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

1 comment:

  1. Good post! Having recently ran G1 all the way thru for the first time I can say that stealth and negotiation makes this mod more enjoyable. In my group, the players were ready to murder-hobo their way room to room but clever breadcrumbs tricked them into finding the slaves early. From there the rebellion was on, and it made the chaos of exploring the rest of the steading more enjoyable. A home game made this running module more casual I expect. I cannot see G1 ever going well in a standard 4-hour tourney even with the kitted out pregens you mention. You would certainly get cheated out of seeing a lot of the cool side stuff like the temple. But thats just me!