Cold, black eyes stare out from the fish-like face of this hideous green-skinned, web-fingered, and obese giant.
Speed 40 ft., swim 20 ft.
Str 27, Dex 17, Con 19, Int 8, Wis 15, Cha 12
Marsh Giant High Priest (Cleric 10; CR 14)
Environment temperate marshes
Organization solitary, gang (2–6), or tribe (7–22, plus 20% noncombatants plus 1 cleric or witch leader of 4th–8th level, 1–3 barbarian or fighter champions of 2nd–5th level, 2–12 merrows, 10–20 boggards, and 6–12 giant frogs)
Treasure standard (gaff, other treasure)
Hideously ugly, marsh giants dwell in the most desolate of swamps—preferably those that share a sodden border with the sea. Marsh giants typically use a hooked club called a gaff (wielded in both hands) in combat—treat these weapons as flails, save that they do piercing damage. Marsh giants are hateful thugs bound together by a common zealotry. Powerful opponents and beasts are the most prized of meals, though many marsh giants are also cannibals—they often attack fellow tribe members just to gorge on a particularly fearsome or delicious-looking relative.
Some marsh giants mingle with abominations from the deepest seas, creatures they believe are sent by their god. This has further contributed to their racial degradation, but the immediate offspring of these unholy unions are powerful. Deformed with tentacles, scales, and other aquatic traits, these marsh giants are known as “brineborn.”
They are advanced marsh giants with the aquatic subtype, a swim speed of 40 feet, the amphibious special quality, and the following additional spell-like abilities:
Source Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Giants Revisited
The swamps hold numerous perils known to experienced vagabonds and novice adventurers alike. Quicksand, creeper vines, giant stirges, and worse await the unwary, but these dangers pale in comparison to the deformed brutes that lurk in bogs and fens near the sea: marsh giants, the misbegotten offshoots of long-forgotten hill giant tribes.
With their slimy and hairless bodies, their webbed fingers and toes, and their bulbous black eyes, marsh giants resemble a grotesque cross between fish, frogs, and humanoids. Standing 11 feet tall and weighing around 1,500 pounds, these swamp-dwellers convey both sloth and power with their towering, fat bodies. Occasionally, they cover parts of their bare flesh with animal skins or hides, both for decoration and to show off their kills, but most simply disregard clothing completely, as their thick, blubbery skin provides all the protection they need from the stinging insects and harsh elements of their environment.
Marsh giants’ moss-green coloring allow them to move stealthily through the swamp without being seen, despite their girth. When they emerge from the muck to attack, the giants prove surprisingly agile for their size, more like lumbering cats than swift cattle. While not as strong as most of their giant cousins, they can hurl logs and tree stumps the way other giants throw rocks, striking with devastating force and accuracy.
To casual observers, all marsh giants are equally ugly; their breasts and genitals being the only ways to tell females from males. Yet inbreeding among tribes and families pollutes their gene pool with deformities and mutations leading to a wide range of appearances and abilities. Some legends among the peoples of swamp-neighboring communities claim that the race is a bastard branch of the giants’ evolutionary tree. They say that a tribe of hill giants in the ancient past committed an unpardonable sin against all of giantkind, one serious enough to unite the other giants against them. The desperate hill giants fled far before settling in remote swamps where they were safe from reprisals. Over the centuries, their bodies adapted to life in the filthy mire, and only their language served as a remnant of their former lives—they still speak Giant, though their dialect is colored with bits of Boggard and the languages of other swamp races.
Even if such folklore is true, marsh giants are not to be pitied. They are hateful, violent, repulsive creatures that desire only to fill their bellies, mate, and revel in the degenerate worship of Dagon, their Abyssal patron. Tribes carry out awful rituals to the demon lord and make bloody sacrifices in the open water, part of the reason they prefer to live near coasts or rivers that run to the sea. This vulgar fealty to the lord of deformities is common to all marsh giants and is the central force that binds them together in mutual perversion.
Marsh giants settle in all kinds of wetlands, including swamps, bogs, fens, marshes, and the like, though they often prefer brackish areas near coastlines. They prefer temperate, moist regions but can adapt to colder and warmer locations as well. They stay away from population centers and stick to their remote, stagnant turf as much as possible. Marsh giants are mostly immune to the diseases that infest their gloomy mires, but might be susceptible to the foreign contamination of other swamps. Thus, few marsh giant clans interact with one another, and such isolation inevitably leads to inbreeding, one of the main causes of their vile deformities and relative stupidity.
Marsh giants are lazy and eat whatever is most readily available: roots, tubers, fungi, and a smorgasbord of bite-sized creatures that crawl or fly within reach of their grasping paws. It can take hours to gather enough small plants or prey to make a satisfying meal, so the males slosh through the fetid waters hunting giant crocodiles, slugs, anacondas, and tougher opponents such as catoblepas and infirm froghemoths. They eat their catches raw and sometimes don’t even kill the prey first (though they go out of their way to kill giant leeches and giant mosquitoes, which feed on the bloated brutes at every opportunity). Hunger can drive the tribes into the countryside to raid tiny humanoid villages, which frequently hire mercenaries to defend them or to clean out the swamps. And in times of need—or simply whenever the urge strikes them—the degenerate creatures eat their own kind.
Drinking is easier: the marsh giants crouch just about anywhere and gulp filthy swamp water, not noticing or caring about the sludge (and worse) they ingest. While it may seem like just another of their many disgusting behaviors, such consumption is actually linked to marsh giants’ practice of animism, their belief that everything in the world has a spiritual essence. What’s more, they believe that they absorb the spirit of whatever they consume—whether living or otherwise—and thus even mud can transmit “the strength of the swamp.” Similarly, when marsh giants eat their kin, they are motivated not just by hunger, but by a desire to grow by ingesting the spirits of powerful creatures. In this way, eating and drinking nourishes their spirits just as it strengthens their bodies.
This belief in the concrete value of spiritual essence leads most marsh giants to despise rearing children, thinking that giving birth saps power from the mother and to an extent the father—thus, marsh giant babes are treated with the utmost contempt, making their youths’ mortality rates extremely high. Regardless, marsh giants often lack the foresight to consider that their frequent bouts of lust precede the births they so despise. A female’s gestation period lasts about 3 months, during which time her belly distends to enormous size and oozes slime (sought bypoisoners as a key ingredient in corrosive toxins). A typical litter has two to five young, many of which die within weeks because of their parents’ carelessness, hostility, or appetite. Marsh giants are somewhat unique in that, though they are huge and dwell in brutal environments, they lack the longevity of most giant races. Children who survive their brutal upbringing reach adulthood at the age of 5 and can live for about 60 more years, given ample food and a lack of violence. However, the swamp—and the tribe—rarely offers either.
Marsh giants gather in tribes of roughly two dozen for mutual defense, though they don’t seem to care much for each other’s company. Swamp predators, infighting, and the giants’ cannibal urges keep the population low. Within a tribe, small and distant families take shelter in filthy, mold-ridden shacks made of branches, ropy vines, and hardened mud slathered around rocks and bones. Many hovels are built directly in the shallow parts of the swamp, with interiors a foot deep in fetid muck.
Neither parent shows much concern for their children, and the young die (and are replaced) frequently. Females tend haphazardly to their offspring or gorge on toxic fungus while the males gather food and bring home whatever portion they don’t eat on the spot. When they capture intelligent prey such as a humanoid, they might cage it so the victim can be tortured or sacrificed to Dagon, though just as often the brutes simply eat the unfortunate souls.
Other giants regard marsh giants as foul and reprehensible, with only hill giants attempting brutish alliances on occasion. Such treaties inevitably fall apart, as marsh giants have little love for their own kind, let alone outsiders who don’t share their religious beliefs and grotesque features. Most giants simply give marsh giants the wide birth they desire, leaving the crude beings to their swamps and rituals.
When a marsh giant dies, the whole tribe consumes its body, each member trying to gain a small part of its spiritual essence. If a marsh giant breaks a tribal taboo, however, the offender is not killed or eaten. Instead, its tainted spirit is considered poisonous to others and to the swamp itself, so the tribe’s leader—called a high priest—drives the transgressor away. These exiles wander the land until they find a small pond or lagoon they can dominate, capturing a mate from a nearby tribe to start a new tribe of their own.
All marsh giants learn to fight with a gaff—a hooked club that can pierce the thick hides of their enemies and swamp-dwelling prey. The dirty hook of this weapon is usually tainted with some disease, imparting virulent illness into any wound it tears open. In a pinch, the giants fight with their meaty fists or use improvised weapons, such as jagged logs studded with dire crocodile teeth.
Brutality is a given in the swamp, but the marsh giants have learned to coexist with other wetlands races of equally primitive bents. They get along well with boggards, many of which also worship Dagon, though this doesn’t stop the giants from eating one now and then. The unobservant brutes sometimes mistake lizardfolk or grippli for boggards at first, but bloodshed against these relatively civilized peoples is never far away. A particularly powerful tribe of marsh giants might temporarily ally with (or be dominated by) formidable neighbors, such as sea hags, spirit nagas, or black dragons.
Marsh giants are disturbing creatures that work especially well in games of a horrific nature, and serve as excellent agents to inject an eerie mien into an initially tame game. The brutes are creepy, violent cannibals with revolting habits, and they thrive in a hazardous setting unfamiliar to many heroes. Sloshing through the gloom of a swamp, PCs should feel as if they’re in an alien landscape where everything might be dangerous. Gnarled trees, viper vines, and stranger flora grow unchecked. Putrid smells pollute the heavy, moist air. Clouds of stinging insects buzz everywhere. Leeches cling to exposed skin. Slimy things slide by, just under the surface of the dark water. All the while, marsh giants lurk in waiting, and can make excellent capstone creatures for an unnerving romp through the wetlands.
Most marsh giant tribes worship Dagon, the Shadow in the Sea. High priests direct their tribe’s profane rituals and lead the dancing and chanting, though these rites usually degenerate into orgiastic frenzies of violence and rutting. The giants also sink wooden idols, animals, and live captives into the sea (or rivers leading to it) to honor the demon lord. Mass sacrifices, held on the unholiest nights, darken the waters with enough blood to summon abominations that emerge from the sea the following night to receive the devotion of the giants. These freakish horrors bless the tribe with good hunting and fishing, and they bring deranged prophecies and unearthly gold jewelry to the worshipers. Female marsh giants consort with the beasts, and the resultant offspring befoul the tribe with stranger deformities than usual. These spawn, known as “brineborn,” possess myriad mutations, such as tentacles, scales, and other aquatic features, which mark them as different from the rest of the tribe’s members, and are regarded as blessed by their dark lord and greatly revered.
Brineborn Brineborn are advanced marsh giants with the aquatic subtype, a swim speed of 40 feet, the amphibious special quality, and the following additional spell-like abilities: constant—speak with animals; 3/day—confusion (DC 14), contagion (DC 15), quench (DC 14).
The brutes use natural swamp hazards to their advantage, easily blending into the foliage as they chase the PCs toward crocodile dens, giant flytraps, quicksand, will-o’-wisps, witchfires, and more. Marsh giants also create banks of fog that can make careless heroes lose their bearings. When they do finally attack, they use their gaffs to rip open foes so victims bleed to death in the filthy muck and the innards feed the swamp. If they are significantly larger than their victims, marsh giants might use their massive bulk to pin foes underwater or trap victims in muddy sinkholes until they drown.
The PCs can encounter marsh giants in any type of wetlands, though the creatures favor warmer regions with conduits to the open sea. Tribes rarely stray from their home swamps, but the occasional exile can serve as a wandering monster. It’s easy to have the PCs cross through wetlands on their way to the next part of the adventure, but it’s more satisfying to make the swamp brutes an integral part of the plot.
While investigating corruption in a small coastal town, the PCs might stumble across a cult of Dagon that has dealings with a marsh giant tribe in a nearby fen. Perhaps the characters venture deep into a swamp to find rare spellcasting components, recover a valuable heirloom for a wealthy patron, to rescue a kidnapped villager, only to discover that their objectives have been taken by the abhorrent creatures. The swamp brutes might raid nearby villages for sacrifices to their watery god, paralyzing the locals with fear and despoiling the land as they expand their reach.
In general, marsh giants don’t make great masterminds or schemers, and work better as servants or enablers of a major threat. Because they worship a demon lord, they can open the door for demonic horrors in your game, creating portals that expose the world to the festering madness of the Abyss. During one of their rituals, the giants could summon a foul creature that crawls from the sea and terrorizes the countryside, or maybe the PCs follow a lead into a swamp and from there descend into the Abyss itself. They might even end up in Dagon’s realm, a sunken city in the monster-filled ocean of Ishiar, whose shores touch many other domains of the Abyss. In this way, a minor threat posed by marsh giants can lead the heroes into much bigger trouble.
Marsh giants are more concerned with finding food and fending off predators (including one another) than with collecting and storing treasure. They have little need for material objects that don’t contribute directly to their strength. Thus, tribe members are likely to leave valuables from their victims scattered near their kills.
Whenever a humanoid is eaten, buried in the muck, or sacrificed to Dagon, the swamp dwellers strip him of all possessions first and dispose of whatever items seem useless. Coins are flung carelessly into the water, where they sink and settle in the muddy bed. Explorers who dredge the bottom might pick up plenty of spare change and smaller trinkets. If a victim has an object that looks powerful or unusual, the giants might bury it, thinking that its spiritual essence will feed the swamp. No one but the high priest keeps track of these caches since they don’t intend to dig up the items again, but careful explorers can sometimes tell where the ground has been disturbed.
The wetlands’ humidity causes most objects to deteriorate over time—paper becomes saturated, wood softens, and metal rusts or tarnishes. To preserve special items, the giants wrap them in treated waterproof skins made from the hides of native reptiles. Sometimes, after bundling up an enticing object, a brute secretly decides to tuck it away in his hovel instead, hoping to absorb spiritual strength from its presence.
A tribe’s greatest treasures are the necklaces, tiaras, bracelets, and other pieces of golden jewelry brought by the sea-spawn of Dagon. Some marsh giants wear these unholy gifts as signs of their fealty to the demon lord. The tribe’s high priest wears multiple pieces at the same time, which is a reliable way to identify him. All the baubles have sinister, irregular geometrical designs that trigger unease in most other beings. Many non-marsh giant adventurers have attempted to don pieces of such “sea-spawn jewelry,” only to descend slowly into violent madness.
The following list of random treasure includes items one might normally find either on a marsh giant’s person or in his dwelling.
|11–15||A half-eaten bird|
|16–20||Chunks of dried humanoid flesh|
|21–25||Dried moss for chewing or smoking|
|26–30||Petrified scoop-stick for digging in mud|
|31–40||Crude wooden unholy symbol of Dagon|
|41–45||Extra gaff hook|
|46–50||Mushrooms that have specific effects (GM’s choice) when eaten|
|51–60||Club studded with dire crocodile teeth|
|61–66||A live poisonous snake|
|67–72||Piece of swamp creature useful as spell component|
|73–77||Flask of murky water (acts as ingested poison)|
|78–82||Loose coins (worth 1d10 x 20 gp)|
|83–86||Several medium-quality gems wrapped in snakeskin (1d6 x 100 gp)|
|87–90||Gold necklace from the sea-spawn (700 gp)|
|91–94||+1 short sword used as whittling knife|
|95–97||Wand of cure light wounds (1d20+15 charges remaining) mixed in with ordinary sticks|
|98–100||Withered hand of the mage dangling from a vine|