My review copy of Bigby’s Big Book of Big Bois is here, and for the first time in a long time, I’ve actually got a little time to write about a new release! (Okay, I’m still working my way through the last UA packet, whatever.) As you undoubtedly know, this book is intended to do for giants what Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons did for the scaly bois.
The Elephant in the Room
Just to get this out of the way: I disapprove in the strongest of terms of any use of AI art in WotC’s published books. No company in the whole of tabletop gaming has less of an excuse for cutting corners. It looks like one artist used AI without WotC’s knowledge; I don’t know enough about WotC’s internal process to guess whether that was green-lighted after it was handed in, or just got missed. The use of AI on April Prime’s concept art is definitely not okay, and it is chiefly out of respect for the book’s team that this isn’t a 3,000-word screed on misuse of AI technology.
I’m hopeful that WotC will stick to its new statements strictly opposing and banning the use of AI art in all future products.
Much like Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, this book opens with a poem of lore in a style loosely resembling a translation of Norse sagas. I loved it in Fizban’s and I love it here. A hefty helping of the book’s text describes the struggle within Annam the All-Father’s family and the echoes of that conflict within their mortal descendants – I’m probably not going to cover it in close detail, but everything I’ve seen so far feels appropriately mythic without delving into the grossest parts of myth or past D&D giant lore. I like that the text never tries to present a single or “correct” story, but suggests that there are many interlocking or conflicting presentations.
Any book on giant lore in D&D has some reconciliation to do, because the Ordning cares about six giant types, but monster books have released a whole lot more over the years. The absence of spacesea giants from this book and 5e Spelljammer is, of course, a sham and a travesty. A shavesty! (Sorry, my kids have been watching a lot of Captain Underpants while I recover from COVID. You get what you get.) My actual point is that the book does also cover firbolgs, fomorians, death giants, cyclopes, trolls (not gonna lie, I’d like a lot more on trolls, including WotC’s spin on trollkin), ettins, and goliaths.
The section ends with a light-touch description of how this lore applies to Forgotten Realms (it all applies, it’s mainly from the Realms!), Greyhawk (use all of this lore except Annam specifically), Dragonlance (you’ve got to squint a lot, so mostly no), and Eberron (0%, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 gp). So it’s not particularly universal lore, but it’s a good starting point with a lot of ideas on different ways to go with things if you’re creating your own setting. I’m not sure, but I think it would work well for 4e’s Nentir Vale?
Let’s talk mechanics. There’s a new barbarian subclass, two new backgrounds, a discussion of how to relate to the giants as a PC (so that you fit into giant-focused campaigns), and eight feats.
Path of the Giant
So it’s about getting real big, then going absolutely elemental on your enemies. Why should Rune Knights have all the giant-themed warrior fun? (And Rune Knights do indeed have a lot of fun.)
- Giant’s Power teaches you to speak, read, and write Giant, and you learn either druidcraft or thaumaturgy. To be expected, sure.
- Giant’s Havoc lets you add your Rage Damage bonus to thrown attacks (there isn’t a good reason not to do this for all barbarians, but sure), and it makes you Large while you rage, increasing your reach by 5 feet. It’s technically phrased such that your reach increase is separate from your size increase, so that you can still have your reach increase in an enclosed space too small to grow in.
- Good at throwing and some extra reach are definitely nice to have, as a barbarian, but I’m not sure that it feels like enough gameplay change for 3rd through 5th
- Elemental Cleaver at 6th level is the big change to your gameplay and gives you much firmer permission to be a ranged attacker as your main thing. You choose a weapon to deal an additional 1d6 acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage, gain a thrown range of 20/60, and return to you instantly after it hits or misses. Even if you never throw it, though, extra elemental damage is nice to have.
- Mighty Impel at 10th level lets you throw Medium or smaller creatures within reach around the battlefield up to 30 feet away, as a bonus action while raging. Unwilling targets get a Strength save. This is an awesome move, classic for giant characters. See also, Fastball Special.
- Demiurgic Colossus at 14th level improves Giant’s Havoc (your reach and size increase further), Elemental Cleaver (2d6), and Mighty Impel (you can throw creatures up to Large, which is going to surprise the hell out of your horse).
The change from “you need to pack a zillion throwing axes” to 6th level’s “all axes are throwing axes if you work hard and believe in yourself” is very cool – just don’t invest in a bunch of magical hand axes. The only thing it’s missing is a rule for throwing one enemy at another enemy, as a weapon. (By all means, check out my approach to that from In the Company of Giants, by Rite Publishing.) Overall, I like this just fine.
As with the Dragonlance setting book and its feats – which I have some noble intentions of going back and covering one of these days, when I’m out from under my other commitments, lol – this book assumes characters get a 1st-level feat. If you’re taking one of these backgrounds, that feat is Strike of the Giants or Rune Shaper; otherwise, you get Skilled or Tough.
The more I think about it, the more I regret that Backgrounds are losing their strictly social features and moving toward combat-useful features. I understand that many games have a hard time pushing those social features forward and making them useful, but I genuinely believe that addressing that problem and helping DMs make social features matter would be better for the texture of the game than ceding the position. My best experiences with D&D are ones where social status factors into interactions, rather than characters becoming disconnected from society.
On the other hand, the Foundling Origin and Rune Style tables of the Giant Foundling and Rune Carver backgrounds (respectively) could spark a lot of interesting and nuanced roleplay, and I love that. Not every group will care enough to make something more out of your Rune Carver stitching their runes into the hem of their clothing, but for those that do, that’s a great character note.
Big Heroes, Big Stories
Next is two and a half pages on how to anchor your character’s story in giant-related content, with a note that there will be a more in-depth discussion of giant patrons later. I like everything that’s here – D&D, and indeed most games, spend very little time on player-facing content to help your character fit into a campaign’s themes.
These feats share a lot of the apparent trends of feats from the UA packet – well, several packets ago, when they covered feats above 1st level. So that I don’t have to say it quite so many times: everything except Strike of the Giants and Rune Shaper requires you to be 4th level and have Strike of the Giants.
Ember of the Fire Giant grants a +1 to Str, Con, or Wis, resistance to fire, and Searing Ignition, PB uses/long rest. Searing Ignition is a point-blank AoE, 15-ft radius, that targets your enemies. It replaces one of your attacks and deals 1d8 + PB damage and blinds targets that fail their save. This is great for basically all warrior-types, including monks and melee clerics, but much less appealing for rogues (because replacing one attack is such a high cost for them).
Fury of the Frost Giant grants a +1 bonus to Str, Con, or Wis, resistance to cold damage, and Frigid Retaliation, a reaction you can use PB times/long rest. It’s fairly well like hellish rebuke, except that you deal damage and reduce speed to 0 if the creature that hits you with an attack fails a Con save. Hey, if you’re getting harried by flyers, especially flyers with ranged attacks, this is one of the best counters out there. The rest of the time, it’s just a nice-to-have.
Guile of the Cloud Giant grants +1 to Str, Con, or Cha, and Cloudy Escape, a reaction you can use PB times/long rest. When you’re hit with an attack by a creature you can see, you gain resistance to the damage and teleport up to 30 feet. It’s Uncanny Dodge on steroids, and can really wreck the turn of a melee enemy with Multiattack (if they don’t have enough movement left to get to another of your allies).
Keenness of the Stone Giant grants +1 Str, Con, or Wis, +60 ft darkvision, and Stone Throw, a bonus action you can use PB times/long rest. Stone Throw is a ranged spell attack using the stat you increased with the first part of this feat, dealing 1d10 force damage and forcing a Str save to resist being knocked prone. I’m not sure why this has both an attack roll and a save as failure points, where Ember and Fury only involve a save, except that knocking a flyer prone from 60 feet is more likely to be a serious problem for them.
Rune Shaper requires you to be any kind of spellcaster, or to have the Rune Carver background. It teaches you comprehend languages and lets you cast it once without a spell slot, and also teaches you a number of spells equal to half your PB from a short list. You can inscribe the runes of those spells to cast them without a spell slot 1/long rest, and you can spend your spell slots on them. It’s a perfectly good, scaling variant of Magical Adept if you want to broaden your spell selection a bit, and don’t need another cantrip specifically.
Soul of the Storm Giant gives you +1 Str, Wis, or Cha, and Maelstrom Aura, a bonus action you can use PB times/long rest. Each use lasts until the start of your next turn, grants resistance to lightning and thunder damage, imposes disad on attacks against you, and forces a Str save on enemies starting their turn within 10 feet; on a failure, their speed is halved. It’s a very good defensive buff that adds potential defender stickiness.
Strike of the Giants requires proficiency in a martial weapon or the Giant Foundling background. I’m pretty sure that requirement can’t justify its existence – not when UA is looking at taking all martial weapons away from monks, and in fact making all of their features unusable with martial weapons from first principles. Typical consequence of designing new content for a ruleset when its obsolescence is already slated. Anyway, this feat gives you one of six different options, which you can use PB times/long rest. (You’re going to be tallying uses per long rest on a lot of different little things.)
The Cloud Strike (no, you can’t have the Buster Sword) deals thunder damage and makes you invisible to that one creature if they fail a Wis save. The Fire Strike deals the most damage out of any of the strikes. Frost Strike deals cold damage and reduces speed to 0 on a failed Con save. Hill Strike deals additional damage and knocks the target down on a failed Strength save. (I dearly wish they would not phrase this as “have the prone condition.” That just reads as such tortured language.) Stone Strike deals force damage and pushes the target 10 feet away from you on a failed Strength save. Storm Strike deals lightning damage and imposes disad on the target’s attack rolls until the start of your next turn on a failed Con save.
These are all fine, and this feat has a lot to offer rogues as well as all other weapon-wielders, though fewer rogues will have great Strength or Con scores to build up the save DC.
Vigor of the Hill Giant gives you +1 Str, Con, or Wis, you can automatically resist any push or knockdown with your reaction, and eating food as part of a short rest increases the hit points you regain from expending Hit Dice: you add both your proficiency bonus and your Con modifier (that is, you add it a second time, since you add your Con modifier to short rest healing anyway). I don’t know how many players are excited to align themselves conceptually with hill giants, but the feat is very good.
Overall, I like these feats okay. If they had been out when I first created my Rune Knight, I might have considered building around Strike of the Giants and one of the follow-on feats. The DM would let me rebuild, I’m just not sure how much I want to – I’m already a fire genasi Rune Knight, that’s a lot of elemental theme going on.
Chapter 2: Giants in Play
This chapter dedicates lots of space to ideas for how to describe and portray giants, as well as digging into the ways giants establish their pecking order. It’s a lot of 1-2 sentence inspirations. Following that, the Ordning and giant religion, with a sufficient-for-most-purposes couple of paragraphs on each of the giant gods and various “interloper” gods, other powers that command worship from a significant number of giants. Lots and lots of story seeds – I love to see that kind of thing. After that – more story seeds, based on social structures ranging from reclusive loners to larger settlements.
I particularly like the section on organizations and its further adventure hooks. I have to wonder if the writer responsible for the Stewards of the Eternal Throne page played Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved, because this is so very close to the Diamond Throne. The dwarf druid in my Dragon Heist campaign would really enjoy meeting some Worldroot Circle giants, too.
Chapter 3: Giant Adventures
This chapter offers a lot of encounter tables – one or more creatures, a randomized attitude, and an action they’re carrying out when the players first observe them. I love that it says up-front that a lot of this content is best for tier 3 (levels 11-16). After going through each giant type, it shifts into connected creatures: dinosaurs, elementals (four tables of elementally-linked creatures), fiends, constructs, undead, and non-dinosaur megafauna. I especially appreciate the clever way these tables include content from Monsters of the Multiverse – MotM is the 11 and 12 entries on several tables. If you don’t have it, roll a d10 instead.
After that, adventures – it’s tables of adventure hooks, organized in five models of different core roles giants could serve in an adventure or campaign. Another thing giants could be is the PCs’ patron, so we get tables of assignments for each of six different types of giant patron. I’ve loved sections on NPC patrons in Eberron, TCOE, and Fizban’s, so you can reasonably guess that I love this too.
Whole campaigns built around giants? It’d be weird if this book didn’t cover that! Three and a half pages is pretty detailed coverage, and even if giants aren’t the main subject of a campaign, you can get a lot of out of this as additional connective tissue for your setting. The Giants of Myth section is a great page of big ideas for designing a whole setting around giants.
This chapter is everything I could have plausibly asked of it and a whole lot more. Huge fan.
Chapter 4: Giant Enclaves
This gets down to brass tacks, with overland and dungeon maps by Dyson Logos, encounters, and more adventure hooks (the need for more adventure hooks can’t be exhausted). Okay, this is eighteen two-page dungeons. If you need something to drop into an ongoing game, or tier 3 or 4 one-shot adventure, this is phenomenal. You’ll still need to do some work, like naming NPCs and building in treasure, but this plausibly cuts your prep time from hours down to, I dunno, 15-20 minutes?
They’re not “baseline” ideas, either. These are big, memorable locations, and planar weirdness abounds (I mentioned it was mainly for tiers 3 and 4?). Big fan of all of these.
Chapter 5: Giant Treasures
Each of the main giant types gets a description of its own kind of giant-sized duffle bag that they carry all kinds of random crap in. There are also tables for each giant type’s preferred random crap. (Uh, I’m not actually denigrating the tables. They’re assorted nonmagical treasure and perfectly fine.) This leads directly into giant-focused art objects, and the worst I can say of this is there’s only a table for 25gp and 250gp. I’m most interested in the inventive writing that goes into the really high-ticket items.
That brings us to magic items – 27 magic items, of which a much greater than usual number are artifacts of the giant deities. Many also lean on rune activation as a mechanic for a 1/day property, in addition to its always-on properties.
I know artifacts having unspecified beneficial and detrimental properties for the DM to roll or assign is a D&D tradition going back to 1e or earlier, but I’ve never really loved seeing those bullet points for additional unassigned properties. I’d just as soon have the artifact’s designer tailor them to the artifact’s story.
This book and Fizban’s have both offered magical firearms, which is interesting, and I like that there’s gear intended to improve your unarmed strike. I’m much less convinced that the war horn of valor, with its special ability to grant +1 AC to creatures of your choice within 30 feet, is a good idea in 5e mechanics. One round per day of +1 to AC sounds a lot like “many days, this won’t even turn one hit to a miss.” Small, static bonuses are something the edition has mostly stayed away from, and I think that’s been to its benefit. All that said, most of these items are awesome.
Chapter 6: Bestiary
The rest of the book is the Bestiary chapter, and it’s significantly tilted toward tiers 3 and 4, maybe more so even than Fizban’s. There are a lot of interesting ideas here – each type of giant has one stat block that depends on a rune object that can be destroyed to turn off some of their abilities. There are also giant servants of Elemental Evils and demon lords, a new CR 3 lion that Circle of the Moon druids can turn into, and dinosaurs that are infused with elemental energy (making them Monstrosities rather than Beasts). The Fey giant animals – including a giant goose that lays golden eggs! – are particularly fun.
Scions of the giant gods that start combat as an elemental “cradle” around the scion. When the cradle falls to 0 hit points, it cracks open and releases the Scion, another creature of the same CR. Much like Mythic creatures from Theros, it’s a phase-changing boss fight, and I’m pretty well guaranteed to like that.
It would be great to see more official adventures cover more tier 3 and 4 content the way this book does, but this is meaningful inspiration and guidance for stories, goals, and encounter areas at those levels. The huge number of adventure hooks also delve into the tools and means by which a group of giants with fairly “normal” stat blocks can effect cosmic change in a setting. I think that’s super cool – what are the levers of power for cosmic change?
Overall, the writing in this book is solid gold. It’s probably the best follow-on that Princes of the Apocalypse has yet received. Most of the text is adventure hooks and giant-focused setting design ideas. The book having just a little player-facing content is neither good nor bad to me – it’s fine, but I’m so much more excited for the DM-facing material and content guiding players toward fitting into a giant-focused campaign.
I hope we’ll see more books in this vein – the 3.5e Fiendish Codex I and II and Lords of Madness have a great reputation as books, and I’d like to see 5e’s take on Fiends and Aberrations. Ideally, that’d include a deep dive into the malevolent stars.
In conclusion, no more AI art in WotC books, please and thank you. As long as WotC adheres to its policy, I recommend this book strongly.