On the hill giants of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation
Date: Tue, August 12, 2008
Topic: Monsters of Greyhawk
"Lovers of battle, strong ale and mead, whose status is marked by their wealth and their capacity for violence and bloodshed. Is it any wonder then, that hill giants and dwarves are such mortal enemies?" - Prince Volimar Corond of Ulek, in an ironic observation to one of his human nobles, 447 CY.
Social mores and practices:
Hill giants are large, towering brutes over ten feet in height, with tan or reddish-brown skins, brownish black hair, and red-rimmed black eyes. They physically resemble nothing so much as oversized versions of filthy, unshaven humans, albeit with a slouching head and shoulders and a staggering, drunken gait. Often dressed in dirty leather breeches and hides, hill giants have long, thick limbs and loud, bellowing bass and baritone voices.
Hill giants are the smallest and most common of the giant races, endlessly engaged in wars and battles with other giant races, humanoids, demihumans, humans, and essentially any other sentient race they can find. Their typical habitats are, naturally, hills and highlands, although they can also be found in larger mountain ranges and forests. Unlike orcs and goblins, hill giants do not live hidden among the civilized lands of man, as their immediate instinct is to try and smash and kill any human or demihuman peoples unlucky enough to run into them. Their homes are either local features of the landscape that the giants adapt for their own use, such as caves, gullies or ravines, or larger stockades and steadings that they construct for themselves. With their formidable constitutions and great physical strength, hill giants have no difficulty with physical labor.
Hill giant society is typically very fluid and chaotic, with groups of giants rallying around a particularly strong or charismatic warrior, who makes decisions for the group as a whole and viciously beats any who disobey or question him. Fights for leadership are thus quite common, at least until one giant makes himself the unquestioned leader of the band. Even then, dissenting giants have the recourse of leaving the group, and it is quite common for hill giant bands to take on solitary wanderers who agree to submit to the leader’s orders, even as other giants depart, either to join another group or simply to live on their own.
Hill giants are brutally patriarchal, and women are typically harshly treated, having little else to do besides cook, clean, and provide pleasure when the male giants demand it. Violence marks every part of hill giant society, as fights will break out over everything from the love of a female giant to a flagon of wine. To make matters worse, hill giants are notorious drunkards, and their tempers become extremely violent when they are intoxicated.
Power defines a giant’s status in society. This manifests in many ways, from the number of trophies a giant has earned in battle, to the amount of treasure he has won, to proof of his physical strength. In battle, hill giants will commonly go out of their way to take the lead in combat, so as to gain the greatest glory and the most benefit for themselves. This competition also manifests among giant women as well, who regularly seek to outdo one another to attract the strongest and most powerful mates. Typically, the strongest female giant in a group will marry the leader, thereby cementing her hold on power.
Hill giants have many different relationships with other races. They hold nothing but hatred for dwarves and gnomes, and typically seek to kill them to plunder the rich treasures they believe the demihumans to hold. Similarly, they greatly enjoy tormenting both these races as well as humans, elves and halflings, taking pleasure in their roles as sadistic bullies. They will raid human and demihuman settlements for everything from treasure to food to liquor to building supplies, in addition to what they gather for themselves. In spite of all this, some daring human merchants will make trading arrangements with hill giants as they do with humanoids, making tremendous fortunes from selling the giants the alcohol they so love.
Hill giants relate to humanoid races based on the races’ own physical strength. They get on well with ogres, bugbears and gnolls, who frequently act as servants, hunters, combatants, blacksmiths, or various other roles for their giant lords. On the other hand, they actively loathe goblins, hobgoblins and kobolds, and greatly enjoy making their lives miserable. They hold orcs in contempt, viewing them as nothing more as wretches fit only for slavery, in return for which the orcs hate them and frequently try to escape from or kill their captors. While hill giants hold bugbears and gnolls in good esteem, the bugbears and gnolls themselves typically do not return the affection, only working for the giants for the protection and pay they offer, and will not actively help them unless it is to their benefit. Kobolds actively hate hill giants, and take great pleasure in using their snare- and trap-making skills to harass the giants and generally make their lives miserable. Goblins and hobgoblins, knowing they typically cannot stand against the giants, are generally able to restrain themselves and will typically withdraw from confronting them, although they will take whatever revenge they can. Trolls are generally ignored, as hill giants find them too savage to make reliable guards, except for the giant trolls that sometimes result from intermarriage between the two races, which can make fearsome guards for the ruling chief.
Hill giants’ relations with other giants vary from race to race. Fire giants are commonly admired for their strong leadership and strict hierarchy based on physical strength, and hill giants will loyally and devotedly serve a fire giant king as subjects and vassals. The savage warrior traditions of the frost giants are also respected by hill giants, and so the two races will often fight alongside one another against common enemies, or serve together in the armies of evil. Verbeeg are held high in esteem for their intelligence, and hill giants commonly look to them to provide leadership. Ettins are both respected allies and raucous partners in drinking. Mountain giants are revered for their strength and prowess in battle, as well as the mystical powers they command.
Stone giants are generally disdained for their being less inclined to violence, and so hill giants frequently harass them, although more violent stone giants commonly serve alongside hill giants on raids, or work for them as engineers, smiths and in other functions. Cloud and fog giants will work with hill giants if the smaller giants pay them well, but otherwise there is neither animosity or friendship between the races. Formorians are loathed and hated, considered mangy dogs fit only for beating and killing. Firbolgs and storm giants are actively hated and loathed for their power and wisdom, and no hill giant will ever suffer one of these good-aligned giants to live.
Hill giants have always been a plague to the other sentient races of the Flanaess, notorious for their raids and their violence. They have served in the armies of wicked human despots and mad conquerors, whether on their own or with other giant races. The hill giants of the Flanaess typically care nothing for who their masters are, so long as they are given the chance to cause mayhem and destruction, and to engage in the vicious, bloody combat they so cherish. They typically do not interact well with human society except as raiders and killers, save in some parts of Northern Aerdy, the Bandit Kingdoms, the Horned Empire and Iuz.
The race of hill giants was made in the image of its creator, the god Grolantor. According to legend, the deity Annam, the greatest of the giant gods, observed the rise of mortal beings in the time after the Dark Lord was imprisoned, created by the gods and allowed to flourish upon the Oerth as a reward for their help in defeating Dread Tharizdun’s minions. As he had himself fought valiantly against the Dark Lord’s forces, Annam decided that he would also create mortal beings to revere him and live upon the Oerth. He sealed a pact with the Oerth Mother, who repaid his loyal service by giving him the same boon she had to the other creator gods.
Crafty Annam then devised a plan. His weakness for women of beauty had led him to father many sons, all of whom clamored for their father’s favor, and he feared that some of these might become a threat to his position. To avert this, he gathered his sons together in his hall and announced that he would hold a contest to determine the most worthy heir to his throne. As his sons eagerly listened, Annam proclaimed that he would take the boon granted him by Beory and share it with them, allowing them all to create races in his image. The son who produced the most worthy race would thus be given Annam’s position.
As the cunning Annam had foreseen, his sons competed vigorously with one another, creating multiple races who all came to revere him in some form, even as his sons soon became more concerned with besting one another and fighting for dominance in the contest, than seeking to overthrow him. In this way, Annam maintained his hold on power as ruler of the gods of the giants.
One of Annam’s sons was a brute named Grolantor, who enjoyed bloody combat and strong drink, and frequently bullied lesser entities. When he was told of his father’s contest, he decided that Annam would most approve of a race that held strength and power, and prestige in battle, as the most worthy traits in a race, and so created the hill giants as worthy successors to Annam’s legacy. His mortal creations reflected many of their master’s traits, including his bullying tendencies, his tendency towards sadism and violence, and his violent hatred of dwarves and gnomes, whose gods Grolantor himself had frequently clashed with.
Power, Grolantor felt, was the secret to success, and so he allied himself with whatever fell entity would assist him in return for his allowing them to be worshipped by hill giants. As a result, vile gods and demon lords such as Demogorgon, Incabulos, Orcus, Nerull, and Pyremius all came to be revered by hill giants, along with Grolantor himself, down to the present day.
Grolantor’s own biases came to be reflected in his people. His friendship with his brothers Surtur and Thrym led hill giants to become frequent allies of fire and frost giants, while his indifference towards Skoraeus Stonebones, or his hatred for Stronmaus and Karontor, is reflected in his peoples’ relationships with the giant races those gods created.
Famous Hill Giant Holds:
The Citadel of the Owlbear: Established in the Hestmark Highlands southeast of Sunndi; famed for their long and bloody conflict with the dwarves of the city of Barrowdown; famed for their sporting games of rock- and tree-throwing, with the homes of sylvan creatures often serving as targets; famed for their large vegetable gardens and grain fields, which they use to supplement their regular diet of meat; ruled by Chief Usteno Dragon’s Bane.
Fort Loathsome: Established in the Cairn Hills between Greyhawk and the Duchy of Urnst; famed for their long-running feud with the dwarves of Greysmere; famed for their elaborate wood-sculptures and painted art, which they use to decorate their arms and armor and to frighten their enemies in battle; famed for their victories in battle against the orcs and goblins of the area; ruled by Chief Norgathor, Wielder of the Mithril Hammer.
The Seven-Ringed Fortress: Established in the Yatil Mountains south of the Sepia Uplands; famed for their large herds of giant goats and giant boars, which form a major source of food; famed for their elaborate, ritualized combat to determine leadership, developed so as to minimize bloodshed from internal power struggles; famed for their elaborate fortress of seven steadings connected to one another by large ramparts of stone, defended with ballistae and boiling oil; ruled by Chief Dagurren the Crafty.
The Valley of Doom: Established in the Griff Mountains east of Tenh and the Theocracy of the Pale; famed for the frightening patterns its hill giants paint upon themselves, before going out to raid and battle, which makes them resemble demonic clowns and jesters; famed for the number of giant trolls among their number, caused by interbreeding between hill giants and trolls; famed for their lair, a rift in the oerth whose ends are marked with horrifying twenty-foot cairns made of the bones of the giants’ victims; ruled by Chief Dranog, the Howling Reaper.