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.