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Saturday, 27 June 2020

1978: G3 Hall of the Giant King

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles—and so on, as the anniversaries come up. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.

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Over the years, Dungeons & Dragons has returned again and again to face its tallest foe—the giants! Most recently Wizards of the Coast pitted adventurers against them in 2016’s Storm King’s Thunder, the sixth campaign for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, but their first appearance was in a trilogy of scenarios which began with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and continued with G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, before concluding with G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King. The three would subsequently be collected as G1-2-3 Against the Giants, which itself would form the first three parts of the campaign that would be collected in 1986 as GDQ1–7 Queen of the Spiders. In 1999, these three modules would be reprinted as part of the Dungeons & Dragons Silver Anniversary Collectors Edition boxed set and more properly revisited in Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff. It would be followed in 2009 by Revenge of the Giants, the first ‘mega-adventure’ for Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition, and then of course, in 2016 with Wizards of the Coast’s Storm King’s Thunder. For anyone interested in reading or running the series for themselves, G1-3 Against the Giants is available as a surprisingly inexpensive reprint.

Much of this history as well as critical response to both the individual dungeons and the collected G1-2-3 Against the Giants is detailed on Wikipedia. This is worth taking the time to read, so Reviews from R’lyeh recommends doing so before returning to this series of reviews. The ‘Giants Review’ series began with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, continued with G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and brings the original trilogy to a close with G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King.

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is a direct sequel to G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. In G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, the Player Characters were directed to investigate the recent attacks upon the  lands of the humans—nominally in the World of Greyhawk—by attacks by giants of various types. Against this unheard of occurrence the rulers of these lands hired the Player Characters to deal a lesson to the Hill Giants. In the course of the adventure, the party carried out a strike—and ‘strike’ is the right term—on the Hill Giant steading, because G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is nothing more than a commando raid upon a ‘military’ base. As well as discovering the presence of other giants at a feast held in their honour, what the Player Characters also discover is the scenario’s singular link to G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. It is both figuratively and actually a link, capable of transporting the party to the Glacial Rift of said second scenario. At the end of G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, the players characters find a similar link which gets them to Muspelheim, in front of the great obsidian valve-like doors of King Snurre’s halls which make up G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King.

From the outset, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is very different in terms of tone and presentation. The scenario is longer—at sixteen pages, double the length of G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl—and presents three levels rather than two. It is also wrapped in a triple-gatefold cover than the double one of the previous two scenarios. Where G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl was fog and ice over bare rock, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King consists of a three hundred foot tall, smoking slag heap, its halls and rooms of black and brown worked rock, its special rooms of obsidian and black marble, all lit with torches, braziers, jets of natural gas, and even pools of molten lava. The inhabitants, predominately the Fire Giants, are warier and cannier, better reacting to intruders—more so if the player characters make multiple sorties into the halls. Notably though, unlike in the first parts of the trilogy where the big bosses are placed at the end of the scenario, the likelihood is that the player characters will encounter Snurre, the black-armoured, orange tusked and bewhiskered, bandy-legged, and ugly King of the Fire Giants, along with his bodyguards, very early on in the dungeon. They are literally found in the dungeon’s third room and a careful party could get inside and deal a mighty blow to the Fire Giants and their mysterious backers before anyone can react by killing King Snurre. That though, still leaves his even uglier and wartier wife, Frupy, and a lot of angry Fire Giants. On the other hand, the Fire Giants will react quickly to any intruders and the adventurers could find themselves forced to retreat very quickly. As with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, a handy bolthole is described at the beginning of the scenario should the player characters decide they need to beat a hasty retreat.

With what is essentially the ‘reception room’ upfront, the areas beyond are given over to communal and private quarters, barracks, storage, guest chambers, and the like. Amongst the more mundane locations, E. Gary Gygax gets to write some interesting set pieces. These include the eerie Hall of Dead Kings—the crypts of the Fire Giant Kings, a smithy heated by molten lava, a torture chamber, and the Temple of the Eye—actually in use as opposed to the strange temple all but abandoned below the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief—where the Drow conduct ceremonies to some unnamed elder god. Some of these encounters veer between incredibly deadly to deadly and silly, though are horrifically weird. The fact that the King’s Torturer can throw a player character into an iron maiden and slam the door shut—killing them instantly, and the Royal Headsman can lop of heads and limbs aplenty with little recourse from the player characters point to just how deadly the adventure is. The silly is the fact that G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King repeats the error of G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl by shoving a very large and ancient Red Dragon atop a huge mound of coins and other treasures into a tiny cavern. This is compounded by the addition of an illusion of a Red Dragon in the adjacent, much larger cavern. It goes against the whole sense of naturalism which permeates the rest of the scenario.

The weird includes the Temple of the Eye and its priests’ quarters. The temple is all unease and a sense of foreboding, swirling lights, purple stone, rusty black mineral block altar, and malachite pillars, where the player characters’ meddling is likely to either kill them, send mad, enrage them, age them, and so on, or under the right—potentially terrible—circumstances grant them just what they need. The quarters of the Drow priests is protected by a Wall of Tentacles, a horrid spell which will reach out with tentacles and beaks to bite, abrade, and constrict those forbidden to pass through it.

The last and third level is entirely different. Rather than worked or polished stone, it consists of natural caverns and is populated by a range of monsters more suited to the environment—Ropers, Piercers, Lurkers, and the like—although in a relatively small area. However, it is currently occupied by a number of visiting forces. These include the Drow, divided between forces divided between Eclavdra and Nedylene, the latter and her forces not only stuck out of the way, but hemmed in by a group of Mind Flayers, also monitoring Drow activities near the service. Beyond the third level itself, a tunnel leads off into the depths... 

Then there are the Drow themselves—the existence of which is the big reveal in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King. Famously, this is their first appearance in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and the end of the module includes their full write up as if they had been included in the Monster Manual. This feared, even infamous, Race of Dark Elves has continued to feature in Dungeons & Dragons ever since, but here they remain mysterious and intriguing. The contingent in and below the Hall of the Fire Giant King is led by the warrior-priestess Eclavdra, many of them wielding a new magic item, Rod of Tentacles

In terms of plot, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is rather hit and miss. There are links to the wider plot in the correspondence found in the Council Room, including instructions given to King Snurre by the mysterious ‘Eclavdra’ about bring together various other species, including Ogres, Orge-Magi, Cloud Giants, and other in readiness to attack the lands of civilised Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and so on. In these scrolls is the first mention of the ‘Drow’, the allies of—or rather the power directing the Giants. Perhaps one of the best links to the wider plot is that rooms in the Halls of the Fire Giant King are potentially put aside for the Frost Giant Jarl and his wife and Chief Nosnra and his wife—that is, if they survived the events of G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl respectively. Its inclusion not only points to the wider involvement of the Hill Giants and the Frost Giants, it points to the effect that the player characters have had on the ongoing campaign. In other words, that both Hill Giant Nosnra and the Frost Giant Jarl and their respective wives are there because of the player characters. Another really nice touch is that Queen Frupy actually has a Potion of Giant Control for using on her husband, Snurre!

Yet in other places, plot within the scenario is either sorely underdeveloped or overused. Not once, not twice, but four times NPCs in the scenario are subject to ‘Curse your inevitable betrayal’ plot lines. There is Ombi, the Dwarf who was once Snurre’s slave, but is now his advisor; there are three Rakshasas—who even King Snurre distrusts, but who the player characters we are told, are sure to see as “…trusted friends and associates”; a Human female Thief, who will help out before running off with any loot she can—including that stolen from the player characters; and Boldo, King Snurre’s former lieutenant who will do anything to get back in his majesty’s good books despite having been locked up for his lack of deference. All four will eventually betray the player characters should they be prepared to befriend them, though the Dungeon Master will need to determine exactly who the Rakshasas look like and what they want as no advice is given to that end. Similarly, the Titan NPC who will ally with the player characters—and the only potential ally who not actually portray them—is left up to the Dungeon Master to develop in terms of personality and motivations.

However, what this does means is that there are much stronger roleplaying elements in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King than there are in the first two part parts of the trilogy. Most of this will be with the various traitorous NPCs already mentioned, of whom Obmi is the most notable given that he would appear again in E. Gary Gygax’s work on the World of Greyhawk as the ‘Hammer of Iuz’ and as a villain in Gygax’s Gord the Rogue novels. Then there is obvious rivalry between Eclavdra, the envoy to  the surface world from below, and Nedylene, the Drow sent to check up on her. Neither NPC is really developed and again, this is left up to the Dungeon Master to handle.

In terms of the overall plot, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King both delivers and disappoints. Yes, there is the big reveal about the power behind the hostile activities of the giants on the surface world—the Drow, and there is no denying the impact of that. However, no information is given and again, another tunnel or exit leads off to the next part of the campaign, which at this point feels like it should be complete with the publication and play through of G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King. The next part is, of course, D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth and so it is actually far from being complete.

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is rewarding in terms of the treasure that the player characters will be able to carry away from its halls and caverns. In comparison to their lesser brethren in the earlier modules, the Fire Giants are rich. Most carry gems about their person, but both King Snurre and Queen Frupy have much, much more. Some of this though, is locked up in vaults and even then, hidden. Often the player characters will find it challenging to uncover it, whilst getting back to the civilised presents a whole other set of problems...

For all that G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King describes the Fire Giants as being tough opponents, and able to cleverly react to the intrusion by the player characters, the advice on how they react is underwritten. With the Throne Room and both the quarters of King Snurre and Queen Frupy so close to the entrance of the hall, there is the possibility that either or both of them are killed early on in the player characters’ sorties into the Fire Giant lair. What happens then? How do the survivors react? Given that the purpose of the scenario for the player characters is as the module states, “…to slay fire giants and all who associate with them.”, why is there so little advice to help the Dungeon Master here? Now of course, this is an ‘Old School’ module and yes, that means that the Dungeon Master is left to decide these things for herself, and whilst that is intentional, it leaves the Dungeon Master with a lot of variables to work through when preparing the adventure.

Physically, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is again a slim booklet, but sixteen pages rather than eight. Again, the booklet is cramped, but E. Gary Gygax again packs in a lot of detail, especially in the descriptions of Queen Frupy, of King Snurre’s vaults, Ombi and his quarters, the Temple of the Eye, and so on. The maps are generally clear and benefit from being across three levels rather than two. Unfortunately, the artwork is mostly terrible. In fact, the best piece of artwork is Dave Trampier’s profile portrait of King Snurre himself.

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G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King was published at a time when there were few magazines in which they could be reviewed. In many cases, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King would be reviewed when it was published in the collected G1-2-3 Against the Giants in 1981. For example, this is the version that Anders Swenson reviewed in Different Worlds Issue 20 (March 1982). He wrote of G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King that, “The fire giants live in a well-constructed dungeon complex inside a volcanic mountain. This is simply a tough nut for the adventurers - the giants are in a place constructed for defense where they can repel a sortie with secondary positions, impromptu barricades, and ambushes. The designer expects this to
be a running battle.

White Dwarf was the exception and managed to review the trilogy of G1 Steading of the Hill Giant ChiefG2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King together in Open Box in White Dwarf Issue No. 9. However, this did not mean that they were reviewing independently of each other, the late Don Turnbull concluding, “In summary, there are three D&D scenarios which have been very carefully planned in considerable detail, both individually and collectively; they have been presented in exemplary fashion and are fit to grace the collection of the most discerning. They require skill in play (which is right) but also require a party of high-level characters, and my one regret is that they were not aimed at parties more likely to be readily available to players (though, in fairness, you can't expect a weak party to take on gangs of Giants). No DM should be without them, for even if he never gets a chance to run them, they are a source of much excellent design advice.”

However, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King was reviewed separately in Space Gamer Number 44 (October, 1981) by Kurt Butterfield. He wrote that, “The scenario is well thought out and nicely detailed.  DMs will find some intriguing special instructions given for deviously playing several of the intelligent inhabitants of the dungeon. There’s also some useful and interesting information on the Drow (dark elves).” before continuing, “This is definitely not ab easy dungeon, and since the monsters are quite strong and numerous, players will often be hard put to survive. Many of the monsters could be left out and this would still have been a challenging adventure.” He concluded by writing, “I advise all DMs who are looking for an exciting, worthwhile adventure for their players to pick this one up. You wont be disappointed.”

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G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King brings the ‘G’ series of adventures to a big, challenging finale—if not necessarily a conclusion. In comparison to G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, it is undeniably a better dungeon. Perhaps not quite as atmospheric, but better and more interesting in terms of individual locations, plotting, and roleplaying potential. Unfortunately, neither the plotting nor the roleplaying potential is as developed as it should be, that is, sufficiently enough to be helpful to the Dungeon Master, and ultimately, enough to explain the reasons for what is going on between the Drow and the Fire Giants. There is though a sense of scale and grandeur to G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, the enemies and big and tough, the halls are tall and eerie, and there is a sense of mystery to the place in uncovering just what is going on (as much as the module explains everything). Unlike G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, the dungeon in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King does not feel as static, but much of what is going on is confined to individual locations rather than the whole complex and perhaps in as organised a place as the Hall of the Fire Giant King, the module could have done with a schedule of events to give some idea of what its various inhabitants are doing and when. Again, this something that is left up to the Dungeon Master to decide. 

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is a big, bruising, even brutal dungeon crawl. It will take clever gameplay and tactics upon the part of the players and their characters to survive, but just like G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl before it, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King needs a lot of input from the Dungeon Master to bring out the best of its details.

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It should be noted that Wizards of the Coast collected and published G1 Steading of the Hill Giant ChiefG2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King as part of Tales from the Yawning Portal for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. It is a pity that Goodman Games would not have a chance to revisit, develop, and update the series as it did for B1 In Search of the Unknown and B2 Keep on the Borderlands with Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands. Certainly there is some archival material in the early issues of Dragon magazine, such as the examination of these modules as tournament adventures in Dragon 19. In the meantime, the next review in the series will be of Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff.

1 comment:

  1. G3 is probably the most challenging dungeon I've ever run. It's not a hack & slash, and required several forays for the party to make it to the bottom level. Definitely for a group firing on all cylinders.

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