The Giant’s Adventures: I love them

I love some of the earliest adventures published by TSR back in the day, but my absolute favorites are what I call “The Giant’s Trilogy” (includes “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief,” “Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl” and “Hall of the Fire Giant King,” (later the three were gathered into one adventure called “Against the Giants”)).

By the current industry standards of Wizards of the Coast or Paizo, these would probably considered pretty lame — the first two adventures average around 8 pages each, the last in the series is two or three times as long. There aren’t very many important NPCs other than lots of giants who need killing and a few NPCs who need rescue… no nuanced non player characters, or involved plot points or adventure hooks that modern players have come to expect from published adventures like “The Adventure Path” series from Paizo. But after really trying to like the ‘adventure path’ style of adventure (and failing), I’m wishing I could return to the gonzo blood-and-guts D&D of my youth where we killed things and took their stuff.

If you are accustomed to the modern “adventure path” style adventures, the first thing you will notice is how physically insubstantial the ‘Giants’ booklets seem in comparison. The older version comes in 3 skinny folders with maps printed in light blue on the inside (in the age of photo copiers, I think this color was chosen because 1970s era Xerox copiers had trouble reproducing it, thus TSR was probably attempting to prevent ‘analog age’ file sharing). There are no boxes of text to be read aloud to the players. Most creatures are not described with any more detail than their hitpoints (other details were to be found in the AD&D Monster Manual). The room descriptions mostly just tell you what (monster, treasure, furnishings) is in any labeled location and may include details like how they will react when player characters come strolling in or any traps or hazards that might be found in the area. Add a few wandering monster lists as well as some suggestions on tactics the giants will use as well as a ‘hook’ to get the players on to the next installment and that is it. The third in the series is a little more elaborate; it includes a couple of named NPCs who will be of interest (as well as introducing ‘The Drow’ to D&D players for the first time) and the suggestion that the adventure can be continued in the D-series of adventures.

The introduction to the first adventure, “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief,” consists of a pargaraph saying that giants have been raiding the lands of humans with greater frequency and unusual efficiency recently. The player characters have been ‘shanghaied’ into investigating; a greater plot is suspected and the player characters have been commanded to find out who is behind the attacks. If the players refuse, they are to be executed (how is that for motivation?). Any treasure the party can find is theirs to keep. The noble who gives the players this draconian assignment isn’t even named in the adventure. With that, players are led off to the nearby ‘Steading’ of the hill giants (kind of a stockade fort/cabin) and told to come back with answers.

If the players succeed in defeating the hill giants, they can move on to the icy caves of the frost giants. If the frost giants are defeated, then the players can proceed to the caverns of the fire giants. The giants have various pet monsters, traps and allies in their lairs, but the adventures consist of a lot of fighting.

So what’s to like about an adventure like this? I’ve heard fans of the 3e and later eras of Dungeons & Dragons dismiss this type of play as ‘hack and slash,’ and, if ‘hack and slash’ means killing monsters and taking their stuff, I suppose they are right. But other than being forced to deal with the giants, the players have complete freedom of action. From my limited experience, this is unlike the more modern ‘adventure path’ adventures where players usually have to first go to location A and talk to NPC B, then retrieve relic C and bring it back to NPC B, who will tell them that they then have to go to location D and defeat bad guy E… but bad guy E will escape, etc. The ‘adventure path’ reads more like a really long novel than what they thought of as an ‘adventure’ back in the mid to late 1970s. During that era, an ‘adventure’ was really just a location — and it was us to the players to provide the ‘inspiration.’

4 Comments on “The Giant’s Adventures: I love them”

  1. baronzemo says:

    I converted the L trilogy(L1 Secret of Bone Hill and L2 Assassin's Knot)from 1st to 3.5 a few years back and my players had a great time.
    L1 is a sanbox full of goodness. A little bit of everything.
    I'm like 25/75, 25% for the “adventure path” stuff. Sometimes I like a little bit of story while I'm killing them gaints. But hell, what's better than just killing a bunch of gaints, everyone knows they have LOTS OF LOOT!

  2. The G-series modules are amazingly open-ended and complex, despite — or perhaps because of — their brevity. I'd love to see more modules like them.

  3. Mr. Chappell says:

    HUGE fan of these modules. I played only two or three session of the “Steading” and loved every minute of it. Funny, I remember making copies of the modules and getting irritated that the Xerox machine did poorly with the maps!

    Now that I'm running DARPG and the adventures supported by Green Ronin, I see the modern “Adventure Paths” you speak of as a viable alternative to Hack 'n Slash. Two different vibes, just as sometimes I'm in the mood for John Coltrane and sometimes AC/DC.

    But don't get me wrong: I'd LOVE to play through these or any other classic D&D style again. If only Goodman Games would hurry up and come out with their new Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG!

    … And if I could get a certain artist I know to DM them so I could be a player.

  4. scottsz says:

    The G series is incredible fun, and G3 is definitely in the running for being a 'close to perfect' module. Definite 'bad guys', a clear objective, a massive fight early on, and still plenty of investigation to be done to find out what's going on!

    They could be placed in damn near any campaign, they have a definite 'plot' to stop the raids, all the while hooking characters into the larger series.

    As far as 'hack/slash'… the giants present a threat to the neighboring lands and aren't going to surrender, so I'm not sure if such a criticism really applies to the Giant modules.

    @Chappell: I always thought the old maps were deliberately blue to inhibit reproduction.

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