attack (possible with 0 BAB against an AC14 cat), he will be attacked six times, four of which will hit 70% of the time.

On average, he'll be hit by three of the claws and one bite for 4 damage, which takes him to 0 HP. If the wizard is unarmed, and taking a -4 nonproficiency penalty to punch the cat, then he will almost certainly die.

This is probably why casters are famous for being cat-friendly.

Now I wonder if it’s true. I don’t have the rulebooks handy, but now that Telas has provided some numbers to work with I can try it out.

Let’s assume we’re dealing with a common level 1 Wizard, an adult human. He has a STR bonus of +0. I’ll let him point-buy two points of DEX and CON bonuses. (So, he either has a CON +2 or a DEX +2 or +1 to both.) He’s fighting bare-handed (1d4 damage) and at a -4 attack penalty because he’s a wizard and is useless at hand-fighting. His base HP is 4 + his CON bonus.

Using the above, plus the numbers Telas gave for the cat, I wrote a wee little program to run 1,000 Wizard vs. Cat battles.

Result? The Wizard prevailed 29.8% of the time.

While I don’t deny that an angry cat can really make you wish you hadn’t made it angry, I’m having a hard time picturing a cat dealing lethal damage to an adult male of average strength, slightly better than average dexterity or constitution, and high intelligence.

If I let him buy another point of DEX or CON bonus, his odds go up to a still-pathetic 39.9%. This is preposterous. Now we have a guy of average strength, high intelligence, and who may be really gifted when it comes to dexterity or constitution, and he still can’t win half the battles.

Even if he does use magic, I wonder how well he’d do? A magic missle will easily overkill the cat, but casting it provokes ye olde attack of opportunity. He has to make a concentration check to get the spell off. I’m not going to run the numbers, but I assume his odds of victory should be pretty good in this case.

Ok, I’m doing wasting everyone’s time with this.

LATER: No I’m not. Kris pointed out in the comments below that the Wizard shouldn’t take a -4 penalty to hit, but punching a cat should provoke an attack of opportunity. I changed the program to reflect this and the odds of Wizard victory went up to 42.3%.

Also, Jeremiah points out that the Wizard could grapple (grab hold of the cat) easily. This is certainly how you would do things if faced with this situation. You wouldn’t slap-box the cat, you’d pick it up and wring its neck.

Finally, I know D&D isn’t a simulation of real combat. Some appoximations are made to ease the rules and add to playability. GURPS solves many problems like the one I just outlined, at the cost of greater complexity. Any system which is fun is going to have some holes in it someplace. Still, I love building these little simulations. See also: 100 million characters.


From The Archives:

65 thoughts on “Wizard vs. Cat

  1. Scott says:

    I have no idea what any of that means.

    But…cat scratch fever, perhaps? ;)

  2. Jeremiah says:

    Unless I’m way off-base, you never take a non-proficiency bonus to use natural weapons. At least, not in 3.0/3.5. It’s been too long since I played 2nd edition AD&D to remember.

    But in 3.0/3.5 if he doesn’t have improved unarmed attack, the wizard is going to suffer an attack of opportunity from the cat.

  3. Kris says:

    Shamus, that was absolutely amazing. However, the only flaw I see in the logic is that I would assume a level 1 Wizard would be a meager young apprentice. So not a full grown adult. And if it were a rather vicious alley cat, I could see difficulties against it in a fist fight if you have no skill in such.

    Anyway, if he could get off a Magic Missile, I don’t think it would improve his odds that drastically, because he’d still only have a 50% chance of dealing lethal damage to the cat (-1, bleeding to death). (1d4+1) Did you also account for the chance of them making a stabilization roll to get back to 1 hp? It seems like the cat would have a better chance of this than the wizard, if it had the initiative to roll it before the wizard could coup de grace.

    Anyway, now I’m probably overcomplicating this and wasting even more time… But it is an interesting exercise!

  4. Jeremiah says:

    Actually, at the very least (by the rules), a human level 1 wizard will be 17 years old (15 +2d6). Anyhow, if the wizard was so worried about that cat, just use grapple. He’d get massive bonuses being so much bigger. I believe a cat is diminutive putting it at a -12.

    Also, since that magic missile does 1d4+1, it’s guaranteed to take the cat to 0. Any exertion on the cat’s part at that point will knock it unconscious (although it could still make a single attack as a standard action). Also, a stabilization roll means you stop bleeding, it doesn’t bring you back to 1. http://www.d20srd.org/srd/conditionSummary.htm#stable

    No offense, Shamus, but these are the kinds of things that make d&d less fun for me sometimes. It’s never claimed to be an accurate representation, so when people poke holes in it, it takes the fun out.

    1. RPG guru says:

      an attack that reduces you from FULL to 0 is instant death, so the cat would DIE from a magic missile.

  5. Carl the Bold says:

    I’m just picturing Garfield putting the hurt on Harry Potter. Not D&D, of course, but an amusing mental picture nonetheless.

  6. Robert says:

    The error is in a stat block for a little kitty that makes it the rough equivalent of a low-end human fighter, not the d20 system itself.

    As a DM, if someone was fighting a housecat or similarly non-combat animal, I’d either fix the stat block for the cat (having all the attacks boil down to 1 attack that does 1d4 – 2, no minimum, maybe), or give medium-sized creatures a Fortitude and/or Reflex save each round to avoid all damage. I’d also note that housecats don’t generally stand and fight in melee against creatures 10x their size; they hit once and then run like hell.

  7. Kiwi C. says:

    If you THREW the cat at the wizard, I imagine it could do a hell of a lot of damage!

  8. Telas says:

    OMG, my own post!! I would like to thank he members of the Academy…

    OK, I’m over it. BTW, in another group (HeroForge, an Excel character generator), there was a debate over unarmed strike proficiency. Technically (and since this is D&D, it’s ALL technical :D ), Unarmed Strike is a Simple Weapon – Druids and Wizards aren’t proficient with it.

    And yeah, this is the extreme example of D&D’s silliness. Others are the falling barbarian (make him high enough level, raging, and he can fall thousands of feet without dying), and the “How do you handle the ‘gun to his head’ situation?”.

  9. Rich says:

    You know you are forcing me to dig up my Melee and Wizard rulebooks just to check this out, right? RIGHT?


  10. Jeremiah says:

    Yeah, I agree, these things are fun. I think it’s something all gamers start to think about at one point or another, or all the time for that matter. We all start thinking about statistics and probabilities. I was just talking to a friend the other day saying how there should just be a class on Gaming Statistics; or better yet, it’d make one awesome thesis paper!

  11. theonlymegumegu says:

    “He's fighting bare-handed (1d4 damage)”

    Just FYI, unarmed damage for a medium creature is 1d3 ^^;;

  12. Shamus says:

    Ok, so:

    * Unarmed strike is a simple weapon, which Wizard must use at -4.
    * It provokes attack of opportunity.
    * Wizard damage is actually 1d3

    Our would-be Gandalf is able to survive a housecat encounter 20.6% of the time.

  13. Sartorius says:

    Um, folks, have you ever tried Grappling a cat? It’s not as easy as it looks.

    “I want tasty wizard liver
    Melee, melee, please deliver…”

  14. Richard Dragonbane says:

    “…just use grapple…”
    “…have you ever tried Grappling a cat? It's not as easy as it looks…”

    Indeed it is not, especially in D&D. In order to initiate a grapple (presuming you have not spent a feat on Improved Grapple) you first provoke an attack of opportunity which, if the AoO hits you, COMPLETELY negates your attack. So, you reach for the cat, it attacks you (at +4 to hit)… if it hits you and does even 1 point of damage, you do nothing, and since you are a wizard with only one attack, it is now the cat’s turn again. Good luck, Sir Wizard!

    You’ll note my wizards tend to wield chain shirts and crossbows (poorly) for their first few levels. :)

    Amusingly, I’ve had a character suffer this rule. I was playing a Lvl 1 Ranger Palladium Fantasy RPG, and really wanted to spend all my starting cash on a longbow. The GM strongly encouraged I buy armor instead. I held my ground, and he said “OK, you’re walking down an alley, and you’re attacked by a swarm of 6 cats.” I was swiftly reduced to negatives, revived by a kindly passing cleric, and escorted back to the armor shop. :) …railroader!

  15. Tallain says:

    It’s conversations like the one above that keep me coming back.

    That and Shamus.

  16. Matt says:

    There’s a couple of books by Steve Jackson games –


    that have lists of silly RPG rules, together with caroons. There was one – the system escapes my memory, but it was a Sci Fi RPG – where, because of the critical fumble rules, a sensor operator on a starship stood a 5% chance of not being able to detect the gas giant his ship was orbiting.

  17. Deoxy says:

    Massively important thing you are leaving out: cats don’t have any melee reach, which means that they don’t get attacks of opportunity.

    So, Mr Wizard (who has a high intelligence score, right?) takes a swing, then BACKS AWAY so the cat only gets to attack once instead of 3 times.

    Also, Mr Wizard could start a grapple with no AoO from the cat as well.

    Once in a grapple, the poor cat will get SQUISHED.

    Run the numbers again with those.

    Also, most people far very poorly going UNARMED against a cat – people use weapons.

    (Actually, I think it’s still silly, but that’s basically a fault of the granularity of the system… cat attacks should do about .2 HP, but you can’t do that…)

  18. JeremyDM says:

    Okay, a few more flaws to point out:

    a) Why would a wizard fight unarmed? They’re proficient with daggers. Daggers can be carried almost everywhere.

    b) The wizard can always take a five-foot step away from the cat and blast it with magic missle. There’s no reason wizards, reknowned for their intelligence, wouldn’t do this. They could cast Mage Armor, or Sleep, or Shield, all of which change things dramatically.

    c) If the cat is diminutive, it doesn’t threaten beyond its square, in fact, it has to move into the wizard’s square, provoking an Attack of Opportunity, every time it wants to attack.

    d) Almost no encounters start with the enemy occupying your square. Assuming a standard encounter distance, the cat would have to move up, provoke an attack of opportunity and then get one attack. Then the wizard could step back and blast the damned thing.

    In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, in practice, there is.

  19. Attorney At Chaos says:

    It could be worse – they could have given the cat a Rake attack as well. Anyone who had every tangled in a serious manner with a housecat knows that the rake is a significant attack, but D&D only gives it to the larger Great Cats (lion & leopard but not cheetah, etc.)

  20. Jeff says:

    Deoxy is right… the cat has no AoOs…
    For reference:

    That wouldn’t matter if the Wizard just stepped back and blasted him though, since the Wizard could always just 5-foot adjust out of the way first.

    If the wizard had at least a dagger or at least a Pointy Stick, the cat would provoke AoOs when moving into the Wizard’s space, which he needs to do to attack.

    If the wizard is in any way aware of an assaulting feline, she could just toss up Mage Armor (if she’s got an hour notice) or Shield (a minute notice). That’s +4 Armor and Shield AC respectively. With a 15 Dex, that puts her AC at 20.

    Given this, the wizard could back off 30 feet (or 60 feet, with Expeditious Retreat), cast a spell, and repeat, leaving the cat with only a single attack.

    Cause Fear would mean the cat has -2 to attack roll and saving throws, and a greater than 50% chance of fleeing.

    So the scenario appears to be the wizard has to be closer than 60 feet to the cat, and totally unaware, in a safe environment. Otherwise she’d get at least one of the AC spells off. Or at the least a magic missile.

  21. Tirgaya says:

    The reason its non-sensical is that a 1st level character is pretty rare in the real world.

    Most of us passed first level in junior high school. Mostly we are NPC Experts, but if you are a martial artist with say a black belt you might also have a few levels of warrior (NPC class again!)

    So… if you look at it that way most people have the hit points to survive an encounter with a house cat. Also I can attest that the grapple size advantage actually works. Having been attacked by a rabid cat, I didn’t start punching and kicking it, but rather grabbed it.

    Oh, and lastly don’t underestimate animals. Fluffy might seem harmless, but these are very deadly predators.

  22. Vegedus says:

    That cat seems overpowered. 3 attacks at 1 damage? Why? I’d say it should get one or two at 0-1 damage, if it were possible. Maybe just 1 attack at 1 hp then. Why would it be any other way?

    1. Bryan says:

      Have you ever tried giving a cat a bath? It will attack you with bite, 2 front claws, and a rake if it has position to do so. The damage is minimal however.

      Sure does hurt, though.

  23. Wonderduck says:

    “I'm having a hard time picturing a cat dealing lethal damage to an adult…”

    Tell that to my mother, who in five seconds was dealt deep enough cuts and bites to require 40 stitches. This from a friendly, small cat named Hercule that can’t be bothered to chase anything… but got spooked by something or other and latched onto her arm. A couple of inches over and she would have had a suicide-type of rip on her forearm, and she easily could have bled out.

  24. Julia says:

    I took 1 HP damage from a cat this summer, and the scratch got infected, so how would that count? (In the end, I was on antibiotics that took me 10 days to recover from. Beats what the antibiotics are fighting, but it sucks that it takes so long to recover from the medication!)

  25. James Blair says:

    I usually played it as Cat vs. Commoner, since a Commoner is mechanically a Wizard without spells (with Spot as a class skill!).

    Giving the Wizard a dagger swings the odds to favor the wizard slightly (that 5 ft reach makes a difference!) so that average results would yield a very wounded wizard landing the final blow on the cat in Round 2.

    Giving the Wizard the Toughness feat for 3 extra HP is about as effective as giving him a dagger. A dagger-wielding wizard with Toughness will almost certainly win!

  26. ccelizic says:

    Well, yes, a wizard can use magic missiles and daggers to take on a house cat. But, consider the imagery here. It is like whipping out a handgun and blowing away a housecat, and when asked why you did it, you explain “it would have killed me.” The reason a wizard is boxing with a cat is because it’s a matter of pride, if a cat is a life threatening encounter when you lack special tools, then you got a problem.

    The AOO situation is tricky when you consider the fact that we are doing an unarmed fight.

    Unless this wizard has improved unarmed combat, he is treated as unarmed when bare fisted. In this situation not only does he provoke an attack of oppertunity when he attacks, he also is NOT entitled to any attacks of oppertunity if something does something that’d otherwise provoke one. This is why in real combat situations I always suggest that mages carry a dagger or a staff, it at least gives them an AOO if something tries to grapple them, which just might save them from the grapple and the bother of wasting a turn firing off a spell specifically to escape that grapple, but then I digress.

    The wizard can attempt to grapple the cat, and he can escape the chance of provoke an attack of oppertunity in doing so thanks to the cat’s lack of reach, which would normally be very bad for grappling since taking any damage on a grapple attempt causes it to automatically fail.

    There’s one problem with grappling a cat though, you need to administer a melee touch attack vs the cat. And, you guessed it, the cat has the same touch AC as regualr AC. To top it off, once you grab the opponent you need to make an opposed grapple roll, which the wizard will in most cases succeed in, the kitty’s grapple modifier is -12, the wizard is going to be +1 or +2 depending on strength modifier, (a 16+ str wizard’d be a tad overboard here…). The wizard needs to beat the cat by 13 in order to establish grapple, so there’s not much of a threat one would think, but that leaves a slight chance of failure on the wizard’s part of establishing grapple.

    Once grapple is established, the wizard deals unarmed damage to the cat, which according to the model above, would result in the cat being defeated, which is exactly what would have happened if he just punted the cat from the get go, but trying to grapple the cat adds a whole new step to the equation which can fail, thus counterintuitively REDUCING The wizard’s odds of success.

    The best way to take the cat down unarmed is not really going to do much to save the poor wizard’s ego either. The wizard pretty much has to strike once, and move 20 or so feet away from the cat, forcing it to move more then 5 feet every round so it can not make use of it’s full round attack. The wizard lacks a full round attack and the cat cannot administer attacks of oppertunity to the wizard, so he can keep backing away at no penalty. But, as mentioned before, the wizard doesn’t get any strikes aginst the cat if it invades his square so long as he doesn’t swallow his pride and whip out a dagger.

    Either way, that tactic doesn’t do well to help one’s ego. You more or less have someone frantically scrambling away from a crazed cat as it continues to chase them down, goring them up in a rather bloody fashion. You just don’t come off looking butch in that situation. True, a wizard isn’t the toughest cookie of the batch, but this is a cat, you shouldn’t have to resort to specialized martial arts hand to hand training.

  27. Karaden says:

    Good stuff, just a few little things to add.

    A quick little bit of info, I’ll be assumeing fairly standard 10 str, 12 dex, and 12 con for the wizard.

    Just one more thing to make grappeling an even worse option, is the fact that the cat can attack useing its claws and bite while in the grapple, albed at a -4 but thats still more likely then winning a grapple check against you. So the grapple option goes like this:
    Touch attack against the cat (AC 14 with a -4 to attack) is a 15% chance of success.
    Opposed grapple check with the cat (-12 v 0) is a roughly 60% chance of success (I think, I’m not great with prob of opposed checks).
    Then if that works, you must do enough damage to take down the cat. 33% chance it stays at 1hp, 33% chance to bring it to 0 and thus stagger it, and 33& chance to actualy knock it unconcious. (note unconcious, the cat isn’t bleeding because its taken no leathal damage, only non-lethal)

    So overall grappling has a roughly 3% chance of actualy takeing out the cat, 3% chance to stagger the cat, and a 3% chance to leave it at 1hp, oh and a 91% chance to be totaly inifective.

    I may have to try asking Sage about wizards being proficent with unarmed attacks (new Wizards rules question guy) but assuming that the wizard does in fact take the -4 penelty (and is at least smart enough to take a 5-foot step to not take AOO from the cat for useing them) then the Wizard’s attack works like this:
    Attack roll (AC 14 with a -4 to Attack) is a 15% chance of sucess.
    Damage for the unarmed strike as above.

    So overall you have an 85% chance to do nothing, a 5% chance to bring it to 1 hp, a 5% chance to stagger it, and a 5% chance to actualy knock it unconcious.

    So odds are highly against the wizard for takeing the cat out in any given round useing either method, lets see how the cat similarly fairs.

    Ok, so wizard has backed away from the cat 5 feet to do his unarmed attack, no problem because the cat can use the same 5-foot step rule to get close enough to attack the Wizard without loseing his option to get a full attack. So cat gets his full attack each turn, which works out something like this:
    Each claw (AC 11 with a +4 attack bonus) has a 70% chance to hit, thus doing 1 damage.
    His one bite (AC 11 with a -1 attack) has a 45% chance to hit, thus also doing 1 damage.
    So his odds look something like this: 22% chance to do 3 points of damage, roughly 50% chance to do 2 damage, and somewhere around 23% chance to do 1 damage, and a meger 5% chance to miss compleatly.

    So giving max HP at first level for the wizard, and his +1 con, he has 5HP total, and given the above %’s the cat has 0% chance to win in round one, 15% chance to win in round 2, The cats chance of winning in round 3 jumps up to an astounding 98% chance to win. (I could be wrong about these numbers, working with the large variance of damage over a higher HP range is kind of odd.)
    (I’m counting staggered as a win)

    Wizard on the other hand has numbers like this.
    On round 1, he has a 10% chance to win, on round 2 he has a 28% chance to win, on round 3 it is 39%, 48%, 56%, 62%, 68%, 72%, so on and so forth

    So overall things look very poor for our wizard, with him winning this theoretical battle somewhere in the 28-39% of the time range, based on who wins inititive. With something like a 99.75% chance to have taken at least one damage from the encounter.

    You can throw in the tactic of attacking, then running away 30 feet if you want, which admitidly improves your chances a good deal, up to somewhere around 91% actualy, but still with a very high chance of takeing at least a point or two of damage in the mean time.

    As for everyone that is talking about blasting the cat with magic missles, or useing armor, shield, fear, ect. to deal with this situation, just think about it a moment, your talking about a cat, if you really need to burn multipul spells (if going with the armor shield and fear idea) or even just one spell to deal with it, what the heck good are you going to do when there is a real threat, like say an orc, comeing against you, that would be the big reason you don’t use your spells, as someone said, it’d be like useing a gun on the cat. Of course it could also be that you’ve already used up your spells, or perhaps you where in town and had various non-combative spells prepared (unseen servent for example) and so couldn’t simply blast it.

    As for not useing weapons, perhaps you don’t happen to have any, maybe they where stolen, maybe you where robbed, maybe you where taken prisioner (which could also be why you have no combat spells ready).

    The overall point of this little experiment is to show just how pathetic wizards are when it comes to some things (granted even a warrior would have a bit of trouble if he was unarmed as well, though not nearly as much). So next time your wizard has used up all his spells, lost his weaopns, and is faced with an angry cat in a 10’x10x area, you better start praying, because odds are against him. (otherwise simple hit and run tactics virtualy garentee victory with only a few points of damage).

    I’m still really curious about wizards taking a -4 on unarmed strikes due to unproficency though, definatly have to ask Sage.

    Anyway, good fun doing all these calulations, I’m sure they are slightly off, but I figure if you have a program numbers crunch them you’ll come out with something fairly similar.

    P.S. Don’t grapple cats, simple unarmed strikes work much better, despite all things.

  28. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Yeah I think most people forgot the whole point of the cat beating up a wizard in a straight melee fight was just to show why you don’t stick your wizard in the front line. Its a statement that in hand to hand not magic fight the cat can mess up a wizard. That is after all why they have the magic in the first place. Not to mention I think a party would be rather ticked when their wizard goes “Hey guys think we can just sit here for a whole day because I wasted my magic missle and mage armor on that alley cat.”

  29. Igneous says:

    On the subject of grappling, I’m not sure you get the -4ab when attempting a touch attack. It is not a specific weapon so should not have penalties applied.

    Specialising in “wrestling” would be the improved grapple feat path which brings bonuses of it’s own as you no doubt already know.

    Doesn’t the -4ab penalty only apply when attempting to do lethal damage whereas subdual would be most appropriate in this case, and indeed as effective? The AoO would still apply to anything threatening though.

    This may well mean that if simple weapon proficiency is required that the wizard attempting lethal damage to the cat would in fact be at -8ab for not being proficient and attempting lethal damage (-4 each) however if the proficiency is a universal one then they’d be at +0ab due to being proficient and only inflicting subdual damage.

    The above would either hugely widen the gap or massively reduce it.

    Also on threat ranges, as long as a zero threat range creature is in your square and engaged wouldn’t they then gain the AoO possibility and would they lose the AoO for attacking their target?

    Either way there is an argument for the potential of striking oneself, akin to the grapple and cover rules and for the rules for closing a creature with a reach weapon.

    Too many possibilities here for this one to be cut and dried but in a standard slug out where trading blows toe to toe is the key then the cat would have the edge every single time.

  30. Deoxy says:


    While I don’t think the D&D rules are perfect (as I said, this is basically a case of granularity problems), you’ve got several glaring problems.

    1. No -4 on the touch attack
    2. There’s essentially no way for the cat to get a “full attack” on the wizard, as it has no reach, and the wizard can simply move MORE than 5′ away (and that’s what people actually generally do when dealing with cats, anyway).
    3. In a grapple, the wizard can simply PIN the cat… then it gets no attacks at all.

    Basically, the wizard should win most of the time, but also tak a point or 3 of damag almost every time, which isn’t THAT bad a model of real life, considering that this is a boundary case (that is, the granularity of the system is biting us in the butt).

    Actually, now that I think about it, the real culprit here is probably the armorr rules in D&D (which I have never really liked). Basic clothing would prevent an awful lot of catch-scratches entirely, but the system has no way to model that.

  31. Karaden says:


    Your right, I didn’t mean to put the -4 to make the touch attack for starting the grapple, but the fact is that it still only has about a 20% or so chance to actualy keep the cat in the grapple, after which the cat gets a full attack at -4, and -then- the wizard has to beat the cat in another opposed grapple (not that hard, but still…) before the pin starts, so is still is a worse option then simply trying to punch the cat.

    Also I made mention of the wizard moveing back after each attack instead of just standing there (which would only happen if the player was stupid or there wasn’t enough room to move around), and that increases his chance of victory to well over 91%, but still gives him good odds of takeing about 2-3 damage from the encounter.

    Clothing really doesn’t help much with cat claws (and not at all for the bite), being a cat owner I can attest that unless your wearing jeans, cat’s claws go right through clothing (well, actualy most pants are thick enough to help out, but most shirts arn’t). But if you really wanted to include something like that, you’d have to include the fact that a real cat will litteraly latch onto you durring the fight, meaning you couldn’t run away from it, as its along for the ride.

  32. MYOB says:

    This is what drove me crazy about D&D while growing up(early 1980’s Advanced D&D rules.)
    The assumption that a magic user must be a complete wuss and that he could become a magic user for the first time at either age 8 or 80 and will still only have 1d4 hitpoints to start drove me up the wall.
    I always understood the diehards who insisted that a Magic user with 18 INT and anything more than 10 ST would unbalance the game in their favor but I insisted that this was closer to real life than most would realize.
    I was also considered a swell D&M in that I insisted on a set of rules I called the ‘Discipline’ factor.
    It meant that no max characteristic could be more than +3 points above the lowest chracteristic and all starting hit point totals were calculated based on the constitution score no matter what the class.
    Magic users could wear non-platemail armor cause I’ve personally had the opportunity to try on real chain mail, splint and banded mail, and had no problems with arm movement or other requirements.
    I also insisted that since I myself had a 3.95 GPA, loved physics and Chemistry, and was a letterman on my highschool football team, that I could cast Magic missile, Gate in a type III demon and throw a hand axe as good as any dwarf.

    But take these rules outside of our own inner circle and they would be denied by other DMs which is why I was the one everyone went to to manage their campaigns.


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  34. Superclone says:

    While I don't deny that an angry cat can really make you wish you hadn't made it angry, I'm having a hard time picturing a cat dealing lethal damage to an adult male of average strength, slightly better than average dexterity or constitution, and high intelligence.

    It is clear to me that you have never met my wife’s cat :-)

  35. John Marley says:

    This reminds me of a “Dragonmirth” cartoon (Dragon magazine. Ahh, the memories)

    There was this huge fighter/barbarian type tried to a tree, with dozens of arrows sticking out of him. The leader of the archer “firing squad” asks, “Isn’t he dead yet?” And the DM replies, “Sorry, he still has 15 hit points.”

  36. G says:

    JeremyDM said: It could be worse – they could have given the cat a Rake attack as well. Anyone who had every tangled in a serious manner with a housecat knows that the rake is a significant attack, but D&D only gives it to the larger Great Cats (lion & leopard but not cheetah, etc.)

    You’re right, house cats issue vicious rakes in their tussles. (So do bunny rabbits, actually. Bucks can and occasionally do kill each other with their hind claws, vicious little diggers that they are.) But cheetahs’ claws are geared for running, not fighting: It is biologically appropriate that they weren’t given a rake attack because their rear claws are dull – much more effective as cleats than weapons.

    And I officially can’t believe I’m contributing to this conversation…

  37. Mouse says:

    Ok, let me start by saying the whole point of this was:
    “a Level 1 Wizard will lose a bare-handed fight against a common housecat”

    and as such we all realize there are ways for the wizard to play it smart and kill the cat, but the point is its a hand to hand fight, and they are going to box/claw it out.

    things to point out:
    .cat enters wizard’s square (assuming it didn’t start in the square)- no Attack of Opportunity since wiz isn’t proficient with unarmed strikes
    .unarmed damage for the human is 1d3
    .the wizard will always provoke an AofO to hit with his hand since he isn’t proficient, but only 1 attack by the cat at its highest attack bonus (+4)
    .the cat can take a “5 foot step” and enter the wizard’s square if it started in one of the 8 around the wizard

    “Let's assume we're dealing with a common level 1 Wizard, an adult human. He has a STR bonus of +0. I'll let him point-buy two points of DEX and CON bonuses.”

    human has 3 options:
    10/14/10 – 4HP
    10/12/12 – 5HP
    10/10/14 – 6HP

    the cat has an AC of 14, so just to hit the cat with his fist, he has to roll a natural 18 (18roll +0 BAB +0 str -4nonproficiency = 14) minimum to hit, thus he has 3 numbers he can roll to hit, or a 15% chance to hit the cat, now this doesn’t take into account the AofO for the cat, the cat only has to get a 6 to hit, thus giving him a 75% chance to hit. the cat will still only do 1 damamge a hit.

    cat attacking:
    needs minimum of a 6 to hit with the claws and an 11 to hit with the bite. 75%, 75%, 45% chance to hit.

    therefore after one round of combat, chances are, the wizard has been hit at least once(max of 4HP in damage), and is already almost dead.

    now i know that nobody here would hand to claw melee a cat, but that was the whole purpose of this topic.

  38. Dave says:

    Why does everyone assume the mage has just finished memorizing all his spells.. what if he’d was sans spells.. The error in the cat vs. mage as I see it is: A cat is a hit and run attacker.. it’ll scratch, bit, cling.. then get the hell out of dodge.. people tend to forget that any animal wants to live.. so they do damgage to make an escape possible.. so the mage would be bleeding and would get an AoO as the cat disengaged and hid…

    To me one of the beautiful things about D&D is how people will debate for days about something like this.. I have a buddy that talks about a time they made a mace and coated it with chopsticks.. I guess the DM allowed each chopstick to have its damage.. DMs need to remember they are to use the rules.. but not be bound by them… The DM is always right.. therefor he doesn’t have to let the cat kill the mage… and he shouldn’t.. it doesn’t make sense… but it sure is fun to debate.

  39. Ken says:

    I took my cat to the vet. When I got there they bandaged up the bleeding scratches on my arms and face. I am completely willing to believe that a cat could do significant damage. Mind you, I wasn’t trying to kill my cat but that may change.

  40. Karaden says:


    We’re assumeing the wizard is at least able to take a five foot step outside of the cats square so he doesn’t take the AOO from the attack, but otherwise what you just did was a less in depth version of what I did a few posts ago. (And maybe somewhat easier to read, it was late when I posted that.)

  41. ARJ says:

    What about a con save after being scratched? I mean, cat scratches are notoriously infectious. I knew of a guy (a friend’s dad) who had to be hospitalised the day after being scratched by his house cat.

    I think rules like this are why our DM switched to Castles & Crusades. No AoO, for one…

  42. Yunt says:

    There’s a variant rule I picked up somewhere about this sort of situation. Probably at Sean K. Reynolds’ site now that I think about it…

    Any critter with more strength penalty than damage on their attack gets relegated to doing non-lethal damage.

    The cat still wins but the wizard also survives the encounter.

    And whenever this discussion comes up it assumes that the wizard is solo which is very much the exception in typical D&D.

    Unrealistic though it may be (I still have scars on my forearm that people occasionally mistake for suicide), the non-lethal rule at least shifts the game closer to a *typical* kitty vs. person encounter.

  43. Hello Shamus. I have enjoyed your blog since I saw a link to it posted on enworld. Keep up the good work!

    Robert O’Brien

    PS There is no need to explain yourself on Myers’ blog; the guy who took a swipe at you was a total jerk.

  44. Shamus says:

    I know the post on Pharyngula was probably a waste of time. This sort of thing just mystifies me. Someone needs to be exceptionally eager to dislike people to engage in that sort of behavior.

    Thanks for reading. :)

  45. Karaden says:

    Hmm, with all this, I wonder what the survivability of a wizard (useing spells and haveing weapons and what not) would be against an equal CR (1) worth of goblins? CR 1/4 per goblin so 1 wizard vs 4 goblins? Or would it work differently? I never really got the whole level v CR v ECL v etc.

    1. Skye says:

      First, as someone pointed out, wizards are seldom on their own. For the purposes of in-game decisions, they’re usually considered civilians. (I was in a party once where we out and out ran from a boss that was too hard. We justified it by pointing out that out of a party of a wizard, sorcerer, bard, cleric, ranger, rogue, and healer (some sort of expansion class) we only had two classes that were legally supposed to be entering combat, and as such, the LG ranger and cleric who were supposed to be in combat had a duty to protect the others.) Soloing with wizards may be the hardest way to play D&D.

      Apart from that, wizards actually tend to do better against groups or higher profile foes. Like someone said- blasting a cat with magic missile is a little out of proportion. Mage armor and a few rounds of Burning Hands would be completely insane on a cat, but would both make sense and make BBQ out of the goblins.

  46. Mike M. says:

    I’m not sure if anyone pointed this out already or not (so many comments…) but a human’s unarmed strike only deals 1d3 points of nonlethal damage. Not 1d4. The wizard could take a ““4 penalty on his attack rolls to deal lethal damage if he wanted to, but it’s rather pointless.

    Also, the cat doesn’t get to make an attack of opportunity when the wizard attacks it unarmed, as the cat doesn’t have the reach to do so. Rather, the cat must enter the wizard’s square to attack (which doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity, since the wizard is unarmed).

  47. Mike M. says:

    Oh! Also, any chance you might post a link or otherwise provide said wee little program? There are people here in my office who are very interested in it. :)

  48. RHJunior says:

    The point about cats normally running brings up a sore point with me. All the DMs I’ve dealt with handle combat the same way— regardless of situation or circumstance, the combat monster attacks, and attacks, and attacks, until either your team is dead or it is. Even if it’s grossly outnumbered or outranked. Even if it has no motivation for attacking you in the first place. (“Six cats attack you” indeed.)

  49. Rich says:

    OK, I thought this was an entertaining but silly question until I saw this:


    I dunno if I’d want to tangle with that kitty.

  50. Jeff says:

    A question to those with real world experience pointing at how dangerous a cat can be…

    I think there’s a big difference in trying to kill a cat and dealing with a pet here. If the thing grabs onto you, just fall on him. Even if you’re a 90lb girl, you’re still at least 5 times heavier (with the exception of obese cats due to owners who should be smacked). You just have to be willing to take a scratch or two. Dead kitty.

  51. Kenny Celican says:

    On the subject of cat dangerosity: Long ago, my gf (now wife) brought me a tiny bundle of fur found on the runway at Philadelphia International Airport. It was a just weaned kitten. A week or so later we took the (still unnamed) kitten to the vet. We informed the vet that he was very prone to running and hiding, and was fully armed. The vet pooh poohed this, and wanted an accurate weight assessment, so my wife gingerly put the kitten (not cat, kitten) on the scale and slowly, making gentle sounds, backed away with the vet holding the kitten by the scruff. The vet, in order to get his ‘accurate’ reading, let go.

    Thirty minutes later, (newly named) Fang left the vet’s office with a trophy leather glove (the kind used training big dogs) and blanket in his carrier with him, the latter bundled around him, the former firmly attatched via his claws. The vet, the vet’s assistant, and myself were all in need of stitches, the vet direly so. The orderly was out his leather glove, but unlike the assistant was smart enough to take in the two MAULED humans and dismiss the ‘tiny helpless creature’ stereotype.

    Don’t grapple a cat unless you’ve got the additional attack action to pin it the same round. Even if you win, you still look stupid by taking massive soft tissue damage subduing a supposedly harmless critter. Note that if the Wizard wins initiative (or starts the fight, far more likely) round one he moves to 5′ and grabs, the cat replies by mauling him for 3 hp, round two the wizard pins the cat, rounds four and five the wizard KO’s the cat.

    Note – hereafter I refer to the Wizard as ‘you’ and the cat as ‘it’ on occasion, because I’m thinking most of the readers will identify more with the Wizard. YMMV.

    As for the ‘five foot step and attack’ method – as has been noted, the cat can just five foot step into your square and full attack. The only thing that tactic gains you is that you don’t take the kitty’s AoO. This is still the second best method, because people forget details.

    The ‘91% success rate’ from backing away 30 feet every round? Not gonna happen. You can do it precisely once, and then only if you’ve started the fight. After you’re 30 feet away, assuming the cat is going to continue the fight, the cat moves into your square and attacks once. Now, you’re kinda corncobbed.

    Here’s why:
    – if you 5 foot adjust away to avoid the AoO for being in the square, you may not take a move action, and the cat can follow and full attack by making it’s own 5 foot adjustments.
    – if you attack in the square, the cat is in range and can take the AoO.
    – if you choose to move 30 feet and hold your attack action for when the cat is within 5 feet, the cat gets an AoO when you leave its square, because it does threaten its own square, and leaving a threatened square without 5 foot adjusting or disengaging allows the AoO. Disengaging is a full round action, which would leave you without an attack action to hold.

    Jeff – Obese? My cat is 20 pounds, minimum, and he has VERY little fat. He’s just long / large enough to peek on the kitchen counter with his back feet on the floor. He’s still a housecat, albeit probably at the 4 hp end of the scale. Also, the ‘fall on them’ tactic doesn’t work in D&D, because to inflict falling damage on someone, you needs must fall on them yourself. Which winds up with Wizard lying unconscious on the floor from 1d6 nonlethal while 1/2 KO’d kitty eats him, because Murphy is a god.

    Karaden – A party of four adventurers of a given level should use up 1/4 of their resources defeating an adversary of CR equal to their level. In other words, the good guys have four times the overall ‘power’ of the bad guys. Another way of looking at it is that the bad guys have around a 20% chance of winning given equal skill at play (meaning either everyone does everything right OR everyone does everything wrong, or equal levels of right and wrongness). If you lower the power of the party by 75% (only one character) the actual power levels are equal, meaning the outcome is a coin flip.

    RH – A good GM will have the bad guys run, but the D&D combat system doesn’t generally encourage it. Even if the bad guys run, odds are some of them will get taken down before they get away. The only time I’ve seen bad guys get away was when they run when they still have a chance of winning OR when the players actually played ‘good’ guys – they either did not pursue or moved to nonlethal means when the bad guys stopped attacking.

    As for people who hate the AoO system – it’s designed to elimiate three things:
    – Melee spellcasters: Magic is supposed to require concentration and intricate gestures and carefully intoned phrases. What, the fighter you’re about to eviscerate ISN’T going to try and mess that up?
    – Melee Archers: Most people who can shoot a bow are not really able to do so without taking at least a moment to aim, and if a guy with a sword is their target, and in reach, they’re not going to get that moment. Legolas was choreographed, people.
    – Kiting: Anyone who plays MMORPGs knows about this one, for those who don’t, it boils down to winning a fight by not allowing your opponent the ability to strike back due to movement restrictions. In D&D this CAN be done, but only in very limited circumstances. Essentially, the combat system tries to be sure you have to take risks to win a dangerous fight.

    Gah. That was a bit long, wasn’t it? Sorry about that, hope the Fang story amused some of you.

  52. Tobrian says:

    A cat isn’t diminutive, it’s tiny, according to Player’s Handbook 3.5, page 149.

    I’m mystified why everyone assumes that the cat would have a -4 to attack with its claws in normal combat. I thought all animals had automatic proficiency with their natural weapons? If so the cat would be considered armed. But since it has no reach, it cannot threaten an adjacent square, and it must enter the wizard’s square to attack which would give the wizard an unarmed AoO.
    But once the wizard grapples or attacks himself, he’d be considered unarmed and draw an AoO himself, at least for the grapple attempt.

    The cat is difficult to hit (high AC), but easy to grapple, at least in regard to modifiers (low STR, bad modifier on grapple checks).

    The best bet for the unarmed wizard would be to strip off his robe and throw it over the cat like a blanket and entangle the cat in it so that it can’t bite or scratch. But that is of course an attack with an improvised nonproficient weapon. :)

    I would not try to subdue a real wild bobcat with my bare hands. If I had to kill it with no weapons available, not even a stone, I’d try to grab it and bash it against a wall to crush its scull… but at the moment I’m not sure how to simulate that with d20 rules.

    I’m a biologist, and I consider some of the stats for animals in the Monster Manual complete tosh. The raven for example, as written, is not a raven, it’s more a tiny blackbird. Obviously the writer had never seen a real Corvus corax. Generally there seems to be a tendency to overestimate predators and underestimate everything else… like boars. Or horses. And not giving dogs improved scent ability. But that’s another rant…

  53. Tobrian says:

    Now, a Swarm of Cats would be lethal to the wizard. (If we find a reason why they attack him all at once.) If we compare it to the rat swarm, also made up of tiny animals, it would draw an AoO from the wizard when it moves into his square, but then deal 1d6 per round automatically.

    And if rats can have Weapon Finesse with their bite, so can the cat, either bite or claws.

  54. Bob says:

    Picture the scene if you will that makes sense for the initial assumptions Shamus has used.

    A wizard sits on a nice comfy chair at the end of a long day’s goblin slaying. She has no spells left, and no weapons to hand because she is relaxing. A cat comes in and sits on her lap, so she starts stroking it. Suddenly the cat gets spooked out by something and, in a frenzy, rips into the wizard. It gets a surprise round and will probably win initiative so the wizard is flat footed for 6 attacks (it gets all its attacks because it’s in the wizards square already, on her lap) and its not going to run away unless it gets badly hurt because, why would it run from something that’s not hurt it?

    Given this, not unreasonable, scenario we have a dead wizard pretty most of the time, and within a dozen seconds or so no matter how intelligent she is. Now compare to reality. The D&D system has a lot of flaws when it comes to modelling a realistic world. Luckily this doesn’t make it less fun, and a good GM can overule the ridiculous things, like the cat/wizard fight.

  55. Amaranth says:

    Punching a cat would be wholly inefficient in this matter anyway… Grapple the Cat. Its a tiny creature (-8 to grapple checks). Even a wizard should be able to hold onto that little devil.

  56. Matt says:

    Death by a thousand cats

  57. Theomniadept says:

    I know this must be an old topic but I’m your typical long-time reader (not really a long time), first-time poster. Interesting concept, but there’s another issue. Cats are tiny-sized and thus to attack in melee, because they have no reach they have to enter the opponent’s square, provoking a Attack of Opportunity themselves. Although, Skip Williams’s articles on clarifying the rules do state that an Attack of Opportunity CAN provoke an Attack of Opportunity so the round would consist of the cat moving, entering the square, the wizard trying to swat at the cat, the cat clawing with a single claw at the wizard, then the actual attack the cat meant to do in the first place. Yeah, odd, but it does seem to capture the frantic reaction to a hyperactive furry demon attacking you.

  58. General Karthos says:

    I played in a game where a level one fighter with 12 hit points was killed by a kitten in one of the more improbable gaming experiences of my life, especially as this level one fighter was on the verge of reaching level two and had accomplished a goodly number of highly improbable combat kills. I guess they ALL caught up with him at once and gave him some really bad luck. (Two critical misses had him without any weapons three rounds into the combat.) The rest of us were laughing too hard to help him.

    By all rights he really shouldn’t have attacked the kitten. I seem to recall it did something to provoke him into being angry at it, but in any case… a 12 HP fighter (with an AC of 4; yes, I played [and still play] first edition) died by kitten.

    His new character was deathly afraid of cats. Didn’t help that the Wizard decided to take on the Kitten of Death as a familiar. (Normally the 1st Edition rules wouldn’t allow it, but all the players in the group agreed that the kitten deserved a more important role in the game, and our DM thought it was hilarious.)

  59. taltamir says:

    The grapple info here is inaccurate
    “To start a grapple, you need to grab and hold your target. Starting a grapple requires a successful melee attack roll.”
    So the wizard needs to make a successful attack attempt, using his bab + strength + size modified (0 for a human) vs the cat’s AC, the grapple attempt usually fails

    “Attack of Opportunity. You provoke an attack of opportunity from the target you are trying to grapple. If the attack of opportunity deals damage, the grapple attempt fails.”
    The cat has a high chance of aborting the grapple via dealing you damage with an AoO for the attempt.

    So it is actually HARDER to initiate a grapple with a cat then it is to kick it, and the kick will likely kill it while the grapple itself deals no damage, initially.

    If the wizard DOES successfully catch the cat, then, as a free action he attempts to “hold” it. This is an opposed grapple check (which the cat performs at a -8 due to its tiny size and low strength), a failure means the cat breaks free. A success deals unarmed strike damage and has succeeded in grappling the cat.

    All in all, this is far more difficult than just kicking the cat to death.

    Furthermore, it is worth noting that the “you won’t just have a slap fight with a cat, you will grapple it” goes against IRL wisdom. It might be mechanically superior, but if someone in real life wants to fight a cat, then they will be kicked or punching it rather than getting up close and personal and getting clawed up

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