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Small characters face a number of disadvantages. They can't use two-handed weapons, and have to use two hands to wield a versatile weapon DDI.

Further disadvantages include:

  • The inability to Grab Large creatures (medium creatures can).
  • The inability to Bull-Rush Large Creatures (medium creatures can).
  • A shortened vertical reach when jumping (one-third of the creature's height is added to athletics checks; the smaller the creature, the shorter the reach).
  • Very limited options for 'Change Self' type rituals and powers, as they specify the new form must be your size category.

Are there any benefits to make up for this?

I am looking for benefits specifically supported by the rules, rather than anything that relies upon the DM being amenable to particular interpretations. Joe's answers are useful for the latter purpose, but were not what I was looking for clarification on.

Put another way -

If the penalties applied to small characters were removed altogether, is there anything that would make small characters unbalanced/more favoured compared to medium-sized characters?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Not really, no.

Being size small has few, if any, direct benefits. Theoretically the small races (halfling, gnome) receive sufficient other benefits to balance out being size small, but it's primarily a sacred cow from 3rd edition (note that dwarves are not size small).

With minor situational exceptions:

Weapons with the Goblin Totem enchantment give an item bonus to damage against foes larger than you. Since most non-minion enemies are size medium or bigger, this becomes a very cheap way of getting a scaling item bonus to damage; it's much less reliable for non-small characters, since medium enemies are relatively common. Goblin Totem is useful for some builds (particularly relatively un-optimized ones), and despite being situational (the advantage over medium characters is only against medium foes) it's probably the best (if not only) benefit to being size small. Edit: There are other items/feats that provide a bonus against creatures larger than you, but not many.

You can move through the spaces of size large enemies (the rules say you can move through the space of any creature 2 or more sizes larger or smaller than you). You still provoke attacks of opportunity during this movement, but the potential positioning advantage over large enemies makes this one at least a little useful.

You can fit in smaller spaces without having to squeeze (assuming that's something that comes up in your game? maybe if you're fighting kobolds). By DM fiat, you may have an easier time taking cover, but there's no official rules to support this.

Small characters can use size medium creatures as mounts, but since mounted combat is usually a poor choice in 4e, and most of the methods of acquiring a mount that levels with you range from mediocre to atrocious from an optimization standpoint, the benefit of that capability is minimal.

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Another thing to consider, is that small races tend to have more defensive-based feats. As such, I found small defenders to be kinda neat actually. "Lost in the Crowd - You gain a +2 bonus to AC when you are adjacent to at least two enemies larger than you." For instance. –  Mooing Duck Aug 3 '13 at 19:25

Yes.

You can fit into smaller places than other characters. If the party needs to take cover from arrows or dragon's breath or poison rain, you can get into safe places that no one else can fit in.

You can also get into smaller tunnels, ducts, tubes, etc. than anyone else. There might be a pipe leading into a castle that's too small for a human to crawl through, so they didn't think to guard it. But it's not too small for you, so you crawl through and unlock the door to let the rest of the party in.

You're shorter, so you can stand up at your normal height in places larger characters would have to crawl. It's hard to fight with a sword when you're on your hands and knees, so where the rest of the party can't fight as well, you can still give it your best rolls.

You're lighter, which means you're easier to toss or to lift. No one would want to lower a big human down a well in a bucket on a fraying rope, but you might be light enough.

You're smaller, so you look like less of a threat. When there's a group of tall, muscular humans walking down the road, along with a little gnome, people worry about what the humans are going to do. The gnome might be mistaken for a child and ignored.

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ONE.

Skittering Mouse Style from Psionic Power.

I believe this is the single mechanical example of a benefit for being small (without passing judgment on the effectivness of this particular ability). It is a benefit in the idea that access to different powers is an advantage and the rules of the Feat itself - being able to shift through enemy spaces under certain conditions.

From the DDI Compendium:

Skittering Mouse Style

Heroic Tier

Prerequisite: Small size, monk

Benefit: When you use a monk power or monk paragon path power to shift 3 or more squares, you can shift through enemies’ spaces.

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You can move through large creatures squares:

You normally can’t move through an enemy’s space unless that enemy is helpless or two size categories larger or smaller than you. (PHB, p. 283)

Also With the current errata of the mounted combat you can have a medium mount:

Size: The creature’s size category must be larger than its rider’s. For instance, a mount for a Medium creature must be Large or larger.

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There is one thing that I do remember. In one of the essentials adventures, "Reavers of Harkenwold", there is a rule that small characters can squeeze through an arrow slit.

Embrasures: The area's "windows" are arrow slits, only about 6 inches wide. Creatures adjacent to an embrasure have superior cover against attacks through the embrasure. A Small character can squeeze through an embrasure with a DC 21 Acrobatics check.

So you could argue either way with being able to squeeze through arrow slits, because an Embrasure is a kind of arrow slit.

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Yes, there is a benefit: You have your small race's benefits!

In just asking about playing a small character, you're leaving out something important: you don't play a small character, you play as a small race and have their unique benefits!

  • You get to be a Kobold (+2 Con, and +2 Cha or Dex), with some bonus survival abilities and a racial Encounter Utility power which boosts your party's mobility.
  • You get to be a Goblin (+2 Dex, +2 Cha or Wis), increasing your own mobility and deceptiveness.
  • You get to be a Halfling (+2 Dex, +2 Cha or Con), who, along with a couple of minor defensive bonuses, gets an encounter power to force an attacker to reroll, possibly saving your life.
  • You get to be a Gnome (+2 Int, +2 Cha or Dex), which along with making you stealthier, lets you start combat with stealth and lets you pop invisible when you're in danger. In addition, you can use Ghost Sound, and as someone used to trickery, you have a bonus to saves vs illusions.
  • You get to be a Svirfneblin (+2 Wis, +2 Con or Str), enabling you to altogether ignore some forms of difficult terrain and gaining a defensive encounter power that gives you partial concealment and temporary hit points.

You also gain access to their racial feats and skill bonuses, as well as feats which are exclusive to small creatures. There are other small advantages these races get that I left out for brevity. Those are your advantages to choosing to play as a small race. Pick the ones you want, and if you don't want any of them, play as a race you do want to play!

Are they worth the trade-off of the small race's disadvantages?

Only you can really answer that. The answer is the simple and universal answer: does this race suit you?

No, small races don't get counterbalance for their limitations - they just target people who don't care about having those limitations. Note well that the limitations of a small character are very situational: not everyone expects to bull-rush and grab large opponents, jump well, or wield two-hand weapons or hold versatile weapons in one hand. These are not things that everyone cares about doing.

If I make a Gnome Wizard, I don't really care about having those limitations, and her racial perks will be fantastic for her class.

If I want to make a fighter, though, those limitations are bad. Being able to do that stuff matters to me, so I would not pick a small race.

The limitation I didn't mention - shape changing - is something someone might actually be able to take advantage of, specialising in making effective use of a few particular small shapes.

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Yes, there are some benefits that aren't readily apparent.

Some feats work on enemies larger than you (don't recall out of the top of my head what they are, but if you search the compendium for feats with "larger" in it you'll get a few results.)

There's also a paragon path for the ranger (Giantslayer?) that focusses on targetting larger creatures, might be worthwhile for small rangers. Not sure tough if the wording on the powers and features is "larger than medium" or "larger than player character"

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