Firbolg, pronounced fur-bolg, is one of seven new playable races added to 5E in Volo’s Guide to Everything.
Firbolgs have often received very little attention compared to many of D&D’s other races.
Over the game’s many years of development, they’ve lurked in the background, morphing over time from powerful Celtic warriors into their current iteration’s intersection of giant-kin and fey.
If you, or one of your players, is planning to create a firbolg character then this guide will tell you everything you need to know.
The Firbolg: Giant-kin of the Forest and Hills
Fittingly, for such mysterious creatures, very little is known about firbolgs. They originated in Irish mythology as founding settlers and earlier D&D editions were somewhat faithful to this, portraying firbolgs as powerful Celtic warriors.
This is a far cry though, from the firbolgs of 5E.
5E’s firbolgs are such an enormous departure from earlier editions that it’s difficult to draw on those earlier depictions when characterizing your firbolgs.
Older iterations of firbolgs have more in common with 5E’s goliaths, also added in Volo’s Guide to Everything. That said, 5E’s firbolgs have a very clear identity of their own.
Firbolgs are creatures of nature and hidden guardians of the woodland. Firbolg tribes care deeply about their forest homes and understand that survival hinges on the common good of the entire ecosystem.
Firbolgs tend to the forest. They ensure that plants are able to flourish and that animals are fed through the winter months.
We can also infer, although it’s not explicitly stated in Volo’s Guide to Everything, that firbolgs also ensure that predator animals are well fed.
Firbolgs can be pure-hearted and compassionate but there’s also space for your firbolgs to be a little callous and ruthless in their stewardship of the forest.
Firbolgs have little interest in the affairs of other humanoid races unless those matters affect their forest home. Firbolgs prefer to remain hidden in their forests and don’t generally involve themselves in other races’ political machinations.
If outsiders intrude into a firbolg tribe’s forest, the firbolgs will typically take several steps to encourage the outsiders to leave.
Intruders’ first hint at a firbolg presence is often an unusual lack in their surroundings. The bounty of berries and nuts that one might expect to find in woodland may be absent. There might also be an absence of animal life, the firbolgs having shepherded the animals to other areas of the forest.
Firbolgs will even sometimes divert springs and brooks away from the path of outsiders.
If these subtle tactics fail then firbolgs may approach the intruders, often disguised as elves, and gently ask them to leave.
Firbolgs aren’t necessarily opposed to befriending outsiders if they will live in harmony with the woodland. Forest gnomes and wood elves are both likely allies for a firbolg tribe.
If outsiders pose a threat to the forest though, firbolgs will martial their forces for a devastating attack against the intruders. In particular, those who risk forest fires are anathema to firbolgs.
Firbolgs have no use for gold or material wealth. They live within an ecosystem where all things are codependent and the greed of one is a danger to the survival of all. In a world of winter shortages, taking more than you need is unthinkable.
Firbolgs are deeply magical people and have a particular affinity with druidic magic. Almost all firbolgs know at least one or two spells and they typically use magic to ensure they remain hidden to outsiders.
Firbolgs can be understood as an intersection of giant-kin and fey. Even though they’re not directly fey creatures themselves, firbolgs have several characteristics which echo the fantasy of fey creatures.
Firbolgs are large and possess the enormous strength of their giant relatives. That said, their place is unusual amongst giants and giant-kin. Giants are often characterized by political scheming within the rigid hierarchical structure of the Ordning.
Firbolgs do have a place within the ordning but it’s difficult to imagine that they’d engage with the politicking of the elemental giants.
Firbolgs are closer to fey in many ways. They live in the wild places of the world and have no desire to build anything that approximates human civilization. Both fey and firbolgs also have a deep affinity for magic. Both generally remain hidden and interact with intruders in mysterious and indirect ways.
Firbolgs’ naming conventions, or lack thereof (detailed later in this guide), could conceivably have arisen through generations of close interaction with fey.
Everyone knows that you should never “give” a fairy your name. How could you, if you have no name to give?
Firbolgs don’t have the tricksy, whimsical nature of fey. They might engage in trickery and Home Alone-style antics but their intentions are serious and sincere.
Firbolg Abilities and Traits – What Characterizes the Firbolg Race?
Firbolgs receive a +1 bonus to strength and +2 to wisdom, although if you’re playing with the optional rule for these racial bonuses in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything then they can be placed in any stats.
Firbolgs are medium-sized giant-kin. They’re usually between seven and eight feet tall and weigh between 240 and 300 pounds.
Firbolgs’ Powerful Build ability means they count as Large when determining the weight carry, as well as the weight they can push, drag, or lift.
Firbolgs have some innate spellcasting from their Firbolg Magic ability. They can cast Detect Magic and a modified form of Disguise Self that allows them to appear 3ft shorter to blend in with humanoid creatures like elves.
Wisdom is the casting ability for these spells and they can be cast once before taking a long or short rest.
Firbolgs’ Hidden Step ability can be used as a bonus action and grants them a round of invisibility which is broken if they make an attack roll, a damage roll, or take any action that forces another creature to make a saving throw.
Once used, this also can’t be used again until after a long or short rest.
Firbolgs can speak Common, Elvish, and giant.
Speech of Beast and Leaf
Firbolgs can also communicate to beasts and plants using Speech of Beast and Leaf and have advantage on speech checks to influence beasts and plants.
This communication is one-way though. Speech of Beast and Leaf doesn’t grant any ability to understand beasts and plants.
What Classes Are A Good Fit for Firbolgs?
Not only are druids the most perfect fit for firbolgs, firbolg is probably also the most perfect fit for a druid character.
As forest guardians, firbolgs’ fantasy is of gentle, mysterious, woodland folk. Their nature is of stewardship and love of their forest homes. Firbolgs care for the forest on their own terms and don’t try to twist nature to their own will. Nature-revering druids are plentiful amongst the Forgotten Realms’ firbolg tribes.
Firbolgs’ +2 bonus to wisdom is also perfect for druids, as magic-users whose spellcasting ability is wisdom.
Nature domain cleric may be a good choice if you’re looking for a slightly different twist on a spiritual druidic fantasy. Clerics also use wisdom for spellcasting and really benefit from firbolgs’ bonuses.
They arguably gain more benefit than druids because nature domain’s heavy armor proficiency synergizes well with firbolgs’ strength bonus.
The ranger class is also a natural choice for firbolgs. Firbolgs are intimately familiar with the terrain of their forest homes and have a deep connection to the landscape.
Rangers’ Natural Explorer grants them a favored terrain where they get various bonuses from their familiarity with that type of landscape. In the case of a firbolg, the natural choice for a favored terrain is forest.
Rangers also use wisdom for spellcasting and gain a lot of benefit from firbolgs’ wisdom bonus. The +1 bonus to strength is less useful for most ranger builds, although melee strength-based ranger builds can work with multiclassing.
Barbarians are rare amongst the firbolgs of the Forgotten Realms. That said, the fantasy of barbarian plays heavily into some of the reasons a firbolg might have for becoming an adventurer.
Firbolgs don’t leave their forests lightly and many adventuring firbolgs have been displaced by the destruction of their forest home.
A firbolg whose forest has been destroyed might be consumed by rage and thoughts of revenge. A character who was once a gentle giant might now be a wrathful behemoth.
Oath of the Ancients paladin is an excellent thematic fit for firbolgs. A character devoted to protecting nature might have taken a knightly oath to do so.
These paladins share firbolgs’ deep love of nature and often adorn their weapons and armor with images of nature.
Firbolgs fall well outside the ordinary fantasy of warlocks. Archfey warlock sounds like a good fit for firbolgs. It’s easy to see how a firbolg might seek out and meet fey creatures in their forests.
That said, warlocks are often selfish characters who make deals to secure greater power for themselves. This doesn’t at all mesh with firbolgs, who are almost completely focused on the collective good.
Playing a firbolg as an archfey warlock is definitely manageable but the motivations behind their warlock pact may be unusual.
Perhaps some terrible moment of crisis in the forest forced a firbolg, in desperation, to make such a deal for the collective good.
Perhaps the entire firbolg tribe made such a deal collectively. Both of these possibilities allow for some unique warlock backstories.
Rogues, and especially arcane tricksters, may be a good fit for firbolgs. Firbolgs use magic to stay out of sight and firbolgs who live close to human civilization may infiltrate those communities to better understand their intentions and to ascertain whether those communities are a threat to the forest.
Monk and Artificer
Firbolgs are particularly unlikely to become monks or artificers and these classes may be a challenge to reconcile with a firbolg’s backstory. Barring the total destruction of their tribe and forest, it’s unlikely that a firbolg would join a monastery.
Artificers are focused on acts of magical engineering in a very scientific way. This is totally at odds with firbolgs’ druidic and folkloric approach to magic. This will also be challenging to reconcile when writing a backstory.
Firbolgs’ appearance is a matter of some contention. No one can quite agree what these magically disguised forest folk look like!
Firbolgs are seven to eight feet tall and weigh between 240 and 300 pounds. This much is agreed upon.
There is only one image of a firbolg that appears in published D&D 5E material: the image on page 107 of Volo’s Guide to Everything. It shows a large rugged man in common clothing.
He has pointed elfin ears, messy ginger hair and beard, a slightly blue-grey tint to his skin, and a big red nose.
A great deal of the community perception of firbolgs is shaped by characters like Caduceus Clay from Critical Role.
Firbolgs, introduced to 5E in a book that only the most devoted D&D players own, had very little presence in community consciousness until Caduceus’ appearance on Critical Role so that character’s presentation has a big influence on the D&D communities understanding of firbolgs generally.
When Caduceus was first introduced to fans, his player, Taliesin, described him as having a “bovine” nose. This has led to the popular alternative conception of firbolgs as cow-people with lightly furred blue skin and bovine ears and nose.
These interpretations of firbolgs are both completely valid. The former may hold more weight for some players and DMs because it draws on officially published material. That said, the Critical Role vision of firbolgs gives them a more unique aesthetic with a more fey-like feel.
Firbolgs don’t actually have names! They sometimes go by elvish names when dealing with outsiders but, more usually, they allow outsiders to call them by whatever names they please.
Amongst themselves, firbolgs usually refer to each other in the same way they’d refer to the forest’s plants and animals: by their actions and habits.
Challenges of Roleplaying a Firbolg
There are several specific reasons why playing a firbolg can be challenging.
The nature of most firbolgs is such that the absolute last thing they’d ever want to do is leave their forest and go adventuring. They also have a strong distrust of outsiders and especially those without a strong connection to nature. It may be a challenge to explain why a firbolg would travel with the rest of the party.
Firbolgs’ lack of a name can also present a roleplaying challenge. In D&D, we perform our characters for one another. Without a label to mentally attach your character’s personality too, it may be difficult for other players to build an understanding of who your character is.
It may be a good idea to communicate with them that your character happily goes by whatever name outsiders give them and, as such, their characters should invent a name for your character. An alternative solution is that your character could use a name given to them by a previous group of adventurers.
Connecting your character to the campaign’s world may be difficult. Most D&D campaigns use the wilds as primarily a combat space, while most important NPCs come from towns or cities. It may be difficult to connect a wilderness-dweller to any part of the world’s social order that’s relevant to the campaign.
Firbolgs’ disinterest in material wealth can pose difficulties too. Treasure and loot are a major part of D&D’s reward mechanism and are great ways for DMs to draw their players into a story. DMs may find it difficult to reward firbolg party-members.
Finally, it can be difficult to maintain firbolgs’ earnestness and sincerity. A lot of firbolgs’ behaviors can be seen as pranks or as so unusual as to be ridiculous. It’s difficult to avoid these characters becoming silly.
Playing an outlandish character in a serious way is often challenging, especially if other players at the table treat your character like they’re the comic relief.