a place for cloud giants

The latest D&D articles from Wizards solved a problem for me. A giant problem.

This week, James Wyatt and Jon Schindehette are talking about 5e giants. The new giants cleave pretty close to D&D tradition, which reminds me that I’ve always had a bit of difficulty with traditional D&D giants in my campaign world.

When I’m making an adventure, I rarely think, “this would be a great place for (say) fire giants.” However, I often think, “This would be a great place for giants.” The elemental subtypes don’t help me tell my story: the giants in my campaign world are basically big, strong humans. They’re handsome in a cruel way. They’re smart, cultured, and they once ruled the world. Over the centuries, they’ve been pushed back by the little people, and they now rule only in the mountains.

Of the six D&D giants (hill, stone, frost, fire, cloud, and storm), none really matched my vision for giants. Therefore, when combat with giants came up in my 3e and 4e games, I usually made up a generic on-the-fly monster with high HP and damage, whose attacks sent people flying.

In my last giant-themed adventure, which I ran a month or so ago, I emphasized the high society of the giants: I mentioned that they wore silks, went hawking, and served noble feasts. Therefore, I was drawn to James Wyatt’s description of cloud giants: “Cloud giants are cultured and refined, collecting fine art and exquisite treasures in their mountaintop or cloud-built castles. They dress in rare silks and wear elaborate jewelry, and they enjoy gourmet food and sophisticated music.” It turns out that my giants are cloud giants!

That brings me to the other minor problem I have with the six D&D giants: cloud giants and storm giants are insufficiently distinct. They both live in the clouds and do cloud magic. According to Wyatt, cloud giants “mimic some of the magic inherent to the storm giants: controlling weather, bringing storms, and steering wind.”

Cloud giants don’t really have a big enough chunk of conceptual real estate to stand on. That’s probably why, in all my years of playing D&D, as a player or DM, I’ve never encountered a cloud giant. However, stripped of their unnecessarily duplicative cloud schtick, they can fill the vacant “generic giant” role.

So here’s how I’m going to arrange the giants in my own campaign:

There will be two common types of giants: hill giants (who fulfill an important purpose as the dumb, uncivilized, low-level giant) and cloud giants (the smart, civilized, high-level giant), who I’ll rename “mountain giants”. Those two races are the typical giants: the ones that commonly pose a threat to civilization. The other giants (fire, stone, frost, and storm) are exotic creatures who usually live far from civilization: in volcanoes, on inaccessible peaks, in the frozen north, and on clouds.

12 Responses to “a place for cloud giants”

  1. paul paul says:

    Oh – also, the remaining giants (fire, frost, stone, and storm) conveniently align with the four elements.

  2. I’m now trying to remember if I’ve ever used OR encountered any giant other than hill giants. It’s… possible I guess? I can’t think of when it would have been, though. They have mostly just been too high-level for the games I’ve played in, and not really on-theme for the settings I’ve run. Oh, actually, I think there might have been a mountain giant once in my college FR campaign.

    Okay, we’ve encountered like a bajillion giants in the Arcana Evolved campaign I play in. I don’t think it counts when they’re a player race… also, pretty much like a more benevolent/paternalistic version of the intelligent giant race you describe.

    I like what you’re doing here. I’ve always had exactly the problem you describe with remembering the difference between cloud and storm giants.

  3. Mystic Scholar says:

    Now, all you have to do is Stat the Silk Worms needed to manufacture their robes! ROFL

  4. Brandonshire says:

    I like your idea a lot of having two common types of Giants, and then leave the others as exotic rare variants that might be encountered occasionally but are mostly not seen. I’ll have to mull that over for my next campaign. (I’ve actually never used or really encountered Giants in any of my games though! Not sure why, but they just haven’t really come up!).

  5. 1d30 says:

    I think in 0D&D the storm giant was just a beefed-up cloud giant, and stone was just a couple more HP than hill. It’s like how Wraiths are described as more mobile, higher-end Wights. You also start to notice how there is a very smooth progression of humanoids and undead in terms of difficulty as enemies.

  6. 1d30 says:

    Hey guess what I’m dumb 0D&D didn’t have storm giants yet. I still hold that they were added as a Deluxe Cloud giant later though.

  7. paul paul says:

    Ah, it makes a lot of sense if storm giants were added later. Then, in OD&D, Cloud Giants are the badass Jack and the Beanstalk cloud-castle types, and not an inexplicable little brother of the badass types.

  8. paul says:

    @Mystic Scholar: If we’re allowed to use spider silk, maybe the giants have a drider farm!

  9. Mystic Scholar says:

    @ Paul: AWESOME! LOL

  10. Death_Blinder says:

    I endorse this article.

  11. […] RUINS WERE BUILT BY (roll 1d8) 1 the empire of giants (everything is 5x size, including doors and stairs) 2 the empire of high magic (floating buildings, […]

  12. Slater says:

    I believe the distinction is that storm giants are often found around or under the water in corral castles and what-not, and a bit more cruel and powerful than the cloud giant who is a bit weaker, dwells in the mountains and clouds, and is usually good aligned, although the chaotic variant does exist.

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