This was an easy request to fill - re-read and review the G-series of adventures. I'd been meaning to take a look at them, I'd had the original tournament writeup in mind, and then Roll For Initiative took a look at G1 in their 150th episode. So it seemed like something to get right on and do immediately.
G1-3 Against the Giants
by Gary Gygax
G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl
G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King
Here is my collection of these, including some destroyed scraps:
These adventures originated as tournament adventures, for a three-round tournament. If you want to know how the adventure and its two sequels played at least for some groups, and have access to early issues or the Dragon Magazine Archive, you can find out. It's in The Dragon #19, p. 3-4 and 6-7.
The compilation G1-3 has what I gather are the nine original tournament PCs. Their levels and gear match the playtest report in The Dragon #19. They range from 9th (also a 5/8 F/M-U) to 14th level (a fighter with 104 HP and -5 AC) and are pretty well equipped, especially with healing potions and dust of disappearance. Stats are high - most have at least one 18, and the guy with only two 16s has 55 HP as a 12th level M-U (just short of max.) Naturally, there is also a dwarf with a +3 Dwarven Hammer and a Ring of Invisibility. Yowza. They're pretty serious adventurers. They do have some ridiculous names, though, like Fonkin Hoddypeak - which Gary Gygax would use as mild insults/terms of endearment in Saga of Old City.
G1 The Steading Of The Hill Giant Chief
G1 gets the series rolling, with the PCs tasked to punish some raiding giants who have seemed all too organized for hill giants, and to discover or what is the force behind them. There is no wilderness component - game start is right in front of the steading of hill giant chief. The PCs arrive just in time for a big to-do, so the guards they've been warned about aren't at the front door. It's set up with a "or else" by the nobles who sent the party that is much mocked online, but it always felt right to me - you're on a serious mission backed by equally serious folks.
The whole adventure is all of 8 pages with maps on the inside of the cover. But it packs a lot into those 8 pages. You get a giant's conference, a slave revolt, oppressed cave-dwellers, some hidden locations with bizarre things the giants and revolting slave orcs equally want nothing to do with, and plenty of action. There are all sorts of chances to use the environment for or against the PCs, and many sections where clever play can turn encounters into sources of information or even fight-ending moves. The adventure nicely deals with the possibility of "let's burn the place down!" and what will follow if the PCs do that, too, leaving little work for the GM to pick up after the fire and get things rolling.
Despite all of that, the adventure is largely hack-and-slash. A moderately thorough party that generally solves problems with direct combat, searches relatively well, and doesn't burn down obvious sources of intelligence (scrolls, maps, etc.) will be fine. It's no S1 Tomb of Horrors or S2 White Plume Mountain. Straight combat is the vast majority of the adventure. Good and interesting combat, but you can solve this one with swords and fireballs. The adventure pretty much rewards a mild sneak followed by extreme violence. The more alert foes in the later modules, though, punish that approach enough that you'd better get sneakier as you go and search a lot more thoroughly. While there are a couple of especially interesting areas, they aren't must-solve puzzles - and mostly fall into the "better off left alone" Gygaxian save-or-die type.
It's a complete adventure - almost nothing is left for the GM to determine at the last minute. It's done in the very old style of monster stat lines being nothing but HP, and the occasional "Fights as a frost giant" line. Which really does require a little extra prep by the GM, who not only needs to look up the HD, AC, etc. of hill giants and their various allies and slaves, but then to look up the HD of other monsters not in the adventure to cover the guys who "fight as a." It makes me pine for THAC0 when it showed up later in 1st edition AD&D modules. From experience, I can also tell you that for all three of these modules, you'll be much better off if you make a roster sheet, especially if the PCs raid, rest, and then return. The statlines from the back of the DMG are invaluable here.
It's got a lot of treasure, if you can either find the main stashes or wholly clear the place out. They include some Easter egg-like ones (like a giant slaying sword owned by one of the giant's guests . . . in case of treachery, perhaps). But you'll have to work for it. Not only that, but considering the level of the PCs - level 8-12, and the optimal mix suggested is 9 PCs of level 9 average. At those levels, a big pile of gold divided nine ways isn't going to be a major impact, and might just be needed to push PCs up levels as they go through the series. When your fighter needs 250,000 xp to level up, and the mage 375,000 xp, all the treasure they can carry away at 10 coins to the pound isn't going to amount to much.
G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl
This one is also 8 pages, with maps on the inside of the cover. It details the multi-level rift of the frost giants and its inhabitants.
Hands-down, my favorite. Icy winds, fog if you throw fireballs (which is either good or bad, depending on the situation), slick floors, and lots of tough giants. It feels lived-in and it's tough. And it has two dragons in it, together. Plus hidden places with more loot and challenges, some required careful searching to even accomplish the first part of your goal - decapitating the giant's leadership - nevermind the second - finding out who is backing these giants. Again, lots of loot, but lots of really tough foes.
Like G1, there are a lot of little hooks here. There are odd bits - some frozen corpses set up to frighten intruders, but they're off to the side in a place easily bypassed. Against, it's hack-and-slash, although you need more searching to complete the adventure. There aren't any clever tricks or cunning traps, it's straightforward PCs vs. the monsters & the environment. And while slipping and creating fog with fireballs is covered, the module (in retrospect, surprisingly) doesn't discuss the cold. I never ran it with any concern for the PCs bundling up, which seems odd. I couldn't tell you off-hand if AD&D had any cold weather rules, but this would have been a good place for some chilling weather that slowly sapped away your ability to fight and limited your ability to rest and recover.
G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King
The finale of the series is 16 pages, with maps inside the cover fold.
This one has pretty amazing. Just about the toughest evil giants you can expect to encounter in groups - fire giants - and lots of allies. Ettins, gnolls, trolls, hell hounds, and pretty much every thematically fire-related monster. Plus - spoiler alert - it was the first appearance of the drow.
Like G1 and G2, there are hidden areas, places you can mess up and hurt yourself to no good purpose, and fights to avoid. There are places with things you should just not touch. There are potential allies here, too, mixed in with pretend allies. There are nasty set-piece fights and plenty of places for the giants to fight, retreat, and rally. Their clever allies means that the GM can really cut loose on the PCs even more than in G1 and G2, where the smartest guys in the room aren't that smart. It's a very difficult challenge for underequipped or tactically unsound PCs.
Like G1 and G2, it's complete and ready to go . . . mostly. Some treasure is underdetailed - scrolls and potions you need to roll up yourself, gems and jewelry you need to do the same for, and some magic items lacking important details (a sword you need to roll up, one suit of magic armor that doesn't even say what kind of armor it is.) Space must have been a concern, but you need to comb through and find and generate those ahead of time if you don't want to waste time at the table.
These are classics for a reason. Hard hack-and-slash with a purpose and a mission, high level play (like I said, one tournament PC was 14th level), and a lot of hooks and detail-inspiring wording throughout. They're complete and ready to go with minimal prep (except for those annoying "scroll of 7 sevens (determine randomly)" kind of treasure placements, mostly in G3.
The differences between G1-3 and G1, G2, and G3 are mostly art and some line spacings and such being tightened up so 32 pages could fit into 32 pages once one was dedicated to the tournament PCs.
These are amongst the best adventures Gary Gygax wrote, in my opinion. They cram a lot into a small wordcount and they're easy to drop in to a campaign.
I especially like the GM advice.
"There is considerable information contained herein which is descriptive and informative with respect to what the players see and do. Note that this does not mean that you, as Dungeon Master, must surrender your creatively and become a mere script reader. You must supply considerable amounts of additional material. You will have to make up certain details of areas. There will be actions which are not allowed for here, and you will have to judge whether or not you will permit them. Finally, you can amend and alter monsters and treasures as you see fit, hopefully within the parameters of this module, and with an eye towards the whole, but to suit your particular players."
That would be a great forward to any adventure, and should show up in your basic advice to new GMs. Hopefully a little more directly and clearly. Gary Gygax was amazing, but sometimes he pulled Vancian prose into what should have been technical writing. You can cut that down to something akin to "There is a lot of information here about what the PCs see and do. That doesn't mean the DM is a mere script writer - you can, will, and must supply considerable amounts of additional details. You will have to make up details, allow (or deny) actions not allowed for in the adventure, and otherwise referee the game as you see fit. Finally, feel free to change any monsters or treasures to fit your game." Something like that. But even unchanged, yes, that's extremely good advice on how to GM.
Good stuff, these adventures. If you don't have them and you're running AD&D or something close to it, I'd find them and play them.
Tomorrow I'll post some war stories, to avoid sticking spoilers in this review beyond what I've done so far.
If you like this review, you might like the consolidated Reviews page.