D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – The Half-Giant

Haters, welcome to your first big beef. If you’re the sort of person who gets angry when outdated material is adapted to a new edition, instead expecting a new edition to be adapted to the outdated material, then you’ll probably hate the new take on the half-giant.

For those new to the Dark Sun party, half-giants are (as you might expect) similar to half-elves; human/giant hybrids, though half-giants are the result of sorcerous experimentation rather than interbreeding. As an aside? I really want to create a bard who sings a soul song called Giant Fever, but that’s completely irrelevant to the topic at hand.

An Athasian half-giant, towering over a human or elf.
An Athasian half-giant, towering over a human or elf.

So, the original Dark Sun half-giant? Was, perhaps unsurprisingly, pretty big: 10 to 12 feet tall, weighing approximately 1,600 pounds. This enormous stature made them powerful, granting a +4 to Strength and a +2 to Constitution – of course, their gigantic heritage also gave them walnut-sized brains, resulting in half-giants suffering a -2 to Intelligence, a -2 to Wisdom, and a -2 to Charisma. They also received double hit points at every level (so while most fighters got 1-10 hit points for each level they gained, half-giant fighters got 2-20 each level).

To balance out these incredible benefits? Half-giants suffered the aforementioned penalties to Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. All half-giant equipment (weapons, armor, clothing, etc.) cost double since they were so much bigger. They were so heavy they couldn’t really ride many animals, or ride in wagons. But the primary balancing mechanic was their shifting alignment – effectively, there was a daily chance a half-giant would wake up evil instead of good, and kill the rest of the party. Seriously.

So, in a nutshell, half-giants were stupid piles of muscle, that existed for a single purpose – to kill shit. This was supposed to be balanced by the fact that the other players might wind up being the shit that got killed.

So, yeah, the half-giant was broken. Seriously fucking broken. Which was fine since (as we’ve already discussed) 2nd Edition, and Dark Sun in particular, weren’t really worried about game balance – broken shit was fine. However, that doesn’t really fly in 4th Edition, meaning the half-giant isn’t the same. Haters, start your engines (of hate!).

A pair of goliaths, the new face of the half-giant for DS4e.
A pair of goliaths, the new face of the half-giant for DS4e.

In my last races post, I mentioned that I wasn’t going to be talking about the PHB2/PHB3 races for now, with one exception. That exception is the Goliath – the new face of the Athasian half-giant. Introduced in the PHB2, fitting them into that “big, strong, smash” niche isn’t exactly a stretch:

Tribal nomads of the mountains, strong as the rock and proud as the peak.

Play a goliath if you want …

  • to be tougher and stronger than nearly anyone.
  • to master the rugged mountain slopes.
  • to be a member of a race that favors the barbarian, fighter and warden classes.

Doesn’t exactly sound that far off the mark, does it? Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect conversation and this is no different. I don’t hate the goliath as a half-giant, but I do have mixed feelings about it – though those mixed feelings are tempered by the fact that I can’t imagine a better way to incorporate the half-giant into 4e. So let’s take a look at the goliath.

Goliaths get a +2 to Strength and a +2 to Constitution, which certainly scratches the right itch. They get to choose between dwarven or giant as a bonus language, which I’d switch to just giving them giant for obvious reasons. They get a bonus to Athletics and Nature checks, a bonus to their Will defense, get to roll twice and keep the better result for all Athletics checks, and have an encounter power than grants them resist 5 (more at higher levels) to all sources of damage for one full turn. All in all, they have the right “Hulk SMASH!!!!” feel, in my opinion. So why the mixed feelings?

They’re Medium-size creatures – just like humans, dwarves, elves and most player races. They range in height from 7’2″ to 7’8″, and weigh between 280 and 340 pounds. It’s worth noting that this is taller than all other player races, and heavier than all but the minotaur (which weighs a little more). So you know, they’re big, but not giant – and half-giants were giant compared to the other races (implying that propert giants were really big – and they were).

Now I get why the half-giant is medium-size. A large creature uses larger weapons – and larger weapons dish out more damage. An ordinary (medium-size) longsword deals 1d8 points of damage; a large longsword deals 1d10 points of damage. Large creatures also have “reach” – meaning they threaten and attack all squares within two spaces of them. Medium-size creatures only threaten one square – meaning a large half-giant can smash people in melee combat (which they’re good at) who can’t attack her back. Further, anyone approaching a large half-giant so they could make a melee attack against her will trigger an opportunity attack against himself – an opportunity attack made with that bigass weapon that deals more damage. Those three factors combined, mean a size-large player race probably can’t be balanced under any circumstances – at least not without introducing “level adjustment” style rules.

So, given those factors I’m not angry or otherwise upset by this change in the half-giant. At the same time, I really liked the idea that half-giants were very distinctly larger than humans or the other races. I see two different ways to handle this issue. The first is to just get over it, and move on. Half-giants were part of Dark Sun, but Dark Sun wasn’t about half-giants. The second option is through “rule zero”-style DM Fiat. Off the top of my head? Half-giants can procreate with one another, or with other giants. Half-giant/giant pairings yield other, large-size half-giants. Half-giant/half-giant pairings tend to thin out the giant blood – yielding “giant-blooded” i.e. goliaths.

I’m not married to it, but it’s just a thought. At least it allows me to use big half-giants as monsters without having a logical fallacy. So, there’s that.

Not sure if I’ll get a chance to do another one of these from the road or not. Depends on how tomorrow goes. But next time the haters will once again get to rev their engines of fury and rage, because I’ll be discussing another broken (were any of the Dark Sun-specific races not broken?) race – the thri-kreen.


5 thoughts on “DS4e – The Half-Giant

  1. Another informative article! Personally, I think shoehorning Dark Sun’s half giants into the 4th ed Goliath race in the name of game balance seems short-sighted. There’s many other ways to keep the half giants the same size (12’0″ tall, 1600 lbs) and give them some realistic drawbacks that provide balance. First, I think the size difference would mean they’d have a harder time hitting size M or S targets, and those smaller adversaries would have an easier time hitting them, right? Second, I’d let them keep the extra long reach a large character gets, but then give them penalties when they must fight a character that is immediately adjacent to them to represent the fact that they’re getting cramped for space. Third, you could also reduce their rate of attack since they’d be slower because of inertia, and also they’d fatigue quicker since their heart & lungs are overtaxed by their great size.

    1. Brian, I absolutely hear where you’re coming from though I actually disagree with you about this being a short-sighted decision. I’m no more thrilled about this change than you are, but I’d actually argue it’s far-sighted because game balance is absolutely more important than keeping half-giants the same as they were in prior editions.

      2nd Edition wasn’t balanced. Nor was Dark Sun. 4th Edition is (or at least, tries to be). Meaning there are going to be some things that simply don’t mix. Large PCs seems to be one of them.

  2. I think what I’m going to do is just have half-giants be a little larger than goliaths–at the absolute top end of what could be considered Medium, i.e. what will fit within a 5-foot area (I’m thinking that’s something like 8-9 feet tall, and 350-450 pounds), and finding some old pictures of half-giants (preferably NOT next to some little dude like the one above) and say, “Half-giants look like THAT.”

    You’re right, the half-giant was broken. Having a character that can’t fit through the occasional doorway or has to stoop to stand in a room is one thing. Having a character that can almost ~never~ fit through doorways, can’t ride in carts, can’t cross some bridges and can’t effectively fight in most dungeons is something else. I suspect that many of these disabilities simply got ignored in DS1 games.

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