It’s Tuesday, high noon at Wizards of the Coast… which can only mean one thing: time to break out the massive table-sized map, the dozens of miniatures, and continue through our Against the Giants campaign!
R&D’s Mike Mearls DMs this lunchtime campaign, hosting a retinue of players through an updated version of the classic series. What hope do they have?
Behind the DM Screen
Mearls: The map took me about 3 hours to put together, and is big enough to more than cover two tables. It's worth it to have the entire steading in 5-foot squares. (Just click on the map to the right, for a full view.)
Against the Giants
The original 1st edition modules sent players from one giant enclave to the next, starting with G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, to G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and on to G3: Hall of the Fire Giant Chief. The adventure didn’t end with the death of King Snurre, however—at the end of G3, clues could be found that took players deep into the underground… to the Warrens of the Troglodytes, Shrine of the Kuo-Toans, all the way to the Vault of the Drow… and beyond! (How far beyond? 3.5’s Expedition to the Demonweb Pits comes out this April.) 2nd edition re-released the campaign as Against the Giants, the Liberation of Geoff, and 3rd edition even had a follow-up adventure, still available for download: Andy Collins’ The Crumbling Hall of the Frost Giant Jarl.
Against the Giants has been such a beloved classic that most of Mike’s lunchtime players have already gone through at least one iteration of the series, and so were familiar, if not with the intimate details, than at least with general memories of the giants’ strongholds. Nevertheless, in a lunchtime campaign it was all about the fun—and Mike fiendishly promised that his version would not exactly be as originally written.
What surprises lay in store, we would soon find out…
At the start of the campaign, Mike set the parameters for character creation: 11th level, 28 point buy, standard wealth. All 3.5 books were legal, except for Eberron/Forgotten Realms sourcebooks.
The initial party was composed of the following:
- Catfolk Swashbuckler/Fighter/Dervish (Cormac Russell)
- Kobold Fighter (Rob Watkins)
- Dwarf Divine Mind/Fighter/War Mind (Andrew Finch)
- Dwarf Fighter/Paladin/Templar/Hammer of Moradin (James Wyatt)
- Gnome Sorcerer/Fiend Binder (Chris Thomasson)
- Human Scout/Psychic Warrior/Elocator (Jesse Decker)
- Human Arcane Trickster (Steven Montano)
- Gnome Paladin/Kensai (Bart Carroll)
It’s noon, and we only have one hour to play. The party wants to get right into the action, and so we force open the front doors (#1: Entry and Cloak Room), easily handled by Andrew Finch’s massive dwarf.
Wise? Hardly. Disastrous? Not yet. The party pours through, including Chris Thomasson’s bound (but resentful) vrock. Just inside the doors we come upon a group of hill giant sentries, no longer drunk and snoring as in the original module, but now alert and primed for action.
The fight is brief, with Rob Watkins’ kobold and Bart’s gnome dishing out generous helpings of punishment. The final hill giant has just enough time to flee down the northwestern hallway. Clearly he must be stopped before alerting the rest of the steading… but as the hour concludes this will have to wait until next session.
Mearls: The hill giants in the entry room raged, but since then the party hasn't (yet) seen any more barbarians.
An abbreviated game, the party has just enough time to chase after the fleeing hill giant before he can reach help. Chris convinces his vrock to obey his command (not an easy task), which then teleports in front of the giant, cutting off his escape with a burst of spores to the face.
Mearls: The vrock is the party MVP so far. He has displacement, mirror image, and DR 10/good. The giants can't hurt him.
With that, the party must decide where to head next. Although everyone knows what’s behind those tempting double doors, no one’s quite ready to peek into #11: Great Hall. Better to tackle the Kitchen first, it’s decided, where the cacophony of the cooks preparing a feast should mask any sounds of their slaughter.
So begins the assault on the Kitchen (#17). Several hill giants and their ogre helpers are busy fueling the steading’s festivities—so while they might be distracted, they’re already armed with sharp implements (and even a giant-sized stale baguette can cause damage when slammed down by a hill giant chef). Chris’s caster drops in a fireball, and the rest of the party charges in before the smoke clears.
The Battle of the Kitchen initially goes well for the party. The vrock hops onto the table, delivering spores. A well-placed lightening bolt blasts through the cooks. Andrew’s massive dwarf fells giants where they stand. Success seems within reach.
But there’s more to the Kitchen around the far end. A group of “fry cooks” are waiting in #18 (Kitchen Workroom)—some join the fight, while the rest flee out the back door. Bart’s paladin (desperately in need of a “gnome mounted on a giant badger” mini to accurately represent him), charges back into the hallway to cut them off.
Too late. The giants in the Great Hall may not have noticed the commotion, but another giant has. Accompanied by a pair of dire wolves, the kennel master emerges from #19 (Servant’s Quarters)… and he has been augmented since 1st edition.
Mearls: The kennel master is now a hill giant/were dire boar with 4 levels of warshaper, represented by War Drums’ sand giant.
The party doesn’t appreciate the severity of this threat, until the warshaper utterly crushes Cormac’s catfolk. It’s the first party casualty, and we are now officially concerned.
Things take a giant-sized turn for the worse. Rob and Bart rush to head off the hill giant warshaper, confident in their melee prowess. The only problem? Aside from a few lay on hands, the party lacks a competent healer—and soon enough, the cries for “medic!” go unheeded.
To make matters worse, the giants in the Great Hall have grown suspicious. The guards posted at the western doors can tell something is afoot, and so they come check. At first, all they can see is the vrock rampaging around the kitchen (perhaps, they think, dinner’s gotten loose?). Before they’re allowed to investigate, Chris takes a calculated risk: dropping a confusion spell at an entire table of giants, followed by another fireball.
Mearls: To save time, I abstracted confusion a bit. In essence, each confused creature takes out a creature next to it. I assume they're fighting, and when the spell ends one creature survives with 25% of its hit points.
And with that, it’s on. The giants—and there are a lot of giants (to the point where Mike runs out of hill giant miniatures to use—and this from the company that makes hill giant miniatures)—start for the doors. 22 hill giants, plus the chief and his entourage, ogres, stone giants heavies… and one cloud giant guest, represented by a towering eldritch giant “mini”. Other members of R&D walk past the table, and laugh.
Some of the giants head south, to cut off our escape. One heads for #7: Chamber of the Chief's Wife (what’s he up to?). The rest stampede to the western doors. Clearly, the party’s in a tight spot.
Down the hallway, the dire wolves have fallen under another confusion spell, and turn on each other. But there’s nothing stopping the warshaper. Andrew holds it off a few rounds, but Rob and Bart eventually fall to its blows, escorted all too quickly through the land of -9 hit points.
Thoughts of “TPK” fill our heads—and we’ve only cleared out three rooms.
Bart: Following my character’s demise, I went to the Character Optimization board, looking for help. This party needs a cleric, and I need a new character. Folks chimed in with plenty of suggestions, which can be read here. My thanks to everyone: the cleric 2/warlock 1/master of shrouds 8 was soon constructed, and joined the campaign in progress.
How it goes will be reported in our next Lunchtime Campaign.