It always stuns me when mountain giants are a late addition to a monster series. It’s always been this way in fantasy role-playing—in 1e AD&D, they didn’t show up until the Fiend Folio; in Mentzer D&D, not till the Master Rules; in 2e AD&D, not till the Monstrous Manual; and I don’t think they even existed in 3.0/3.5. And I know why this is: As we’ve talked about before, it’s a problem with the GFR (Gygax Fossil Record)—if Gary Gygax didn’t put a particular monster in the 1e Monster Manual, later editions and RPGs tend to forget about it, no matter how glaringly obvious (SEA. SERPENTS.) the monster’s inclusion should be.
It’s weird with mountain giants, though, because they are practically our default giant. There’s a case to be made that they are the generic jötunn or jotuns of Norse myth. Stone, fire, and frost giants all have physiognomies and abilities that set them apart…but sometimes you just want a big damn giant, without flaming hair or icicle beards or a clay face or a cloud castle. When you want your PCs to wait out a blizzard in a cave that turns out to be a boot, a mountain giant should be that boot’s rather grumpy owner.
That said…well, Pathfinder’s mountain giant isn’t quite like D&D/AD&D’s mountain giants. First off, they’re more magical. Mislead…dimension door…and deeper darkness and invisibility (at will(!?!?!)…that’s a new kind of mountain giant. And then there are those abilities: Impale (Ex) and Devour (Su), which let them spear victims like salmon and then devour them for fast healing. The end result is not the ordinary jotun of A/D&D, but a terrifying manifestation of the hunger of the wilderness, of the starvation and cannibalism that occurs in an avalanche-blocked mountain pass. They are all “Fee-fi-fo-fum” without any pretty wife or helpful singing harp. Bestiary 6 makes it clear that these are giants that even other giants warn their children about, cannibals who can appear out of nowhere to snatch up the unwary and drag them away to be dismembered. Almost five stories tall, 3,000 pounds, and resembling the king’s headsman if he dabbled in leather tanning and murder, Pathfinder’s mountain giant is the stuff of nightmares no matter what your size.
Caught between warring drow and aboleth nations in a region that thwarts extraplanar and teleportation magic, adventurers struggle to make their way back to the surface. Their exodus is thwarted when, during a battle the adventurers had hoped to use to cover their escape, several pairs of mountain giants appear out of nowhere (courtesy of invisibility, dimension door, and deeper darkness) and begin laying waste to drow and aboleth victims alike.
Adventurers infiltrate a frost giant steading…only to find several frost giant women sobbing, the men muttering darkly, and the children all chained to their parents’ beds like animals. It is the night before the frost giant New Year, when Father Skewer takes one child away to slice open his or her intestines and devour raw. Assume the frost giants don’t pound the adventurers into pudding for startling them, they will offer whatever they have to end the threat of Father Skewer—in truth, a crafty mountain giant skald—and restore peace to their New Year’s Eve for the first time in two generations.
Adventurers stumble upon a fort belonging to a mountain giant thane, but they are saved from discovery by his wife, a comparatively beautiful and gentle soul. Having just lost her only child to crib death, she says, she cannot bear to see such small creatures be gutted and butchered by her brutal husband. In truth, the giant’s wife is a worse cannibal than he is—it was she who devoured their child in his sleep. She plans to consume the adventurers at her leisure and simply doesn’t want to share.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 6 133
You’ll notice I don’t mention 4e and 5e D&D, because…wait, there was a 4e and a 5e? But seriously, that’s just beyond my area of expertise.
Another reason mountain giants were outliers in D&D/AD&D is that in general the giants tended to go from mighty (hill/stone) to magical (frost/fire) to mythic (cloud/storm). A/D&D’s mountain giants, being so tall and powerful but comparatively nonmagical, buck that trend, while Pathfinder’s continue it.
The first mountain giant I ever encountered was in the classic AC10 Bestiary of Dragons and Giants, where PCs aid a tall, supremely brash warrior who is actually a mountain giant tween masquerading as a human adventurer to have some fun. I played it—actually I think I ran it—and it was cute!
It’s odd that Bestiary 6 has mongrel giants in “M” and mountain giants in “G”…I’m guessing the usual difficulties of trying to arrange where the two-page spreads fall are to blame. (That’s probably also why the mosslord is out of order in the Table of Contents.)
The term “Gygax Fossil Record” should totally be a thing now.
Ye gods, could you guys imagine me as a YouTuber? “That’s all for today, guys. What monsters do YOU think were left out of the Gygax Fossil Record? Send me a TWEET with HASHTAG GygaxFossilRecord. And don’t forget to LIKE, COMMENT, AND SUBSCRIBE!” Thank God I’m too heinous for video.
I’ve got some amazing and lovely emails from a lot of you lately. If I haven’t replied or mentioned here, I promise, promise, promise you it’s because of sheer busy-ness, and not because I’m a total D. (I mean, I am a total D, but not for those reasons.)