When it comes to the inspiration for AD&D's giants, some are obvious. Cloud Giants are of 'Jack and the Beanstalk' origin, Fire and Frost giants are from norse myth, stone giants are likely those mentioned briefly in 'The Hobbit.' Hill giants are more generic and honestly are a bit cruder and wilder than most giant myths but serve as a general sort of 'wild' giant. Storm Giants probably have the most confused origin- they seem to be a combination of the grecian Cyclops who forged thunderbolts for Zeus, and Zeus himself, with a curious underwater bent as well. This becomes doubly confusing when we consider the Titan entry, which is more akin to a grecian god with stated good relations with Storm Giants, so there's a sort of muddled sense of a grecian pantheon thing going on with echoes of gigantomachia and titanomachia bouncing every which way.
Either way, giants are notable in that they carry significant personal treasure in their giant bags in addition to their usually decent treasure types- around 1000-6000 gp, typically, making them a target on par with dragons in terms of 'where the good loot at.' Many modules dealing with giants take great glee in making lists of wacky giant bag contents, though I think players would often rather just have the coinage most the time, so better to use both if in doubt of how much high level treasure to dispense. Still, giants hit hard, have ranged attacks, and, while usually supposed to be rather stupid in a fairy-tale way, are intelligent enemies, and usually have assorted pet giant animals as well, so the reward must match the threat posed.
Great mathematical detail is given for the 'realistic' proportions of slaughtering of women and children giants because of course it is important to say 'if more than 4 hill giants are encountered in their lair numbers 5, 7, and 8 will be giantesses (6Hd, and treat as ogres for damage/attack) and 6, 8, and 10 will be young hill giants (roll percentile dice for size)' because clearly if you encounter a 1% grown giant the only sane action is to engage it in battle
| I will never not dunk on Gygax for this shit|
Each giant has a minor quirk in addition to the gradually scaling power levels and various pets- Cloud giants are hard to surprise due to smell(obvious reference to 'fee fi fo fum I smell the blood of an englishman') and 10% can levitate stuff, and presumably it is this power that allows some cloud giants to live on magical cloud islands (the non-levitators just live on mountaintop castles).
Fire Giants and Frost Giants are immune to fire/cold respectively, and to my player who was disappointed that firegiant skin was not suitable for a grisly leather armor akin to red dragon hide, I believe this is because a red dragon has fire resistant hide, but fire/frost giants simply don't mind being hot/cold, so their parts are not going to shield a human from those effects.
Hill Giants don't have any thing unusual going for them besides being the weakest variety, and stone giants are just ranged rock-throwing specialists compared to other giants being better at melee, but Storm giants suddenly break away from the others with prophetic powers, lightning-throwing, weather control, and lightning immunity, not to mention a good alignment.
Other giant-types I include here are Ettins, which are basically just a hill giants with two heads and two weapons with no rock-throwing, fog giants and mountain giants which are superfluous variations of cloud and hill giants, fomorians who are a boring ugly giants (a poor adaptation of their irish origins to be sure) the Fir Bolg giants who have fey-type magic and are a better (if somewhat conflated with the fomorians) reference to the Book of Invasions, and the Verbeeg, who are a more grounded type of giant, more of a folk tale or Goliath figure that a true towering menace. Cyclops are not present save for the somewhat bizarre Cyclopskin, but are easily solved by giving any other giant one eye, poor depth perception, and references to the Odyssey.
Giants are typically too-high level to see much use in many campaigns, which is a shame, for like dragons, I think they're a good choice for players to learn to be sneaky and negotiate from positions of weakness. Better yet, it is more immediately clear to certain players that sassing a giant is a Bad Idea, while they may fail to demonstrate social graces in the presence of high-ranking humans, making a giant person an excellent symbolic demonstration of might. I did get to use giants once though, and rather than being mere blobs of danger-math to wade through as I feared, I found my limited run of Saga of the Giants (the BFRPG take on Against The Giants) to show that combat with seemingly unmanageable numbers of giants is not a hopeless affair after all, but instead took the players back to how they fought back when they were level 1 and feared errant forks thrown by goblins and what have you and they executed much scheming. Giant-sized scenery works well for creative problem solving in the moment too, allowing for giant sized dungeon delves to be pretty fun. I had never thought much of giants before, but now think they're pretty good monsters to introduce to players who are becoming confident in their powers.
Sunset Realm Giants
So in my setting, giants aren't exactly their own thing, but are human-derived. Halflings are just small humans, so giants are just big humans (though each considers themselves the norm and the others to be the deviation, naturally). The world runs on fantasy logic, not biology, so there are various ways to become giant beyond just 'tall people having even taller kids.' Suckling on the milk of a giant mammal can cause someone to become unusually giant, eating too much can cause you to swell into a giant instead of just getting fat, being stretched out can leave you permanently elongated, etc etc.
That said, there are some categories and sustainable populations that are not just fantasy-logic big humans instead largely being excuses to have some lore easily ready if someone else's module brings up giants in the more specific D&D variety rather than generically, and those are what are detailed following-
Emerald Desert Giants- Though their origins are shrouded in mystery
(it was mad alf science making giants from loamy soil), these giants were long-time bandits of the realm of Oroboro until they were defeated by a band of adventurers who claimed their mountain fortress and exiled them to the copper-and-salt chasm of the emerald desert. One such adventurer took the time to fund their settlement of the region(and install a more desirable leader) and help friendly trade routes be established. Smaller populations of these giants live among humans in Oroboro or the Emerald City, and even further north, there is a mendicant cult of Ebetheron-worshipper giants who tend an ancient magical Alf fields of wheat and are a vital non-wizard source of living Shrink effects.
These giants once subscribed strictly to the 'Heightarchy,' which is essentially, whoever is biggest is bestest, with triumphant smallfolk being assumed to be treacherous and dishonest. While one might expect this viewpoint to cause considerably conflict with nearby humans and halflings (and one would not be wrong), for the most part this viewpoint has been tempered by the proliferation of Grow/Shrink magic in the region, which has eroded the absolutist concept of height and allowed people of all sizes to see eye-to-eye, as well as the humbling experience of a 600 foot tall metal giant (an enlarged clockwork automata used by the aforementioned adventurers) sacking their bandit castle, which even for the heightarchy purists seemed to be a divine sign that dominating people just because they were smaller than you might not be the way to go.
Fire Giants- These gigantic, molten creatures are quite rare on the surface, mostly dwelling in the deeps along with other burning creatures drawn to the Undersun. Dwarves believe them to be a form of Svart, grown huge and fiery in the depths but maintaining their humanoid form rather than hatching into a dragon, but Heleognostics and Undersun cultists believe them to be the offspring of fire-saints who melted into the earth and found love in molten rock, meaning fire giants are the offspring of human and elemental earth, a fiery soul giving them anthropomorphism. The Skeleton War believes them to be just another attempt from the Undersun to break free and counts them among their enemies.
Either way, their lives and dramas are located deep in the earth, only occasionally surfacing via volcanos. In the current era, only one Fire Giant is available for comment- the Soul-Smith of the Fault, perhaps the greatest smith of magical arms and armor of all time, enslaved with his brethren in ancient times by Sarkomand the Omnipotent, left to battle dragons alone for centuries, and finally befriended by humans from the nameless Mercian penal colony that would eventually become Phillipston, AKA City of the Rats. The Drachenjaegers, an Oroboro dragon-hunting company, would eventually come in contact with this giant centuries later and unite though love of megafauna-hunting, and so the Soul-Smith would become one of the highest ranking members of the Drachenjaegers until the end of his lengthy life.
Frost Giants- the Winter Moon is cold and merciless, but its chill light is not entirely a lifeless one. In the Auroral Reaches that tower over Wrecker's Bay, this frozen wasteland is home to many gigantic, white-furred beings that have adapted to a cold and frozen world, and among them are humans who have forsaken the warmth of the sun and given their all to the Winter Moon. Their hearts have frozen, out there, and are not really considered human any longer due to their alignment with a Moon rather than the Sun. Though occasionally prone to spasms of tyranny and empire directed towards humanity, most of their ire is directed at the Winter Court, those Alves and associated fey beings that hide in the reflections of ice and snow but consider themselves the masters of the winter season, a blasphemy the frost giants can ill-ignore if their own ideology of cold harshness and adaptation is to be seen as true. This ideology aside, there is history between frost giants and cold-dwelling elves(a bit of borrowing from themes of Dominions games by Illwinter)- the Fomorians, giants of the weather-machine ravaged Fault, warred with the Partholonians, the ancestors of the Winter Court of Alves, for centuries, and the giants of the Auroral Reaches trace lineage to this historic conflict and remember it through myth and elders alike. With neither side having much trace of warmth in their hearts, the conflict drags out without end.
Other frost giants can occasionally be found in the Moonlands, humans that forsook their humanity in order to survive in a frost-scourged moon cycle, and these roaming giants must pursue their frozen master lest they be left behind to melt. Those who survive the pilgrimage find their way to the Coast of Ice and Bone sooner or later, and must make one final push through the humans of Wrecker Bay to ascend the Auroral Reaches and join their giant brethren.
As for what the winter moon thinks of all this, or indeed if it thinks at all, none can say.
|this would be typical fashion of late 4th age Wemezong & giant defender, with jungle-suited disposable fiber shawls, skirts, and hoods being worn over nigh-invulnerable polymer undershirts imported from the newly-allied Gondalons.|
Stone Giants- The north deserts and jungles of the Fault have always been home to very large people- a gene-plague split the Gondalon star-people into mutant amazonians, ogres, and inbreds, burly pirates attempted to invade the place a few hundred years later, Oza, Last Retainer of Sarkomand, birthed several children to the people there over the long eternity of true invulnerability, but tallest of all were the offspring of Yrn, who stole the secrets of golem-making from the accursed depths of Stonefast Two, carved herself a twenty-foot tall statue to defend her people from the dragons, and ended up making the golem her lover as well. The ensuing children were thankfully less rocky, but grew up no smaller than their larger parent, and so soon became a warrior-caste of the Wemezong people, the biggest of already big warriors, able to serve as siege weaponry against the draconic hordes that plague the Fault. As the world became more interconnected, Stone Giants found opportunities to do more besides throw rocks at dragons in exchange for wildly elevated social status for the survivors, and due to being raised among humans anyway, have only trouble fitting into human societies in the literal sense and now most cosmopolitan areas have at least one stone giant at any given time, whether tourist or citizen.
In the fairy-tale realm of Queen's Coast, there are castles in the sky. Giant castles! Filled with Giants!
Why is anyone's guess. Some manner of interbreeding with cloud-nymphs? Ancient elf shenanigans? It is generally accepted these are the largest of giants, but the consistent inconsistency with which they are described, size wise (from 30 feet at the smallest, to being to humans as humans are to mice), and the psychedelic means of accessing their realm (rainbow bridges and the like), and most saliently of all, the complete lack of meaningful political impact on the lands below, has lead investigating scholars to theorize the sky giants may be some manner of dreamrealm incursion similar to Elfland, rather than being fully present in the waking world.
Apart from the usual bardic tales of adventurers retrieving giant-sized treasures from the sky and fooling giant caricatures of local political figures, more sober accounts of the sky obtained through Heleognostic research teams ascending to heights unheard of via Gondalon Float-Jelly Airships depict it as a strange land (or lack thereof) indeed, similar in tone to the deep caverns of the earth, simply with agoraphobia instead of claustrophobia as the theme between inexplicable ancient ruins and tremendous monstrosities. The sky is, after all, a borderland of sorts, floating between the daylit lands and the High Howling Darkness so a certain degree of chaos might need to be expected, and perhaps the sky giants are simply the chaos growing more anthropomorphized and familiar as it nears the lands of humanity.
Cyclops- thanks to my players to reminding me of their exploits and adventures with regards to these giants.
Cycladea is a strange land, once a peninsula that broke into flying winged mountains that flew across the sea and settled as a reef-rimmed archipelago (save for the flying mountain Aakasa Parvat, but I digress). Many thrilling tales of the 5th age come from these vaguely grecian (and entirely lungfungusian) islands, such as the ascendancy of the Golden Sun pantheon and Emperor Lychin over the other islands. Or the Burning of Bebrica, or the Shelling of Dolonia, or the Anarchy of Abystra, the Defiling of the Island of the Gods, the Exodus of the Fanged Plague, the chilling discovery of the Empty Thrones of Heaven, the inspiring tale of the rise of the New Sun Aurum, the Trials of the Drachenjaegers, the conversion of the Holy Beasts, etc etc.*
*This all is a warped historical viewpoint of what the players actually did
But, lets focus on the Cyclops now. Giants served the first gods of Cycladea you see, the mightiest of the mighty exalted to greater heights both literally and figuratively, heroes grown in stature to match their stories, and passing down their inherited larger-than-life size to their families. But some of the hero-giants saw the ascendency of the Three Goddesses not as glory and unity, but a witch-covens coup, and spurned the three goddesses. For their impertinence, they were half-blinded and cast into the depths of the earth to toil in cramped mines, forever scraping their shoulders and banging their heads. Their remaining eyes grew monstrous in the dark from all the straining to see in dim candle-light, though all there was to see was the earth's wealth which they had to turn over to cruel Mysian kings, and the terrible guardian beasts the gods set to torment them and keep them contained in the darkness. Still, they kept some things from the earth for themselves, and dreamed of a day when they would have justice against the goddesses.
And one day, they got their justice. Though at this point it is rather unclear whether the Cruel King was assassinated by the forces of Emperor Lychin, the Golden Sun liberators, or, ironically, the foreign Devils the Golden Sun came to Cycladea in pursuit of, the end result was that the giants were freed from the mines and sailed off to the nearby uninhabited island of Arborea to settle, with some joining the effort to unify the isles and cast down the goddesses. While the rest of Cycladea quickly adopted the new Imperially-sanctioned religion of the Golden Sun in the theological power vacuum, the giants once again refused to bow to any gods, having a great distrust of such entities. This time, however, they were not punished for their misotheism, and were simply left alone. Over the years, the island of the cyclops, Arborea, started to become overcrowded, so young cyclops with no place to inherit would leave the island to seek their fortune elsewhere, hiring on to Cycladean ships as living siege weapons to deter pirates and seamonsters. This was an idea that seemed reasonable in theory but in practice, due to poor depth perception, left much to be desired. However, the excellent low-light vision of a Cyclop's single large eye eventually led them to another, more suitable role- that of night lookouts. Nowadays, Cycladean galleys stick to ballista instead of cyclops-flung rocks, and give young cyclops their free boatrides to new lands in exchange for duty as spotters and lookouts. Besides the size and monocular vision, Cyclops origins are almost entirely of the 'heroically-scaled humans' sort of giant with a dash of ancient curse, and live comfortably enough among humans, even if they have to sleep with the entire length of the bedroom rather than just a bed. There is, however, one common form of cultural clash- Assuming they are raised on Arborea, it is likely they will inherit the traditional misotheism, so any cleric-types will be more of a 'miscellaneous spirit and demon wrangler' than devoted to the gods.