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Vikings Turned Gentle Giants
Firbolgs have technically been kicking around in D&D since 2nd edition, but they’ve gone through some drastic transformations. They started out as a race of essentially big Vikings or Celts, transitioned into savage wild hunting Nordic giants, and now in 5th edition they’ve become big gentle forest guardians. With the popularity of 5e it does look like firbolgs have cemented themselves as quiet nature sentinels and have turned in their raiding axes. So, if you want to speak for the trees, settle into a mossy glade as we go through everything you need to know.
Firbolg mythology comes from ancient Ireland in which they were the 4th people to inhabit Ireland. They weren’t exactly described as giants or magical, just as humans who lived there and were badass enough to overthrow their oppressors. We don’t know a whole lot about them, but strangely enough, early D&D decided to take their name and make them giant Celtic warriors (even though one of our only descriptions of them calls them short).
5e throws out the lore for firbolgs from earlier editions entirely, so we’re left with a particularly small chunk of information for the current lore. The current lore presents them as a strange mix of fey and giant influences. Firbolgs are protectors of the forest, tribal isolationists who care only about the wellbeing of nature and have an incredibly strong druidic bent.
Quite frankly, if you describe druids, you describe firbolg culture. We know they live in small tribes out in woodlands, and that they carefully protect their homes from loggers and trappers by using their magic to scare off intruders or lead them away. We know that they can become outcasts if they betray their clan. We know they live in harmony with nature… and that’s about it.
Firbolgs are particularly close to something of a rarity among 5e races, they’re a blank slate. Other than nature-loving and big, we really don’t have much to go on for firbolg culture. Everything from previous editions has been wiped clean and their original mythology is scarce, so we’re just going off the few paragraphs present within Volo’s Guide to Monsters.
This blank slate is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you don’t have a whole lot to work from, on the other you have a huge creative space to play with.
Unlike most fantasy races like elves and dwarves, we don’t have practically any reference material showing us the diversity of firbolgs. To my knowledge, the only official source is the single image in Volo’s (unless there’s another firbolg artwork squirreled away somewhere) and their racial entry doesn’t have an appearance section.
From this single artwork, we see a grey giant with a reddish nose, brown hair, a beard and long-ish pointed ears. That’s all we’ve got. If firbolg culture was sort of a blank slate, their appearance is an entire empty wall.
However! We are living in a strange firbolg renaissance where the D&D community is filling in these gaps that were officially left unfilled. The web series Critical Role has been a strangely huge force in popularizing these gentle fey giants. It started with a very well received firbolg NPC within the Critical Role world named Pumat Sol and was followed by a guest star’s firbolg character and now a main cast member is playing as a firbolg cleric. The descriptions of these firbolg creations have inspired countless people to create their own characters, and how firbolgs look has collectively been changing.
Matt Mercer briefly described a firbolg as having a “bovine nose” and this has snowballed into a common conception that firbolgs = cow people. Not technically accurate, but more and more bovine features have been leaking into new firbolg designs and I expect this trend to continue.
As it’s not quite clear in the official illustration if firbolgs have fur or just skin, most artists have taken off with the designs and now they can sport skin or fur ranging from gray to nearly blues, and a range of tans and browns.
The pointed ears have developed into more commonly “spoon shaped” bovine-like ears or into extremely pointed elf-like ears.
But in general, beyond giant, fey influence, and nature-loving, you can do anything you want with your firbolg character! Chart a new course for what it means to be a firbolg, because it seems like it’s the community that has the reigns for this newly transforming fantasy race!
Strangely enough, one of the solid bits of lore we have is that firbolgs don’t normally have names. They know each other by their deeds and giving people labels is strange to them. Pick a very short nickname for your firbolg character. Or, if you’re feeling daring, show up to the rest of your group without a name (because that’s what most firbolgs would do) and have them make up a nickname for you!
Your firbolg character has the following racial traits.
Ability Score Increase: Your Wisdom score increases by 2, and your Strength score increases by 1.
Age: As humanoids related to the fey, firbolg have long lifespans. A firbolg reaches adulthood around 30, and the oldest of them can live for 500 years.
Alignment: As people who follow the rhythm of nature and see themselves as its caretakers, firbolg are typically neutral good. Evil firbolg are rare and are usually the sworn enemies of the rest of their kind.
Size: Firbolg are between 7 and 8 feet tall and weigh between 240 and 300 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Firbolg Magic: You can cast detect magic and disguise self with this trait, using Wisdom as your spellcasting ability for them. Once you cast either spell, you can’t cast it again with this trait until you finish a short or long rest. When you use this version of disguise self, you can seem up to 3 feet shorter than normal, allowing you to more easily blend in with humans and elves.
Hidden Step: As a bonus action, you can magically turn invisible until the start of your next turn or until you attack, make a damage roll, or force someone to make a saving throw. Once you use this trait, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Powerful Build: You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
Speech of Beast and Leaf: You have the ability to communicate in a limited manner with beasts and plants. They can understand the meaning of your words, though you have no special ability to understand them in return. You have advantage on all Charisma checks you make to influence them.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common, Elvish, and Giant.
Let’s go through these abilities one at a time and explain how they’ll work for your new character:
Ability Score Increase: +2 to Wisdom and +1 to Strength is a bit of a typecast, but excellent for the right builds. Strength is a boost to any class that wants to get stuck into melee, and Wisdom is vital for Clerics, Druids, Monks, and Rangers.
Age: Big long age range, you can create wizened characters that were present for historical events.
Alignment: A strong N/G alignment is ideal for most traditional adventuring parties, though it won’t fit well for evil campaigns.
Size: Firbolgs size got cut in half between 4e and 5e, but you’re still going to be playing as a massive lad that only barely doesn’t count as large-sized.
Speed: A good standard 30 feet, nothing special but far better than a penalty.
Firbolg Magic: A free casting of detect magic and disguise self is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you’re taking a class that wouldn’t normally have access to magic. They’re also on a short-rest recharge, so you can feel free to use them quite often. Both spells are incredibly useful, and even in most casting classes, having these as bonus spells that don’t use your spell slots is invaluable.
Hidden Step: This one is incredibly interesting to see on a “big guy” race where I would normally expect to see it on something more designed for rogues. A turn of invisibility on a short-rest recharge isn’t quite as useful as you might think, but it can still get you out of a jam. Use it to lose somebody chasing you, gain advantage on an attack for a turn, or basically do a “super withdrawal” to avoid attacks of opportunity when you’re surrounded.
Powerful Build: Powerful build is 5e’s consolation prize for not allowing large-sized player characters and they slap it on any playable race that’s “big”. It’s not useless, but it’ll rarely come up unless you’re trying to lug around everything that isn’t bolted down.
Speech of Beast and Leaf: Deceptively useful, as there will be some situations where you can talk yourself out of fighting beasts and plants. Remember you can’t understand them, so it’s not great for information gathering. But if you find yourself staring down a pack of wolves give diplomacy a chance, it may just catch your DM off guard.
Languages: Common, Elvish, and Giant. Nothing particularly fancy but depending on the adventure these are common languages that might crop up.
You shouldn’t feel the need to make any specific build, 5e makes sure that your character will still “work” regardless of what you want to do. However, if you’re interested in taking advantage of the firbolg’s abilities to the fullest here’s a few example builds that you might be able to use as a starting point.
Gentle Nature Giant
Firbolgs were designed with druids in mind, It’s twisted up in their lore and they blatantly work well together. The bonus to Wisdom is exactly what a druid needs and the bonus to Strength leans you towards more of a combat ready druid. I recommend the circle of spores as that is already a more melee combat focused druid circle that can best benefit from the bonus to Strength and the combat shenanigans your hidden step can create.
Herald of the Nature Gods
Wisdom and Strength are picture perfect for a melee cleric, and firbolgs are well positioned to cast some holy spells and smite some unrighteous fiends. The nature domain wonderfully synergizes with your speech of beast and leaf as it allows you to directly talk to the beasts and plants that you charm. Also, the war domain makes probably the best use of your strength bonus simply by being the most combat focused domain.
Forest Warden Grappler
Monks love that +2 to Wisdom that Firbolgs get but are usually more on the Dexterity plan than the Strength plan. However, the grappling focused monk build couldn’t ask for a better stat line AND you gain the powerful build ability that allows you to grab and drag enemies of twice the normal weight. If you like the idea of gently strolling up to the enemy and calmly knocking them out and dragging them away, consider a firbolg grappling-based monk.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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