Dungeons & Dragon’s May 2018 Unearthed Arcana released the Centaur race. There was mixed reception of the decision to shrink playable Centaurs to Medium size. Due to D&D 5th Edition’s design, it was the right decision to keep them medium, as depicted through the majority of art history.
While monstrous Centaurs are Large creatures (Monster Manual p. 38), the playable Centaur race was shrunk to Medium size (Unearthed Arcana May 2018):
Art by Wesley Burt © Wizards of the Coast 2014
Large PC Problems
5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is not mechanically designed to handle a full-time Large character. This is not an indictment of the system. It is a design choice that creators can leverage to make unique character features and spells. Let’s examine the benefits a Large creature gets to see some of this in action.
Area of Effect
Greater Effect. Whether you’re talking about melee attacks, auras, or spells that center on the user, the range of effect is increased with a Large character. The range of effect for a Large creature is 50% bigger when using a regular melee weapon, or an aura/spell with a 5′ radius. It’s 33% bigger when using a weapon with reach (such as a polearm) or an aura/spell with a 10′ radius.
Greater Exposure. While it is true that a Large creature is also potentially exposed to more attackers, this consideration exists more in theorycraft than practice. What are scenarios where this manifests?
A player character that is alone and surrounded in an open field is in bad shape. Whether you are surrounded by 8 enemies or 12 enemies is not going to make much difference. Your DM wants you dead.
Whether there are trees and ridges in the wilderness, or walls and doors in dungeons, tactical positioning enables you to eliminate flanking opportunities. This brings me to the next point…
In gridded combat, character positioning allows you to protect the vulnerabilities of both you and your allies. A Large character can protect the flanks of many more allies in a combat situation. The ability to take more space is much more powerful from a tactical standpoint than the potential exposure that is often negated by taking that space. What do these scenarios look like?
Scouting. A Large character who is scouting a 10-foot dungeon hallway is only exposed to the two squares in front of them. Conversely, a Medium size character in the same hallway is exposed to the two squares in front of them, the square on their side, and the two squares behind them. While a Large creature’s back is technically exposed, creatures approaching them from the front cannot run past them to flank. You may allow a skill check to move through the Large creature, which would consume at least 25 feet of movement.
Blocking a Corridor. Effectively, the difficulty in passing an opposing creature allows a Large creature to effectively block a 10-foot-wide corridor, as Jeremy Crawford points out (May 21, 2018 D&D Beyond video).
Holding a Room. Large creatures make it easy for a party to hold a standard 4×4 square room. A Battlemaster with the Protection Fighting Style (rare, I know), a Paladin who lays hands, and a Cleric/Druid who uses touch healing are all great options for a Large creature who is helping a party hold a room. The Large creature can stand in the middle of a 4×4 square room and remain adjacent to an ally blocking a door on any wall. Depending on door placement, it’s even likely that they can block a door themselves while still assisting an ally.
Since all player character races are Medium, dungeons have been designed to account for Medium races. As a result, Large creatures can greatly exploit tactical positioning, as discussed above. However, it also leads to silly or impassable sections in other dungeons. For example, consider the ability “squeeze” into a smaller space:
While a Large creature can squeeze down a 5-foot-wide hallway (Player’s Handbook p. 192), moving at half speed is frustrating. Narratively, the repeated use of this tactic in regular dungeon spaces can start to feel weird. Other Large creatures tend to cast sideways glances like you’re an adult who chased your kid into a fast food playhouse.
If the dungeon already employs the squeeze tactic with Medium PCs in mind, the Large creature is in trouble. For example, if there’s a bottleneck where the Medium size characters must squeeze, that area will be impassable for the Large creature.
Incompatibility with published material creates difficulties for Dungeon Masters, who are either limited in their setting selection or must homebrew/scale their own big’n’tall maps.
Class Feature Overlap
Most size issues are acceptable in small doses. That’s why the D&D designers allowed some classes to access a temporary size increase as an enticing feature. However, these features are typically limited to a 1 minute duration. It’s best to avoid “stepping on the toes” of these types of class features, which would result if a permanent size increase were available as a racial bonus.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
Enlarge/Reduce. This 2nd-level transmutation spell allows you to increase the size of a creature by one size category for 1 minute (Player’s Handbook p. 237). Only the Sorcerer and Wizard have this spell on their class list. A Bard could technically learn it with Magical Secrets, though such an investment is not the strongest choice.
Mystic. The Unearthed Arcana Mystic’s Immortal Discipline allows you to increase your size to Large or even Huge for 1 minute.
Egoist. When I built my Psion character class, I designed the Egoist subclass around metabolic manipulation. At 7th level, the Egoist gains the Enlarge class feature, which allows you to become Large for 1 minute.
You may notice that the majority of these features also come with additional perks in addition to increasing their size. That’s because size increase is a major driver of flavor. These features retain their flavor because they are limited to a 1 minute duration.
The ability to become a Large PC should be meted on a temporary basis to drive class flavor. When crafting permanent bonuses, it’s better to give out some of the perks of the increased size (as with Centaur and Goliath), than to inherit all the headaches of Large PCs. The gameplay implications of Large PCs are too pervasive to fix with a simple AC nerf or some other band-aid.