Friday 24 June 2022

On Kelten

“You never know when the devil might come calling.”
― Farley Mowat

On the Frozen River
The Coltens have always said that winter is less a season than an occupation. Who would know better than they, who crouch under the Corusks and the Aurora that dance overhead? Theirs is a harsh land. A frozen land. As unforgiving as any in the whole of the Flanaess, and more. Indeed, the ice undulates and growls, want to swallow the unwary. Trees groan and split. Their very breath clings to their faces, the hoar as thick and brilliant as the furs they wrap their selves with.
A frigid climate and brutal regime combine to make Stonehold one of the harshest lands in all the Flanaess. […] The majority of Stoneholders live a seminomadic existence, moving to the northern tundra in summer and migrating south in the autumn. The remaining third or so of the population dwell in permanent settlements, mostly west of the Frozen River. [LGG – 108, 109]
Up in these northern latitudes, the sun comes up for only a short time each day. At most, three hours of sunlight illuminates the frozen landscape. There are about two hours of twilight, and the rest of the day is spent in darkness. However, the stars are unusually bright, allowing some limited sight.
[WGS2 – 16]
One wonders why they chose such a place to settle. But they did, their towns and villages dotting the shores of the Icy Sea and climbing the steep wooded inclines of the Hraak Forest. Was it the furs and ivory that lured them there, and held them? Or perhaps it was the ores in the foot of the Bluffs, and later, in the Griffs; those the dwarves have long mined. For surely the Flan did, once, too.
What is sure is that the Flan have been here a very long time. Indeed, they preceded Keraptis, having set roots here even before the first cornerstones of Totencha were set. And they have never left.
Nor do they mingle much with those who came after them, content in their high towns, their hidden coves, their dark woods. Even less so do the hermits in their hovels and caves, deep within the Hraak and the mountain fastness, tending the ancient circles, the barrows, and the long-weathered stones.WORLD OF GREYHAWK® campaign (Flanaess only): Beory and Obad-Hai, the latter also known as “The Shalm,” are the major gods of the druids here. [Dragon #209 – 11]
Arctic druid: WG: Thillonrian Peninsula (on which lies the Griff, and Corusk Mountains).
Forest druid (cold): WG: forests along Thillonrian Peninsula (Hraak). [Dragon #209 – 13]
Mountain druid: WG: Corusk-Griff-Rakers chain [Dragon #209 – 14]

How many centuries go was Kelten founded? Long centuries ago, indeed. And to what purpose? One might speculate: It rests at the edge of the Hraak, atop the Hraak pass, and at the foot of the Kelten-Bleufang pass. Might it have been a rest point? A haven? A point of resupply?
Salmon spawn in the shallows of the Frozen and vast herds of reindeer graze the tall grass of the fields.
But in soothe, its forests teem with fur, with sable and mink, and artic fox and ermine, their pelts as thick and as luxurious as only the richest of gentry and merchant-princes can afford, for few of their bounty ever makes it to market outside Vlekstaad, or Jotsplat, depending where the contested border lies any given season, depending how brave those who venture within it might be, as well.

Frozen River:
A swift flow running mainly north from the Griff Mountains through the lands of Stonefist to empty into White Fanged Bay. [WoGA – 54]
This river flows from headwaters in the Griffs to White Fanged Bay and freezes over during the winter months along much of its length. It is rich in fish and krill. [FtAA – 64]

Hraak Forest: The Hraak is a largish pine and fir woodland within the territory claimed by the descendants of Stonefist. It borders the Corusks north of Hraak Pass. [WoGG – 52]
The warlike Forest People (a [Coltens] tribe now part of Stonehold) live within. [LGG – 141]
This pine forest is exploited by the Fists purely for fuel, trapping, and hunting. Great bears and wolves roam its depths and, most unusually, a fair number of white dragons lair within it. [FtAA – 55]

The days are short here, no matter the latitude. The Griffs cast long shadows, and even at the sun’s apex during the endless days, twilight reigns in all but the height of high summer.
Up in these northern latitudes, the sun comes up for only a short time each day. At most, three hours of sunlight illuminates the frozen landscape. There are about two hours of twilight, and the rest of the day is spent in darkness. However, the stars are unusually bright, allowing some limited sight. [WGS2 – 16]
The longest days are in winter, when there is no light at all except that of the aurora dancing overhead. Then, the peaks flash and flare mysteriously, though none would ever venture into them to discover why, as calving ice thunders and the eeriest howls and screeching descend from whence the flashing and flaring light.
This is not the time for such foolishness, the Coltens have always opined, this is the time of home and hearth and tending to the herds that too venture no further than the cackling of fires are heard.

The Griff Mountains
As the name implies, the peaks of these mountains are the habitat of many monstrous creatures. The Griff range extends from the western terminus of the Corusks at Hraak Pass, southwest and west for over 100 leagues. These mountains divide the Hold of Stonefist from the Duchy of Tenh and the Theocracy of the Pale below. Being only a trifle lower than the Corusks. the Griff Mountains are similarly uninviting to human settlement, although there are some sprinkled here and there, for these mountains do contain valuable mineral deposits. There is supposedly a small and beautiful land in the heart of this range. Ruled by a powerful prince, and protected from all invasions by magic and might, this tiny realm is said to have buildings roofed in copper and silver, gold used as lead is elsewhere, and jewels lying about on the ground.
[WoGA – 52]
Few believe the tales of the prince of the Griff Mountains. How could such a kingdom exist when the Griffs are teeming with horrors?
The Griffs contain more monsters, with ogres, various types of troll, and ever-hungry griffons especially noteworthy. White puddings are also a feature of the Griffs. There is reputed to be a great subterranean orcish city, Garel Enkdal, within the Griffs [….] [FtAA – 58]

The Corusks form a bow. the backbone of the Thillonrian Peninsula which runs from the Solnor Ocean in the east, north and west and then southwest where the range terminates (Hraak Pass). While the lower parts of the mountains are inhabited by humans, various bands of evil humanoids and monsters of all sorts dwell in the central fastness. It is thought that this range possesses little in the way of valuable ores or gems. [WoGG – 52]

Were the Coltens always so? Agrarian? Simple fishers and trappers and herdsmen? Cowards and villeins? Not so.
The warlike Forest People (a tribe now part of Stonehold) live within. [LGG – 141]
Sevvord Redbeard has deployed these folk even before his Fists; and had Vlek Col Vlekzed not seen the need to take measures against them to ensure the longevity of his rule.

c. 430 CY
Vlek Col Vlekzed
Vlek Col Vlekzed, called Stonefist, was a ruthless bandit who had been cast out from the Rovers of the Barrens for his vice and cruelty, and left to wander the fringes of his homeland for several years. Over that time, he gathered a large following of evil men, even sacking one of the old Bandit Kingdoms and carrying away most of its population. Vlek moved them beyond White Fanged Bay, where he established the fortified town of Vlekstaad.
[LGG – 109]
Was Vlekzed concerned about the Coltens? One would think that he was not.
The forces of Tenh, which had never been strong in the region, were unable to dislodge him. [LGG – 113]
But he was, because the Coltens had been weened by the cruelty of Keraptis, long ago; and they had learned their lessons well.
Nearly 1300 years ago, in a time when the Flan tribes still dominated eastern Oerik, the archwizard Keraptis rose to power in the lands abutting the southern Rakers, and while most historians agree that the mage’s kingdom encompassed what is now known as the Bone March, a few scholars believe the territories that later became Ratik and the Pale were part of this empire as well.
Yet, as is well documented in the little known Legend of Keraptis, the archwizard was a cruel man, so brutal in fact that, near the end of his reign, he demanded his tormented subjects turn over to him one-third of their newborn children as part of their taxes. [Dragon #241 – 77]

But prior to Keraptis’ cruelty, they were a part of a greater kingdom.
It is commonly held that the Flan peoples of eastern Oerik were simple tribesmen before the events that led to the Suel and Oeridian migrations. There remain to be explained certain ruins found in the Griff and Corusk Mountains. The massive stone foundations, straight level roads, and flattened or terraced areas of mountainside seem from the proportions of the rarely preserved doorways to be intended for creatures of human size, and it seems unlikely that elves or humanoids would have had the inclination to produce such works. What is more, the occasional jade carvings and green ceramic figurines found both at these sites and occasionally in rivers flowing out of the mountains show a people of Flannish features and dress, and there remain in the Duchy of Tenh and among the Coltens stories of a powerful mountain state of Flannish race. Perhaps the dwarves of the region know more, but if so they show the typical reticence of demi-human races concerning prehistoric events. [GA – 97]

Had they been a meek and craven people they might never have risen up from Keraptis’ yoke. But they did. It is unlikely that sedition began within cowed Tostencha. From where then? The foothills, likely, where Keraptis’ grip was less firm. From Tenh. From the Colten hills.
The peasants did not take this atrocity lightly, and under the leadership of the high priest Gethrun Shoiraine and his ranger followers, the kingdom of the tyrant-mage was sundered. [Dragon #241 – 77]
[The] people rose as one, ousting Keraptis and his personal bodyguard of deranged gnomes. [RtWPM – 3]
And Vlek col Vlekzed knew this. Because although he rode with the Rovers, he was indeed a Colten. Banished for wanton cruelty upon his own people.
Stonehold began as the Hold of Stonefist, a bandit chiefdom founded in the territory of the old Coltens Feodality. Vlek Col Vlekzed, called Stonefist, was a ruthless bandit who had been cast out from the Rovers of the Barrens for his vice and cruelty, and left to wander the fringes of his homeland for several years. Over that time, he gathered a large following of evil men, even sacking one of the old Bandit Kingdoms and carrying away most of its population. [LGG – 109]
Riding unmolested through the lands of his former people, but not caring to test their fighting ability, Vlek moved beyond White Fanged Bay and established a fortified settlement as a permanent camp. [WoGA – 36]
 Vlek moved them beyond White Fanged Bay, where he established the fortified town of Vlekstaad. [LGG – 109]
The banished son had returned.
The banished son had returned.
This infamous warrior was a menace throughout the region for several years, finally choosing to build a settlement on the border of the Coltens Feodality. The Cohens were still vassals of the duke of Tenh, though their atamans had great latitude in determining their own affairs. [LGG – 113]
And he meant to have his revenge on them.
Vlek also knew that he might not live long if he did not cut off the Coltens’ head before it had time to plan, and to act.
The Coltens were very uneasy with his presence in their land, but Vlek promised a truce and offered to negotiate with their leaders. [LGG – 109]
These negotiators and their escorting force were slaughtered, the remainder of the Cohens host routed by surprise and ferocity, and Vlek settled down to rule over the whole territory. As Vlek's infamy spread, malcontents from many nations came to his standard, despite his new name of Stonefist (implying both a terrible foeman and an inflexible ruler). [WoGG – 36]

The Coltens folk had no place in this hierarchy, and many fled to the Hraak Forest, or beyond the Big Seal Bay and the northern thrust of the Corusks to dwell in the Taival Tundra, in the land of the Ice Barbarians). [LGG – 109]

570s CY
The Coltens, despite generations of servitude to the invaders, have slowly emerged as a competing form of leadership, offering their method of election of the most popular warrior as an alternative to the Rite of Battle Fitness. So many aspiring leaders were slain in the often-useless raids of the latter method that its proponents have grown scarce. [Dragon #57 – 14]

575 CY
The Coltens weren’t the only people discontent with the rulership of the Hold.
When Ratik and the Fruztii made peace, the subsequent battles for the Kelten Pass brought several telling defeats to “fists” led by the descendant warband leaders. The Hold was then divided between those who followed the laws laid down by Vlek Col Vlekzed, and those who claimed that Stonefist’s methods are no longer appropriate and the Coltens Feodality should be restored. The nomads and settlers west and around the Frozen River championed the ways of Stonefist. The population around Kelten and the Hraak Forest wished to establish new forms of leadership. [Dragon #57 – 14]

576 CY
Big Seal Bay
The Rhizian Barbarians would press the Fists into the waters of the White Fanged and Big Seal bays, if they had their way.
In high summer [the Cruski] often find fighting by rounding the coasts of the Hold of Stonefist, [WoGA – 26]
It is rumored that the Baron of Ratik has sent messages to the King of the Schnai proposing four-way cooperation to take the Hold of Stonefist and the Bone March. [WoGG – 35]
A recent pact concluded between Fruztii and Ratik saw a joint army wreak havoc in the Bone March, and during the next campaigning season clear the north pass of the "Fists." [WoGA – 21]

576-582 CY
Repeated strikes and raids slowly began to do just that, but as the Fists are fierce, each inch was won at great cost.
The other joint operation of these states has been against the Hold of Stonefist. Fruztii forces have now secured the pass south of the Hraak forest and control the land for some 20 miles around. [WGS1 – 4]
They were unable to capture the town of Kelten, but the Cruski reinforced their control of the Taival Tundra. [LGG – 55]

The Ice Barbarians have supported the Fruztii to some extent by making naval raids along the northern coast of Stonefist. The Snow Barbarians have concentrated on attacks on Great Kingdom and Sea Baron shipping, although some of the Schnai have been seen “assisting” the Frost Barbarians in Stonefist. [WGS1 – 6]

The armies of Stonehold are comprised of "Fists", war bands of about 250 fighters, of either infantry or cavalry. The bulk of heavy infantry is drawn from the settlements, while the tundra and forest dwellers provide most of the light infantry and cavalry. [LGG – 109]
Cavalry is not unknown on the western tundra, but few tundra-dwellers are Ice Barbarians, most having Flan ancestry and being related to the Coltens of Stonehold. [LGG – 54]

About 30% or so of the population of the Hold dwell in permanent settlements, and from these people are drawn the bulk of the footmen. Most of the balance of the population are semi-nomadic, moving into the northern tundra in the summer, and migrating south in the fall. From these people come the horsemen and light infantry of the "Fists." [WoGG – 37]

577 CY
Sevvord Redbeard’s defence against the barbarians was hampered by sedition, which led to the Barbarians making greater gains than anticipated.
[B]oth southern passes to the rich state of Tenh and the lands of the Fruztii were closed to all but a major effort. A major effort was impossible because of the near-revolt of the eastern (mainly Coltens-descendant) bands under Ataman Dyerg Keda […] and supported by over a dozen chieftains and subchiefs. [Dragon #57 – 13]

578 CY
In CY 578, shortly after Tenh had coronated its new Duke, the Master of the Hold became Rhelt Seuvord I of Stonehold. [Dragon #57 – 14]
The Hold of Stonefist was also renamed. Now openly calling itself Stonehold, this quasi-kingdom is composed of four Atamanships: Vlekstaad (west), Pumull (south), Kelten (east), and Bastro (north). Four Great Chieftains were named, each equal to an Ataman (Reindeer, White Bear, Walrus, and Forest [Hraak] People). Stonehold has become a force that is greatly feared by all in this region. [TAB – 23]

582 CY
To the Kelten Pass
The Barbarians are not without allies.
Duke Ehyeh has become noticeably more friendly to the Frost Barbarians of late. As the actions of Ratik and the Frost Barbarians stir up the Bone March, this causes trouble for the Great Kingdom and for the Theocracy of the Pale. Both states have hostile attitudes toward the Duchy. In view of this, Ehyeh discreetly allows Frost Barbarian emissaries across his lands to organize shipments of weapons from the Bandit Kingdoms.
From here, weapons make their way up the Zumker River to Calbut and then through dangerous foothill territory at the very edge of the Griff Mountains to the pass at Kelten. The trade is discreet, but everyone knows about it. [WGS1 – 6]
It’s a dangerous trek, transporting weapons to Kelten, so close to Purmill, still a Fist stronghold. Those that do are jumpy, sure every rustle of branch and snap of a twig is the harbinger of death. But the way must be kept open, and “safe.” Or as safe as it can be….
[A] man dressed in green, loose-fitting clothing jumps up from the bushes. He screams meaningless words of caution and death at them, and then he runs away to the south, in the general direction of the Griff Mountains. [WGS2 – 15]
He is a forward scout for Ratik [….] He was sent to scout out the best possible paths to attack the Hold of Stonefist and the Frost Barbarians. After Ratik conquers the North Province, they plan to lay claim to the whole eastern section of the continent. [WGS2 – 15]

Kelten is Fruztii, at present. One wonders for how long, though. The Fists test its strength and fortitude, seemingly without fail.
There have been reverses in the east: a Stonefist force from Kelten inflicted a severe defeat on one group of Frost Barbarians a couple of weeks ago. [WGS1 – 37]
Kelten houses nearly 1000 persons, mostly of barbarian ancestry. A few [Colten] refugees from the Hold of Stonefist have settled here as well. Weapons of all types can be seen in Kelten, mainly designed for northern living-spears, ice picks, ice saws, etc. Dried vegetables and meats are big items here; cold-weather clothes are popular commodities, too. Parkas lined with wolverine fur are the best clothing value to be found in these parts. (Wolverine fur in the lining of the parka hood keeps moisture from building up on its surface.)
If [travellers] are looking for a warm, safe place to rest, several inns are available. Their services cost double what southern inns charge, but the food and beds are of a comparable quality. [WGS2 – 16]

Never Far Away

Notwithstanding the Barbarian’s occupation of Kelten, the Stonefist’s legacy is strong here, in Kelten. One would think they’d have torn down his temple, but they are wary, terrified, in fact, of the malice He would inflict upon them if they should.
Erythnul’s temple in Kelten [WGS1 – 38]
Alignments: CE*, CN, N
Religions: Erythnul*, Syrul, Beltar, Beory, Obad-Hai [LGG – 108]
Erythnul (The Many), the god of Hate, Envy, Malice, Panic, Ugliness, and Slaughter is not easily exorcized. Nor banished. His clerics may not be in residence, but they are never far away, either.
Erythnul's clerics are cruel, sadistic, and hateful. They foment rebellion, murder, and riots in civilized areas, lead troops of bandits, raiders, or nonhumans, and commit murder when they grow bored. They deface beautiful things and disfigure attractive people for fun. They aren't above betraying their own allies to suit their own motives or protect their own hides. They travel to bring ugliness and strife to pleasant places or to escape those that would persecute them. [LGG – 170]
And despite their absence, those ancestral residents that remain head their call and creed, and yearn for their return.
Destroy anyone who would take what is yours away from you. Covet that which you do not own. Blessed is he who can take something from a rival. Maim those you cannot destroy, and cause fear in the hearts that you cannot maim. Bloodshed for its own sake is reason enough, and if you can shed the blood of a hated enemy, so much the better. When Erythnul's gift of blood rage comes upon you, be sure to use it well. [LGG – 170]
It is a wonder that the Barbarians did not impale the lot of them, to be sure of their continued loyalty.

What kept the Keltens in check is Barbarian’s greater presence, a stone’s throw away.
The nearest barbarian tribe lives directly north of Kelten. It is off the beaten track, but a sledge team-rented from the man who is talking to the characters-can take them there with little effort. They live in a region south of the forest where the ice and snow never melt. (This is false. The man is only trying to get the characters to rent or buy a dog-sled team, which will cost them 30 gp or 120 gp, respectively.) [WGS2 – 16]
Never trust a Kelten, the barbarians would say. And in that, they would be correct.
It is true, though, that the Barbarians are encamped in force.
[Twenty] miles away, you see the outline of a thick forest. About you, a few pine trees encroach upon the flat plains. To the left and right, several red rock formations jut from the smooth ground.
[WGS2 – 17]

A number of tents and crudely made log buildings crowd inside a log fence. Human movement can be seen inside the camp, but sight is very limited. Grey smoke belches from the peaks of the tents and from make-shift chimneys on the log houses. Dark, four-legged shapes can be seen padding about as well, their noses to the ground or to the air. The wind blows at your back, sending a chill through your bodies. [WGS2 – 20]
These tents belong to the married members of the tribe. Each family lives in a separate tent. They are isolated from the others areas of the camp so no one need listen to their incessant fighting. Married men and women of this tribe are very jealous of their spouses, and they want to make sure they are far from the single members of the community. [WGS2 – 24]

Kabloona Starskull is the barbarian chieftain. He received his first name because his skin and the whites of his eyes are unusually white, especially when compared to the yellowed eyes and skin of the native northern folk.
He obtained his last name because spirits touched him years ago. His mind lives in the stars of the Swan themselves. This makes it hard for him to think and to react properly while with normal folk. (Kabloona went insane soon after he was driven from his tribe.) [WGS2 – 16]
Those Rhizian Barbarians caught scent that their fabled Swords of Corusk were hidden in the Hold, and were motivated that they would be theirs again. With all five, they could release their imprisoned lord, Vatun, from bondage. They banded together, and Vlekstaad could not hold them back.
Ancient legend predicted that the return of Vatun, who had vanished centuries ago, would signal the birth of a barbarian empire in the north.
[LGG – 15]
In 582 CY, the god Vatun appeared to his subjects among the barbarian tribes of the Thillonrian Peninsula. [LGG – 15]
The deity looks over your heads toward the northeast. A smile breaks across his leathery face, showing pearly white, perfect teeth. “Look, the great armies of the Ice Barbarians come to fight at our side. Behind them, the Snow and Frost Barbarians prepare to join the fray. Our peoples are finally as one. This is the way it was meant to be since the dawn of Oerth.”
As you turn to look behind you, the faint sound of seal skin drums and mammoth tusk horns reaches your ears. Riding on beasts ranging from horses to musk oxen, the barbarians approach just as the Great God said. The god turns and looks at the approaching enemy armies. A glint of pleasure gleams from his night-black pupils. He heaves a sigh and turns to look at you. “It has begun.”  [WGS2 – 42]

Sadly, for the Barbarians—fortuitously for a great many others—Vatun was not Vatun.
No matter, this Vatun’s return was to spell misery for thousands upon thousands of souls upon the Flanaess.
Unfortunately, this particular "Vatun" was actually Iuz, whipping the northmen into a war frenzy. The barbarians invaded the Hold of Stonefist, which allied with them after Iuz ensorcelled Sevvord Redbeard, the Master of the Hold The combined host then smashed through the Griffs and into the duchy of Tenh, which was swiftly overwhelmed. The barbarian alliance soon crumbled, but the damage was done; Tenh and Stonefist belonged to the Old One. [LGG – 15]
The Great War, later called the Greyhawk Wars, had begun.

584 CY
The War passed by Kelten and the Tundra after Vatun’s “return.” With most of the Fists away, the Barbarians held Kelten with ease. But try as they might Purmill eluded them. Indeed, the remainder of the Hold held them at bay.
And so it remained. Peace had come to the furthest north. If raiding and assassinations and sedition can be called Peace.
Until Iuz, distracted, delirious with the Death he had unleashed, lost hold of the Stonefist.
Sevvord Redbeard 
[D]uring a period of Suel raids into Stonehold, the magical affliction of Sevvord Redbeard was ended. Without knowing why, he exploded in a rage that would have killed a lesser man. He gathered the Fists from across Tenh, having them first kill all the clerics of Iuz within their reach, and any locals they could quickly find; then, leaving only a rearguard to occupy Calbut, Nevond Nevnend, and the territory north of the Zumkend River, he returned in force to Stonehold. His army drove the barbarians back from Kelten and secured the pass, while he returned to Vlekstaad with his personal guard.
[LGG – 109]
War had returned to the Hold.
And held dominion as it had not for years.
Kelten and Purmill are more important in the affairs of Stonehold, especially in light of the ongoing warfare with the Suel barbarians. [LGG – 110]
Revenge is widely sought against the northern barbarians for the burning of Vlekstaad, but Iuz's forces are hated even more. Conspiracies are suspected between Iuz and several war band leaders to gain control of Stonehold. Murders of war band leaders (by their fellows) are on the rise. [LGG – 110]

589 CY
Kelten (pop. 2,800)
Resources: Furs [,] silver, gems (I)
Population: 55,000 [Stonehold]—Human 96% (FS), Orc 2%, Dwarf 1%, Other 1%
[LGG – 108]

It appears that Sevvord’s war will rage for so long as there are Barbarians within striking distance.
Territorial disputes with Stonehold that predated the wars were finally brought to a head three years ago, when a combined host of Cruski and Schnai entered the eastern hold. They were unable to capture the town of Kelten, but the Cruski reinforced their control of the Taival Tundra. [LGG – 55]
That will be for some time to come….
[The Schnai’s] alliance with Ratik is less cemented than that of the Cruskii, but Ingemar seems amenable to continued cooperation after the events of the Wars. He also has great hatred for the Stonefisters, and wishes to mount a joint expedition with the other barbarian races through the Griff Mountains to lay waste to Kelten. Time will tell if this comes to fruition. [FtAA – 37]

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.

The Art:
Stonehold, by Ken Frank, from WGS2 Howl from the North, 1991
World of Greyhawk map detail, by Darlene, from the Folio, 1980
Kelten map, by Diesel, from WGS2 Howl from the North, 1991
Kabloona's Camp, by Ken Frank, from WGS2 Howl from the North, 1991
The 5 Swords, by Ken Frank, from WGS2 Howl from the North, 1991
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1068 Greyhawk Wars Boxed Set, 1991
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
2023 Greyhawk Adventures Hardback, 1988
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9317 WGS1, The Five Shall be One, 1991
9337 WGS2, Howl from the North, 1991
9577 The Adventure Begins, 1998
11434 Return to White Plume Mountain, 1999
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Dragon Magazine 55,56,57,209 241
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer

Friday 17 June 2022

On King Cralstag

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
― Albert Einstein

Old King Cralstag
Does Old King Cralstag deserve a dedicated post? Probably not. He has only one mention in all of the sourcebooks. But I believe he does warrant more than a mention—here, at least—; King Orvung was treated to a post, after all, and he was only mentioned by name twice. That said, Ovrung ruled the Kingdom of Schnai in the time of both the Folio and the Wars, whereas Cralstag did not. Indeed, Cralstag Gunnarsenn passed beyond the pale a few years prior to 576 CY—so I presume, so I decree. I do believe though that that singular mention is important enough that I would be remiss if I did not shed some light on Cralstag and his rule. His death is pivotal in Cruski’s recent history, after all: It shapes his successor’s worldview.
What might we infer from his single mention? Insight. Arrogance. Hubris? Courage? Foolhardiness? Perhaps all these.
Beyond his scant mention, one might glean much from what occurred during his reign. And beforehand. Maybe more might be learned from what is said about his people and his kingdom, its past and its present. And where he reigned.
Up in these northern latitudes, the sun comes up for only a short time each day. At most, three hours of sunlight illuminates the frozen landscape. There are about two hours of twilight, and the rest of the day is spent in darkness. However, the stars are unusually bright, allowing some limited sight. [WGS2 – 16]
Cruski is remote. Isolated. Cold. A narrow strip of land, betwixt tall mountains, and deep blue seas, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the civilized world, where the elements appear as great a danger to life and limb as any monster the heartiest of adventurers might encounter. Except those who dwell there face as many monsters as any heroes anywhere, mayhap more, given how far Cruski is from any “taming” influences.
The civilized can only wonder what might dwell and lurk so far from any place of consequence, what some might presume the end of the oerth.

As I said, the deep blue sea:
Solnor Ocean:
The Solnor ("birthplace of the sun" in Old Oeridian) is believed to be the mightiest of Oerth's four oceans. [LGG – 149]
It is said the Solnor reaches for a thousand leagues and more eastward. […] Great monsters dwell in the Solnor and sport in Grendep Bay when the sun warms the waters there. [WoGA – 42,43]
A huge clockwise current sweeps up the coast of the eastern Flanaess, carrying ships from the Thillonrian Peninsula out to sea, and bringing curious debris (doubtless from whatever land is on the Solnor's far side) to the shores, of Hepmonaland and the Lordship of the Isles. [LGG – 149, 150]
Solnor Ocean: Kraken, Walruses [FtAR#11]

And towering mountains:
The ice-capped Corusk Mountains are the backbone of the Thillonrian Peninsula. [LGG – 142]
The Corusks form a bow, the backbone of the Thillonrian Peninsula which runs from the Solnor Ocean in the east, north and west and then southwest where the range terminates (Hraak Pass). While the lower parts of the mountains are inhabited by humans, various bands of evil humanoids and monsters of all sorts dwell in the central fastness. [WoGA – 52]
While the lower reaches are farmed with difficulty by humans, giants, ogres, trolls, and other monsters dwell in the central fastness. Monsters are less numerous farther east, but freezing fogs sweep down from the heights to threaten travelers. [LGG – 142]
It is thought that this range possesses little in the way of valuable ores or gems. [WoGA – 52]

To the north lies the great ice, ice presumably without end.
The Icy Sea
Icy Sea:
The Solnor sweeps northward around the Thillonrian Peninsula and ends in the Icy Sea. [WoGA – 47]
These northern waters, likely a part of the circumpolar Dramidj Ocean, remain frozen except in high summer. [LGG – 148]
Even in summer the Icy Sea can be dangerous due to thick fogs and floating mountains of ice. [WoGA – 47]
Whales of all sorts frequent these waters, said to be the domain of a mighty leviathan lord. Ice Barbarians take their ships into these waters to hunt whales and collect walrus ivory and seal furs on the surrounding coasts. [LGG – 148,149]
Icy Sea: Killer Wales, Walruses [FtAR#11]
Rurszek: Flowing from a frigid cave at the base of the northern Corusks, this slow-running river empties into the Aldefjord north of Jotsplat. [LGG – 152]

Big Seal Bay: This shallow arm of the Icy Sea has long marked the boundary between Stonehold and the Ice Barbarians kingdom. Natives camp in the forest and hunt seal in the summer months. Few humans visit the desolate eastern bay, though the chiseled outer doors of an ancient dwarven clanhold are said to be visible high in the Corusk peaks. [WGG 3e – 26]
What’s that? An ancient dwarven clanhold? No dwarf that I know has ever uttered a word on their ever settling the northern face of the Corusks. Could this be a myth?

One expects all manner of polar beasts. And one would be correct in that. Bears, arctic fox; arctic char, and leopard seals; and whales, most notably that unicorn of the sea, the fabled horned narwhal. The sight of white dragons taken wing is not uncommon; yet there are other far more mysterious things that might be met upon the ice.

Nauskiree are tall, bizarre monsters thought to have migrated to the northern Flanaess from Telchuria before the twin Cataclysms, figuring into old Flannae tales of that region. Solitary hunters, they act much like trap-door spiders, hiding for long periods of time until prey approaches, then striking out with magic and teeth. Although they hunt alone, they are sometimes enslaved by frost giants and used as guardians.
Nauskiree appear almost bipedal, their torsos being larger than their pelvis. However, their extremely long limbs and greater weight on their forward half make it hard for them to lift both forelimbs for more than a moment, and so the creature gets about on all fours. Its skin is gnarled like bark, and coloured in a random pattern od dark gray and white that resembles snow clinging to the trunk or branches of a tree. Its skull-like head and some of its joints are surrounded by stringy gray hair resembling dead grass or pine needles. [LGJ#1 – 22]
To come upon one is almost certain doom. A deathly cold cling to them, and those who stray too close are stricken by it, their limbs torpid, their minds clouded with confusion. [LGJ#1 – 22]

Despite its remoteness—maybe in spite of its cold and dangers and presumed poverty—Cralstag’s people prosper.
Population: 60,000
Demi-humans: Few
Humanoids: Likely in mountains
Resources: furs, copper, gems (I)
[WoGA – 26]

All the barbarian peoples of eastern Oerik are pure Suloise. [WGS2 – 5]

Government: Independent feudal monarchy with hereditary rulership, though with little actual control over jarls, who act independently of one another; king controls the area around the capital and farms within 30-50 miles
Capital: Glot
Major Towns: Glot (pop. 5,100), Jotsplat (pop. 3,200)
Provinces: Seventeen jarldoms (five around Jotsplat), over thirty minor noble holdings, and Glot (capital realm)
Resources: Furs, copper, gems (I), rare wood (sablewood, not exported)
Population: 158,800—Human 96% (S), Dwarf 2% (mountain 65%, hill 35%), Halfling 1% (stout), Other 1%
Languages: Cold Tongue, Common, Dwarven
Alignments: CN*, N
Religions: Kord, Llerg, Norebo, Xerbo, Vatun
[LGG – 54]

The Cruski themselves are a people of pure Suel race, speaking the Cold Tongue as their native language. Though they have always been the least numerous of the Suel barbarians, their royal lineage is the oldest. The king of Cruski holds the title "Fasstal of all the Suelii," indicating his preeminence among the nobles of the Suel race and giving him the right to pronounce judgment on any of them. Politically, this has little real importance, for he has no power to enforce his judgments. However, it is said by some that the god Vatun granted this authority to the fasstal of the Suelii; if Vatun awoke, the full authority of the office would return to the fasstal, and a new barbarian empire would emerge under his leadership. [LGG – 54]

Indeed, the stark north is sacred to Cralstag and his people.
Vatun made His home here, once. And the Cruski believe that this hostile coast is favoured by Wee Jas.
A single stark tower of volcanic stone overlooks the Solnor Ocean, 90 leagues north of the Sablewood, at the very tip of the Thillronian Peninsula. Called the Dokkhulder, or Dark Hall. Studiously avoided by the local Cruskii barbarians, this fell structure is somehow tied to the Dark-Eyed Goddess [Wee Jas], for mages in service to her are sometimes seen making their way there, usually in the company of a bardic Keeper. [OJ#7]
Might this be why the Fasstal of all the Suelii reigns over this supposed desolate coast? Was he, then, to defend these shores from any who might desecrate it?
The Ice Barbarians are unsteady allies of the other barbarians, raiding where and when they please. [WGS2 – 6]
They raid Stonehold when the opportunity presents itself. [LGG – 149]
The Ice Barbarians have supported the Fruztii to some extent by making naval raids along the northern coast of Stonefist. [WGS2 – 6]
The other joint operation of [Fruztii, Cruski, Schnai, and Ratik] has been against the Hold of Stonefist. Fruztii forces have now secured the pass south of the Hraak Forest and control the lands for 20 miles around. [WGS2 – 6]
Territorial disputes with Stonehold that predated the wars were finally brought to a head three years ago, when a combined host of Cruski and Schnai entered the eastern hold. They were unable to capture the town of Kelten, but the Cruski reinforced their control of the Taival Tundra. [LGG – 55]

They are not without allies. They’ve the Zeai.
[O]n the Icy Sea side are the Zeai, related to the Ice Barbarians. [LGG – 154]
And the Fruztii, so long as the Kelten Pass remains open to them.
The Ice Barbarians are unsteady allies of the other barbarians, raiding where and when they please. [WGS2 – 6]
The Suelii called themselves by names in the Cold Tongue, too: Cruski, the Ice Clans, who are the most noble and brave; Schnai, the Snow Clans, who are the most numerous and strong; and Fruztii, the Frost Clans, who are the bulwark and first in battle. They battled with each other over the long years since Vatun lay down in the cold, but they would always join their hosts together when an outsider threatened. The Schnai perfected the art of building longships, and the Fruztii found adversaries for the barbarian nations to fight and plunder. The Cruski joined with their cousins on many of these raids, taking special joy in fighting their particular rivals, the Sea Barons of Aerdy. [LGG – 55]

They also have villeins, vassals, and slaves.
The Coltens folk had no place in [the Stonefist] hierarchy, and many fled to the Hraak Forest, or beyond the Big Seal Bay and the northern thrust of the Corusks to dwell in the Taival Tundra, in the land of the Ice Barbarians). [LGG – 109]
Cavalry is not unknown on the western tundra, but few tundra-dwellers are Ice Barbarians, most having Flan ancestry and being related to the Coltens of Stonehold. They do not serve as warriors for the Cruski, instead paying tribute to their Suel overlords to be left alone. [LGG – 154]

Is Cralstag’s eastern and northern coasts truly bleak? Not so. Though frequently shrouded in spring, windswept in high summer, and lashed by torrents of icy rain in autumn, they are lush, should you allow your eye to see what is there, and not what you think you see.
Sable Wood
Sable Wood:
This evergreen forest is within the realm of the King of the Ice Barbarians. Its most interesting feature is the particular fir tree whose wood turns a deep lustrous black when harvested in the dead of winter and rubbed with hot oils. [WoGA – 59]
Sablewood trees (which give the forest its name) are short with thick trunks. Their branches make excellent arrowshafts. wood cur in the dead of winter has the finest grain, and turns a deep, lustrous black when rubbed with hot oils. [WGG 3e – 23]
The barbarians prize this material greatly, and they will not export it. [WoGA – 59]
Winter wolves prowl its western half. [WGG 3e – 23]
Halsjaken: This river drops swiftly from the western Corusks, bending north past Glot to flow into the Spitzfjord. [LGG – 152]

Seas of flowers bloom in summer. Tall grasses roil and flow, resplendent in their colour, as varied as a rainbow. His lands are indeed beautiful. But unforgiving. Despite the bounty of the sea, despite its vast herds of caribou and reindeer, its summer season is short, and much effort is expended in its peoples’ thriving. Cralstag knew this, as did his father before him, and his father before him. Little time is left for industry. Just so: Vatun had imbued them with the pride befitting their station, decreeing that their lot was not to scratch dirt from the oerth, nor to toil as the lesser folks were destined to; Vatun decreed that they should be as the kings they were and task lesser folks to serve them, and to take from the weak. And they did; and do to this very day, even so far as to test their worthiness against the high standard of the other Suelii.
The Ice Barbarians inhabit the bleak shores of the Thillonrian Peninsula's north and east coasts. They will raid their cousins to the south, the Snow and Frost barbarians, or raid with them into Ratik or the more tempting Great Kingdom. In high summer they often find fighting by rounding the coasts of the Hold of Stonefist, and the Cruskii have both hatred and respect for the dour inhabitants of that land. Their most despised enemy, however, is the Sea Barons, whose ships they attack on sight, and whose isles they often attack and plunder – usually at a price. Of late these raiders have joined with Frost and Snow barbarians in order to counter the growing strength of the coastal defenders of the Great Kingdom and the Sea Barons. [WoGA – 26]

To understand Cralstag, we must understand the world he was born into.
Long before he first looked upon his mother’s love, strangers calling themselves kin came to call.
316 CY
By 5831 CY SD, relations were established with the Suel tribes of Schnai, Fruztii and Cruskii in the northern lands. [SB – 4]
Travelers from the south came to call at the courts of the barbarian Suel. Calling themselves the Brothers of the Scarlet Sign, they claimed to be kin of the Fruztii, Schnai, and Cruski. By blood, perhaps they were kin, though distantly—but, in spirit, they were the same devious manipulators who claimed to rule the ancestors of the northern Suel. They came with tales of the lost glory of the Suel race and its ruined empire. They told how the Cruski were descended from an Imperial House, the noble and loyal servant of the last Suel emperor. [LGG – 55]

The people of the Thillonrian peninsula had adapted their original culture for their cold new homes, and the representatives of the Kingdom of Shar (actually Brotherhood members) took some getting used to.  [SB – 4]

320 CY – 570’s CY
But the Kingdom of Shar brought gifts that were seductive. Such gifts were seen with suspicion, at first. But time, need, and greed eroded their suspicion. What’s more, there appeared no end to these gifts.
The southerners’ gifts of exotic woods and fine weapons eventually won over the barbarian kings. [SB – 4]
The gifts, though freely given, came at a cost, it would seem.
Culturally primitive by Brotherhood standards, the northern barbarians were beautiful examples of unpolluted Suel bloodlines, and many specimens were lured to Shar as “emissaries,” with the intent of improving the southern Suel stock. [SB – 4]

500 CY
Old King Cralstag Gunnarsenn is born. [Conjecture: Cralstag must have lived long enough to gain such a distinction as the “Old King.”]

530 CY
Cralstag Whitefang
Cralstag Gunnarsenn ascends the throne in Glot. [Conjecture.]
He takes the name Cralstag Whitefang.
Weaned on tales of the Cruski’s legacy and its destiny, Cralstag thought little on what schemes his Suelii brethren might devise. Vatun smiled upon his chosen people. Surely whatever their rivals and enemies might hurl upon them would come to naught, wherever he might be.
Vatun was imprisoned by clerics of Telchur about the time of the Battle of a Fortnight's Length. [LGG – 185]
If only Cralstag had pondered that Vatun had been tricked. Imprisoned! That Vatun might be a victim of his own hubris….

540 CY
Cralstag should never have believed in the myth of the Cruski’s innate sovereignty over the Suelii. There has never been a Suelii. There were Rhizians, and the Rhizians were and are independent peoples. They trust in kin, their jarls, and their thanes; but not distant kin. They raid one another; and sometimes, when their longships are asea, those distant kin show how perfidious they can be. And opportunistic. If only Cralstag had understood that. But alas, he believed in Cruski strength. And Cruski destiny. And in Vatun’s benediction. Mostly, he believed in the riches his people seized while raiding south, coveting ever more of the silver and gold they liberated from the weaklings of the Great Kingdom. His greed urged him to send too many longships south season after season.
The Schnai took note of this and invaded the Ursula Highlands, taking them for their own. Cralstag could only look on in disbelief. How was this possible, he wailed, crying out to a deaf and silent deity who cared little for weaklings or the subjugated. His warriors far asea, he could do nothing to stop the Schnai; nor could he dislodge them, either, once they returned, no matter how he might try.
The Schnai also made war on the Ice Barbarians, wresting the Ustula region from them and holding it for several decades. They never conquered the Ice Barbarians as they did the Frost Barbarians, however, for the Cruski are nearly as able seafarers as the Schnai. [LGG – 105]
It was from this vantage that the Schnai demanded tribute from their Suelii kin, the Cruski, tribute that could not be denied lest they lose Glot.

Old King Cralstag’s nephew Lolgoff Olafsenn is born. [Conjecture.]
[H]is birth city [is] Jotsplat. [Dungeon #133 – 39]
Old King Cralstag is without an heir. [Conjecture. If he did, his nephew would not have been crowned, assuming the throne is hereditary. Norse cultures were, so I assume the Rhizians were.]

540 – 560 CY
Lolgoff was an observant child, if easily dismissed as such, due to his great height. As a child he was larger than his kith and kin, twice the height of any his age. He will be a mighty warrior, all who laid eyes on him said, nodding sagely. And surely he would be: He could tip a cow with ease, they jested. It comes to no surprise that they pressed an axe and a hammer in his hand, long before any of his peers.
He took to the axe and hammer with ease, all noted. As expected. But so too tactics, and an understanding of how words were weapons in Cralstag’s hall.
He watched. He listened. Olaf, his father, was pleased. His jarldom would wax while others’ waned under Lolgoff’s sway, he believed. He said as much to his brother, his liege, Cralstag. And Cralstag considered the boy closely, as he had no heir.
Lolgoff would not prove his father wrong. Cralstag took note of that, as well.

c. 570s CY
Distrust of their kin did not preclude their sailing and raiding with them. After all, the Cruski could trust that Schnai ships would not raid Cruski jarls should they be south, raiding rich shores, and waging war upon a common enemy.
Cralstag bid Lolgoff lead the ships of his jarldom south. Bring me back riches, Cralstag commanded. And keep your eye on our benevolent liege-lords, Cralstag said in confidence. Trust in their swords, he said, but not their words. Lolgoff did as he was told. He learned much from what he saw of the Schnai, and even more from what they said.
The Cruski joined with their cousins on many of these raids, taking special joy in fighting their particular rivals, the Sea Barons of Aerdy.
This was the life of the barbarian Suel for hundreds of years, through victories and losses. Their freedom was undiminished, but it was subtly threatened several decades ago. [LGG – 55]
The emissaries of the Kingdom of Shar had returned. They called themselves the Order of the Scarlet Sign.
Old King Cralstag admitted his suspicions of these southern kin to Lolgoff. I don’t trust them, he said. Their words are as silk, he said. His father, Gunnar, did not trust them, Cralstag said, nor his father before him.

573 CY
The emissaries of the Scarlet Brotherhood, as always, offered many gifts and whispered many promises. They offered passage to any of their brethren who wished to accompany them south. They bowed. They pledged promises that never seemed to resolve. And they feigned servility. Yet, all their whispers sounded like orders to Cralstag’s ears.
Old King Cralstag knew well that his ancestors, be they slaves or scoundrels, were never the lapdogs of an emperor who stank of magic. So he told the Scarlet Brothers, and before all in his court, as his judgment on their words. For this, the Brothers murdered him soon thereafter—not with clean blade or strength of arms, but with hidden venom in his cup. [LGG – 55]
“Murder most foul, as in the best it is. But this most foul, strange and unnatural.”
― William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Old King Cralstag was 73.

Lolgoff Bearhear
The Brotherhood were cunning and stealthy. But Lolgoff had taken heed of his uncle’s suspicions. And though he was not able to prevent Cralstag’s death, he was quick to take those responsible to task.
The king's nephew, Lolgoff, knew the old king's judgment and the manner of his death. When the Brothers were brought before him, they spoke words of praise and honor for the dead king, and they smiled. Lolgoff smiled too, as he cut them apart with the old king's sword, for he honored Cralstag in deeds, not words. As king and fasstal, Lolgoff pronounced his judgment: The Brothers of the Scarlet Sign should receive only death in the kingdom of Cruski. [LGG – 55]

Thus, Lolgoff Bearhear came to his uncle’s throne.
His Most Ferocious Majesty, Lolgoff Bearhear, the King of Cruski; Fasstal of all the Suelii [WoGA – 26]
Cruski, Kingdom of (Ice Barbarians): Lolgoff Bearhair, F 14 [WoGG – 17]
(CN male human Bbn15) [LGG – 54]
Lolgoff was 33.
He had been weaned on the false premise of Schnai supremacy, of their supposed suzerainty and their demand for tribute. On their deceit, and their perfidious promises of Cruski self-determination under the threat of reprisals should they not do as they were told. Lolgoff desired that his people be free of them.
More importantly, Lolgoff had seen the duplicity and treachery of those distant kin of Shar, firsthand.
He has rid his kingdom of the latter. He vowed that he would be rid of the former.

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.

The Art:
Nauskiree, by Sam Wood, from Living Greyhawk Journal #1, 2000

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9317 WGS1 Five Shall Be One, 1991
9337 WGS2 Howl from the North, 1991
11374 The Scarlet Brotherhood, 1999
11742 Gazetteer, 2000
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Living Greyhawk Journal #1
Oerth Journal #7
Dragon Magazine #55,56,57,63
Dungeon Magazine # 133
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer


Friday 10 June 2022

Thoughts on G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief

“If quick, I survive.
If not quick, I am lost.
This is "death.”
― Sun Tzu

G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
Long ago, in a youth, far, far away, a thin tome was published that would change the face of gaming once and for all time. Was it the first adventure published where a single player played a single PC? I expect not: That distinction may be held by “The Temple of the Frog,” in the little brown books. But this, the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, would most certainly, in 1978, be the first adventure presented as we now recognise as an adventure module: with bifold cardstock enveloping a stapled litany of encounters detailed room by room.
When I describe G1 as a tome, I by no means mean weighty volume, because G1 was not. It was a scant 8 pages. That would be 2 pages stapled together. Maybe I should say 7 pages: The first was a cover sheet, repeating the cover art of the cardstock.
Despite its deceptively thin nature, it is very much a thick tome. Much is mentioned in subtext, and in its foreshadowing of what was to come.
So, why so thin, you ask? I expect that G1 was a tentative step into what was to come. Gary Gygax, reputably, didn’t believe there would be a market for such things as published adventures. He expected that DMs would want to create their own. With that reasoning in mind, I can imagine his reluctance in publishing G1. Its undertaking might have been a disaster, should no one purchase it.
If only he knew what was to come, G1 might have been far more elaborate. Consider Judges Guild’s The Dark Tower, for instance, published just 1 year later at 72 pages!
But I digress…

Most, these days, might know what G1 is all about.
Giants have been raiding the lands of men in large bands, with giants of different sorts in these marauding groups. Death and destruction have been laid heavily upon every place these monsters have visited. This has caused great anger in high places, for life and property loss means failure of the vows of noble rulers to protect the life and goods of each and every subject - and possible lean times for the rulers as well as the ruled. Therefore, a party of the bravest and most powerful adventurers has been assembled and given the charge to punish the miscreant giants.
[G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief – 2]

Those raids must have been rather vicious; then again, raids by marauding groups usually are, aren’t they? But one wonders how desperate the noble rulers were that they should be so stern in their instructions to those adventurers they’ve gathered for the mission.
These adventurers must deliver a sharp check, deal a lesson to the clan of hill giants nearby, or else return and put their heads upon the block for the headsman's axe! [G1 – 2]
I have to say that I might not be particularly loyal to noble rulers who promised such a fate for failure.
Yet this charge is not as harsh as it may seem, for all have been fully equipped with all standard items needed for both wilderness and dungeon exploration; and each member of the party has likewise been given the finest horse available. Guides are available to help, and the leader has a splendid map showing exactly where the great timber fortress of the chief of the hill giants in the area is. [G1 – 2]
It seems that the noble lords had already tried to put an end to the marauding if they already know where the giants are sallying forth from.
This chief, one Nosnra, is a grossly fat and thoroughly despicable creature, sly and vicious, loving ambush and backstabbing. [G1 – 2]
I expect this might be the reason why the noble lords require the service of adventurers. Their local militias were not up to the task of dealing with giants.
I might mention that the lords are not without generosity:
Finally, the party has been instructed to keep any and all loot they chance upon, this to be their reward for the perils they are to face. [G1 – 2]
Like the lords could strip treasure from those they sent to deal with the giants, if successful, when they themselves failed in that regard….
And it’s not like they’re offering any other form of payment for our heroes risking life and limb, are they?

And it’s not like the powers-that-be don’t already suspect that there might be more to these raids than meets the eye. These are hill giants, after all; and hill giants, though sly and vicious, aren’t exactly known for their cunning or field tactics.
Furthermore, the party has been cautioned to expect a secret force, some motivational power behind this unusual banding of different races of giants. More surprises might be in store... [G1 – 2]
They are to follow any clues discovered if such point towards the sinister hand suspected of guiding the rising, but to return at once if they should determine exactly the reason or force behind the unholy alliance. Some relic of great evil might be at hand. [G1 – 2]
Sounds like a series to me. Nothing like laying the groundwork for further releases, should G1 be successful. Creating a little anticipation and buzz….

Was this a tournament module? I don’t think it was – then again, maybe it always was intended to be run as such (the G123 cover suggests it was presented at Origins ’79 for just that purpose). Rumour has it that Gary wrote the G-series to take a break while writing the Monster Manual and Players Handbook, not the best approach one would take when trying to produce something for an upcoming convention, I would think. Indeed, there’s enough foreshadowing within the first installment of this much-loved series to indicate that Gary had the entire story in mind before he put pen to paper. Or so I’d like to think, anyway.
But the module does begin as most tournament modules do, on the doorstep, as it were:
They come to the place of the giants just at dusk. There are no windows visible, but no giants—or any other creatures—can be seen about the place, although occasional burst of shouting and laughter can be heard faintly from within. Their map warns of two giant guards at the great doors to the Steading, but none are there. […] The time has come to see what is afoot!
[G1 – 2]
Closer inspection will reveal that the Steading is a rather formidable fortress.
All outer walls are of logs of at least 3' diameter. [G1 – 2]
Storming the keep would be inadvisable, I would say. Why not burn the Steading to the ground with all the giants inside and have done with it, then?
The Steading is in a nasty damp area, where hard rain is a daily occurrence and wet fogs a nightly event. All wood in the place is very damp. (Normal fire will have only a 2% chance per round of burning or setting the place afire, and even magical fires will have only an 8% chance per round of the same.) If the party should manage to set the upper works of the Steading aflame, they will be forced to wait a week before trying to discover a way into the lower (dungeon) level, for hot embers will prevent entry before this period of time. [G1 – 2]

Note that Gary didn’t preclude the possibility that the players might succeed in doing just that. But burning the place to the ground was never the intent. The opening text establishes that the heroes are expected to follow up on any and all leads concerning these raids, and that they should put an end to whomever, or whatever, is behind them. That might be difficult to do if the PCs were to burn the place to the ground, along with whatever evidence they might find within it. Those behind the raids would be surely be alerted to a very clear danger to their machinations, and go to ground, as it were, if it were, as well. Or so I might postulate.
There’s no avoiding the inevitable, if the PCs are to succeed in their mission they’re going to have to infiltrate the Steading. But how? They aren’t giants. And if they should spy on the Steading long enough to see who comes and goes from it they’re going to come to the realisation that humans and elves and dwarves are not what one might call honoured guests.

If they scout closer, though, they will discover that an opportunity is at hand.
2 snoring hill giants, supposedly guarding the entrance [.] There is a nearly empty keg of ale between them. [G1 – 3]
Steps leading up to the watch tower where another hill giant guard […] is dozing. A flagon which contained mead is at his hand. [G1 – 3]
It would seem that a some sort gathering in progress.
And, if they should be so bold as to sneak inside, or even only as far and the great doors of the Great Hall, the sounds that greet them will only conform as much.
There is indeed a feast in progress.
There is singing, talking, laughing, shouting, arguing, wrestling, joking, and the like going on, so the place is a veritable din of noise. The following creatures are in the hall:
Chief Nosnra & wife, Sub-chief, Cloud giant, 3 Stone giants, 22 Hill giants, 8 Ogres, Cave bear.
[G1 – 4]

Not that the heroes will know this headcount, not unless they are very bold indeed and duck into the Hall to see for themselves. And they may be. But should they be so brazen as to engage the attendees in a battle royale, they will surely fail, and surely perish.
I believe that the intent of the adventure was always stealth, infiltration, subterfuge. That intent is likely more obvious in the G123 compilation of 1981 where pregens are included. Their magic is very much in line with just such a mission. They’re kitted out with robes of blending, and potions and rings of invisibility, with dusts of disappearance, and elven boots and cloaks. But, even without the pregens at hand, it should be obvious that if the heroes were to attack the assembled, and fail to put them to the sword, any further incursion would be exceedingly difficult, to put it mildly.
If time permits, the giants will organize traps, ambushes, and last ditch defenses against continuing forays into their stronghold. [G1 – 2]

There is the conundrum of the cloud giant to unravel.
ALIGNMENT: Neutral (good 50%, evil 50%) [MM 1e – 44]
Is this cloud giant evil and in league with Nosnra?
14. MAIN GUEST CHAMBER: The cloud giant and the 3 stone giants (now at 11) are lodged here. […] [A]t the other end is what appears to be an unlit torch, but it is actually a giant slaying sword belonging to the cloud giant, and if it is touched the special illusion is dispelled. Note that the sword is unique, with 14 intelligence, 8 ego, and speaking hill, stone, and frost giant languages in addition to the common tongue and the language of Neutral Good (which alignment the weapon is). It detects enemies, but the sword has no other powers. It is +2 in general and +4 versus any sort of giant (scoring that plus in damage, of course). [G1 – 4]
Evidence indicates that this particular giant might not actually be in league with whatever is afoot, after all. Or so its possession of an intelligent NG sword would indicate.
If the heroes are bold, and not foolhardy, they might discover the truth behind this; and they could, if they are the right sort of players, discover that there is other help at hand within the Steading.
ORC SLAVE QUARTERS: This hall is a messy and smelly place filled with pallets and junk. All but 2 of the slaves are working elsewhere, the 2 in this place being too injured (since giant kicks break bones) to labor. They will happily aid a party which will spare their lives and set them free. These orcs know about the rebellion in the dungeons, and they will tell the party that any orcs they see there should be hailed as friends. Otherwise, they know only the kitchen area and the Great Hall.
[G1 – 5]
There is an orc rebellion in the Steading! Or under it, in this case. They need only find them without being found out, themselves.

There are guards about, of course, some more affective than others.
BARRACKS: 2 soundly sleeping giants […] can be heard snoring […] in this room. [G1 – 3]
OGRE QUARTERS: The hill giants employ ogres for scouts, messengers, servants, and the like, for the ogres are trusty flunkies as well as hard workers and fighters. In addition to those in the Great Hall and the young at work in the kitchen area, there are 5 of them here […] playing at knucklebones and drinking small beer. [G1 – 5]
And other encounters that might reveal their presence to the Steading:
22. OPEN COMPOUND: 14 dire wolves run free here […], and they will immediately attack any non-giant or non-ogre entering their area. Note that if they see the whip (room 19), however, they cower and make no sound, but otherwise they howl and bite! [G1 – 5]

Regardless whether they are found out or not, if they are to incite further rebellion, they must then descend into the lower level where these rebellious orcs are confined.
And it is down there where they discover the fate of the victims of the recent raids.
In the cells are:
i. 1 human prisoner, a merchant, now quite insane.
ii. 1 human prisoner, an engineer, kept alive to help with the excavation of new areas of the dungeon. He cannot aid his rescuers, but he will take service.
iii. An elf fighter/magic-user […] chained to the wall. He has 17 strength, 17 intelligence, 14 wisdom, 16 dexterity, 15 constitution, and 11 charisma. He will serve with any character of good alignment for 1 year after rescue without pay in gratitude for his freedom.
iv. TRAP: 3 skeletons, each wearing a brass ring with a glass gem. The bugbear guards will claim that they have been instructed to keep these skeletons safe, as there is something magical about them. They have no key to the cell to back up their tale, but the lock can be forced with ease. As soon as the cell door is opened, the 3 skeletons spring to attack with swords previously covered from view by dust and dirt. Each skeleton takes 8 HP.
v. Large cell with 5 captured orc rebels. 3 others of their number have already been tortured to death and eaten, so they will be very willing to help any creature promising them escape from the toils of the giants. These orcs will lead the party to 19, if they wish, and will see them safely past the guards behind "B" if they can handle the bugbear a 'W' to the west of that place. [G1 – 6]

... and:
[G1 – 6]

If there was any doubt that these prisoners and slaves are ill-treated, let me put that notion to rest.
TORTURE CHAMBER: This large area contains various implements for torturing prisoners large and small. There are an iron maiden, 2 racks, thumbscrews, iron boots, chains, whips, branding irons, strappadoes, etc. A fire put in the center of the room gives it all a hellish light. There are 2 dozing hill giants (HP.: 39, 36) behind the large rack to the north, one with a gold chain set with a fire opal (2,000 g.p. as jewelry, 1,300 if damaged). [G1 – 6]
Freeing the prisoners won’t be easy. Doing so will require dealing with their gaoler.
CHAMBER OF THE KEEPER: The Keeper is a ghastly hill giant, hunchbacked, twisted, and with but one good eye. He is thoroughly wicked and evil, strong […], and remorseless. He is never without one of his 2 pet carnivorous apes [.] [G1 – 6]

Whether the player ally with the orcs is entirely up to the players. Murder-hobos with probably not. But one can only imagine that allying with the rebels will only help their clearing out the giants above, if they’ve a mind to.
19. NATURAL CAVERN: This place is part of the large area of natural caves and caverns which the ancient builders of the dungeon came upon. It is now inhabited by 78 escaped orc slaves, rebels against the hill giants, for whom the place is a sanctuary. […] The orcs are armed with clubs, axes daggers, and various cast-off 7 weapons, although there are 7 crossbows amongst them. […] They obtain food from raids, supplemented by fungus found in a subterranean cave which is entered through the sink hole in the southwest of the cavern. They have an uneasy truce with the troglodytes […] and trade food to these creatures for water. [I]f approached in a non-hostile manner they will become agreeable if fighting against bugbears and/or giants is mentioned. [G1 – 7]
The trogs might help, too. Stranger things have happened.
20. TROGLODYTE CAVERN: A small tribe of trogs' are forced to dwell there. […] Being trapped between the orcs at 19 and the lizards at 21 they are trying to make do until they can escape. [G1 – 7]

It’s unlikely that the stone giants will help; but they probably won’t hinder the heroes, either. Mind you, they do appear in league with the Hill Giants.
ALIGNMENT: Neutral [MM 1e – 45]
Unless they are set upon by the players for their associating with the hill giants. They are only there to do a job.
26. GALLERY UNDER CLEARANCE: (Note that here, and at 27., will be the location of giants surviving a burning of the upper level of the Steading.) The north face of this area is being cleared, and a few tools are in that area. The place is otherwise unremarkable and empty. [G1 – 8]
27. CHAMBER UNDER CLEARANCE: Another unlit and unremarkable place with a few tools left laying around. [G1 – 8]
28. QUARTERS FOR STONE GIANT MINERS: 3 stone giants […] who are subordinates of the leader in the Great Hall above make this their abode. [G1 – 8]

However the story unfolds, they heroes will sooner or later stumble across my favourite part of this module. That said, if the PCs ally with the orcs, they may not encounter this area at all, forewarned and warned off of it, altogether. The orcs are spooked by it. Terrified, in fact.
Passage to 17 A., blocked by stones: Orcs have piled finished and rough stones before the door to close it. The wooden door itself is bound with moldering bands of bronze, and a heavy bronze bolt secures it. The corridor is disused, dusty, and reeks disgustingly. [G1 – 7]
Granted, the players may actually want to investigate this area, regardless the dire warnings raised, perhaps even because of them.
What they find will be portentous!
A flight of low, uneven steps...
17A. WEIRD ABANDONED TEMPLE: This room is of faintly glowing purplish green stone, carved with disturbing shapes and signs which seem to stare out from the walls and columns, to shift position when the watcher's back is turned. Touching the walls makes one chilled, and contact with a pillar causes the one touching it to become nauseous. At the far west end of the temple is an altar of pale, yellow-gray translucent stone. It feels greasy to the touch, but it has no effects upon those who touch it. Behind this altar is a flight of low, uneven steps which lead to an alcove with a concave back wall of purplish-black, glassy appearing substance. If any creature stands before this wall and gazes upon it for one round, a writhing amorphous form of sickly mauves and violets will be seen stretching its formless members towards the viewer. This sight causes the creature seeing it to have a 50% chance of becoming insane. If the creature does not go insane, a touch upon the curving will cause a scarab of insanity to appear upon the altar for the first one so doing, and a 5,000 g.p. gem for the next.
[G1 – 7]
That’s positively Lovecraftian. And it is the most ominous foreshadowing of what’s to come in the series.
There may even be worse things to come after this, should the PCs investigate further, but those unhappy happenstances are for you to devise.
18 VESTRY (?): The visible walls of this place bear faint traces of disgusting murals and bas-relief depictions of nasty things. A flight of ridged, step-like stones slants steeply downwards toward the south, but this way is completely blocked by tons of stone blocks and rubble. [G1 – 7]

What intel will the PCs unearth?
That there is indeed a greater, and more sinister mind behind these raids:
10A. Several scroll tubes are concealed in this room, under a stack of logs in the alcove to the northwest. Only one tube has anything in it, this one being sealed and marked with a triangle containing a Y. Inside is a set of instructions on the next raid, written in giantish, and signed "Eclavdra". Also in the tube are the plans for the Steading [.] [G1 – 4]
Nosnra and his hill giants did not design the Steading, at all, it would seem. One imagines Nosnra was instructed on exactly where to build it, too; where it was, directly overtop the WEIRD ABANDONED TEMPLE, in fact.
There are further clues: a well-made and water tight cask which contains a map showing the GLACIAL RIFT OF THE FROST GIANT JARL and an obsidian box. In the latter is a chain of weird black metal and instructions written in hill giant on a sheet of human skin. The instructions show that the chain is a magical device which is to be looped into a figure 8. Thus shaped, it will transport up to 6 persons in each circle of the figure 8 to the Glacial Rift if one of their number holds the map. [G1 – 8]
It would seem that there are other giants involved in whatever scheme this Eclavdra is brewing.
Personally, I would dispense with the magical chain, preferring the PCs to trek overland to the glacial rift, but that’s just me. I much rather a lengthy campaign to a string of tournaments. But to each his own.

Will the PCs succeed? I suppose that depends on the players. There’s no guarantee that they will put all of the dramatis personae to the sword, though. This wouldn’t matter in tournament play; but it should in a continuing campaign—something rather obvious to us now, but may not have been to we adolescents, back in the day.
Gary must have suspected as much, because he included a little advice, addressing that possibility:
If you plan to continue this campaign by using the other modules in the series, be certain to keep track of the fate of important giants and their allies or captives. The former will generally flee to the next higher ranking stronghold, and the latter will be available for assistance to some parties. [G1 – 2]

It may come to no surprise that I like this adventure module. I love it, in fact. It is probably my favourite of the GDQ series. Why? Because I love beginnings. Perhaps more than endings. Few conclusions are as realised as their beginnings, to my mind. Possibilities dwindle as story unfolds, and any conceived notion of the reader of how it may evolve is dashed by what does. G1 is such a beginning: Giants are raiding. Greater evils are suspected. And regardless the evidence uncovered that confirms that belief, a more frightening, Lovecraftian undertone is discovered.
What’s not to love?

“Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires.”
― William Shakespeare, Macbeth

One must always give credit where credit is due. This post is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.

The Art:
G1 cover, by David Sutherland, from G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, 1978
Hill Giant, from 1e Monster Manual, 1977
The Steading, by Erol Otus, from G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, 1978
Hill Giant, by David Sutherland, from G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, 1978
The Kitchen, by Erol Otus, from G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, 1978
Stone Giant, by David Trampier, from 1e Monster Manual, 1977
G2 back cover, by David Sutherland, from G2 Glacier Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, 1978

9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2009 Monster Manual 1e, 1977, 1978
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9016 G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, 1978
9017 G2 Glacier Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, 1978
9058 G123 Against the Giants, 1978, 1981
The Dark Tower, Judges Guild Games, 1979