Fantasy settings frequently include giants or dragons or similar creatures with human-like or superior intelligence who are also much larger than humans, and weigh many tons. If our giants or dragons live in or near human-majority settlements, they need vastly more living space to achieve the same quality of life, and all land is claimed by one nation or other, so gaining living space is a matter of buying it, renting it or taking it by force.
The other obstacle to their participation in human society is the high cost of consumables. Let's say that in fantasy biology land, their energy use is proportional to the square of their height. A 5m giant needs approximately 12,500 food calories per day at a minimum, and one doing physical labour could easily consume 25,000 calories per day. A 10m dragon doing physical labour could consume 100,000 calories per day. This is extended to most things they need to buy, which are huge, and so require more labour and materials to produce.

  • Because Magic, for the purpose of this question, they don't fall foul of the square-cube law. Their bones and muscles are proportionally stronger and more efficient than those of humans.
  • Despite their large size and high energy consumption, they have no particular issues with thermoregulation, although they generally prefer colder climes.
  • They have no inherent magical abilities other than this.
  • Unlike in many works, they have no more propensity towards good or evil than humans.
  • Their lifespans and birth rates are proportionally adjusted with their height. 5m giants live two and a half times longer than humans, but give birth two and a half times less often.
  • Their populations are low. Humans outnumber them fifty to one.
  • They are no more or less intelligent than humans, but their long lifespans mean they are able eventually gain more skills and knowledge.
  • Their prehistoric population densities were low, due to the large amount of land required to support their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. By the time humans and giants realised that they were both intelligent, their populations were roughly colocated. Because of this, human civilisation grew around their small isolated tribes, and the notion of land ownership was impressed upon them as they were unable to practically control enough territory to form independent nations without human collaboration.

In a preindustrial society, what roles could these creatures take to cover their humungous living expenses? How badly would they be hit by industrialisation?

This question considers architecture, but not economy, so is only partially relevant here.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! Awesome first question, everything has been thoroughly considered and planned out, and you've even accounted for a possible dupe. I look forward to seeing more from you on here! $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Dec 23, 2016 at 2:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ WRT dragons, consider the operating cost of a jet fighter :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 23, 2016 at 6:26
  • $\begingroup$ Elephants haven't been blessed by our presence, have they? $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2016 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ @bright-star: But it appears economic to use elephants for e.g. logging in Southeast Asia. And would be more so if humans could communicate better. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 23, 2016 at 19:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @bright-star: It was precisely those minimal differences, combined with poorer weapons technology and a general unwillingness to work together, that made the American Indians so readily subject to conquest. (Which BTW happens even when the groups have no discernable-to-outsiders differences.) With e.g. intelligent talking elephants, the key is to make them difficult to conquer but easy to hire. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 24, 2016 at 3:15

5 Answers 5


Craftsmen Craftsgiants

Any merchant, baker, or book-keeper isn't going to find that being significantly taller than the average human benefits them in any way. Being a 5m tall farmer isn't going to be much better than being a 1.5m tall farmer after the invention of the ox driven plough, either. However, there are a few medieval professions where such stature and strength would be very useful and demand high compensation: trade skills like masonry and carpentry.

Building large buildings can be an enormously skill intensive and potentially dangerous undertaking. For example, here is a video of a barn being raised by a group or Amish men. Notice how, especially in the early stages, many men have to push the exterior walls up in sections, and hold it in place with ropes until one or two men are able to climb up and fasten it to other pieces of the structure. Just having one or two giants to help with the initial framing work could save a carpenter's guild many man hours and potential accidents. Masonry work could also benefit from such a strong and tall member of the workforce. Giants (assuming 5m height as described in the OP) essentially function as autonomous cranes.

Such work wouldn't make Giants noblemen, but being sought-after craftsmen they would be members of the middle class, rather than serfs. Whether it is economically feasible only depends on whether their usefulness outweighs the cost of employing them. If a giant is about 3x as tall as the average human, then a comparable living space would be about 3x as wide and 3x as long (and 3x as high); then, since only width-by-length matters when buying plots of land, a 9x sized plot of land would be needed for a giant's home. Furthermore, if a working giant has a 25,000 calorie diet compared to a working human's 2,500 then the grocer's bill would be approximately 10x as costly as the average human's. From these numbers, a giant needs to do the work of 10 men to pay the bills. This number doesn't appear to be difficult to achieve in my opinion (particularly not if their ability to increase the efficiency of the work group can be properly understood/quantified). Consumer goods like beds and furniture would probably fall into similar 9x-10x cost multipliers if you apply the same approximations, or at worst 27x if you now measure WxLxH, which again isn't horrible if you're getting paid at 10x the going rate; even if beds and furniture cost 27x that may not be so horrible to a giant with an extended lifespan to pay off a larger mortgage.


Dragons, on the other hand, may be harder to place depending on their physical abilities. If they are as manually adept as we tool-using opposable-thumb-weilding humans, then they could also find work in construction. However, the efficiency boost of a dragon or two complimenting an all-human workforce might not scale as well as it does for a few giants, and thus it could be difficult to compensate their 40x caloric needs in all but the largest of big-city construction crews.

However, if dragons can breath fire or have other similar magical abilities, then they might find specialized work that is particularly suited to their natural talents. A large scale blacksmith's shop might find that paying one dragon to stoke their fires could be significantly less expensive than buying all of the wood and charcoal they need each day (and so too for potters and glass-makers). If a dragon doesn't want such a monotonous job blowing fire into hearths all day, they could do quite well (independently) making and selling charcoal to humans, which burns cleaner and hotter than wood (both for the blacksmiths and for home stoves).


Independence (...?)

You are completely correct that larger creatures will need more space, food, etc. to survive. It is likely that as a result, they may simply settle in different locations than humans or other species, with a lower population density, to manage their own natural resources. In other words, they own a couple kingdoms too, in which they account for these problems accordingly.

Manual labor

These creatures may (will?) be stronger than the average person. While they may require more food, they can do many construction tasks with much more efficiency than humans, whether it's building roads, diverting rivers, or digging military fortifications.

Military potential

If mythical creatures are stronger, they may be very practical weapons! Imagine the money any king would pay to have giants and dragons at his disposal on the battlefield or during a siege.

Culture-based artistry

Just like how some Americans get Chinese character tattoos, or like to order from Italian restaurants, there may be a demand for cultural variation. Dragons, giants, and the likes may be able to sell their own culture related wares to offer a different experience than that which humans normally receive - assuming the demand is sufficiently high and people aren't racist.


Similarly to the above, larger creatures may just briefly foray into human territory to trade goods. Perhaps giant country has giant trees, while the dragons' mountains have diamonds and sapphires, ready to sell. This could provide them the money to settle permanently in their trading outposts.


My first thought is that such a race would actually become "nobles" of a sort, superior to human beings by virtue of their strength, intelligence (by proxy), and longevity.

The high demands of their lifestyles could be supported by providing "protection" to cities in exchange for tributes which could come in the form of money, goods, or even other services. Look to Terry Pratchett's "Guards! Guards!" for an example of how a dragon came to become king, albeit very briefly.

Given that their roles in this society are mostly aristocratic, I doubt that industrialization would hurt them much in the short term - in fact it might improve their lives for a while as their human subjects become more productive and therefore able to provide them with better goods and services.

However, as technology continues to improve, the humans may start to wonder if they really need to remain subservient to a "noble race" and instead begin to rebel against the ruling class (this is on the assumption that the giants get complacent with their positions and become rather unkind rulers).

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, this seems quite plausible. If humans outnumber them 50:1, they could become dominant, but that doesn't mean they would - especially if dominance by giants or dragons was established early in history (or in prehistory) when human populations were small & human weapons limited. Given how strong class distinctions have been in many purely-human societies, it seems plausible that the rule of an aristocracy who obviously had genuine superhuman powers would be pretty much unchallengeable. People might not even think of it - "dragons are in charge" would be an obvious and basic truth. $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2016 at 7:59
  • $\begingroup$ This. The second greatest weakness of human kings is that anyone who can access them has a decent chance of killing them. The first one is their normal longevity. Dragon kings are more stable. $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2022 at 11:35

I'd say it depends a good bit on the specific creature in question, since the nature of their needs and their capabilities would guide how they interacted with the society around them.

So, 25,000 calories is a lot, sure, but manageable. Similarly, 100,000 is quite a bit, but it's not insurmountable. As an analog, horses performing moderate work use about 25,000 calories a day. So each working giant literally eats as much as a horse, and each dragon eats enough for three or four. That's certainly feasible, provided that the creatures are able to get the bulk of their calories from grains, root vegetables and other bulk carbohydrates (much like humans). On the other hand, if, say, the dragons are obligate carnivores (like ten-meter long cats) then that gets expensive very quickly -- 100,000 food calories is in the ballpark of 70kg of meat per day. If dragons are going through a goat or sheep per day of hard labor, or a cow every three-four days or so, that would quickly become a strain on the surrounding area, unless said dragons were actually idle most of the time.

As far as what Giants might do to earn their keep, what springs to mind at first would be heavy manual labor or construction, where, much like the horses they eat like, their productivity would make them more than worth the upkeep. Dragons or similar flying creatures could act as couriers or traders, carrying news and wares from location to location faster, further, and more securely (because who wants to pick a fight with a dragon?) than ground-based methods.

They might also find work in more skilled fields. For example, a giant might find work as a blacksmith or other metalworker, where their strength would be an asset. Or an educated dragon or giant might find work as a clerk or tax collector. If a local lord has a dragon managing his books, few are going to try and cheat on their taxes! Similarly, they might find themselves in other knowledge-based positions like apothecaries, seneschals, or scribes. Since the populace at large is likely to be illiterate, long-lived giants with good memories could serve as historians or skalds, maintaining an oral history through stories and epics. Similarly, since they are more likely to become educated given their longer lives, they might become employed as educators in turn.

All that said, I can also see different non-human sub-economies forming, though possibly only unofficially. If giants primarily employ other giants, and are only purchasing goods from giant producers, and that commerce is all kept within the giant community, then the impact of the scale difference between them and the humans is minimized. This does assume that on some level the giants have the means to support themselves indepenedently (e.g. giant farmers with giant-sized farms and herds, etc.). So I'd expect you'd see giant enclaves or dragon enclaves or whatever within the human society, rather than a random lone dragon on its own.

When they have to start "importing" goods or services from humans, then they might lose out, and this would need to be balanced by "exporting" their own goods or labor back to the humans, much like a nation trades with its neighbors and has to deal with exchange rates and so on.

Zxyrra mentioned military potential, and mercenary work could certainly be a lucrative profession for giants or dragons. Siege engines are expensive and complicated to build, so having giants hurling boulders or swinging battering rams would be useful. And dragons would be a complete game-changer, effectively providing an air force long before they were possible in the real world. So the services of both groups would be in high demand, and I can even picture, say, notable individuals or the heads of clans or communities receiving overtures or bids from both sides of a conflict for their services.

Practically (and a bit cynically), I think that sort of strength alone will also help keep giants and dragons supported. Not necessarily as "nobility" per se, but local rulers may find that it's easier and cheaper to just make sure the dragons, giants, or what-have-you have a steady food supply, lest they be forced to turn to more disruptive means of support. Because while the humans could rally their army to slay the foul beast, it's probably easiest to just make sure things never get to that point in the first place.


They might form a mutually beneficial relationship. The Giants must gather a large portions of food. Humans must protect themselves from other humans as well as other Giants who might see them as food since they are equally as intelligent as humans and they have the ability to communicate they could easily begin striking some sort of deal. A giant or maybe a couple Giants would protect humans from other Giants and their own kind, in exchange the human this would give them a portion of the food and other resources as they gathered, not unlike a feudal Lord.

As more and more people seek out a Giant or Giants for protection cities and Empires begin to grow around them. Soon conflicts among humans inevitably lead to a conflict among giants and vice versa.

Overtime instead the Giants might become Godlike figures the gifts of resources might become a religious sacrifices, a whole priesthood could develop around the Giants. The priest job would be to and guard the Giant from Assassin's coming from rival Empires as well as doctors to treat the Giant in case of injury or illness.

Of course any type of mutually beneficial relationship would require that giant populations stay relatively low when compared to the human population unwanted Giants could be exiled to keep the system in balance.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .