Giff 5e: Guide to the Culture, Appearance & Traits of Hippo-Folk

Sturdy, bipedal hippo-folk who roam the Astral Plane looking for the dead god who gave birth to them, the Giff perfectly encapsulate the tone of the Spelljammer setting. 

Sure, they’re an entire species of astrally-sensitive, gun-wielding space drifters drawn to explore the cosmos by the echoes of their dying creator’s soul… but they’re also, like, hippos.

This wanton mixture of the cosmically epic (and terrifying) with the downright goofy is the absolute core of Spelljammer‘s tone and why no spacefaring party of adventurers is complete without a beefy hippo person.  

So, if you want to play a gun-wielding astral hippo from space (and why wouldn’t you?), keep on reading for our comprehensive breakdown of the Giff as a playable race in Dungeons & Dragons 5e

What Are the Giff in DnD 5e? 

Giff are a race of broad-shouldered hippo folk who hail from a forgotten corner of the Astral Sea. They were created by Jeff Grubb, designer of the original Spelljammer boxed set in 1989 and have long stood as an iconic feature of the setting’s weird and wonderful adventures in space. 

Created by unknown (likely dead) gods and left to wander the stars, the Giff in D&D 5e are a bombastic, intrepid race of creatures who combine their strength and natural (god-given?) affinity for guns and bombs with flashes of astral power. Whether friend or foe, be assured that a Giff is a force to be reckoned with in battle.

Giff Racial Traits 

As a giff, you gain the following racial traits at character creation. 

Creature Type. You are a Humanoid.

Size. Your size counts as Medium.

Speed. Your walking speed is 30 feet, and you also gain a swimming speed that is equal to your walking speed.

Astral Spark. Your psychic connection to the Astral Plane enables you to mystically access and manifest sparks of divine power — a residual burst of energy from the deity that created you, which you channel through your weapon attacks. 

When you hit a target with a simple or martial weapon, you can cause the target to take extra force damage equal to your proficiency bonus. You can use this trait only once per turn and a number of times per long rest equal to your proficiency bonus. 

Firearms Mastery. You have a mystical connection to firearms that traces back to the gods of the Giff, who delighted in such weapons. You gain proficiency with all firearms and ignore the loading property of any firearm. In addition, attacking at long range with a firearm doesn’t impose disadvantage on your attack roll.

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. 

So, usually when I talk about playable races in a post-Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything / Monsters of the Multiverse world, I usually hit the whole “everything is viable with everything else; just have fun with it” angle pretty hard. With the Giff… Not so much. 

Out of all the new playable races we’ve had introduced to the official game in the last year or so, the Giff are one of the only ones that feel like they’d be actively bad when paired up with certain classes. 

First of all, the good stuff: A swimming speed is never a bad thing — not quite as good as a flying speed but still good stuff. 

Then, your Hippo Build is a nice thing to have going for you — advantage on Strength checks is great stuff, and while Strength saving throws are easily the least common type of save, it’s still a nice little security blanket. Nevertheless, we already see the direction where this race wants to go. Strength-based characters (especially melee-focused ones who don’t mind doing some grappling) are already having a good time. 

Then, we have Astral Spark, which initially looks like a nice way to apply more damage whenever you choose a few times per day. It also multiplies in effectiveness as it multiplies in number of uses.

This means that, while you start off getting a measly 4 damage per day at 1st level, by 18th-20th level, it translates to 36 damage per day which is… honestly not that much. Sure, more damage is always nice, and if you really, really need to kill something, every little bit of force damage helps, but I can’t help but feel they could have made this a bit more impactful. Like, it’s fine, but I think everyone who picks a Giff because they like the idea of attacks that hit a bit harder is going to be disappointed with the reality. 

Still, extra damage on weapon attacks is the next big nudge in the direction of martial classes. 

Then, we have Firearms Mastery. If you’re playing in a campaign that even allows firearms (some don’t — they’re totally optional rules that aren’t mentioned anywhere else in Spelljammer, meaning the DM has to go trawling through their copy of the DMG to figure out what’s going on), effectively having the passive effects of the Crossbow Expert and Sharpshooter feats bundled together is pretty damn good. 

It’s still a pretty big if, though.  

All things considered, then, to play a Giff character to their fullest potential, you need to play… 

  • A martial character 
  • A character that likes to fight up close to grapple their enemies but also likes to use ranged gunpowder-based weapons 
  • In a campaign that allows guns… 

It’s a somewhat tall order, which basically means that the Fighter, Ranger, or maybe the Rogue are going to be your best bets here — although there’s something to really be said for playing a Hexblade Warlock Giff (a goth Giff, if you will) who summons magical guns made of pure darkness from the aether.

Giff Appearance and Culture

Giff stand a comfortable head taller than most creatures they encounter. Their smooth, gray skin, small protruding ears, and bristly faces all suggest that they might be awakened hippopotamuses, but the reality is that the Giff don’t know where they came from. 

Their species was born millennia ago, and since then, they’ve wandered the vast expanses of Wildspace without a place to call home or any real understanding of who they are. All they do know is that they were created by some unknown “divine architects” — now likely dead and floating among the many petrified husks of god bodies floating in the endless void. 

(Again, Spelljammer is all about mixing the cosmic horror of giant god corpses with the whimsy of their totally coincidentally hippo-headed children. If you love it, you love it. If you find it jarring and awful, just wait until you hear how unbearably smug Chris Perkins is about adding killer clownz from outer space to the Monster Manual — as far as I can tell, it’s his only “original” addition to a setting that was released 30 years ago, but I digress). 

Though they’re left drifting as cosmic orphans in an infinite starry night, the Giff aren’t a melancholy or philosophical culture. Their spark of divine power and inherited affinity for guns and explosives have pushed them down a more bombastic, militaristic path. Giff sail the Astral Seas in spelljamming ships that bristle with cannons, taking joy in the thrill of battle — many of them turning to mercenary work, piracy, or the adventuring life as a result.