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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pellatarrum: Giants (part 3)

by Demonic Bunny

The Present

The giants of today are a reclusive people. The elder giant species have retreated to deep forests, secluded islands, the badlands and inaccessible mountain ranges. Hill giants can be found all over Pellatarrum in small but increasing numbers; however, they as a race are plagued by mutation, both from inbreeding and from lingering effects of the Sundering.* Athach, ettins, and other deviations from the giantish norm are common in hill giant communities.

Among the elder species, Storm giants are the most dangerous and organized, and Frost giants are the most common (as they prefer a climate which is too cold for most other species, even dwarves). After campaigns of extermination by orcs and dwarves, Fire and Stone giants are extremely rare and tend to avoid the sentient races.

Of their vaunted magical powers, little remain. Only the Storm giants still produce credible sorcerers and wizards. All giant races still have the gift of prophecy, although it is greatly diminished. These seers are all cyclopes, and legend states that it is their missing eye which allows them to glimpse the future.

Giants have always been solitary creatures, living alone or in bands of forty or less. Like dragons, they have the minds and attitudes of apex predators: territorial, suspicious, xenophobic, turning on each other if their living conditions become cramped or if the social structure becomes too complex.

In the ages before Pellatarum this did not present a problem. If a small band had the power to raise armies of golems or purge continents of all life, they didn’t need strength of numbers. But without their sorcerous powers, their lack of numbers became crippling. They are still fierce fighters and possess an almost unmatched physical strength, but regardless of how formidable they may be, two score fighters are not sufficient to defeat an army -- especially an army as battle-hardened as those of the elder races.

*Editor's Note: I confess that I have a fondness for making hill giants resemble all the ugly stereotypes of Southern rednecks and Appalachian hillbillies. No insult is intended to either people; I just like the notion of stupid, inbred giants that look like they came from "Deliverance".

Continuing in this vein, Frost giants are Vikings (with perhaps a touch of Russian to them), Storm giants are Athenian Greeks, Fire giants are Romans or perhaps Spartans, Stone giants are Aboriginal, and Cloud giants are Tibetan.

Giants in the myths and legends of Pellatarrum

Because of giants' adversarial nature and legendary arrogance, “Giant Tales” -- stories of heroes outwitting giants (or the other way around) -- are a staple of Pellatarrum's literary traditions. However, the stories vary depending on their origin.

The dwarven and elven traditions are the oldest and have their roots in the time before Pellatarum. As such, the giants in these stories are far more intelligent, and the stories are centered around contests of illusion and cunning. They differ in that the dwarven stories usually end with one part seeing through the illusion and killing their adversary, while elven stories often end with one part either realizing that they have been tricked (and that their opponent is long gone) or one of the parties admitting defeat and the other explaining the many layers of the illusion. An example from our world would be "The tale of Thor and Utgard-Loki."

Although it is certain that the orcs also had a tradition of Giant Tales, the original stories are lost to the mists of time. These days, orcish Giant Tales have degenerated into two hand-puppets beating each other over the head with iron clubs."

The storytelling traditions of the younger races are more influenced by the current state of giants. In these, the giant is a strong but brutish opponent, gifted with a low cunning. Occasionally the giant has impressive magical abilities, but these tales are invariably concerned with the follies of misusing such abilities. Cloud giants are by far the most common antagonist in these tales. (As such, 'having your head in the clouds" is a much harsher insult in Pellatarrum than in our own). The stories of the younger races are notable in that the giant is always defeated.

Compared to their human counterparts, gnomish Giant Tales are considerably more absurd and nonsensical, often involving bad puns and strange literary twists. Halfling versions usually have morals of  "If you'd just stay at home, you wouldn't bring trouble upon you" alternating with "Small and smart always defeat large and stupid."

Kobold Giant Tales are a different beast altogether. Although superficially similar to the dwarven and elven traditions, these tales are part of the educational stories that kobold bards tell young dragons -- or old dragons feeling bored and nostalgic. The kobold tradition is almost always concerned with strategy and the proper application of force or cunning (when to use one or the other, and in what quantities), preparing the young dragon for a world of intrigue.

However, as the kobolds never write down their tales and refuse to retell them in any language but draconic (they claim that their stories lose an essential quality when translated), the kobold tradition was unknown to most of Pellatarum until the halfling bard Niccolo Talltales wrote his famed translation The Giant. The book became an instant classic among the political elite, although its forthright approach to the application of power was quite shocking to the other races of Pellatarrum, even considered indecent and scandalous.

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