Honorable Meat Slabs
Goliaths first showed up in 3rd edition and have remained essentially unchanged up to their 5e incarnations. They’re best described as half-giants, except with quite a bit of lawful honor layered over the tough guy machismo. Goliaths are the quintessential barbarians, living their tribal existence on the outskirts of civilization with honor and glory and a drive towards martial greatness. So, if you want to battle the elements and everybody else for that matter, just climb this mountain with me as we go through everything you need to know.
Have you ever heard the quote, “I’m just going outside, I may be some time”? Those were the last words of Lawrence Oats before he walked out into a blizzard and his death so that there would be enough supplies for the rest of his expedition to survive without him. I bring this up because that’s exactly what every goliath would do.
Goliath culture is a utilitarian egalitarian meritocracy. Which once you remove the Latin means that they value usefulness, and everyone is equal before being valued by their contribution to society with a strong sense of fair play. That sounds great except once they feel like they’re not useful, too old or too weak, they’d literally rather die than to be a drain on their tribe. You don’t often see elderly goliaths, as they literally work themselves to death.
But besides all that morbidity, goliaths are competitive to a fault, stack up and remind everyone of their achievements with absolutely no shame, and are simply some of the biggest, baddest, muscle-bound people around. In short, they’re the perfect barbarians, with way more lore than just “strong people in the wilderness”.
The position of goliath chief is always up for grabs if another goliath can defeat them in combat to take their place, so goliaths rarely have the same leaders for long. But goliaths are rarely motivated by power, they want achievement, glory, and the honor of being the best. Goliaths hunt, live, and survive in harsh conditions that nobody else wants. They live every day fighting to survive, and they’re strong enough to win.
At first glance, goliaths appear to be just big grey bald dudes with tribal tattoos, but there’s a lot going on that you can play around with when designing your character.
Firstly, those black marks aren’t tattoos, they’re natural markings. Goliaths believe those marks predict the life they’ll live, and they even have a social taboo against getting tattoos because they will supposedly mess with their natural marks and change their future. Mystical fortune-telling marks have great potential and you should feel free to create all sorts of patterns and the futures they foretell.
I’ve also noticed 5e players share a misconception that all goliaths are bald. I think this stems from the character “Grog” from Critical Role and his inability to grow a beard and the main official artwork depicting a bald goliath. Goliath’s can totally grow hair, or beards, though a large percentage of them are indeed bald. They tend to have black or dark brown hair that they let remain as an unruly mane or bind into tight braids.
Most of the goliaths in 5e also have somewhat ominous stark white eyes, but earlier edition goliaths also had blue or green eyes, sometimes they’d even glow a bit. Have fun with it as a design choice.
Finally, there’s an oft-forgotten aspect of goliaths which is their literal rockiness. Goliaths have stony growths at odd places around their body called “lithoderms”, tough bony plates that reflect their rumored stone giant ancestry. These can be used for all sorts of interesting facial features, pointed elbow spines, rocky “hairdos” or anything else you can come up with to shape and mold your goliath character into something unique.
All goliaths have 3 names, their birth name, a nickname, and their clan name.
Birth-names are comparatively short, with 3 syllables or less, and tend to include a long vowel and a sharp consonant. Native American names are good inspirations, as are many Scandinavian names. Goliath names are gender neutral, and they find the gender-based naming conventions of other cultures to be strange and condescending.
Birth Names: Agvhik, Argun, Eagkan, Galkha, Gearoth, Grarok, Kavanoth, Keotham, Lazadak, Mannio, Orithi, Pavoi, Thakhal, Vonak, Zaavi.
Goliath nicknames are more literal, and are based on either some great deed they performed, a notable talent or their occupation. Usually goliath chiefs bestow nicknames, but they can also be granted by other people in positions of authority.
Nicknames: Flintwalker, Lonefist, Longweaver, Nightspeaker, Rockleaper, Skybearer, Steadystalker, Stoneguard, Treecarver, Wisemender.
Goliath clan names are significantly longer than their birth names. Each member of a clan will share this name, though clans often break apart as they grow too large and smaller clans will often reforge into new ones, forging new names.
Clan Names: Apuna-Mithino, Elanolake, Gathakupine, Kalukamune, Katho-Olaga, Malukamino, Ugunileana, Vaimei-Lukena, Vathunavea.
Your goliath character has the following racial traits.
Ability Score Increase: Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Age: Goliaths have lifespans comparable to humans. They enter adulthood in their late teens and usually live less than a century.
Alignment: Goliath society, with its clear roles and tasks, has a strong lawful bent. The goliath sense of fairness, balanced with an emphasis on self- sufficiency and personal accountability, pushes them toward neutrality.
Size: Goliaths are between 7 and 8 feet tall and weigh between 280 and 340 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Natural Athlete: You have proficiency in the Athletics skill.
Stone’s Endurance: You can focus yourself to occasionally shrug off injury. When you take damage, you can use your reaction to roll a d12. Add your Constitution modifier to the number rolled, and reduce the damage by that total. After 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.
Mountain Born: You’re acclimated to high altitude, including elevations above 20,000 feet. You’re also naturally adapted to cold climates, as described in chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and Giant.
Let’s go through each of these abilities and explain how they’ll really play into your new character:
Ability Score Increase: +2 to Strength and +1 to Constitution pretty much screams “make a martial character”, and while you can totally make a goliath wizard there’s not a lot of game incentive to do so. With that boost to your punch and survivability, your best bet is to work with a martial class that can take advantage of that big Strength bonus. Barbarians, Fighters, Strength-based Rangers and two-handed weapon Paladins are the best fits.
Age: Pretty much human aging, nothing flashy.
Alignment: Big lawful emphasis but it can swing good or evil, good for anything that wants to get into a scrap and has some honor.
Size: D&D is terrified of large-sized player characters, so sadly this is as close as you’ll get without delving into home brew content. You’re a big lad, but still medium sized for game mechanics.
Speed: A good standard 30 feet, always better than a penalty.
Natural Athlete: Skill proficiencies aren’t that easy to snag in 5e, and for a martial class it’s nice to grab this essential skill here so you can free up another option from your background or class.
Stone’s Endurance: This is the goliath’s unique trait and it’s pretty damn amazing. More than anything else this is the reason for selecting a goliath. It’s not terribly flashy, but especially at lower levels shrugging off 1d12 + Con as a reaction is insane. It recharges on a short rest, meaning you can and should use it in every single combat, and because it’s a reaction you can essentially turn aside attacks that would otherwise kill you. Goliaths don’t actually get a whole lot, but that’s because all that has to balance around this fantastic ability.
Powerful Build: This is the consolation prize for not being a “large-sized” character. It’s rarely used unless you build around it but being able to shift a ton of weight can crop up in unexpected places.
Mountain Born: This is basically a “ribbon” ability (not useful but flavorful) and will only matter in extremely rare cases. It’s important to note that this trait does nothing against actual cold damage (which does come up) but will only matter if you’re scaling a mountain or traversing a frozen tundra. Just ignore it unless you’ve got an adventure lined up in the frozen north.
Languages: Common and Giant. If you’re playing the “Storm King’s Thunder” adventure path, speaking Giant is invaluable, otherwise it still has a chance of popping up so keep diplomacy in mind when you meet a bunch of stone giants.
You can build any character you’d like. There’s no “right” way to make a character, especially in 5e. No matter what you decide to do the character will “work”, but if you’d like some ideas for utilizing a goliath’s stats more optimally the following builds are good starting points:
You don’t really need to do any special work or odd choices for this, goliaths work naturally well as barbarians in all but the weirdest of barbarian builds. Grab an axe and run screaming angrily towards your enemies as the goliath’s +2 Strength and +1 Constitution bonuses feed into everything a barbarian needs. Stone’s endurance is an extra layer of goodness, as you shrug off hits while angrily murdering. Have fun!
Quite frankly, goliaths are perfect for any fighter build that involves melee, but I feel for pure damage output and cool factor the best way to go is the samurai martial archetype. The samurai’s fighting spirit ability is already bonkers for both offense and survivability but combined with the goliath’s stone’s endurance trait you become incredibly hard to kill. Conveniently, fighting spirit uses a bonus action while stone’s endurance uses a reaction, so you can even use it all in the same turn!
Giant on a Mission from God
While you’re not gaining any Charisma from being a goliath, that +2 Strength bonus sure comes in handy while you’re swinging around with holy wrath. Oath of conquest is a good choice here, as it’s one of the most directly combat oriented oaths. Just make sure to pump that Charisma score up to 16 once you hit level 4 and you’ll be beating up evil for the god of your choice in no time.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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