Give Giff Guns

It’s finally here. On October 8, 2021, D&D released the Travelers of the Multiverse Unearthed Arcana (UA), heralding the long (and often humorously) anticipated Spelljammer setting’s arrival in 5th Edition D&D. This UA features six new ancestries for D&D 5e:

  • Astral Elf
  • Autognome
  • Giff
  • Hadozee
  • Plasmoid
  • Thri-Kreen

Let’s focus on Spelljammer’s hipponynmous creature: the Giff.

The Giff

Giff, the famous bipedal hippo race, hail from Spelljammer. The Giff’s first 5e appearance was in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (MTF) as a monster. MTF’s entry emphasized the Giff’s role as a mercenary military culture, with a penchant for gunpowder and a distaste for magic:

It’s not just flavor text–MTF’s mechanics enforce Giff’s cultural association with modern warfare. They have a musket and a pistol, supplemented by a 1/day grenade. Giff features drive this further, allowing them to ignore weapon loading due to firearms knowledge, and granting multiattack for their pistol (but not longsword).

The New Giff

The Giff have received a significant revamp in October 2021’s Unearthed Arcana when released as a playable race.

You have the following racial traits. Creature Type. You are a Humanoid.Size. You are Medium.Speed.Your walking speed is 30 feet, and you have a swimming speed equal to your walking speed.Damage Dealer. Like a hippopotamus in a crystalware shop, you are naturally adept at damaging things. When you roll a 1 on a damage die for a melee attack, you can reroll the die and use the new roll. You can do so no more than once per turn.Hippo Build. You have advantage on Strength-based ability checks and Strength saving throws. In addition, you count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.

Some folk’s initial impression is that the Giff needs more. Why is that?

Few Features?

The Unearthed Arcana Giff race is light on features. Once you get past the mandatory type, size, and speed, there’s only two features. And one of them only works in melee!

But, does that make it underpowered?


Giff features are stacked in a way that hides their real value.

Swim Speed. While real hippos can’t swim, they can run quickly under water. Giff’s swim speed is hidden inside their general speed mechanic. This is the type of ribbon mechanic that becomes incredibly powerful in the right campaign. This feature’s top-end value could be tempered with a realistic flavor update limiting the effect to pools of a certain depth. Though, for reasons we’re about to explain, your Giff is unlikely to ever fall off the boat!

Build on Build. While it’s easy to gloss over a “build” mechanic and assume that it does the Goliath’s ribbon ability of doubling the oft-ignored encumbrance threshold, this is so much more. Hippo Build gives you advantage on every Strength check and save. Holy hippo! This makes the Giff a great ship’s captain, since they’re unlikely to be shaken from the helm (or off the boat).

While the Giff’s stat block is deceptively short, it packs a ton of punch in its relatively few features.

So, if the Giff isn’t light on features…what’s missing?

Give Giff Guns

Guns! Giff need guns! It’s in their picture. It’s in their monster block.

Melee. The UA Giff’s Damage Dealer feature makes it a proverbial bull in the china shop hippo in a crystal shop. While this leans into a hippo’s brutish nature, it doesn’t comport with the Giff’s unrefined technological penchant for black powder firearms and explosives. Though the MTF Giff sports Headfirst Charge to emphasize their physicality, melee is not the key component of their presentation.

Ranged. The MTF Giff’s Firearms Knowledge, Musket, Pistol, and Fragmentation Grenade are emulated nowhere in the UA Giff’s stat block. While such item-driven features make less sense on a player character, proficiency (and Firearms Knoweldge’s no-load buff) present options to drive the blackpowder loving flavor of Giff.

No Gun Settings?

WotC has been reluctant to “bite the bullet” and print a 5e player option with firearm proficiency. While plenty of DMs like running campaigns without firearms, a creature whose identity is so intrinsically tied to firearms warrants giving them firearm proficiency.

If the setting has guns, it’s OK to don the ancestries in that setting with gun proficiency.

Sidebar Solutions

Sidebars can permit an exception for DMs who don’t want firearms, while allowing Giff in their settings. An easy swap is to allow crossbow proficiency as a swap for firearm proficiency.

So, give Giff guns! Even if it takes a short sidebar to assuage DMs who don’t want that sort of thing in their setting. Don’t compromise the identity of Spelljammer’s hipponymous race to conform to settings where they don’t exist.

If you enjoyed this article, you can support us on the ThinkDM Patreon. Please… we spent this month’s server fees blinging out the Giff’s blunderbuss and there’s a Thri-Kreen knock knock knock knocking at our door to collect.

3 thoughts on “Give Giff Guns

  1. I don’t have time to make custom cultures for every race I might want to add to my world. I like having details like “Giff are naturally enthralled and delighted by explosives and smoke” rather than “this is an anthropomorphic hippo… have fun”. That might be cultural, it might be physiological, it might be psychological… maybe they just like things that are big enough to shove them around?

    The concept of “gnomes are tinkerers” can be setting based, but knowing the idea of the race includes liking fine details and craftsmanship, maybe they are tinkers in my world, maybe they are expert jewelers, maybe they are master gardners (with a penchant for bonzai). It gives me somewhere to start.

    So gun-toting Giff are fine as a racial concept, even if they are toting heavy crossbows and alchemical eggs in my world. (Actually, in my world, they might be voluntarily indentured to the dwarves of the Blackrock Clan, the only makers of gunpowder and explosives outside of magical traps.)

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s