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Dr. Hippopotamus I Presume?
The Travelers of the Multiverse unearthed arcana seems to have finally confirmed that a 5e spelljammer book is on the way and we’ve got a bunch of new interplanar races to play with. The giffs are hippofolk (yes you read that right) that flip the whole poaching paradigm around as big interdimensional mercenaries hunting people across the realms for coin and a spot of jolly good sport. So how do these spacefaring hippo people play? Grab your blunderbuss and a pith helmet as we go through everything you need to know.
Giffs have actually been around since 2nd edition D&D, and they’re usually seen as sort of comical antagonists so it’s doubly weird and intriguing to see them as a fully playable 5e race. Giffs are hippofolk and in most respects look just like upright humanoid hippopotamuses. They are a fully plane-faring race, usually assembling into small militaristic mercenary companies. They’re not empire builders or money-grubbers, they just enjoy an orderly society and the thrill of a sporting hunt (though they’re strict herbivores) and the stories they can tell of their adventurous hunts. Their other passion is guns, explosives, and the newest and shiniest weaponry which means while they’re perfectly capable of smashing an enemy to bits, they’re quite likely to shoot them first. Take all of this with a grain of salt though, the little bit of fluff we get in the unearthed arcana leaves out a lot of the history we’ve had in previous editions so there may be a big retcon of their background incoming.
Just like all the other newly released races the Giffs are a “lineage” rather than a “race”. This means that the ability score increases are up to you and the selection is all about the features. The giff’s list of features is short and sweet so let’s quickly go through each of them and what they’ll do for your new interdimensional hippo character:
Creature Type: You are a Humanoid.
Size: You are medium.
Speed: Your walking speed is 30 feet, and you have a swimming speed equal to your walking speed.
Damage Dealer: Like a hippopotamus in a crystalware shop, you are naturally adept at damaging things. When you roll a 1 on a damage die for a melee attack, you can reroll the die and use the new roll. You can do so no more than once per turn.
Hippo Build: You have advantage on Strength-based ability checks and Strength saving throws. In addition, you count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
There’re comparatively very few features here but there’s a lot to unpack, let’s analyze each feature individually and pick apart what they actually do:
Creature Type: No surprises here, humanoid is the standard creature type for player characters, and I’d have been very surprised to see something else here.
Size: I will forever call WotC cowards for not making actual large-size playable races but medium here is par for the course, especially since they’re often medium as a monster. Nothing special here.
Speed: 30 feet is a nice normal speed, and a full 30-foot swimming speed is a really nice bonus. Note though that giffs aren’t getting any special capacity to hold their breath or breathe underwater so you’re just getting the added mobility in water. But just like real-life hippos your heavily armed hippo-man can charge right through the river without slowing down.
Damage Dealer: So, on a surface level this is a very strong racial feature that basically functions like “half” of the fighter’s great weapon fighting style except it functions for all melee weapons rather than just two-handed ones. Whenever you roll a 1 on that damage die (where great weapon fighting style is 1 or 2) you get to reroll it and hope for a better result.
But there’s a lot of weirdness here. Firstly, the giffs are known (at least in previous editions) for being avid gun or at least ranged weapon users, why does this only function for melee weapons? It also is functionally the same feature as the great weapon fighting style, which means you are actively un-incentivized from taking this race and the fighting style together. From a mechanical standpoint this really incentivizes you to use a pair of one-handed weapons, which feels very out of flavor for what we’ve seen of giffs in earlier editions. I’m 99% sure this will get revised before the final version but for now it’s a very strong feature for melee builds.
Hippo Build: This is really more like two features sandwiched together that both add up to BIG CHARACTER flavor. The first half is actually a LOT better than at first glance as you’re getting permanent advantage on basically everything you do with Strength other than attacks. This includes things like grapples and shoves making the giff an almost obligatory new pick for the grappling builds. The second half is the more normal “you count as a large lad” when lifting/pushing/pulling things; that's our typical consolation prize for not being a proper large-sized character.
Building a Giff Character
There’s no more ability score matching now with the “lineages”, so there’s also no real “ideal” classes anymore. However, the giff has several features that make them amazing picks for particular builds. The damage dealer feature is strangely amazing for melee classes and especially those using dual wielding builds, making giffs excellent choices for Barbarians, Fighters, Paladins, Rangers, and weirdly Rogues. Finally, their hippo build features sets them up as the new de-facto best race for any build trying to grapple or shove the opponent.
Last updated: January 27, 2019
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