Giff Return

The Giff

by Richard Green, illustrations by Symatt

Of all the fantastic campaign settings published by TSR in the early 90s, Spelljammer is definitely in my top 3 (along with Planescape and Al-Qadim). The concept of the swashbuckling pirate-adventurer standing on the deck of her hammership as it sails through space towards a distant asteroid is just so cool! There were a lot of crazy races and monsters in the setting, but none are as much fun as the giff, presented here for 4th Edition.

This article is based on material published in the Spelljammer: AD&D Adventures in Space boxed set by Jeff Grubb, The Complete Spacefarer’s Handbook by Curtis M Scott, and Races of Spelljammer in Dragon #339 by Joshua Cole.


Gun-loving and skilful mercenaries, followers of a proud military tradition, wanderers through space.

Racial Traits

Average Height: 8’ 6” – 9’ 2”

Average Weight: 500 – 700 lbs

Ability Scores: +2 Strength, +2 Constitution

Size: Large

Speed 6 squares

Vision: Normal

Languages: Common, Giff

Skill Bonuses: +2 Athletics, +2 Intimidate

Large and In Charge: You take up 2 x 2 squares and have Reach 2

Master of Weapons: You are proficient in all simple and military melee weapons, and with firearms.

Magic Resistant: You gain +1 racial bonus to defenses against powers with the arcane keyword. However, magic items don’t always work for you as they should. Whenever you try and activate the power of a magic item that isn’t a weapon, armour or shield, there is a 10% chance the power does not function and is lost.

Thick-skinned: Your tough hide gives you a +1 racial bonus to armour class.

Bral Kiss: You have the Bral kiss racial power.

Bral Kiss Giff Racial Utility
You slam your thickly plated head into that of your hapless opponent so hard that he sees stars.
Standard Action Melee 1
Target: One enemy
Attack: Strength + 4 or Dexterity + 4 or Constitution +4 vs. AC
Increase the bonus to attack rolls to +6 at 11th level and +8 at 21st level.
Hit: 1d6 + Strength modifier, Constitution modifier, or Dexterity modifier damage, and the target is dazed until the end of your next turn.
Level 11: 2d6 + Strength modifier, Constitution modifier, or Dexterity modifier damage.
Level 21: 3d6 + Strength modifier, Constitution modifier, or Dexterity modifier damage.

The giff are a race of powerfully-built, well-muscled, hippopotamus-like humanoids found throughout the vast reaches of Wildspace and beyond. Although they understand the basics of spelljamming, they don’t have any arcanists among their own race, and are incapable of operating spelljamming helms. Instead, they hire on with various organizations and groups as mercenaries, enforcers and bodyguards, a role in which they excel.

Giff are a soldiering race with a highly regimented society, following a strict chain of command and organizing themselves into platoons, companies, corps and larger groups. These platoons can be of any size – one commissioned to protect an asteroid tavern from troublemakers might just number two or three giff, but a platoon hired to storm a scro base could consist of a hundred or so. Whatever the size of the group, the giff always seek to fulfil their obligations properly, following their orders to the letter.

Despite their militaristic nature, giff have no interest in conquering the universe. Instead, they are motivated by the chance to win glory in battle, the opportunity to advance in rank within the giff hierarchy, and, most importantly, by being able to blow stuff up with explosives. Smoke powder (see “New Equipment” below) is often used to pay giff for their services.

Proud of their strength and skill as warriors, giff love weaponry of all types, and an individual will seek to gather as many different swords, axes and daggers as he can to deal with whatever life in space might throw at him. A giff’s weapon collection might include dozens of bizarrely-shaped polearms and spears, lovingly gathered from various different crystal spheres and worlds, and all kept in tip-top condition.

But a giff’s best-loved weapon will always be his gun. The sheer joy of blowing things up knows no bounds to them – the bigger the explosion, the more they like it. And giff are not put off by misfires and other malfunctions – the loud bang, the muzzle flash, and the damage that a gun can do far outweigh such trivial inconveniences in their eyes.

Giff enjoy unarmed combat too, and will often start barroom brawls for fun, relishing the chance to fling a few people around and bang some heads together. Unfortunately, they don’t know their own strength, and what they see as a friendly tap from a head butt can easily kill a human. If a weapon is drawn against a giff in a brawl, all bets are off, and the fight will then be to the death.

Giff are innately resistant to arcane magic, and are deeply suspicious of wizards and magical devices, which don’t always work the way they are intended to when they are around. They can’t use spelljammer helms and only put up with them because they are often handy for transporting a platoon of giff into battle.


Physical Qualities

Giff are powerfully muscled humanoids, usually about nine feet tall, with a somewhat comical appearance. They have hippopotamus heads, broad barrel-shaped chests, humanoid arms and fingers, and stocky, flat, cylindrical legs. Skin colour is grey, black or a rich gold, and they are often covered in brightly coloured tattoos recording past campaigns and victories. Their heads and snouts are covered with thick, chitinous plates, making their head butts particularly painful to experience. The giff like to wear elaborate suits of armour into battle, including ornate great helms with other monsters on their crests, and full plate inlaid with ivory and bone, typically decorated with a large number of campaign ribbons.

Giff live for about 70 years and do not grow old gracefully. As a giff reaches his twilight years, he feels the need to prove to himself and others that he’s still young, virile, and certainly not past it. This leads to reckless behaviour in battle, and consequently, there are very, very few elderly giff.

The giff language is a gruff, blustery tongue, full of bellows and trumpeting.


Attitudes & Beliefs

Not the brightest creatures in the universe, the giff are often accused of lacking imagination by their critics. To a giff, their rank in the complex racial hierarchy is everything. All giff have a rank and they can only advance in society by being promoted by a higher-ranking officer. Although the main ranks – private, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant and so on – seem simple, they are supplemented with numerous subranks and merit badges at each level which make things very complicated. Ranks such as Second Assistant Sub-Colonel (Brevetted) are not uncommon.

Giff follow the orders of their superior officers and employers (while working as mercenaries) to the letter. The one exception is when their orders would set them against another group of giff. If this occurs, both platoons withdraw from battle and hold a parley under the giff flag of truce – a red sleeping dragon on a gold field. After much bellowing and a fair bit of ale-quaffing, an accord is reached: either both groups will join forces, taking one of the two sides in the conflict, or they will both pack up and go home.

Giff will work for nearly everyone, including notorious or evil spacefaring races such as the illithids and scro, and very annoying ones like the dohwar. Only the neogi and the beholders are avoided.

They have no religion of their own, but often adopt the war gods of their employers. The key giff belief, though, is that all things have their place, and the giff’s place is to follow orders.

Giff are proud of their military prowess and love to wear medals and badges on their uniforms and armour. They are wary around giants and other creatures bigger and stronger than themselves, but tend to view humans and demihumans as rather fragile.


Giff Communities

Both male and female giff serve in platoons, with their offspring raised with loving care until they are old enough to survive an exploding arquebus, at which point they are inducted fully into the platoon. The giff are not ones for settling down in one place for too long, and their platoons travel through space constantly, selling their services to the highest bidder. In fact, the giff have wandered space for so long,  that they have forgotten where their homeworld lies. Stories are passed down from giff to giff of a jungle utopia where weapons are hidden beneath every tree and smoke powder is as common as grains of sand, but no one knows if there is any truth behind this legend.


Giff Adventurers

Giff love to travel, fight fearsome foes, and find new and interesting weapons, so they are natural adventurers. They are great fighters and warlords, but they also make decent rogues. Although many giff like charging into battle, guns blazing, they find work as military scouts, spies and assassins too, despite their large size making stealth something of a challenge.

The inherently non-magical giff seem incapable of wielding arcane power, and care little for religion or nature, let alone psionics, so they tend to stick to martial character classes.

Giff Characteristics:  brave, ferocious, foolhardy, honorable, lacking imagination, none too bright, orderly, ostentacious, pompous.

Male Names: Algernon, Bertram, Cordell, Dourm, Eustace, Horatio, Laurence, Saerig, Trenton

Female Names: Beatrice, Chloe, Dora, Isabella, Louisa, Ophelia

Family Names: Cartwright, Galloway, Hadley, Kilburn, Larbo, Smythe, Tomojak, Upton


Racial Backgrounds

Beyond The Moons: You somehow survived when the spelljamming vessel you were travelling on was taken out of the skies in a hard-fought naval battle, and hurtled through the atmosphere, crashing into the earth. Did anyone else on board survive the crash? Was the ship carrying important cargo or passengers? How did you cope with finding yourself on a strange planet? Do you seek to return to the stars?

Associated Skills:  Diplomacy, Endurance


Orphaned: After the rest of your platoon was wiped out in an ill-advised, all-out frontal assault on a neogi mindspider, you managed to play dead and live to fight another day. With no platoon, you are effectively an orphan and have been forced to take up the life of an adventurer. How have others reacted to your strange appearance? Are you out for revenge against the neogi? Perhaps the foul creatures are taking slaves on the planet you now find yourself on and you have the opportunity to track them down?

Associated Skills: Endurance, Perception


Special Agent: Your platoon commander has sent your behind enemy lines or into unknown territory on a top secret solo mission, requiring absolute discretion – mum’s the word! Who or what is your objective or primary target? And who is your platoon working for? Perhaps you need to obtain some obscure information for the Seekers or break up a slaving ring for the Pragmatic Order of Thought? Or is your employer someone more sinister?

Associated Skills: Stealth, Thievery


New Equipment

Two of the most common giff weapons are listed below. Smoke powder charges are required to propel the metal balls fired by these weapons, and is not commonly available on the typical D&D world. In Wildspace, the Mercane, always on the look out for a profit, sell smoke powder for up to 300 gp per charge.


Wheel Lock Pistol

Superior one-handed ranged weapon

Cost: 700gp
Damage: 1d10
Proficient: +3

Range: 5/10
Weight: 5 lbs.
Properties: High Crit, Load Standard

Special: On an attack roll of 1, the weapon backfires, inflicting 1d6 points of damage to the user and becoming fouled. It will not fire again until cleaned during a short rest.

Superior two-handed ranged weapon

Cost: 500gp
Damage: 1d12
Proficient: +3

Range: 10/20
Weight: 10 lbs.
Properties: High Crit, Load Standard

Special: On an attack roll of 1 or 2, the weapon backfires, inflicting 1d6 points of damage to the user and becoming fouled. It will not fire again until cleaned during a short rest.


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    […] Giff Return at Daily Encounter: Rich Green updates the Spelljammer hippo-like race for D&D 4e. Part of the Classics Return Blogfest. […]

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