Death giants were around 15 feet (4.6 meters) tall and weighed around 2,000 pounds (910 kilograms). They had dark gray or black skin and could not grow hair on their heads or body. Unlike most giant species, they had pointed ears. Their nails grew into ragged claws and they had very sharp teeth. The souls they controlled manifested as a thin cloud of fog around them filled with faces screaming in torment.
The majority of death giant abilities revolved around their ability to capture and control the souls of the dead. Any creature that died within 15 feet (4.6 meters) of a death giant was stolen to become one of the guardian spirits that swirled around the giant. Affected creatures could not be resurrected until the giant was slain, whereupon the stolen souls were released. The souls could not be removed or freed from the giant in any other way, although they could be temporarily subdued by an attempt to turn the undead. If another death giant was nearby when the original soul thief was slain, the released souls could be taken by the new giant. The souls gave warnings of danger to the giant that controlled them. The giant could also command the spirits to shriek, which could drive those who heard it into a blind panic until it escaped the noise and left them shaken for a full day even after it stopped. Additionally, the souls allowed a death giant to be healed by negative energy without affecting its ability to be healed by positive energy.
Death giants were immune to fear and energy drain effects. They also had innate spellcasting abilities that allowed them to dispel magic, inflict wounds, call down flame, and cause an unholy blight.
Death giants were both skilled melee fighters and powerful spellcasters. They would attempt to weaken foes with the screams of the guardian souls and their magic, then attack with melee abilities. If it looked like the giant was losing, they would attempt to intimidate a foe into a truce by threatening the theft of the opponent's soul.
Death giants were originally a race of giants found in Netheril. Although they were known as ash giants, they had no known connection to the subrace of stone giants known as ash giants who lived on the Black Ash Plain. When the Netherese empire collapsed after the attack of the phaerimms, the giants forsook their human allies and made a deal with some greater power to ensure their survival. This bound the souls of the entire race and all their descendants to the Negative Energy Plane. While they gained powerful magical abilities, their souls were now doomed for destruction. Upon death, they could not be resurrected by any means, and unless magical measures were rapidly taken their souls were utterly destroyed a few seconds after their body died.
Death giants primarily resided within the Shadowfell. On the material plane, they could generally be found living in hollows beneath large cemeteries, inside mausoleums, as well as in the ruins of the Netherese empire in the deserts of Anauroch.
Their enhanced arcane skill allowed them to provide for all their needs magically, and as a result their domestic skills and original culture were severely decayed. They remained talented weapon- and armor-smiths, crafting these items so that they could participate in soul-trading battles where one giant (or group) attacked another in an attempt to gain more guardian souls. All other time was dedicated to finding a way to end the curse brought upon them by their ancestors without sacrificing the power it gave them.
The gods of other giants abandoned the death giants when they sold their souls, but a few death giants still venerated them. Most death giants with religious tendencies worshiped evil gods who did not care whether their followers' souls remained intact upon death.
Death giants often surrounded themselves with weaker creatures so that they could sacrifice them for their soul shards. They were often seen in the company of onis, howlers, blood fiends, abyssal ghouls, and nightwalkers.
In the Shadowfell death giants controlled large swathes of territory. Those that dwelled there typically subjugated dark ones and shadar-kai, as well as shadowborn ogres and trolls. Some within the Shadowfell were known to be servants of the goddess Shar, while those on the material plane were often servants of powerful liches, such as Anabraxis and Szass Tam. Others were known to serve in the forces of the returned Netheril.
- Mike Mearls, Stephen Schubert, James Wyatt (June 2008). Monster Manual 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 120–121. ISBN 978-0-7869-4852-9.
- Andrew Finch, Gwendolyn Kestrel, Chris Perkins (August 2004). Monster Manual III. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 54–55. ISBN 0-7869-3430-1.
- Rob Heinsoo, Stephen Schubert (May 19, 2009). Monster Manual 2 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 171. ISBN 0786995101.
- Mike Mearls, Greg Bilsland and Robert J. Schwalb (June 15, 2010). Monster Manual 3 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 110. ISBN 0786954902.
- Mike Mearls, Stephen Schubert, James Wyatt (June 2008). Monster Manual 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 11, 119, 197. ISBN 978-0-7869-4852-9.
- Bruce R. Cordell, Ed Greenwood, Chris Sims (August 2008). Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. Edited by Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, et al. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 69. ISBN 978-0-7869-4924-3.
- Richard Baker, John Rogers, Robert J. Schwalb, James Wyatt (December 2008). Manual of the Planes 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 55. ISBN 978-0-7869-5002-7.
- Bruce R. Cordell, Ed Greenwood, Chris Sims (August 2008). Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. Edited by Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, et al. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 69, 220, 275. ISBN 978-0-7869-4924-3.
- Bruce R. Cordell, Ed Greenwood, Chris Sims (August 2008). Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. Edited by Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, et al. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 263. ISBN 978-0-7869-4924-3.
- Mike Mearls, Stephen Schubert, James Wyatt (June 2008). Monster Manual 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 243. ISBN 978-0-7869-4852-9.
- Richard Baker, John Rogers, Robert J. Schwalb, James Wyatt (December 2008). Manual of the Planes 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 56. ISBN 978-0-7869-5002-7.
Cloud • Ettin • Fire (Fire titan ) • Fog • Frost • Hill (Earth titan • Mouth of Grolantor) • Mountain • Stone • Storm (Storm titan) • Titan
Eldritch • Death • Sand • Troll