AD&D Review: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief

This is a reprint of a review I first posted on RPG Geek.

Dungeon Module G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief was the first adventure module released by TSR for the Dungeons & Dragons game. The scenario debuted at Origins ’78 as part of the D&D tournament there, and was shortly available for purchase by D&D fans. A previous scenario, Temple of the Frog had seen its debut in Supplement II: Blackmoor, and Wee Warriors had produced the first D&D adventure module, Palace of the Vampire Queen, but Steading of the Hill Giant Chief was the first module produced by TSR.

Looking back on the adventure’s physical qualities now, it seems an inauspicious start. The module is only 8 pages in length, with two maps of the steading being printed on the module’s interior cover. Indeed, in a couple of years it would be combined with the other adventures of the Giant series into one product: G1-2-3 Against the Giants. However, for the young TSR, it probably made sense to publish it in this manner; after all, it was an entire setting in itself. The cover, as with the other early TSR adventures, is in monochrome.

However, what the module lacks in length it makes up for in adventure and concept. The basic idea of the adventure is this: Giants have been raiding the lands of men, and with different types of giants seen working together. In response to this, the rulers of these lands have gathered a party of adventurers (your players’ characters!) and sent them to attack a nearby hill giant steading. If they refuse, the executioner awaits them. One can’t accuse these rulers of being too soft!

That said, the adventure begins with the PCs arriving at the steading. A feast is in progress, and the party will find their infiltration of the steading fairly easy, and likely a great battle will erupt in the feast hall. Below the steading is a single dungeon level, in which can be found bugbears, carrion crawlers, more giants and their prisoners – as well as a weird abandoned temple – a trope to which Gary Gygax would return in his later works, and the chief’s treasure room.

One of the interesting parts about the adventure is that it clearly expects the monsters to act realistically with the DM changing their location based on the actions of the adventurers. The top level is initially static due to the feast, but if the adventurers leave the steading, the DM is advised to have the giants ‘organise traps, ambushes and last-ditch defences against continuing forays into their stronghold.’

Of particular interest are the stat-blocks for the monsters: none are given, save only a record of their hit points. Obviously, possession of the D&D rulebooks is required to run this adventure! (Watching the method Gygax uses for stat-blocks evolve over the course of these adventures is quite interesting).

There is a lot of combat in this adventure, as might be expected. Exploration? Of course! There are many treasures to be found – occasionally only accruing to the players who correctly divine their location and describing such to the DM. A few traps and tricks round out the adventure. It is recommended that the optimum mix of adventures is a group with ‘9 characters of various classes, with an average experience level of at least the 9th, and each should have 2 or 3 magic items.’ It is worth noting that the 1st edition giants are significantly weaker the giants in 2nd edition and later; they have fewer Hit Dice and hit points, for one thing. The monster stat inflation in 2E was ill-considered in this case, I believe.

One aspect of the adventure I particularly enjoy is Gygax’s attention to detail: the giants have bags, and a table allows you to determine their contents. Items such as a drinking horn or a haunch of meat can be discovered within. There are also storage chambers and a smithy, and items are detailed that would be found there. It adds to the verisimilitude of the adventure, and is something that many a later adventure would lack.

In all, there are 58 encounter areas detailed, of which about 21 have monsters that can be fought. The big battle will be in the Great Hall, which holds 29 giants, 8 ogres and a cave bear. As the dimensions of the great hall are sufficiently giant – 80 feet by 120 feet with a 40 feet by 80 feet annexe – magic-user spells such as fireball can be used to full effect, and one rather suspects they will be!

The adventure ends with clues pointing to the second adventure in the series, the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl.

Although it would be easy to dismiss Steading of the Hill Giant Chief as just a hack’n’slash adventure, there are quite a few opportunities for role-playing, exploration and other activities in the adventure. The inclusion of orc slaves – including a few escaped rebel slaves – and troglodytes that are likewise in a problematic position gives some excellent opportunities for the clever DM and his or her inventive players to negotiate with them and perhaps even gain their aid against the surviving giants.

When I first read G1 as part of Against the Giants, many years ago, I wasn’t that impressed. Now, with the benefit of many years of Dungeon Mastering and exposure to many other RPGs and adventures, I’m very impressed by the simplicity and strength of this adventure. It might have been written as a tournament adventure, but it stands up as an example of what can be achieved; truly, a classic AD&D adventure.

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