Welcome to our third Tabletop Thoughts post, where we pick apart the racial abilities of playable races in 5th edition D&D and build interesting and unusual race-class combos.
If you’re new to these posts and want to start with the first one (Mountain Dwarves), you can check it out here!
Right, let’s get started!
From gnomes to goliaths; tiny to huge; friendly to grumpy; chaotic to lawful.
Goliaths are huge humanoids who tend to live high up in the mountains. How high up, you ask? Well, think of an altitude at which it’s so cold, your breath freezes so you can’t really breathe. Then add another 100ft.
As you might expect, this has had some interesting impacts on goliath culture and society:
As you can see, they’re a pretty friendly bunch! They’re also huge, standing 7 to 8 feet tall. They weigh in at 300-400lbs and have grey, rock-like skin. They are often depicted as bald, tattooed and incredibly muscly. They are far from a familiar sight in the towns and cities of Faerûn and they don’t tend to interact with other groups or races, mostly for geographic reasons. Their size means that other races consider them imposing and slightly intimidating, so they make good guards and bouncers. A goliath shopkeeper might well find that they don’t need to hire any security—a steely glare and an axe mounted behind the counter will do the trick. In spite of all this, goliaths are not generally viewed with suspicion or dislike, though they do have a reputation for being unwilling to help lost or injured travellers who have stumbled into their territory.
The culture, values and general outlook of Goliath society provide a rich seam of opportunities for roleplaying a goliath character. Some options include:
One thing to note is that some of the traits above could make your goliath character a bit tricky to work with. You should always be mindful of this, since D&D is a social game. If you’re playing a spiky character, remember to weigh up the chance that your actions could actually spoil the game for others. This risk will vary between groups—some will find the fact that you insulted the king and got them all arrested a hilarious twist, others might be angry that you got their character punished, and some might think of ways to avoid taking you on diplomatic missions in future!
Don’t be afraid to have your character learn from their mistakes – perhaps they saw the danger they put the party in and have resolved to do better in the future. If you accidentally did something you can see other players didn’t enjoy, this can go a long way towards making them feel better about it and is a nice form of character development to boot.
The other way to avoid this pitfall, of course, is to play an atypical goliath and flip some of the traits discussed above on their head:
Now that you’ve created your emo, “You’ll never understand me!” goliath backstory, let’s have a look at some of the race’s mechanical benefits.
A huge, muscle-bound race that favours melee fighting? How unusual! Seriously, though, these are solid bonuses for anyone who wants to go toe-to-toe with enemies. Flavour-wise and stat-wise, they work very well with the Barbarian class. No boost to dexterity, though, so you’ll need to think about how you’re going to increase your AC.
Goliaths have some fun racial abilities that start to make them a bit more interesting:
I think these abilities are all pretty good. They’re broadly useful things – extra skills, reduced damage, extra carrying capacity – they don’t specifically create one clear narrative (except that goliaths are natural-born mountaineers), but they’re useful for any class. I think if you want to go down a melee combatant route of any kind, Goliaths are going to be a safe bet. Stone’s endurance and Athletics training both encourage you to go down a strength and constitution route too, to maximise their impact.
Where am I going with this? Well, first, the ability scores, using a point buy system (ability modifiers in brackets):
OK, so our guy is huge and fast. He’s nearly 8ft tall and probably weighs 400lb. He’s pure muscle. He’s also quite a presence on the battlefield. You know he’s there and he wants you to know he’s there. He’s not getting top marks in college, but an 8 puts you just slightly below an average human (a commoner is considered to have a 10 in all ability scores), so it doesn’t demand that you play an idiot. Probably our character just finds all that ‘planning’ the rest of the team does to be irrelevant and prefers to march straight in.
He’s also going to spend a lot of his time not even bothering with weapons.
Yep, he carries a sword, but he’s only using it about half the time.
We’re going to wrestling school with a high-strength, grappling-based bard. Ideally from the College of Swords, from Xanathar’s Guide, but to be honest, the Colleges of Valor and Lore work well too, in their different ways.
So, what do we want to cover when we’re building this Goliath bard?
Finally, a few things to watch out for with this build, if you’re keen on the wrestler type:
To my mind, this class is interesting because it gives you a lot of flexibility and flavour, whilst being an effective grappling build from pretty early on. If you want to optimise your grappling even further, I would strongly recommend The Grappler’s Manual (http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?468737-The-Grappler-s-Manual-(2-0)-Grappling-in-5th-Edition). It dives into Multiclassing and Feats too, so you can really maximise your crazy wrestling moves.
Now all we need is a splash of flavour to cap off our Goliath wrestling legend. The idea I had in my head was very much of the professional-wrestler variety. I think our guy has been working pretty happily with a performing troupe, maybe as part of a circus or a standalone travelling show. He doesn’t say much, but he loves a good challenge and enjoys whipping the crowd into a frenzy. The shows are good for bringing in money or showing off, but the constant training and practising are where the fun is for this guy. One evening he might be practising new fighting techniques, another he might be trying out ways to work horse-riding or trapeze art into his performance, just to stretch himself. I’d probably give him the Gladiator background as it fits in thematically, though it would be more focused on entertaining than violence.
And why might he take up a call to adventure?
Thanks for reading, as always! Next week we’ll be looking at Red Dragonborn (I probably won’t do one for each shade of Dragonborn, though: I don’t think they’re really subraces as their abilities don’t vary much). Chosen by Louise, with no context except me pointing at her out of the blue and yelling ‘pick a D&D race!’
I’ve also put together a new guild based around an arctic, mountain-dwelling tribe of Goliath wrestlers called the Sheerpeak Wranglers. It includes a new subclass, too! It’s up on DM’s Guild, so take a look! 😊