Article Header Image
Big Shoes To Fill
Design & Development
By Christopher Perkins

G ary Gygax's tripartite and seminal "G series" of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS adventure modules (G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King) was first published in 1978 after making the rounds at convention tournaments. These modules were, in fact, the first of the classic AD&D adventures, paving the way for scores of others throughout the seventies and eighties. Three years after their initial release, in 1981, the G series adventures were collected and released as a single module titled G1–2–3 Against the Giants. I must've DMed that adventure a dozen times, and I don't recall any of my players making it to the very end. In fact, I recall at least two groups getting slaughtered in the second encounter of the first adventure—the hill giant chief's infamously overpopulated banquet hall.

Over the Christmas break in 2009, I decided on a whim to revise these adventures for the 4th Edition rules. At the time, I wasn't interested in publishing the project. I was simply looking for a creative challenge and had been bitten by the adventure-writing bug. I wasn't even sure I'd have the time and stamina to finish adapting all three adventures. Turns out, I did.

By the end of the break, I'd finished my 4th Edition adaptation of module G1 and begun work on module G2. That's when I hit my first hurdle. In 4th Edition, hill giants are primarily level 13 monsters, frost giants are level 17 monsters, and fire giants are level 18 monsters. I had a four-level gap between hill giants and frost giants, so I decided to create a fourth adventure featuring stone giants (which fall between hill giants and frost giants in terms of level and power). Could I get away with turning Gary's classic three-part series into a four-part series?

I stopped work on module G2 and started writing Warrens of the Stone Giant Thane in January of 2010, finishing it over four weekends. I tried to emulate the style of the other three adventures by making it a location-based dungeon crawl chock full of giants, with subtle and not-so-subtle ties to the other adventures in the series. "Thane" seemed like a worthy title for a stone giant lord, standing up nicely to "chief," "jarl," and "king." By the end, I felt that I'd given stone giants their due, even though they're traditionally regarded as the least evil of the classic giant types. The stone giant adventure is similar in structure to the frost giant adventure. Both feature sprawling cavern complexes and a setup that sees the heroes face the giant lord only at the very end. (By contrast, characters can fight the hill giant chief and the fire giant king at almost any point in the other two adventures.)

After I'd finished my first draft of Warrens, I returned to module G2 and plowed through the adaptation in record time. Then came module G3, which took as long to complete as the other three adventures combined. I finished it toward the end of summer 2010, the heat outdoors not unlike the heat in King Snurre's hall. One thing about Gary's adventures is that they're surprisingly short and compact. Against the Giants was a 32-page booklet, including illustrations. The original Steading of the Hill Giant Chief was a whopping 8 pages. My four-part adaptation is roughly 125,000 words long—enough to fill a 160-page book.

Encounters written for later editions of the game are more complex than those written in Gary's day. I'm not passing judgment one way or the other, but if I was going to accomplish what I originally set out to do, I needed to put a lot of creative thought into fleshing out Gary's original encounters by adding challenging terrain, solid roleplaying opportunities, optional skill challenges, and monster tactics. I also needed to create a bunch of new statistics blocks (something I wish the old adventures had included). And by "a bunch," I mean scores of them.

What Key Elements of Gary's Adventures Survive in the Adaptations?

The Overall Story: Gary's original setup survives intact. His story was a simple and straightforward one: giants are waging war on civilization. The adventurers must launch a series of counterassaults, then confront and slay the giant lords. If the adaptations are to remain faithful to the original adventures, the focus of the story needs to stay the same.

The Bad Guys: Nosnra the hill giant chief, Grugnur the frost giant jarl, and Snurre the fire giant king are three of the D&D game's most memorable villains. No point in messing around with them. To make each giant lord feel like a unique threat, I assigned them all different roles and gave them distinctive personalities, as well as some memorable pets and companions.

The Settings: The adventures in the series were named after the locations in which they transpire, and I'd be a fool to change them. These locations take on an almost lifelike quality, and no work was needed to further differentiate them. I added a few interesting terrain effects to the glacial rift, but that's about all. From a creative standpoint, my biggest challenge was making Howling Crag, the stone giant stronghold, worthy of its peers.

Key Monsters: Every adventure in the series features a different set of monsters. Dire wolves roam at large through the hill giant steading while bugbears loiter about its dungeons. A remorhaz lairs in the glacial rift, which also harbors yetis, ice toads, polar bears, and a pair of white dragons. You can't invite adventurers into the fire giant king's hall and not have Queen Frupy, Obmi the dwarf, Brazzemal the red dragon, and the drow waiting for them. I lost monsters only when they distracted from the main thrust of the adventure or where they were no longer an appropriate challenge by level under 4th Edition rules. However, whenever a monster was lost, I tried to make up for it in the encounters that remained by adding something new that fit the overall tone of the adventure. One good example is the hill giant werewolf that oversees the dire wolves in Chief Nosnra's steading.

Tharizdun: The evil god Tharizdun (also known as the Elder Elemental Eye) was a significant threat in Gary's longstanding campaign, and he made his presence felt throughout the G series. That's one element I've preserved intact, right down to the unearthed altar in the hill giant dungeons and the full-blown temple in the fire giant hall. The Elder Elemental Eye also makes its presence felt in the stone giant adventure, imposing its evil will upon Thane Arnak.
So What Changed?

Maps: The maps are mostly faithful to the originals. Mostly. Wherever possible, I tried to keep the overall shape and scale of the locations intact, but a few challenges presented themselves in going from a grid of 10-foot squares to 5-foot squares. Chief among these challenges is scale. For example, as a 5-foot grid, the glacial rift is positively enormous, requiring four full-page maps to capture it in its entirety.

I tweaked a few walls to make caverns easier for DMs to redraw, and I made some slight changes to the dungeon below the hill giant steading to make it fit better. I added some new features to the caverns throughout the glacial rift to give them more variety. The fire giant dungeon changed the most—again, to address scale and fitting issues, but also to make combat in certain areas more interesting. The second level of Snurre's hall features a central prison complex, as does the original. However, the rooms surrounding it have been rearranged. Hopefully the purists won't be too offended. Mike Schley is rendering all of the maps, so you can marvel at the quality regardless.

Treasure: I'm fairly certain that Gary Gygax didn't cleave to a formula when he scattered treasure throughout the original giant lairs. Either way, the treasure found in my adaptation of Gary's work is balanced for 4th Edition characters of the appropriate level, with a little extra thrown in based on the assumption that the adventurers won't necessarily explore every room in each dungeon.

Pregenerated Characters: Early edition adventures often included pregenerated characters for players who didn't feel like creating their own. Alas, my adventures do not include pregens; players will have to bring their own characters to the party! That said, a few of the pregenerated characters from the original adventures—including Gleep Wurp the Eyebiter and Beek Gwenders of Croodle—make surprise appearances as support characters or corpses.

What's Been Added?

Names: Gary didn't always assign names to minor characters or important monsters, but I like to. In my 4th Edition adaptations, you'll meet a lot more named giants. You'll also notice that I've given names to many of the giants' favored pets and underlings. I think the added names give the adventures more verisimilitude.

Dragons: I wanted each installment to include at least one dragon—a creative decision that might irk some folks. That meant adding a dragon to the hill giant adventure (it guards Nosnra's treasure vault in the dungeon) and making sure the stone giant adventure has one as well. For the two white dragons in the glacial rift, I decided to make them twins that hatched from one egg, rather than a mated pair. This allowed me to write them up as elite monsters instead of solos, since fighting two solo dragons would've been tedious.

More Options for Players: The original G series adventures were effectively an open-ended set of running monster fights with little to differentiate one combat from another. That's not a judgment, but simply an observation. In each updated adventure, I tried to present opportunities for players to win through encounters without having to kill everything in sight (though that option is always on the table). Additionally, whenever Gary's adventures featured several encounters in close proximity, I tried to combine them into one encounter. As such, the adaptations contain fewer encounters, but those encounters are larger in scope.

Quests: Every adventure has a set of major and minor quests that the characters can complete, allowing them to gain additional rewards above and beyond the XP and treasure they gain by defeating monsters. In Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, a storm giant lord gives the heroes a quest to rescue his kidnapped daughter. If they succeed, the storm giant gives them another quest at the start of Hall of the Fire Giant King. The successful completion of this quest earns them a unique magic item called a thundercloud tower—a small flying fortress atop a thundercloud.

Monster Tactics: I tried to make the combat encounters as interesting as possible by having the monsters play to their strengths and throwing in a few surprises along the way. For example, the fire giant blacksmith in Snurre's hall hurls anvils at interlopers, and woe to any character struck by one!

New Statistics Blocks: Although the 4th Edition adaptations include their fair share of pickup stat blocks (mostly for the baseline hill, stone, frost, and fire giants), it also features loads of new variants. Stat blocks for unique minor characters and new monsters are also plentiful, including a giant stone head that rolls over its enemies, ice toads, and two-headed fire giants (the offspring of fire giants and ettins). DMs saddened by losing the carrion crawlers in Steading of the Hill Giant Chief will hopefully relish the swarms of baby carrion crawlers that appear in the stone giant adventure . . . because nothing makes a hero happier than the slimy caress of eight thousand wriggling, finger-length tentacles.

More Elemental Evil: The 4th Edition adaptations build on the Elder Elemental Eye story by including references and nods to the Princes of Elemental Evil, including Imix, Ogrémoch, and Cryonax. In D&D lore, these elemental princes serve the dark god Tharizdun, and I enjoyed finding subtle ways to inject them into the story (although, sadly, none of them makes a personal appearance).

How Does It All End?

The same way the original Against the Giants ended. Having defeated the last of the giant lords and fought their way to the bottom of the fire giants' dungeons, the adventurers discover a passage leading to the Underdark. At its end lies a sprawling cavern complex filled with all manner of monsters, a lost kuo-toa shrine, and a starry vault containing the drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu. These legendary destinations were introduced in modules D1–3 (also written by Gary Gygax), but don't hold your breath waiting for me to adapt that series as well. I'm much busier now than I was two years ago, and frankly I don't have many fond memories of the D series. Were I to feel another sudden urge to adapt a classic AD&D adventure, it would probably be module I3 Pharaoh or module U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh—two of my all-time favorites.

I briefly entertained the notion of writing a fifth installment that would carry the heroes into the epic tier (and give them a chance to test out their new flying fortress). However, by the time I'd finished adapting module G3 and revising all four adventures, I was pretty much done with giants for a while. Still, if you're looking for ways to continue the campaign, keep your eyeballs peeled for a couple of Dungeon magazine adventures next year that dovetail nicely with this series.

Haven't We Seen Enough Giants?

In 2009, Wizards of the Coast released a 160-page paragon tier adventure called Revenge of the Giants. So why are we releasing a paragon tier adaptation of the G series now? As I mentioned, this 4th Edition adaptation began as a personal project, nothing more. Given how well it turned out, it seemed a shame to keep it trapped inside my computer when DMs might be looking for some classic adventuring around which to base a paragon tier campaign. In addition, I know plenty of players who never tire of fighting giants. If you're feeling especially creative, you can think about ways to combine Revenge of the Giants and the new adventures to create a unique campaign.

What Other 4th Edition Adaptations of Classic AD&D Adventures are Out There?

Wizards has produced faithful adaptations of module T1 The Village of Hommlet, S1 Tomb of Horrors, and module C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan as DM Reward adventures. They're probably collector's items by now. The last D&D Encounters season of the year, written by Steve Townshend, is a wonderful adaptation of module UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave, with a few clever twists added.

Are You Insane?


Sort Items By: Newest First Oldest First Top Rated
There are no comments yet for this article (or rating). Be the first!

Create Comment
Follow Us
Find a place to get together with friends or gear up for adventure at a store near you
Please enter a city or zip code