Growing in popularity thanks to their frequent reoccurrence in Critical Role’s second campaign, the race of gentle fey giants appearing in Volo’s Guide to Monsters are forest-dwelling wardens and guardians, living peacefully and quietly with nature until situation demands that they act to protect their sworn homes. Despite their incredible size, they are more adept in matters of stealth and ambuscade, and are better fit to silently exterminate interlopers in the night than to assault them head-on.
A quick review of firbolgs as they appear in Volo’s, they’re tough to fit into an adventuring party without some heavy modifications to narrative: they abhor greed, prefer not to leave their homes, and are generally peaceful and slow to resort to violence. They also utterly lack a physical description, but general opinion seems to lean more toward hints of the bovine, hircine, or cervine elements mixed into an oversized humanoid body.
Here I present ten ideas on how to use this race, in which I will be including a few variations on the theme, none of which will be characters from Critical Role (although some artwork from the series may appear).
Though elderly, bent at the shoulder, and needing a long cane to move, Gnarloen is no less terrifying for his age. His long jaw hangs with a ropy beard, decorated with carved bones, and his cane is of ancient and burnt wood, topped with the skull of a small dragon, and his demeanour is as dour as his appearance. He believes in fostering the growth of dangerous plants and toxic fungi, and wanders his territory looking for any creature that has succumbed to the threats of his garden, be they man or beast.
He may be sinister, but Gnarloen can be reluctantly amicable to any creature wise, knowledgeable, or hardy enough to cross his territory in one piece, so long as they are only passing through. Those who stick around are likely to receive an invitation to his “nest”, a well made bivouac nestled on the sheltered side of a mound, surrounded by deeply suspicious bones.
Fander o’ the Dell
Travelling into Allblossom from the Yellow Dell once every couple of month, Fander’s arrival is regularly celebrated by the village locals. He always brings seeds and fresh plants to add to the ever expanding gardens that Allblossom is famous for. Some are medicinal, some promote healthy beehives, some are simply beautiful accents to the spilling troughs and hanging baskets that fill the streets and adorn every building. He stays long enough to teach the people how best to care for and harvest the new samples, before retreating back to the Dell, which – according the the mayor – is strictly off limits to the townsfolk.
Fander is young, softly spoken, and full of joy. His smile is wider than any humans, so to people encountering him from the first time, he could be a little daunting, except that he wears a crown of yellow flowers woven into his curly mane of hair, and his smile seems entirely genuine, only fading when people ask him about his home. When questioned, he tries to maintain his cheerful expression, but is obviously forcing the matter, and his answers are evasive and brief.
The city of Collaighan was once the site of a rich and vibrant swamp, long ago drained and cleared of trees to get at the mineral rich soil and heavy clay deep below. Pedhin is among the last of a clan of firbolgs, generations removed from the trees they’d sworn to protect, they now exist as a rebellious force against the ruling Families, fostering into their broken and diminished clan any who dislike the current rulers.
Pedhin herself wanders the city openly, using her natural illusory powers to change from her natural form – with dark, downy fur, and a shaggy mass of hair that spills over her head and shoulders – into a dark skinned human with a tower of dense black hair that brings her human form closer to the height of her true form. She is a beloved friend to the lower classes, who will never know that she is part of the unseen “Curse of Callaighan”.
Wildebrunt and Sabael
Sisters from the icy hinterlands, hung with thick matted fur, some theirs, some taken from the backs of the enormous deer of the homelands. Like the hinterlands, Wildebrunt is cold and unpredictable, she doesn’t talk a great deal, but communicates through sheer size. Sabael – short and sleight – is warm and loving, quick to greet strangers and keen to join travelling groups so that she has someone to help.
What often shocks their travelling companions, is what happens when they come under attack. So often a caravan will be assaulted by bandits (or worse), and the caravan looks to Wildebrunt, only to find Sabael has vanished, and is doling out unwholesome slaughter while her sister stands firm to protect her new friends. Come the end, it falls to Wildebrunt to cradle her sister until her fury ends, and the tears begin. Shortly after they have to find new friends.
Those crossing the Rising Claws mountain range may find themselves waylaid by a lightfooted firbolg with a goatee, a pair of curly ram-horns, and a soft tan hide. He makes a simple enough request, thirty gold and an item of importance from each traveller, and as most of his “customers” are adventurers, that’s an easy enough request, but not everyone accepts the toll. Those who don’t will spend the next three days on the range an endless nightmare. Tan causes rock slides to pitch them into deep ravines, obscures the path to send them wandering into the lairs of manticores and the nests of wyverns.
Tan has no desire for the gold, takes an odd fascination with the array of trinkets and belongings he acquires, and is not especially keen on watching people die. He acts to ensure that travellers hold the mountains in utmost reverence and respect, and does his utmost to evaluate the strengths of the travellers to ensure that the “misfortunes” that befall them in the Rising Claws should not prove fatal.
Conch and his Lobster Crown
Enthusiastic drinkers in Beacon will tell all who ask about the Prince of the Sunken Rock, a wildman who sits in the sea and drives away ships. Every bartender assures travellers that there is no truth to the tales, but the captain of the Pelican’s Perch, Yuma Twohook, will assure them to the contrary. The Sunken Rock is a reef ringed by jutting stones that protrude in the troughs of waves. Conch – she says – is a living lighthouse, who drives ships away with great magic to keep them above the sea, rather than below it.
Now that the reef is better charted, fewer and fewer ships return with tales of flocks of vicious gulls or mysterious hurricanes that last for only a moment, but Yuma recalls the great beast-man who pulled her from certain death, fed her, treated her, and sent her away on calm waters in a dinghy he’d dragged from a recent wreck, whose captain had been too stubborn to know a warning when it was cast his way.
Faerdon Who Walks
With deep blue skin, black eyes that glitter like faint stars in a dawn sky, and long hair that drips down to his waist, Faerdon is a striking sight even for those familiar with firbolgs. Relentlessly nomadic, never settling in one place for much more than a day, and reluctant to stay in the company of others for more than a few days on the road. He’s not antagonistic or particularly abrasive, in fact he tends to be quite friendly.
The name remains wherever it travels, and the stories attached to it cause curious travellers to seek out He Who Walks, stories of the dead returned to life, barren fields made bountiful, limbs restored, and children born to families who thought it impossible. But pilgrims who track down Faerdon will find themselves driven away with cries of thunder and fury, turning aside the curious and the faithful with hurt feelings and a lot of questions.
Exile has been hard on Kasold, but she has endeavoured to make the best of it, living in Meadsbridge, mostly working as a labourer and builder’s hand, relying on her strength rather than any affinity for nature like her kin. Her efforts to grow plants result in poisonous blooms or spiny weeds, and animals fear and revile her, even elves seem almost instinctively repulsed by her, though they could not definitely say why.
The brand she bears as a mark of her exile is barely visibly over the neck of the leather tunic she wears, but the reddened skin draws attention against the rest of her pale, mottled hide. Her face is relatively human for her kind, but she wears a heavy brass nose-ring like a plough animal, and accepts heavier tasks than those who work alongside her. Kasold’s humility either earns her respect, or pity, but there are those who see her brand and are forced to ask what could drive such a docile species to so harsh a punishment.
Bear relishes in his size and massive strength, and uses it to bully, threaten, and if needs be physically drive interlopers from the home of his clan. Bear is also not too bright. He has a heavy brow ridge and a vacant stare that betray the slow wit driving the great brute to action, and he is quick to anger when confronted with long words or well reasoned counter-arguments. It is very easy to placate him by commenting on the remarkable carving on the totem pole he carries one-handed over his shoulder, which has conspicuous damage at one end.
Bear has a limited vocabulary in four different languages, is slow to adopt new concepts, and yet is sufficiently inscrutable that even those who think they have him outsmarted are often surprised by a fatal blow to the head that they never saw coming. He also has a grace of step that trespassers (or even just travellers he dislikes) are frequently – and briefly – shocked at his sudden appearance in front of them when he was a fair distance behind them when last they looked.
Lightwing of the Dawn
The Dawn found that their talents lay in putting down the dead. Zombies, ghosts, banshees, a vampire once thanks to some fortunate timing and a particularly powerful ally. The Dawn now wander the world in search of such monsters to further their reputation, bring light to the world, to save lives and to let the dead rest easy in their graves. It is this noble cause alone that drew Lightwing from her home as a young fawn, and she has never looked back.
It is odd to see a firbolg in silks, finely tailored leathers, and masterworked steel armour, but given the enemies she has faced Lightwing has had to forego her traditions and predilections in favour of a highly practical approach to her new job. She also bears the marks of her adventures, hair turned white, scarred, and positively civilised compared to others of her kind, Lightwing still wields the powers of nature, but takes a proactive role against the unnatural, rather than a passive one.
Next week, the last Dungeon Situational for the year before I retire it for a while and pick up the series some other time:
Better encounters with skeletons. No more heaps of bones that shockingly reanimate, let’s make hordes of animated bones fun again!
Five interesting shields, with stories, unique magical properties, or maybe they just have an interesting design.
Or a Knightly Order, complete with a few ideas for player characters, adventures, history and heraldry.