The Goliath, A Giant Waste

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on March 3, 2010

Me Smash! You go crush! Me smash, you crush!

I’ll admit these were my initial thoughts on the Goliath and things haven’t changed much. Perhaps my stereotypes aren’t fair or justified, but that’s ok because they’re mine. I don’t like the Goliath for a number of reasons, however I wanted to give this giant of a race a fair shot. So here is my take on them, my perceptions of their strengths and weaknesses. You may also want to see my thoughts on Dwarves (the best race) and Tieflings.

Attribute Bonuses

Goliaths receive a bonus to both Strength and Constitution. This makes them great in the defender role. They have the ability to absorb damage and the requisite strength that these classes normally require to dish out the pain.

However, having a bonus to two attributes that feed into the same defense is a big weakness in my mind. The tendency in selecting a race that has attribute bonuses that both feed into a particular role or class is to embrace it. What this results in is lower attributes at the other end. If you select the Goliath for the purpose of excelling as a Barbarian or Fighter, be wary of having a really low Reflex or Will defense. You will pay for it down the road.

The following classes use either Strength or Constitution as a primary attribute: Barbarian, Battlemind, Fighter, Paladin, Warden, Warlock and Warlord. Six classes use Strength as a secondary attribute and twelve use Constitution as a secondary attribute.

Skill Bonuses

Goliath’s receive a racial bonus to Athletics and Nature. The bonus to Athletics compliments the Strength bonus Goliaths receive. Given the powerful athlete racial power, detailed below, the choice is either to completely maximize the Athletics skill and train it or spend the skill training elsewhere. The reality is that most classes that use Strength as primary attribute only receive a limited amount of skills for training and almost all of them have Athletics on their list. As a result it may be difficult to select a different skill.

Racial Benefits

Mountain Tenacity

I really think the designers of the Goliath threw this race a bone with this one. Recognizing that Goliaths really are defender type character who may suffer from a low will defense they’ve provided a +1 built in. I’m never one to turn down a bonus to a defense and for the Goliath this is a welcome addition.

Powerful Athlete


Roll twice for Athletics when jumping or climbing? Ok I can see the benefit, but unless you go out of your way to jump and climb how often is this benefit really going to matter? Now granted your Goliath might be wearing heavy armour and suffering from an armour check penalty so maybe rolling twice is a good thing, but talk about a yawner of a racial benefit. Yes, it compliments the Strength and Athletics bonus, but boring.

I think Dwarves get the racial benefit that Goliaths should, which is stand your ground. Granted Dwarves already have that benefit so I guess the Goliath is out of luck.

Stone’s Endurance

Stone’s Endurance is a great encounter power, allowing the Goliath to gain resist 5 to all damage until the end of its next turn. There are all kinds of tactical considerations where this ability can be used to great effect. Whether its to ensure the Goliath stands for one more round or to mitigate damage that will be incurred from opportunity attacks. This power really emphasises that the Goliath is a physical presence on the battlefield.

Class Considerations

The Goliath is geared towards classes that rely on Strength and Constitution. To that end the Barbarian, Fighter and Warden make the most sense from a pure mechanics standpoint. Other interesting options are available to the Goliath and the Warlock is perhaps the most atypical available that still uses a primary attribute.

One great strength of the Goliath is that Constitution is a secondary attribute for twelve classes which opens up a great deal of options for a player who selects the Goliath.

Classes That Use Strength As A Primary Attribute (6/25)

  • Barbarian
  • Fighter
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Warden
  • Warlord

Classes That Use Constitution As A Primary Attribute (2/25)

  • Battlemind
  • Warlock

Classes That Use Strength As A Secondary Attribute (6/25)

  • Cleric
  • Monk
  • Rogue
  • Seeker
  • Sorcerer
  • Swordmage

Classes That Use Constitution As A Secondary Attribute (12/25)

  • Ardent
  • Artificer
  • Assassin
  • Barbarian
  • Bard
  • Druid
  • Fighter
  • Invoker
  • Shaman
  • Swordmage
  • Warden
  • Warlock

Classes That Use Strength As A Primary, Constitution As A Secondary Attribute

  • Barbarian
  • Fighter
  • Warden

Classes That Use Constitution As A Primary, Strength As A Secondary Attribute

  • Nil

Classes That Use Both Attributes As A Secondary Attribute

  • Swordmage

Ok, I wasn’t as hard on the Goliath as I thought I would be. The truth is I use this race when I’m playing a defender in a dungeon delve. They make great throw away characters and perhaps that’s my problem with them. I just don’t feel that the Goliath fits in with the lore of Dungeons & Dragons. I also feel that other races fill the role that the Goliath is geared to better. Namely the Dwarf.

What are your thoughts on the Goliath? While I haven’t been overly harsh they are low on my list of favourite races. Am I being unfair? Have I missed some glaringly obvious point that makes the Goliath a shining beacon of a race?

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1 Swordgleam March 3, 2010 at 9:33 am

“Roll twice for Athletics when jumping or climbing?”

Depending on the campaign, that can be huge. I like to throw physical challenges at my players because I hate puzzles and there’s only so much opportunity for social encounters. It’s nice to know there’s almost zero chance of fumbling a climb check halfway up a wall and plummeting to your doom (or at least to the loss of a couple healing surges). Being able to roll twice for jump checks makes pulling off stunts a lot less of a gamble.

2 Rev. Lazaro March 3, 2010 at 10:31 am

Echoing what Swordgleam said. I ran a one night, all primal-based dungeon crawl to allow players to try out some of the classes/races we never touched in my campaign. The Goliath character made good use of the Athletics re-roll ability, since my adventure consisted of traveling from Mountains to Jungles and into a dungeon deep underground.

I suppose in the end it’s a question of taste; in this case, a 3rd party taste. If the DM doesn’t throw a lot climbing or jumping opportunities in his designs, it’s a great ability wasted.
.-= Rev. Lazaro´s last blog ..Scary New Endeavor this Week…. =-.

3 Saragon March 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Going to echo both Swordgleam and Rev. Lazaro here — the “roll twice for Athletics when jumping or climbing” ability would be a huge benefit to my players. I tend to try to manufacture three-dimensional spaces for battles, so even apart from the traditional dungeon-crawling uses for those two skills, they often end up being important in my game.

Mechanically, a goliath barbarian is an amazing striker. It’s got a twofer for stat bonuses, a boost to Will defenses, and Nature’s a class skill for the barbarian. And here again the Powerful Athlete class feature becomes critical — you can jump as part of a charge, so using the better of two Athletics rolls becomes really useful for Rageblood Vigor builds. The goliath makes a good defender, too, as you said.

I like Goliaths from a less mechanical perspective as well, probably because the old 3.5E Races of Stone book did a good job making them interesting. They also have the advantage of bringing no baggage with them into the game: Dwarves, minotaurs, gnolls, orcs, and other “traditional” Big Tough Guy races have years – or centuries in the minotaur’s case – of mythology and gaming tradition built up around them. Goliaths don’t have to “play against type” or be a “traditional” anything — they just are.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Dark Sun books appear to be using goliaths for the old half-giant race. That should help add some interesting features to them, in both the ‘fluff’ and ‘mechanics’ departments.
.-= Saragon´s last blog ..More Thoughts on Mage, and Hints of Something Cool =-.

4 Steven March 3, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I don’t mind the one dimensional nature of the Goliaths stats. However, I think that WoTC failed to deliver enough ‘variety’ with this new race. It feels like a big dwarf.

Other races have interesting fluff/attributes that gives the character much more than a stat block boost. Dragonborns, Tieflings, and warforged, bring so much more to the table than the elements you find in their stats. Goliaths fail to add much beyond height, strength and constitution. As you point out, even that boost isn’t enough to make it elevate beyond me smash, you crush roleplaying.

5 Dan March 3, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I love Goliaths because they make humans a more attractive character race to play lol. Too few humans in a typically human-dominated world makes a party of players seem more like a group of carney freaks that travel from town to town for money/fame. “Hey look! The carnival’s attractions include a handful of midgets, a lizard boy, a horned girl, a giant (bearded?) lady, and even a normal person! – the rarest race of them all!!!”

6 Wimwick March 3, 2010 at 5:32 pm

@ Swordgleam, Rev. Lazaro, Saragon
There is no doubt that this ability could be huge given the campaign. The last character I ran was an athlete and I was always attempting stunts that required athletics or acrobatics. An ability like this would have been great for increasing my odds of success. However, there are two reasons I don’t like it: 1) Athletics checks are seldom life threatening checks, there is something to be said for failing a role like this spectacularly. 2) I’m fairly certain there are a couple of feats that offer simliar results to this ability. I don’t have access to any books to verify this, but I’m fairly certain I’m correct. To me having a racial power that’s duplicated as a feat seems like a cheat.

@ Steven
I agree there is no real background to them. Now Saragon points out that they may play a larger role in Dark Sun, so I look forward to checking that out. But it only really applies to Dark Sun. Goliaths just seem like big people to me, boring.

@ Dan
Your comment reminds me of Ameron’s article on Only One Race In Fantasy RPGs.

7 Hawke March 3, 2010 at 8:19 pm

My hope is that with the “Half-Giant” flavor in the Dark Sun guide, perhaps with some athasian feats for goliaths might really flavor these a bit better. In any event, it had more “fluff” than the current setup.

8 DanTracker March 3, 2010 at 10:54 pm

i think you hit the nail on the head. It seems like a race that isn’t needed and doesn’t fit anywhere. Even when i wrote a few sentences of the mythology of creation for each race in my homebrew, i left goliath out completely–claimed that no one knew any myhtology of their creation story at all ever.

I’ve got to admit, it seems cool to consider a very large human with neat patchy marks, but once you come right down to it, they haven’t got much else beyond that. one of the saddest things is that while they are meant to be larger, they don’t receive treatment as oversized to get access to more powerful weapons because of it.

Regardless, i can’t argue with the posters that made mention of the usefullness of powerful athlete in the appropriate setting. Still, i’d prefer an elf with wood elf agility to the powerful athlete of a goliath.

9 Matthew Arcilla March 4, 2010 at 12:20 am

Athletics is one of my favorite skills.

Everyone loves showing off by using Dungeoneering, Nature or Arcana checks to get a leg up on encounters, while others pat themselves on the back by using their Perception and Insight to see if the NPCs mean what they say and using their gift of gab to use Diplomacy.

But few things are more embarrassing than being unable to jump, climb or swim across terrain of moderate to easy DC.
.-= Matthew Arcilla´s last blog ..February 2010 Blog Roundup: Choice Bits =-.

10 no_sushi March 4, 2010 at 6:22 am

For more fluff about the Goliath, I recommend reading the 3.5 supplement, Races of Stone, wherein their culture and society are explored in more detail. One of my players is playing a Goliath Barbarian, and he said the strongest draw he had to the race was the incredulous social game they play: Goat Ball. Look it up, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as my player did ^^

11 franciolli araujo March 4, 2010 at 2:51 pm

A player at my table is playing with a Goliath Swordmage. He like a lot the concept, but I see goliaths as primal characters that don’t rely on arcane technics, even if the role is defender.
.-= franciolli araujo´s last blog ..Masterplan [P2] =-.

12 Michael March 7, 2010 at 11:31 am

I wanted to disagree. I really did. But then I remembered that I’ve never liked the Goliath at all. I think, from a fluff point of view, they are far too rare to be a normal part of an adventuring party. I agree that they don’t fit in well with the lore of the game (as it currently stands, this may be changing with 4e). The idea that they make the amazing defenders is true, but in a personal anecdote, when I was creating a paladin recently, I started out making the character as a goliath, but after looking over all the options and thinking about the PC more, I ended up a dwarf. Of course.

13 Corvex Corvidae March 9, 2010 at 12:41 am

I’m playing a Goliath Monk right now, and damned if Powerful Athlete isn’t getting tons of use with the Crane’s Wings move action. I’m jumping all over the place like you wouldn’t believe. Perhaps they’re not the most interesting race per se, but I’m enjoying some rather unique mechanical synergies.

14 doctorbadwolf June 8, 2010 at 10:38 pm

I rather like the Goliath. I love their flavour, and their mechanics actually make them rather good for a few striker(and even leader) classes, not just defenders.

As a melee striker, for instance, being hard to kill can increase the efficiency with which you take down enemies, due to your increased ability to -stay in melee-. Same thing with melee leaders, like the runepriest.

As far as them being huge dwarfs, I don’t really see it. They archetype that they fill is closer to Andre the Giant’s character in Princess Bride, Fezzik, than it is to Gimli from LoTR.
It’s not perfect, but certainly closer. Mountain Top nomads, revering the spirits of that land as often, or even more often, than any gods. The focus on competition for it’s own sake, without any great prevalence of bitterness toward someone who beats you at something.

Divine Goliath leaders or defenders have an awesome racial feat, which extends the benefit of Stones Endurance to adjacent allies, arcane Goliaths have one that allows them to ignore any resistance after using Stone’s Endurance. The Markings feats are both good feats in general, even though they only effect the first attack or saving throw of the encounter. Primal Goliaths have two awesome feats.

The flavour potential of things like a Goliath Star Pact Warlock/Shaman are just awesome. Goliaths may not have the primary stat for Monks, but they still make great Stone Fists. Same thing with Bleak Disciple Assassins. Their Assassin feat isn’t great, but it can help mitigate the damage loss from not being a Nightstalker.

And it’s just awesome to have a race that fills the gentle giant (or at least not horribly stupid/psychotic giant) archetype.

No, the only thing they have in common with dwarves is that they both live in mountains, and have an affinity with stone. Even then, the affinities are different, and Goliaths love the open sky, while dwarves love finely built stone halls.

15 guy August 21, 2010 at 2:18 am

I remember in one game a friend who used a barbarian goliath did an athletic’s check to jump onto a roof to kill the poison crossbow wielding halfling rogue douchebag trying to kill our wizard. Sure, the wizard still died in the end, but it was a badass maneuver to reach the rogue where he thought he was safe and bloody him. Another time he climbed up the side of a staircase to slaughter some kobolds. In the final encounter of the campaign he jumped into a pit of lava as a dead ancient dragon was sinking into it to rip out its heart so he could use it to reinvigorate the seed of his religion’s sacred tree. The second roll and training bonuses he took allowed him to be a badass no one else around could match.

Of COURSE someone’s going to view these bonuses as a waste if the DM sucks and the player has no imagination!

16 Bardic August 29, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Personally, I feel that Goliaths are distinct enough for me to not confuse them with Dwarves; true, both are mountain-dwellers, but Dwarves have always felt more Nordic to me, while Goliaths are more primal, tribal people. I apologize if I am simply adding on or repeating earlier comments, but I believe they are sound: the usefulness of the Goliath’s Athletic’s reroll is quite comparable to, say, the Dwarven saving throw bonus for poison or the Elf’s Wild Step ability: it depends on what your DM is going to throw at you. I can see a use for all three powers in different common combat situations.

17 Metavosk September 2, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I tend to disagree, as long as you stick to one of the ‘ideal’ classes. I just ran a year-long paragon tier game with a highly effective Goliath Barbarian. Stone’s Endurance allowed him to be reckless — he could get himself into trouble, then throw up the resistance rather than taking the beating a Striker deserves when they stray from their Defender. A couple of the Goliath racial feats proved handy as well.

As for fluff, we actually had a decent chunk of the plot revolving around the enslavement of the scattered Goliath tribes at the hands of an Eldrich Giant empire. The competitive nature of the Goliaths kept the proud tribes from unifying until it was too late, and the PC was a survivor of the prison camps. Any race, and I do mean any, can be given depth if you’re willing to apply a little creativity. Rock-for-brains super-jocks may not be terribly inspiring on the surface, but the stone men in our little story had flesh&blood hearts.

18 Johndro August 8, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I have run with a Goliath before but never like I am now. My Goliath it a Warden and @ lv 7 I have him doing 112 damage in one hit then geting 10 health back because of one of his encounter abilites that allows him to roll twice and with my enhanced double axe it just destroys people. PLANE AND SIMPLE.

19 Allen August 21, 2013 at 7:57 pm

I actually like the Goliath. I generally tend to use ranged feats combined with throw anything and fling ally. Using improved grapple and other unarmed feats allows you to built a rather wild character. They make a good artillery piece for melee heavy groups.

20 eograd May 4, 2014 at 8:05 pm

My favorite d&d character for years was my Goliath Fighter. The Athletics specialty allows for an interesting swashbuckling approach to certain combat challenges. If you are playing in a campaign with lots of castles, towers, and chasms, the goliath is a ridiculously fun race to play.

21 Olivinerain July 7, 2014 at 6:28 pm

I don’t agree that Goliaths don’t have great flavor. At the very least, you’re forced to come up with a more interesting backstory than “became an adventurer” to get them down off that mountain. Their competitive aspect is a good way to get into some fun roleplaying, and can really help out with their backstory as well, such as with my Goliath Cleric. Also the Stoneblessed paragon path is fantastic, especially with a reach weapon. I see Goliaths more as exciting larger than life people jumping around mountaintops in exhilarating competitions, than anything akin to dwarfs.

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