GYGAX RISES AGAIN
|G1 - Steading of the Hill Giant Chief|
Original Cover Art
Recently I reviewed both Tomb of Horrors (Gary Gygax - 1975/1978) and Temple of the Frog (Dave Arneson - 1975) and found them both interesting from a historical perspective and as iconic representations of styles of location based adventure. Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (G1) (1978) is another of the oldest adventure modules and unlike Tomb of Horrors (which had some contribution from Alan Lucien) appears to be purely the work of Gygax. Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is also a very different sort of adventure from Tomb of Horrors and doesn't appear to have been written solely with tournament play in mind, though it certainly has elements of Gygax's tournament style. Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is for ‘experienced characters’ - though it’s unclear if this is only raw levels of if Gygax (rightfully) suspects that the adventure might be tricky for players that are unfamiliar with some of the more sneaky options available to their characters in AD&D.
Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is short (13 pages or so) and densely written. It’s much clearer then the writing in Temple of the Frog, but is similar in construction - with the now standard introduction, hooks, and note for the game master followed by keyed locations (52 on two levels) and a single page of pre-generated (tournament) characters. The writing is Gygaxian, though far less descriptive than that and without the illustration booklet provided in Tomb of Horrors it still has some of his unique phrasing. The adventure is a simpleattack on a hill giant stronghold, but set up specifically to build tension and encourage infiltration and character creativity due to the enormity of that task.
A first level details the giant’s huge wooden hall and palisade, a sort of cliched barbarian/Viking/Celtic chief’s hall or even inbred backwoods family compound, built on a giant’s scale and filled with details that repeatedly hammer on the giants’ themes of squalor, debauchery and sloth. While individually keyed most of the rooms on this upper level are empty, as the inhabitants feast endlessly in their great hall they do offer plenty of clues and interesting spaces to explore. A secret stair leads down to a lower level much closer to a traditional ‘dungeon adventure’, though a rather tightly wound one, in the Giant’s cellar (slave cells, weapon manufacturing area and secret treasury, insane manticore garbage disposal), caverns with orcish rebels and several other factions, and a secret tentacle god temple. The upper level is a tightly written adventure locale that inspires plans and schemes in the players while giving the GM the tools to make them fail or succeed interestingly, the lower level is a bit of a jumble. Yes it has useful faction and a few neat set pieces, but it also very densely packed and small with a bit of the 'monster hotel' feeling, especially in the cave portion.