Tuesday, June 23, 2015

passing remarks on giants

One of the things I’ve always found interesting about the BX/AD&D1 split is that the monsters aren’t quite the same.  A few iconic D&D monsters don’t appear in BX, such as the beholder, while the BX lineage has a few weirdoes of its own, such as the thoul.  Then there are the cases where the monster looks the same, but there are striking differences if you look closely.  One example of this case is the shadow.  In AD&D a shadow is an undead.  In BX it is not.  With its ghostly creepiness and Strength drain attack it sure as hell looks like undead, but the damn thing can’t be turned.

Another case where first edition AD&D and the 1981 Basic/Expert rules diverge is the way giants are described.  I don’t use a lot of giants in my D&D games, except for the two or three times I’ve run the classic module series G-1-2-3 Against the Giants.  But today I want to attempt to nail down the differences, particularly the non-mechanical ones.  I don’t care that much that an Expert set Hill giant has 8 hit dice while the Monster Manual version has 8+1-2 points, or that an MM fire giant has a point better AC.


HILL GIANT
Expert rules p. X32
Monster Manual pp. 44-45
Height
12’
10½’
Description
stupid, hairy brutes
reddish brown skin, brown or black hair, red-rimmed eyes
Equipment
animals skins, clubs, spears
hides/skins, any weapon but favor clubs
Allies
none
dire wolves, giant lizards, ogres
Other
no mention of stone-throwing
throws stones like all other giants

In my mind Hill Giants have always been oversized neanderthals, and I think much of the art in the hobby (illos and minis) bears this out.  I’d be more inclined to paint a hill giant honky white rather than reddish brown, but that has as much to do with Ringo Starr in Caveman as it does to any hard data.  The MM line about hill giants using “any form of weapon available” makes me want to give one a laser cannon sometime.


STONE GIANT
Expert rules p. X32
Monster Manual pp. 44-45
Height
14’
12’
Description
grey, rock-like skin
grey to grey-brown skin, dark-grey to blue-grey hair, metallic silver-steel eyes, rock-colored garments
Equipment
stalactite clubs
stone weapons
Allies
cave bears
cave bears
Other
May live in crude stone huts.
Why are these guys bald, anyway?
Seriously, have you ever seen a stone giant with hair?  What is the deal with that?

Uncle Gary’s MM description includes greyish or bluish hair, but I can only think of maybe two cases where I saw a stone giant that wasn’t a chromedome:

I think that’s from a Forgotten Realms product, but what I know is that those giants are BAD ASS.  

Here’s the only other stone giant I know who doesn’t suffer from male pattern baldness.
You can check out that adventure here, by the way.

Final thought on stone giants: If you run BX and your overland map lacks a quaint pastoral village of 14’ tall rock people living in stone-thatched huts then you need to rethink your life decisions.

FROST GIANT
Expert rules p. X32
Monster Manual pp. 44-45
Height
18’
15’
Description
pale skin, light red or blue hair, full beards
dead-white or ivory skin, blue-white or yellow hair, pale blue or yellow eyes
Equipment
furs and iron armor
as per “northern barbarian”
Allies
polar bears, regular-type wolves
winter wolves
Other
live in castles
live in castles or caverns

These guys are my favorites, because they are totally Giant Sized Marvel Hella Vikings #1.  What is not to like?  The only thing missing from the official description is the known scientific fact that in midwinter these guys ride giant longships to plunder villages along the southern coasts.

Here’s my alltime favorite depiction of frost giants:
e0ecdf93a5eda23b7c9a899955ff3e173163a7d8
Awww, yeah.  That’s the stuff.  My love for the work of Erol Otus is undying, but who’s betta than Frazetta?  NO ONE THAT’S WHO.

Here’s a neat alt-version of frost giant coloration, unsupported by the canon.
Gotta say I’m digging that pale blue skin.  (Warning: Do not read any D&D books by Rose Estes unless you are a fan of stuff that sucks.)

FIRE GIANT
Expert rules p. X32
Monster Manual pp. 44-45
Height
16’
12’
Description
red skin, dark black hair & beards
broad like dwarves, coal black skin, flaming red or bright orange hair, deep red eyes, yellow orange teeth
Equipment
copper, brass or bronze armor
armor or dragon hides, huge swords
Allies
hydras, hellhounds
hellhounds
Other
dwell in low thick-walled castles of black baked mud reinforced with iron
dwell in castles or caverns

Here’s another spot where the Expert rules provide a thumbnail sketch of an adventure locale you totally need to be using.  More importantly, the Expert and MM versions of Fire Giants seem to be totally different species.  One is 25% shorter than the other, the taller ones have red skin and black hair, while the shorter, stocky ones have black skin and red hair.  Additionally, I assume all dragons hate the shorter dudes, since they prance around in dragonhide armor.  And neither of them look like the cool blue-skinned version on the cover of G-1-2-3:



CLOUD GIANT
Expert rules p. X32
Monster Manual pp. 44-45
Height
20’
18’
Description
white or grey skin or hair
pale blue white to light blue skin, silver white or brass colored hair
Equipment
pale robes
jewelry, great clubs
Allies
giant hawks, dire wolves
spotted lions
Other
neutral aligned
neutral good or neutral evil

Man, I just can’t get worked up about cloud giants.  Maybe that’s why I wrote a module that reinvented them as horrible slobbering beasts.  I’m crossing my fingers that thing ends up published before the year is out.

So this is the third giant species in a row that could be blue-skinned if you wanted them.  Maybe frost, fire and cloud giants should all be branches of the same bluish family tree in your campaign world.  PCs could get involved in giant family poilitcs, like fights over inheritances when a giant king dies without an heir, or a frost giant Romeo running off with a fire giant Juliet.

STORM GIANT
Expert rules p. X32
Monster Manual pp. 44-45
Height
22’
21’
Description
bronze skin, bright red or yellow hair
pale light green skin w/dark green hair, emerald green eyes OR violet skin w/deep violet or blue-black hair, silvery-grey or purple eyes
Equipment
none specified
none specified
Allies
griffons, giant crabs
rocs, griffons, sea lions
Other
lightning bolt attack
lightning bolts

These guys are just weird.  I’ve never used one, though I did have a PC fried by a wrathful storm giant back in the eighties.  Ah, to be young and piss off creatures with more hit dice than your entire party.  Aside from fiddly spell mechanics and skin color they are basically identical.

Since storm giants are among the good guys, a fun way to draw them into the campaign might be via unintended consequences.  For example: the giant crab infestation the PCs cleared out happens to be the breeding grounds for the storm giant’s pets.

Finally, I wondered how all these giants should look standing next to 1/72 figures, like the 11th century crusaders my folks just bought me for my birthday (thanks folks!).  As a reminder, at 1/72 scale, a 6 foot tall dude is represented by a 1 inch tall figure.

Giant
Size
1/72 scale
MM Hill Giant
10½’
1¾” ~44mm
Expert Hill Giant
12’
2” ~50mm
MM Stone Giant
12’
2” ~50mm
MM Fire Giant
12’
2” ~50mm
Expert Stone Giant
14’
2⅓” ~59mm   
MM Frost Giant
15’
2.5” ~64mm
Expert Fire Giant
16’
2⅔” ~68mm
Expert Frost Giant
18’
3” ~76mm
MM Cloud Giant
18’
3” ~76mm
Expert Cloud Giant
20’
3⅓” ~85mm
MM Storm Giant
21’
3½” ~89mm
Expert Storm Giant
22’
3⅔” ~93mm

I wonder if anyone ever made a dwarf with a sword and platemail in the 2” to 2⅔” range?  That would make a great fire giant.