I must confess that I have grown somewhat tired of the Pathfinder Player Companion line. Over time, the line has become more and more focused on mechanical character options, and less and less on world description and flavour—pretty much the exact opposite of what I am personally looking for. Several months ago, for financial considerations, I had to cut back on how many books I was buying and, as such, Player Companions were amongst the first to go. I have not purchased any of the most recent books in the line. However, I do still have a backlog of Player Companions to get through, and I intend to read and review all of them.
When I opened up Giant Hunter’s Handbook, I expected more of the usual: new archetypes, feats, spells, etc. Those are certainly in there, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much setting flavour and background there is. In fact, the first new mechanical options (in this case, new uses for skills—something these books rarely do much with) don’t appear until page 11. Until then, it’s entirely practical information and advice that giant hunters in the world of Golarion need. Even when the book gets to the new feats, spells, and so on, there is still a lot of setting information to go with them.
The book opens with an introduction to the most common types of giants, separated into categories of “evil giants” and “nonevil giants”, as well as a sidebar with the most basic information that everyone knows about giants. After this, the book moves into more specific details about giants and how to effectively hunt or fight them. Each chapter is two pages long (a typical length for Player Companion books) and covers a specific topic.
“Preparing to Hunt Giants” contains an overview of giant social groupings, their leaders, the types of creatures they ally with, and so on. It looks at giant abilities, including their defences and weaknesses, and offers recommendations for equipment that giant hunters should arm themselves with.
The next chapter focuses on “Giant Lairs”, and looks at their structure, scale, and defences. There is also a brief discussion on the effects giants have on local resources. Throughout are numerous suggested character options player characters might choose, such as recommended spells, hexes, domains, and equipment.
“Bargaining with Giants” provides an interesting look at basic giant psychology and how different giants might respond to negotiations. This chapter includes the new skill options I mentioned above. These include using Bluff to convince a giant that you’re harmless and using Stealth to hide behind big creatures. Technically, these aren’t really completely new ways to use the skills (as there’s nothing in their Core Rulebook descriptions to forbid their uses in this manner and inventive players and GMs may have already thought to use them in these ways), but they are useful clarifications of how the skills work in unusual situations, and they provide clear modifiers to the rolls for such situations. This is something that I wish more books would do. New feats can be nice, but this shows ways in which PCs can get more out of the abilities they already have—something that’s useful to everyone.
“In the Shadow of Giants” looks at the environments that different types of giants inhabit and provides a new regional trait for each one that PC giant hunters can take. A sidebar introduces a new story feat, Giant Vendetta, in which a character’s goal is to defeat a particular type of giant (chosen by the PC).
“Other Giants” takes brief looks at several creatures that have the giant subtype, but aren’t “true giants”. These include ogres, trolls, ettins, and so on. With each creature there are suggestions for how to prepare against them and recommended character options PCs might want to select.
The centre two pages of the book contain a chart comparing the relative sizes of several giant types as they compare to humans, moving up in size from hill giants to storm giants at the top. Unfortunately, the Gargantuan-sized rune giants are not on this chart—probably too big to fit without changing the scale to make other giants look too small.
In “Giant-Hunting Organizations”, we learn about different groups across the Inner Sea region that exist primarily to hunt, fight, or defend against giants. It’s nice to see mention of some groups that have appeared in other sources, such as the Order of the Black Arrow, which plays a significant role in the third adventure of Rise of the Runelords. This chapter also contains several new teamwork feats.
The “Giantslaying Archetypes” chapter does exactly what it says. It introduces three new archetypes: the goliath druid, titan fighter, and vexing dodger (a rogue archetype). The latter gains the “limb-climber” ability, which allows the character to climb larger creatures’ bodies. I’ve always found it somewhat surprising that core rules have never had rules to address what happens when a PC wants to climb onto a giant’s back or a dragon’s neck in order to attack it. It’s a fairly common cinematic manoeuvre, and it’s nice to see the option finally presented, even if it’s limited to one particular character type.
“Battling Giants” provides a few suggested tactics for engaging with giants, but the chapter is primarily focused on introducing nine new feats that can be useful to giant hunting characters. At this point, the book becomes more focused on mechanical options, with the remaining chapters providing new equipment, spells, and magic items.
The back inside cover contains a wonderful section on “Using Giant Equipment”. I’m sure more than a few parties have been stuck with the dilemma of what to do with equipment that is too big, and this offers a spell, resize item, that can help deal with this, as well as two new weapon and armour abilities (fitting and resizing) and a ring of perfect sizing. With these new options, characters won’t have to worry about equipment size any longer.
Overall, I really like the balance Giant Hunter’s Handbook strikes between mechanics and setting information. The new character options don’t overwhelm with their sheer quantity. Instead, they support the flavour of the setting. And the setting information provides you with a basic, but good understanding of how the people of Golarion interact with giants. After reading the book, I felt like I actually learned something about the world rather than just be presented with a bunch of character options that I would rapidly forget about. I wish the Player Companion books would reach this balance more often.