In the Company of Giants (revised edition) (5e)
The 5e-conversion of the classic “Play a giant”-supplement clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my review queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
Now one of the definite strengths of this series, should you not be familiar with it, lies in immersion – like most Rite Publishing books, the “In the Company of…”-series is defined by being simply pleasant to read, which is a pretty big deal for me. How does it achieve that? Well, know how some crunch-supplements read like telephone books? Rite books employ a cool strategy here – they are written from the point of view of actual characters. Thus, this pdf begins with Owain Northway, one of the sages of Questhaven, receiving a letter from a member of the Jotunnar race, who then proceeds to explain the basics of the race.
If Jotunnar does sound Norse-flavored, you wouldn’t be wrong (their names sport the Icelandic suffixes of -son and -dottir, denoting “son of” and “daughter of”), but neither would you get the totality of the picture. Far beyond what other product lines offer in either 5e or PFRPG, we receive an in-depth look at culture and mindset of the race – which begins as Medium-sized and only slowly unlocks the true potential of their heritage. Philosophy-wise, the race similarly does take an unconventional stance – there are two dominant ways of thinking, with the first being called Vird. Vird would be pretty much a philosophy steeped in Norse morale – i.e. cherishing the value of bravery, being forthcoming and true, but this does not extend to traditionally “good”-coded concepts like mercy. Courtesies and proper behavior still are very important and the elaboration of the concept is enticing and well-presented.
Osoem, then, would be the path of embracing what one could construe as the base giant desires – they are not necessarily evil, though their actions would be considered as such; instead, they very much behave as one would expect from the more unpleasant real world giant mythologies, rationalizing it as part of their nature. The scorpion on the turtle crossing the river comes to mind.
Racial trait-wise, the race increases Strength by 2 and the increases either Constitution or Wisdom by 1. They begin play as medium creatures and gain proficiency in Intimidation and Persuasion. They are counted as one size category larger for purposes of what they can drag, push, etc. They have advantage on Strength checks and both Strength and Constitution saves.
The race also sports a jotun paragon class, which receives 1d8 hit points, proficiency with simple weapons, Strength and Constitution saving throws and two skills chosen from Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, Performance and Stealth. The class now comes with equipment selection choices and minimum ability scores for multiclassing purposes. It should be noted that the class is missing quick build rules. Booo.
At 1st level, the class chooses an elemental power – one of the four elements and the associated energy with that element…you know, lightning for air, etc. Multiclassing, if an option in your game, is prevented until 6th level if you take this class. This elemental might manifests itself via powers chosen at 1st level, 3rd level and every 3rd level thereafter, with some featuring prerequisite feats, which is a VERY odd design choice for 5e. The rules language here does not help: “Some Elemental Powers have prerequisite feats, which are optional.” Optional and prerequisite? What? I don’t get it.
Elemental powers save DCs are 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution score and the respective abilities run the gamut from elemental themes to those dealing with feats of strength, allowing jotunnar for example to reduce a grappled target’s Dexterity score until a long rest is completed. This is a matter of taste and contention in 5e, as far as I’ve seen, but personally, I’m good with it, considering that this version’s rules-language conforms to the proper rules-language-conventions. On a nitpicky side, the wording employs the “opposed check” standard, rather than 5e’s “contested” phrasing employed for grapples.
The requisite levels are weird in some instances – call lightning, for example, requires 5th level as prereq…and no power is gained on that level, leaving me with question marks. While the spellcasting attribute has been unified as Wisdom, the respective abilities don’t clarify as what level the respective spells are cast – a big oversight. EDIT: So, yes, I am aware of the fact that D&D 5e is inconsistent in whether an ability that duplicates a spell notes its spell-level – the PHB has examples for either. It is my contention that specifying these makes sense, when the very book does have deviations from the formula. Your mileage may vary, obviously. Similarly, there are mentions of “traits” and the respective features are called “abilities” more than once, a term employed differently in 5e’s usual rules-language, but as a whole, it is evident what the pdf means without glaring ambiguity. On the significant plus-side of things, even relatively complex rules-constructs like crushing foes are operational in this revised edition.
Now purists of 5e’s rules-aesthetics will have some complaints in the frequency of how often certain abilities can be used: You can note, for example, several abilities with 3 + Constitution modifier daily uses, when usually, you’d rather tie these towards the long and short rest intervals. And indeed, most abilities confer to this standard, denoting these instances clearly as oversights that impede the integrity of the overall rules-construct.
There are more instances of such oversights: Elemental aura, for example, is missing the table denoting the damage it inflicts, rendering that aspect nonoperational – the table referred is probably the class table, but since the aura is an optional choice, it lacks the information. On an aesthetic side, I do not get how a massive bellow should cause the relatively rare and valuable psychic damage, when 5e LITERALLY has thunder damage that covers exactly that type of scenario. I also don’t get why the ability is called “elemental”, when it has no tie-in to the giant’s chosen element. Same thing goes for an AoE-frightening effect.
This would be as well a place as any to note that these sub-abilities also are not properly formatted for 5e – 5e bolds and italicizes sub-abilities; see maneuvers, for example. This one italicizes them and adds a colon after them, where 5e uses a full stop. Oh, and guess what? Standard action. Yeah, I am not kidding you.
The class nets a natural armor increase of up to an AC of 20 and a scaling slam attack that scales up to 1d12, with 3rd, 10th and 16th level as well as 20th providing size increases – nice: The jotun paragon may reduce his size, so adventuring does not become highly problematic. Problem: Increased size is contingent on concentration and it points towards bonus damage dice in a table…which are absent from it. Yep. The selling point of the class, to a big extent, is not only rather unreliable, it also is missing crucial rules-information.
Rock catching and wielding oversized weapons are included…and 19th level nets proficiency with martial weapons…which is odd to me, to say the least. The pdf also sports a significant array of feats. The ability to transfer magical weapon properties to natural attacks now may be better “balanced”, but is still a non-entity of design: So, you can enchant your natural weapons. How/why? Contingent on GM approval. Sure, this caveat prevents abuse…yadda-yadda-yadda…but it doesn’t help determine what’s appropriate and what not. This is basically: “You can enchant your natural weapons. Work it out with your GM.” That doesn’t help anyone. At least some guidelines would have been nice, even considering 5e’s GM-empowering/fiat-based design aesthetics. When it comes to such crunchy instances, guidance is not only allowed, it is expected.
Level-increases for ability scores associated with the elements can be found, as can the feat that allows you to smash your fist to the floor, potentially knocking smaller beings nearby prone…which is cool and concisely-presented…but why is it a feat? It’s not like the class had feature bloat, considering that it has no less than 3 dead levels that net you exactly zero new abilities. Indeed, it feels like this class has some issues: Class features that require feats are odd, particularly if those feats feel more like they ought to be part of a subrace. The capstone of the class, when you’ve reached the lofty 20th level…is btw. a slam attack damage die increase from 1d10 to 1d12. Congratulations. The feat that makes size increase a bonus action? Why is that not part of the regular class??
EDIT: So, my original review has a pretty big brainfart here. I believe in standing up for my hiccups, so there you go. Unfortunately, this does not really change the basic issue. 10 or half damage taken Con save or lose your one defining ability – yes, you have advantage on the save…but there are 2 possible results here: 1) You roll and have a low chance of the ability not working; in that instance, you roll a lot without any tangible benefit for doing so. 2) You roll and your ability does not work any more, in which case you need to spend an action, AGAIN, to start growing back to your size. At high levels or in pretty much every scenario where you have a heavy-hitter, that results in jotun growing, taking damage, shrinking, using action, growing again, taking damage…you won’t spend any serious time in your impressive giant form if the enemy has even one decent sniper or magical artillery, making the point of the whole class engine, alas, pretty moot. If your save succeeds all the time due to luck and/or only encountering less heavy-hitting adversaries, you keep rolling a lot…and there’s a disjunction here. Shouldn’t the giant be able to take the heavy hits, of all things? Even if you handwave this, it does not change the lack of information on the size-increase dice required for proper use, mind you.
One more thing: The class table is at the end of the rules for the class, which is odd.
Editing and formatting are good on a formal level and on a rules-level, they are no longer half as bad as they were in the previous iteration. Unfortunately, they aren’t even close to being good either. There are still several pathfinderisms in here. Several rules-aspects are internally inconsistent. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s classic 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf sport thematically fitting stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Seeing Steven D. Russell’s amazing jotunnar race in 5e. A valiant idea. And the conversion by Dawn Fischer and Dan Dillon is certainly infinitely better than the first iteration of this book. Alas, it is not even close up to the standards I expect from either. The pdf, as a whole, feels rushed and looks like it is very afraid of the power-level of the PFRPG-race and how to convert it to 5e. Justifiably so, I might add. That being said, the nerf these poor guys took is bad. From the lame high level abilities to the dead levels, this feels very bare-bones. Worse, there are several instances of basic material missing – the lack of size-increase bonus damage dice in the table means that the very core of the class is not fully operational.
Now here’s another design issue: The class employs feats as prerequisites for abilities…and in 5e, considering the price of feats and their scarcity, you should not be locked into a feat-progression by a class. Worse, these feats basically represent racial aspects that should not have been feats – they should have been subraces of the race. The challenge of converting racial paragon classes to 5e lies in disentangling the web of feats, racial and class abilities and finding the proper spots and expressions for them, a task at which this pdf, alas, fails. Add to that the inconsistencies that crop up throughout the pdf, time and again, and I am left with no other recourse: This *IS* significantly better than its previous trainwreck-iteration. With quite a bit of handwaving and GM-fiat, this can be used if you’re willing to swallow the numerous hiccups. But it is still a long way from what I’d consider a good and acceptable addition to 5e-gaming. I cannot go higher than 2.5 stars, with the 0.5 stemming from the excellent prose.
You can get this pdf here on OBS!