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Saturday 29 December 2018

1978: G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief

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.

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 2016Storm Kings 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 and 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 Collector's Edition boxed set and more properly revisited in 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.

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 begins with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief.

Published in 1978, G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is significant because it is the first module to be published by TSR, Inc. and the first to be published for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Like many of the modules of its time it began not as a module purpose designed for commercial release, but as a tournament  adventure run at a convention. This and its age shows in its design, with an emphasis on combat, and to a lesser extent, dungeon exploration, over roleplaying. Its origins also explains the shortness of its length at just eight pages. Similarly, this emphasis on combat and the nature of its antagonists explains why the scenario is best played by nine characters of Ninth Level. In other words, this is a tough scenario designed to challenge both players and their characters.

The set-up explains that the lands of the humans—nominally in the World of Greyhawk—have recently been beset by attacks by giants of various types. Against this unheard of occurrence the rulers of these lands have hired the player characters to deal a lesson to the Hill Giants. Should they fail, their heads will be upon the chopping block! Fortunately the party will be equipped and led to the steading of the Hill Giant chief itself and as the scenario opens, the party is ready to strike—and ‘strike’ is the right term because G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is nothing more than a commando raid upon a ‘military’ base.

G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief consists of two levels. The upper is a timber stronghold that consists of the Hill Giants’ living quarters. There are dormitories and barracks, common rooms and quarters for the sub-chief, the chief, and more. This is where Chief Nosnra—the name being a near anagram of the surname of Gygax’s co-designer of Dungeons & Dragons, Dave Arneson—Nosnra’s wife, and the rest of the Hill Giant tribe resides along with their Ogre servants. As the party begins its exploration of the Steading, it becomes apparent that at this precise moment, the Hill Giants are not focused on going out and conducting raids on the surrounding lands of the humans, but upon the guests that are currently paying the tribe a visit—there are other types of Giants present. In fact, they are attending a raucous party held by their hosts and with this set-up, the party could actually sneak all the way into the Steading without attracting the attention of anyone more than a few guards. This is the first indication that there might be something more to the Hill Giants’ activities than just simple greed. This focus is supported by some simple storytelling moments, such as the fact that the guards inside the entrance have drunk themselves into a stupor and the Hill Giantesses working in the kitchen are busying themselves into a frenzy as depicted in a delightful, if not great, piece of artwork by Dave Sutherland. These are indicative of Gygax’s naturalism that would really only come to the fore with B2, Keep on the Borderlands and T1, The Village of Hommlet.

In comparison, the lower level of G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is not so much a dungeon as a basement for the Steading above. Essentially, it is where the Hill Giants keep all of their utilities—armoury and smithy, storage rooms and wine cellar, cell blocks, torture chamber, and quarters for both the Hill Giants’ Orc slaves and the Bugbears that they use to guard them. That takes up half of the lower level though, the rest being partially collapsed tunnels, and natural caverns, the latter inhabited by more typical dungeon creatures. There is also a weird abandoned temple—quite literally that is its name—that is likely to send at least one player character insane… The effect of worked and unworked areas of the dungeon is somewhat divisive, especially so cramped together, and it feels forced and unnatural.

Also found on the lower level is the Hill Giant treasury and it is here that is found 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. Although it comes with an explanation as to what it does, it is not easy to find and it is not really explained how it connects to the overarching threat behind GDQ1–7 Queen of the Spiders. There is no foreshadowing of the threat or of this device in G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, and thus no obvious evidence of the threat behind the campaign. A more modern campaign would certainly address this issue, but G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is one of the earliest of scenarios and only has eight pages, so space to do so is limited.

Physically, G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is tightly presented—not surprising given the eight pages that the module runs to. Within those pages Gygax fits in a lot of detail. There are just a few illustrations and they do vary in quality.

As the first module to be published by TSR, Inc., there is a lot to like about G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. There is a lot of information and description packed into its low page count, in fact everything necessary to run and play the scenario. What it lacks though, are strong hooks to the wider plot that would eventually be developed across the seven scenarios that make up the GDQ1–7 Queen of the Spiders. As a situation it also feels static, frozen at a moment until the adventurers enter and events can begin. Nor is there any advice about running the adventure or guidance as to how the Hill Giants might react should they discover the presence of the player characters. Lastly, what it really lacks and really warrants is a plot hook or two to pull the adventurers further into both the scenario and the campaign. There are hints of the possibility of an Orc slave revolt that the party could take advantage of, but this is not developed. Nowhere is it addressed what Chief Nosnra—or anyone—really knows, and really, the Dungeon Master will have to develop these plot elements himself.

For 1978 and TSR, Inc.’s first module publication, G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is a solid adventure that is true to the wargaming roots of both Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. By modern standards, it feels underdeveloped and in need of the Dungeon Master’s attention to pull the Steading out from its static status and make it into a living locale.

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