Ordning is a Scandinavian term used in D&D to describe both the internal hierarchy of giant society and the meta-social hierarchy that links the various breeds and castes of giants and giant-kin. The concept was originally specific to the setting of the Forgotten Realms, since the idea that the diffuse giant subraces once worked together in a single vast empire where each subrace held a specific social caste is an important part of the setting's backstory, but the idea was revived and made part of the "core canon" in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. This has earned some backlash from fans, especially since, at its core, the ordning is clearly based on the basic precept of "bigger is better", with the larger giants being more highly placed on the ordning's hierarchy.
The ordning was developed, or at least fleshed out, in the sourcebook "FOR7: Giantcraft", for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition.
Before getting into the ordning itself, there are two terms to define: Maat and Maug. Neither can be directly translated into English, but maat roughly means 'good', 'honorable', and 'in line with the Ordning', while maug corresponds to 'sinful', 'evil', and 'against the Ordning'.
Although each giant breed has its own unique customs and social habits, a few special customs are shared by all breeds. Most of these traditions date back to the ancient empire of Ostoria and its residents.
For example, all giant breeds believe in the sanctity of the ordning - the order. True giant societies are always organized around a stringent pecking order that stretches from the tribe's leader or chieftain all the way down to its lowliest runt. Unlike most other civilized societies, the ordning is not based upon classes or castes, but upon single individuals. There are no equals in giant society, just inferiors and superiors. Every giant is always aware of his or her exact rank within the ordning: the chieftain is et (or "one"), his closest adviser is to (or "two"), etc. all the way down to the lowliest member of the tribe.
Each of the various breeds and tribes bases its ordning around a different quantity, skill, or commodity. Hill giants aren't smart enough to understand that there is an ordning, but they can wrap their heads around rule by might, so the biggest and fattest giant is the boss. Frost giant ordnings are typically based around wrestling, reveling, and boasting. Stone giant ordnings are based upon artistic prowess. Cloud Giant ordnings are based around wealth and its display, and Storm Giant ordnings are based around omens recieved. In any case, the basis of the ordning is always concrete and easily quantifiable to the tribesmen, making ordning disputes easy to resolve. To rise in the ordning, one simply challenges a superior to a contest appropriate to the ordning's basis. Challengers who win change ordning rankings with the superiors they bested. Some tribes place no restrictions upon such contests, while others have devised special rules dictating when and if challenges may be issued.
Violating the ordning is an especially maug act. Violations include: refusing to show respect for a superior, refusing to share resources (treasure, food, etc.) with superiors, mocking/belittling superiors, refusing to obey valid orders, granting inferiors access to things above their station, etc.
Although their ordning ranks measure the giants' station only within their own tribes, the customary greeting between giants of two different tribes of the same breed includes an oral exchange of ranks. Though a giant is under no obligation to treat a higher ranking giant from another tribe as a superior, any other reaction is a blatant insult. Two giants of different breeds always ignore their respective inter-tribal ranks since the breeds themselves are ranked in a grand ordning.
Thus, the runt of a frost giant tribe is automatically of a higher station than the chieftain of a stone, mountain, or hill giant tribe. In any case, giants' obligation to their own tribal superiors is always stronger than their obligation to a superior from another tribe or breed. Failure to respect the ordning rank of an outsider is merely an insult or faux pas, not a maug act.
Outsiders think it quite odd that giants base their social structure on such specific and seemingly irrelevant skills. Why would a leader be the best stonecrafter, smith, wrestler, the fattest, or the one with the fanciest house, instead of someone chosen for tactical or administrative talent, or born to the rank? But in the context of the ordning and giantish myth, it makes perfect sense. According to giantish legend, the different breeds of giants were set separate tasks by Annam in the old empire of Ostoria, and these skills correspond to those ancient roles, and thus are synonymous with maat.
Frost Giants, for example, were the powerful warriors of Ostoria, and thus view raw physical prowess (without the crutches of magic or weapons) as the greatest talent they can possess, with the toughest Frost Giant being considered the best at being a Frost Giant, and thus the obvious leader. For Storm Giants, omens given reflect how close a particular giant is to Annam. Stone Giant society works much like a group of master craftsmen and their apprentices, with inferiors learning the craft of their superiors in exchange for obeying the masters in everyday life. Fire Giants are soldiers who recognize that their equipment is just as important in winning battles as their physical might, and thus recognize those who are the best at crafting such things as their leaders and generals (strategic and tactical skill is rarely considered because it's very rare for Fire Giants to have such talents; the Cloud Giants were the generals of Ostoria).
Sitting atop all ordnings, of course, is Annam All-Father, the great giant god. Each tribe tends to personify Annam as the ultimate champion of its chosen virtue. Hill giants see Annam as a master glutton, frost giants view him as a wild reveler and unbeatable wrestler, stone and fire giants see him as a matchless craftsman, Cloud Giants portray Annam a great king, and Storm Giants focus on his great wisdom to the point where they believe reality itself to stem from his dreams.
Naturally, the giants' unshakable belief in the ordning is one of the reasons they tend to look down upon other races. Many giants see the entirety of creation as one large ordning with the giants themselves on top.
The Original Ordning Hierarchy
The Original Ordning Code
- Honoring Annam
- Bravery (only Fire & Frost giants consider this virtue to be this high; other giants rank it between "honor the giant gods" and "honor family members"
- Honoring Othea
- Showing a maat giant mercy or charity
- Honoring any of the other giant gods
- Honoring family members.
- Showing another sentient being mercy or charity (only Storm giants consider this maat behavior)
- Betraying Annam
- Violating the ordning
- Betraying one's tribe
- Betraying one's family
- Killing another giant (only applies if that giant is considered maat)
- Betraying a trust
- Stealing from another giant
- Forcing another giant to leave his or her geographical domain (because the territories of giants are considered a divine gift from Annam)
- Being giant-kin or ogre (being bastard children of Othea makes these races inherently impure)